Storytelling in gaming: What if games led progressive society?

4 min read
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Does life imitate art or does art imitate life? It has been an endless philosophical debate that goes back centuries. Back then of course, the discussion was around painting, music, literature and the sort. Looking at it now, with the understanding that gaming is a medium as powerful as films or books, can life imitate gaming?

A Reddit user, by the name of FinalMantasyX, posted the history of The Sims and how it mimicked society’s view on the LGBTQ community. You can read the full post here, but in short, it broke down the timeline as follows:

  • Sims 1, which was released in 2000, did not allow same sex marriage but allowed same sex sims to kiss, dance and have sex.
  • Sims 2, which was released in 2004, allowed same sex marriage but called them a “joined union”. It’s also important to note that joined unions gave fewer points than a heteronormative marriage.
  • Sims 3, which was released in 2009, finally equalizing marriages across all sexual orientations. Also noteworthy is that this is the first time a canon gay pre-made sim appears.
  • Sim 4, which was released in 2014, allows cross dressing, sexes to access both hairstyles, makeup and more. It also allows you to determine if your sim pees standing up or sitting down as well as deciding if your sim can fall pregnant or not.

It makes for an interesting read, showcasing how one game evolved along with society to become a truly inclusive and representative game. It also begs the question; it’s fairly obvious that gaming imitates life but can life imitate gaming? Can gaming influence society to be more progressive?

Life imitating gaming

As mentioned previously, it is fairly obvious that gaming imitates life. The drive for the best, most realistic graphics, the most advanced physics simulator, the growth of VR, all of these are symptoms of gaming’s desire to imitate life. It has led to countless discussions around the dangers that will come when the line between digital and reality begins to blur.

The discussion around life imitating games is just as interesting. This concept most often comes up when mainstream media publications insist on the idea that violent games lead to violent kids. Whilst this has yet to be conclusively proven, it is repeated whenever shocking acts of violence occur with children.

Moving away from the primitive view that violent games leads to violent acts, is there space for progressive games to lead to a more progressive society? As the gaming world grows and the community becomes more diverse, you can already see the effect in games themselves.

Whilst there is still some way to go, there is better representation in gaming characters, the stories told delve into important social issues and the right kinds of discussions are being started, both in game and out. All things considered, gaming is reasonably progressive and inclusive.

However if we look at Sims, and a large extent of games that have played their part in the progressive narrative of the gaming world, these progressive stories are largely reactionary. It took women calling out game studios before female characters became more than just eye candy and had fleshed out backgrounds and personalities.

It took gamers of colour demanding representation before the slew of white men made way for others to be the hero of the day. In the case of The Sims, it took the LGBTQ community battling in court before the game gave them equal representation.

What if gaming stopped being reactionary and paved the way forward instead? An example given in the original Reddit thread showed the first gay character in a game appeared in 1986, in the game Moonmist. But in the day and age that we live in now, games have a more impactful voice on society.

Games are not always fun time wasters, they can be mediums for enthralling story telling. What if Watch Dogs 2 did more than just make its protagonist black, what if they used Marcus to shed light on police brutality in America?

This is not to say that Watch Dogs 2 failed because it didn’t go down this route nor is it to say that, that should have been the purpose of the game. It’s more of a question, an idea of what the game could have been and the impact one game could have had on society and its views on an important and divisive social issue.

An idea for the future of gaming

There is still conflict for many over the idea of social issues having a place in gaming, with those for and against it arguing vehemently. Whether you agree with it or not, it’s undeniable that gaming is a powerful vehicle for progressive storytelling.

Some games are created to be fun and light-hearted and just give you action-packed time. That’s perfectly okay and this is not an article suggesting that those games are not allowed. This is an article asking, how would things have looked if The Sims took a stand for the LGBTQ community in 2000 instead of 2014.

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Glenn Kisela

I've always loved video games as well as writing, so mixing the two together was inevitable. When I'm not doing that, I do photography and design.

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