Democracy 3‘s Politics Deemed “Inappropriate” For A Major US Games Site

Democracy 3

Cliff Harris of Positech Games made a wonderful game called Democracy 3, which was released this year. Jared rather liked it, saying that it’s “one of the fullest real-world governance simulation games ever conceived.”

It is a game in which the systems you interact with are simulated real-world politics. For some reason, one advertising agency that handles the adverts for a “major US games site” said that Cliff’s banner advert for Democracy 3 was “inappropriate,” and that they “can not promote any politics as this is a sensitive topic.”

“…the idea that politics are ‘inappropriate’ for advertising on a game website is ridiculous.”

Democrac 3The banner advert that Cliff sent this advertising agency to look at is the one you see to the right. It reads: “The ultimate political strategy game,” which I presume is a quote from a review of the game. There’s a screenshot from the game in the background, a character from the game standing next to the quote, the platforms the game is available running along the bottom, and the title “Democracy 3″ can be seen across the top.

Here’s the funny thing. This advert doesn’t even have an obvious or overt political stance; it merely mentions that Democracy 3 is a game about politics. But that was enough for this advertising agency to push their plate to the side and spit out their soggy spaghetti in disgust. “Politics?!” I imagine them screaming, as if it’s a monster from the unknown.

I love what Cliff has to say here:

“I bet ads for games like Hitman or GTA, or games where you get slow-mo close-ups of people’s skulls being blasted apart by high-caliber bullets, are just fine. But discuss income tax? OH NOES, THE WORLD WILL END! I saw a clip of Mortal Kombat on that Charlie Brooker doumenatry that made me feel sick, but apparently, we as an industry are just FINE with that. It’s stuff like this that sometimes makes me ashamed to be in this industry.”

I’m guessing when the advertising agency refers to the game’s advert as being of a “sensitive topic,” they’ve somehow managed to equate the entirety of politics down to just being Anita Sarkeesian, feminism and LGBT topics. That’s my take, anyway, because that seems to be the only thing that could be seen as sensitive among games at the moment, what with all of the hatred being spread around it.


The advertising agency could have just said that they didn’t want Cliff to pay them money to advertise his game on the website. They could have, but instead, they insulted the content of his game as if it didn’t belong to the medium, saying that an advert for his game was “inappropriate” for a games website. I don’t have to repeat that to point out the stupidity in the notion, do I?

I understand why Cliff didn’t want to name and shame this advertising agency and the website they represent. He has a vested interest in keeping up a decent relationship with them as they can help spread word about his game by writing about it. I don’t have an interest, though. And I just noticed that Cliff may have accidentally outed who it was by saving the image he used on his blog with the title “gamespot_rect1.” Oops.

“All adverts and games that you will see and play (along with everything else) have a political stance.”

I’m just pointing out a fact. I don’t know if it was GameSpot, and it doesn’t really matter which gaming website it was (although GameSpot did recently cover the “sensitive topic” of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia in GTA V, and what outcry that caused). And anyway, looking at it, Cliff, you need to either be selling a onesie or be Best Buy to advertise on a major US games site…because that’s clearly more appropriate than advertising a game in the same space.

Firing shots like this are only going to come back at me, I know. There are adverts on this page, I know. They’re probably worse than GameSpot’s, I know. We’ll be changing all of that soon. I didn’t put them there. But I also didn’t introduce the idea that politics are inappropriate for games, or for a games website to even slightly engage in. I’m not angry at anyone in particular. I’m annoyed at the sentiment that has been hanging around games for a while now – that games aren’t appropriate containers for political conversation, and it should be avoided when brought up. That politics in games is something to throw insults at and run away from screaming.

Papers Please

Here’s the thing. All adverts and games that you will see and play (along with everything else) have a political stance. To bring the most obvious example of an overtly political advert up, take a look at those cleavage-focused adverts that try to lure in players, whom they refer to as “lords,” with the implication that buxom women will be in their possession or have admiration for them based entirely on their presence inside a game.

That’s political. That’s very political. The idea that politics are “inappropriate” content for advertising on a game website is ridiculous. I could mention that Super Mario Bros. teaches you how capitalism works as collecting 100 coins will grant you an extra life, therefore implying that money equals survival. Or I could say how Tetris has you engage in the values of the Soviet state as you attempt to make straight, uniform lines out of oddly shaped tetrominoes; make them equal as difference leads to downfall.

The sentiment that drives the idea that politics can be, and should be, kept out of games is something that I feel has faded a little recently, but it still rears its ugly head as soon as you bring up “outsider politics” or anything that can be perceived as contrary to the dominant thread of politics that runs through a society. Anything that’s different, because that’s how you’re supposed to react to difference according the US media and politicians. It’s a terrorist, you attack it, immediately.

“Stop being scared of games meddling with politics, because they already do…”

When I write about a game and take a stance on it that isn’t just observing it as a product to review, I’m sometimes told that I should stop bringing politics into games by people who have never had contact with me before. People I don’t know. I’ve brought up sexuality when writing about games no more than ten times across the over 4000+ articles I’ve written. But some people make it sound like that’s all I write about when I do write one of those articles.

Why does it burn people so? Why do people whine that they come to games to “escape” from the realities of the world and that’s being compromised by these politics? Why do they moan about games they’ve never played before, and have no intention of doing so?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I do know that games, as products of culture, are inherently political. Stop being scared of games meddling with politics, because they already do. They’ve been doing it for years.

What’s been happening more recently is that different angles on culture and politics have appeared more prominently in games and in games criticism. This is a good thing. This effort isn’t taking away from the limited pool of resources we have for making games. They’re adding to the language, exploring what else games can do and discuss. They’re progressive, sometimes transgressive. Other times, they’re a load of bollocks. It doesn’t matter.

Joyful Executions

It was bad enough that random forum posters and commenters were trying to rally against the idea of a certain type of politics coming into games. Now, a presumably well-respected advertising agency for a big gaming site is pulling the trigger at the mere idea of “politics” without the slightest consideration just because they don’t want to upset that site’s readers? Geez, that’s a pretty bad state to be in.

This is just silly. But it’s worse than that. If we can’t accept the discussion of politics in games, then the medium won’t move anywhere (it will, anyway, but that’s besides the point). Who is being protected from these politics in games? That’s what I want to know, because games are a direct result of politics. It’s inherent.

I don’t know if I entirely agree with what Cliff says here, but I know the feeling, and it’s a good note to end on: “Half of the industry wants to be grown up and accepted as art; the other half have the mentality of seven-year-olds.”

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