Life is Strange 2 developer Dontnod – ‘Ignoring politics is a very strong political message’
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Life Is Strange 2 – Episode 1
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Life is Strange 2 game director Michel Koch has had a really enlightening interview with GamesIndustry.biz on the state of the games industry, and in particular the thorny issue of politics which has proven so terrifying of late to the publishing giants.
During the interview, Koch explains how important politics are to the creation of Dontnod’s games, admitting that he doesn’t want to spend years of his life working on a game only for the end product to not actually mean anything of value.
“I don’t want to spend three years of my life working on a project without trying to talk about subjects that are important to me,” he said to GI.biz. “I’m really happy our publisher allows us to talk about tough subjects. We could be afraid of representation or talking about those heavy subjects and important themes because the choices we make when talking about these subjects can be divisive. It shouldn’t be, but it is.”
It shouldn’t be, but it is, is a side indictment of how games are treated these days. Across all media, whether its movies, TV shows, books, or just any form of entertainment outside of games, there are tricky, interesting topics approached. And yet in video games, an interactive medium which can prove incredibly powerful for rendering these tales, the act of taking of stance, of putting us in uncomfortable positions, of saying something interesting, is frowned upon. Just give me my gun and let me shoot things without thinking cries a vocal minority, who seem to be getting their wishes in the AAA scene, as the wind whistles from ear to ear.
And while this season of Life is Strange 2 is yet to come to its conclusion, it’s evidently not a game which shies away from some tough topics. The tale of two Mexican-American brothers on the run very overtly deals with racism, prejudice, political division, abuse, and more, and would it undoubtedly be a lesser game without such a stance.
Koch suggests that purposely ignoring political issues would in itself be a “very strong political message. Not talking about something is having a position, because you decide to not talk about it. We’ve received a ton of great messages from players who say they felt it was important that some of what they suffered was represented in the game.”
It actually reminds me of this excellent piece from The Onion which I was sent recently. There’s a degree of nonsense which is in vogue right now and it’s arguably pretty damaging to the quality and distinctiveness of games we receive. When developers are fearful of blow-back from taking a stance, the easy route is to say nothing at all. They pre-empt the cry of ‘SJW’ by dancing around any real topics of worth. It’s why a large chunk of AAA blockbusters say the square sum of nothing in terms of their narrative, when we really drill down to it, while the indie scene is a thriving hubbub of fresh ideas and unique concepts.
And on the delicate issue of those not wanting politics in their games whatsoever, Koch’s advice is pretty simple – if you don’t like it, go and play a different game, there are plenty out there.
“There have been some players who say they don’t want politics in their games or they don’t play a game to be reminded of some of the darkness around us or the issues people are facing,” said Koch to GI.biz. “And I understand that. Sometimes you just want to play pure entertainment and not have to think about the world.
“In video games now, there is space for a lot of different games, a lot of different topics, a lot of different ways of thinking. I think our game is in a spot where, yes, we talk about some subjects and it might not be just a fun game, but if you don’t want to be in that state of mind, you can play another game.”
Honestly it’s sometimes a relief to have a break from the breathtakingly vacuous conversations which crop up around this topic. It’s great to see a smaller developer like Dontnod have the gumption to stand up and say what the likes of Ubisoft are too terrified to. No prizes for guessing which of the two is crafting the better stories, and which of the two is managing to do all of that on an infinitely smaller budget.
You can see the full, extensive interview for yourself over on GI.biz via the link below.