Since They Want Them So Much…
Let’s get this out of the way: there’s no single “right” way to review a video game. Whether a reviewer chooses to focus largely on game mechanics and presentation or on the game’s messaging is entirely their choice, and people don’t have to all agree on everything. Some critics prefer to write about games from the “should I buy this?” perspective, while others would rather examine and explore the sociopolitical implications of each game. Both kinds of reviews serve a purpose.
I enjoy reading different perspectives on the values and foibles of each game from a variety of writers, which is why I find it particularly disconcerting when certain gamers on the internet harshly criticize (and sometimes harass) writers and YouTubers who choose to focus their reviews on the political and/or social angles of games. You know how the moronic, anti-intellectual arguments go:
“Who cares about politics? IS THE GAME GOOD OR NOT?!”
“Don’t give a crap about this artsy SJW nonsense. How are the graphics? Mechanics? Is it fun?”
“Ugh come on with this political BS. This is why (insert gaming website here) can’t be taken seriously.”
“OMG ITS JUST A GAME”
First of all, the very same cretins who demand writers keep politics and social matters away from their precious little games are the same assholes who demand that you take their hobby seriously. In addition, these gamers (mostly white men) often target a certain kind of reviewer (usually women, POC, or LGTBQ) with their vicious bile. Honestly, it’s a plague in this industry: the gamers themselves want reviewers to treat games like they don’t actually mean anything and insist that any commentary on the medium comes from people that look and think like they do.
But, just as an experiment, what if every review reflected how these ignoramuses thought about their beloved shooters and RPGs? What if we took some of the more “serious” games I have enjoyed in recent years, but completely scrub them of any political or artistic merit? Just for those feckless gamers, here are some reviews they’ve probably always wanted compared with my apparently “too political” take on things:
Game: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Sam’s lame-ass “woke” take: I’ve mostly laid out my thoughts here, but just to repeat: Wolfenstein II presents an all-too familiar reality, namely one where Nazism is largely accepted as just the new way of doing business. In the face of some of the more complacent, milquetoast responses to the recent rise of fascism, The New Colossus reminds its players that Nazis under no circumstances should be viewed as acceptable and that we all have a duty to fight back against their existence and ideology by any means necessary.
REAL GAMER’S TAKE: LOOK AT ALL THE BLOOD!!! But seriously, folks, you can do a TON of badass killing in Wolfenstein II. Axes to the face, laser guns to the face, shotgun blasts to the face, face to the face: YOU CAN DO IT ALL. Not to mention the super hot romance between B.J. Blazkowicz and ol’ pregnant whats-her-face. What was her name again? Ah, who cares, did you see her shoot dudes while bloodstained and shirtless?!
As for the story, it’s a little much, right? I mean, this is all SO unrealistic, so I feel like everybody should chill on the whole “this is real” angle. It’s not. It’s a FAKE videogame. FICTITIOUS. Got it, losers? Not everything has to be about politics!
Also, I love how HARD this game can get. NO CANDY-ASS EASY MODE FOR ME, THE TRUEST OF GAMERZ!!!
Game: No Man’s Sky
Sam’s lame-ass “woke” take: The endless possibilities of No Man’s Sky are underscored by the game’s commitment to a pseudo-capitalist economic model, where players are rewarded based on how much work they’re willing to commit to the game’s resource management-based universe. Nearly every interaction in No Man’s Sky relates (even in relatively small ways) to commerce, as the best way to feel fulfilled by the your actions often involves gathering more: more credits, more resources, more enhancements for your ship, and even more words in various alien languages. Regardless of one’s personal views on the efficacy of capitalism, NMS presents the circumstances under which such an economic model can work and allow all of its participants to thrive, should they wish to put in the effort.
REAL GAMER’S TAKE: Ugh, this game is BOOOAAAARRRIIING. I hardly get to shoot anyone! All you do is collect rocks and plants and turn them into tiny houses. What’s the point of all that? Some of these planets are cool, but most of them have NOTHING on them, not even ONE mysterious, brooding spaceman willing to give me cool space quests. WHERE IS MY BROODING!!! This game is basically just a non-violent Mass Effect except I can’t bone anybody.
Also, this “capitalism” nonsense? WHO GIVES A SHIT! Um, if you don’t like capitalism so much, why do you live in AMERICA then, huh smart guy?! You can buy and sell stuff in every game, genius!!!
