WildStar: Political satire, stand, or story?

ecoI’ve always assumed that most game studios — like most of Silicon Valley and the entertainment sector — lean pretty heavy to the left politically. Usually it’s not an issue in-game (public statements on Twitter, in interviews, and elsewhere online is different), since I also get the feeling that most MMO devs aren’t out to stir up controversy by touching any sensitive topics as part of the game world and quests. I mean, you’ll always offend somehow, but no need to seek it out by grabbing hold of those political, social, or religious third rails.

I think that’s why MMO storylines and quests are fairly safe — and usually black (the mobs) and white (us). People of most walks of life can settle into gaming and agree to have fun together without dragging in the opinion section of a newspaper.

But once in a while I do see noteworthy quests and storylines that could be construed as a writer or studio pressing an agenda or viewpoint. Oddly enough, I am not opposed to these. I don’t need them all of the time, but I don’t want game designers flinching away from treating MMOs as they would “serious” video games, books, or other forms of literature. The RIFT: Storm Legion storyline that dealt with rape, animal abuse, murder, and willful ignorance of those in power stuck with me because while it was raw, it told an important story and allowed for some small measure of justice to be attained. Or back when an industry figure (I honestly forget who) was calling out a quest in World of Warcraft that had players needlessly torture a captive.

Anyway, the other night when I was playing WildStar I realized that the foes I had been attacking as part of challenges and quests were Aurin — and in fact eco-terrorists called the Thorns of Aboria or something. Considering that I was attacking them on behalf of the corporate Protostar, I found myself amused and curious as to whether any political statement was being made here. Making Captain Planet’s Planeteers the bad guys — even in a very light-hearted, run-of-the-mill sense — made me wonder if this was a sly conservative message, meta satire, or really just fluffy details that shouldn’t demand overthinking.

But at the least I like it when a game makes me notice the details and has me think. If you get past the stylized design and the goofy nature, WildStar is less afraid to weave a myriad of touchier topics into its world without grandstanding on any of them. I get the feeling that if you want to read into them, the devs wouldn’t mind, but they’re just as dismissable if you want to play the game. It’s an interesting approach.

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5 thoughts on “WildStar: Political satire, stand, or story?

  1. Athie July 20, 2015 / 9:59 am

    My sense in Wildstar — with the important note that I haven’t remotely finished everything — is that there’s a reasonably strong possibility that both player factions are in fact bad guys. I certainly read the game as framing Protostar as comically evil — so my guess is that this was a joke on players, making “heroes” be the villain whether they want to or not?

  2. Rowan July 20, 2015 / 11:47 am

    I remember some discussion regarding that at launch, neither faction is uniformly white nor black. Belghast pointed out that the terraforming being done by the Aurin in the desert area dominated by the Draken, is destructive of the existing ecosystem. The Mordesh have essentially brought the plague they suffer on themselves through unethical experimentation. Meanwhile the Cassians on both sides have enormous prejudices. I’d say there’s enough room for all sorts of political messages, or at least scenarios reflective of our current planet and society.

  3. Redbeard July 20, 2015 / 4:09 pm

    From my years at development studios (not gamer ones, mind you), I’d say that my experience has been more that you find more libertarian types at development studios than you necessarily find liberal/conservative. That doesn’t necessarily bleed over into storylines, but it does surface when studios complain about being targeted by the media for items such as violence or sexism.

  4. Chestnut Stonebough (@ggchestnut) July 23, 2015 / 3:22 pm

    Being a person who plays WildStar as their “main” game, I’d have to agree with Rowan. Neither faction seems clear-cut “good” or “bad”. There’s positive and negative quests and qualities to both. Some of them are a little more subtle than others, yes, but they still exist.

    However, I think due to the graphical nature of the game (“cartoony” as many folks like to call it), people just don’t take a lot of these to heart, or don’t notice them at all. And I think that due to this, the Developers can get into some more of the nitty-gritty details and commentaries on our lives than some other games can.

  5. Rowan July 23, 2015 / 3:52 pm

    True, a lot of “anvilicious” messages can make it through otherwise lighthearted genres that wouldn’t be tolerated in more serious fare.

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