I’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.