Game: Assassin’s Creed Origins
Sam’s lame-ass “woke” take: Ubisoft’s 2017 effort depicts a story of loss, not just of a child, but of one’s entire culture and way of life. The Egypt that protagonist Bayek has learned to love and admire has largely been stolen from him, with many of the region’s major cities conquered by the Greeks and Romans and somewhat scrubbed of their history. Throughout Bayek’s travels, he sees the horrible effects of colonialism destroy his once-revered homeland, as white colonizers have determined that their take on civilized society is superior. Assassin’s Creed Origins is not merely a tale of revenge: it’s about one man’s efforts to resist the inevitable erasure of his heritage.
THE RIGHT TAKE, ACTUALLY: Oh my god, dude, not everything is about race! Why can’t you just enjoy some good old sneaking and stabbing like everyone else? You must be real fun at parties.
Seriously, Ancient Egypt seems cool as hell! You can ride camels and shit! Also, plenty of awesome action to be seen, as you can fight people AND animals. It’s crazy, man. FUCK UP SOME HIPPOS!
Sure, I guess the Romans are mostly the bad guys here, but not ALL Romans were bad, okay? Some of them were very fine people! They wrote good poetry, built awesome cities, and had an awesome take on bath houses. How about showing the Egyptians as bad guys too, sometimes, or would that not fit the NARRATIVE?!
I swear I’m not racist.
Game: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Sam’s lame-ass “woke” take: Among other things, The Witcher 3 thoughtfully examines what true political neutrality can look like: standing down in the face of atrocity and authoritarianism. Geralt is often presented with opportunities to take down political figures, but instead of engaging in “both-sidesism,” the game tells the player that there are real consequences to indifference, ranging from the continued oppression of marginalized populations to mass loss of life. The Witcher 3 rarely presents the player with easy, black-and-white decisions, but it makes it clear that inaction is, in and of itself, a political statement — one that typically favors the oppressor.
NON-POLITICAL TAKE BRO: AGAIN WITH THE POLITICS! Listen, this game (which you failed to mention is a BIG-ASS RPG) has a shitload of cool sword battles with all kinds of slimy and dangerous monsters, and you can fucking set them on fire if you want!!! The only things that matters in this action-packed thrillfest is killing big-ass trolls and swamp monsters and shit. It’s really not much more complicated than that!
I guess you can call it being neutral or bad or whatever, but there are ALWAYS two sides to the story, you dumb bozo. Sure, one political faction literally crucifies all non-humans and dissenters due to their fundamental belief that they are inferior beings, but the other side is full of annoying brats and chicks who talk too much! ALWAYS TWO SIDES.
Also, you can’t talk about The Witcher 3 without mentioning how much SEX Geralt has! He can fuck, like, a bunch of women in the game! And you can see their BEWBZZZ!!! You can pick which hot babe is ultimately your girlfriend (either that redheaded witch lady or the dark-haired sorceress who’s a little too bossy if you catch my drift) and you can get some awesome boning scenes in there!
(By the way, I’m team redheaded witch lady because she was nicer to me)
Game: Grand Theft Auto V
Sam’s lame-ass “woke” take: Though I admire Rockstar’s consistently high standard for production value as well as the studio’s ability to provide a fun sandbox for gamers to experiment in, the muddled political messages and continued offensive stereotyping found in GTA V complicate my enjoyment of the experience. Sure, it’s exciting to steal airplanes, go skydiving, and generally wreak havoc in a completely virtual space, but GTA V fails to tell a coherent story about the faulty logic of the American Dream, a theme which was better addressed in GTA IV, L.A. Noire, and Red Dead Redemption.
The game’s depiction of Franklin’s life in the ghetto completely lacks nuance, opting instead for an easy and toothless “crime pays” story that inadequately challenges the institutional racism that leads a character like Franklin to the life that he chose. Additionally, the outright cynicism and irredeemable nature of Michael and Trevor make them completely unsympathetic, as it seems they’ve learned virtually nothing from their horrific past. GTA V has an excellent open world with a million different things to do, but the story leaves much to be desired, making the entire experience more akin to a dumb 80s action movie than the thoughtful musing on crime in America that it could have been.
OBJECTIVELY RIGHT NON-SJW TAKE: I just want to steal cars, pick up hookers, and shoot people; why do you have to ruin my fun?!
Disclaimer: All the “non-woke” takes are not my opinions, but rather echo real comments and opinions I’ve heard from people or read online.