Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games, delivered his keynote talk at the annual DICE Summit. He discussed many pressing topics in the gaming industry, but closed out the speech addressing the idea of games as political mediums. He argues against political discourse in gaming, calling for a “separation of church and state”.
Sweeney references recent scandals in the food business, saying “…our political orientations determine which fast-food chicken restaurant you go to, and that’s really dumb. There’s no reason to drag divisive topics like that into gaming at all.” He desires for businesses and companies to offer neutral and inviting entertainment for all, free of judgement. Right now, in the gaming industry, companies like Ubisoft are distancing themselves from political affiliation to benefit their marketability. Sweeney makes it a point to note that the way a developer or player approaches politics in gaming is a complex topic with “no one answer,” but feels companies should “divorce themselves from politics” in order to avoid unnecessary controversy.
The gaming industry is definitely no stranger to political controversy. Just last year, Blizzard came under heavy fire after banning one of its Hearthstone Grandmasters esports players, Ng Wai “blitzchung” Chung, for declaring his support for Hong Kong’s liberation during one of their official streams. The company even went as far as to withhold Chung’s prize money from his performance in Grandmasters Season 2. Amid the backlash, the r/Blizzard subreddit had to be locked down, while Blizzard’s social media was bombarded with support for Chung. The company defended their action, claiming that Chung violated rules set in place to protect their image.
The kind of philosophy Sweeney talks about in his speech is heavily enforced by gaming media giants, though it is likely not shared by developers releasing politically charged games like Life is Strange 2. In any form of media, it’s impossible to stop expression of individual thought in creation, and we will probably never see a complete separation between gaming and politics.