In a recent interview with Video Games Chronicle, Obsidian’s Creative Director Leonard Boyarsky shared that the upcoming RPG The Outer Worlds has no intention of being political. The Outer Worlds is being co-directed by Boyarsky and fellow Fallout creator Tim Cain. Their new project was named “Best Original Game” at E3 2019 by the Game Critics Awards.
The Outer Worlds is set in a world that envisions a future dominated by mega-corporations that have stretched their reach to new, alien worlds. It’s a fair assumption that anyone alive today would read that description and think of the scary side of capitalism.
Even considering the game’s premise, Boyarsky doesn’t want The Outer Worlds to “lecture” its players on political points, stating that the development team is being “very careful” to not come off as heavy-handed or agenda driven. Being “politically charged,” Boyarsky told Video Games Chronicle, “is the last thing we [at Obsidian] want to do.”
The Outer Wilds is not a playable manifesto. “I like money. I’m not against capitalism and in a lot of ways I’m happy with our society,” Boyarsky said. To clarify that he doesn’t inhabit a bubble, he added, “Of course there are a lot of ways in which it could be improved.”
“We started development in April 2016 and a couple things happened [in world politics] between then and now that nobody expected. We weren’t expecting that.” In the United States, Donald Trump assumed the Presidency in November of that year.”
According to Boyarsky, the story told by The Outer Worlds is less an on-the-nose takedown on contemporary capitalism and more about “power and how power is used against those that don’t have it.” Boyarsky elaborated on power dynamics by saying that “it can be insidious; the way which people control the stories you tell about the world. If you let other people control that narrative, then they can control you to a certain degree. That can be any form of government: if it wasn’t capitalism it could be something else.”
I don’t want people to think this is a really hard, politically-charged game: it’s supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be humorous.
Boyarsky added that the intention is to balance these heavier themes with the more light-hearted, irreverent tone that his other games are famous for. “Having grown up in America and been through the onslaught of consumer culture, we’re very familiar with that and like to poke fun at it.” He compounded the point by sharing that “with Arcanum when we were dealing with racial issues, the story always comes down to balance of power, how people get power and how they use it. We’ve been very careful, I’ve been very careful.”
We don’t want to set up strawman or anything and say, ‘look how horrible this is!’ It’s really about looking at all aspects of issues. The last thing we want to do is make a game that people feel is lecturing them.
Byarsky emphasized that the storytelling direction is towards complication and fairness, not didacticism. “There are people in this game who have philosophies that I don’t agree with and I take pains to make those people very likeable, very sensible and very believable. Then there are people in the game who say things I agree with, who are perhaps not very nice to hang out with.”
Boyarsky’s and Obsidian’s view mirrors Ubisoft’s recent statements during a Q&A with Vice President of Editorial Tommy Francois, who shared that CEO Yves Guillemot’s goal for Ubisoft’s games is “to give players all the information we can, and then let them choose which sides of our game worlds they want to explore.” Player choice is a critical component of solid RPG crafting, but may make game companies appear amoral to an audience that increasingly demands clear ethical stances from developers.
In contrast, CD Projekt Red’s upcoming RPG Cyberpunk 2077 is political by nature, with quest designer Patrick Mills stating that “Cyberpunk is an inherently political genre and it’s an inherently political franchise.” Mike Pondsmith, creator of the pen-and-paper role-plaiying game Cyberpunk that inspired CD Project Red, added, “Somebody asked me a while back if Cyberpunk was political and I said inherently it’s always political.”
Comments from creatives in the Cyberpunk franchise came after a bit of controversy surrounded an advertisement that appears as part of the game’s world-building scenery, which led to a lot of confusion and irritation on Twitter as fans tried to assuage what CD Project Red was trying to communicate with the image and what their own values were as creatives and as a company.
Obsidian’s RPG The Outer Worlds is scheduled to release on October 25, 2019 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.