Political Satire in Games: How Humorous Computer Game Design Can Build Upon Previous Forms of Political Satire

Introduction

Satire is an artistic form that has been a part of theatre, literature and film for centuries, using irony and implication as tools to exaggerate, deconstruct, and highlight specific behaviours for mockery (LaBoeuf 2007; Plevriti 2014).

Often mistaken for parody, satire does not elicit laughter as an end in the same way other forms of comedy do. Rather, it uses laughter as a means to expose the hypocrisy embedded within political and societal processes with the intent to inspire social change. The humorous aspect of satire is ‘weaponised’ for the purpose of attacking cultural norms and beliefs that the creator considers to be dangerous or immoral (Colletta, 2009).

On the other hand, computer games have been developing as a form of artistic expression, now ingrained in modern culture and expressive of the culture in which each game was produced (Ngai, 2005).

The medium is still new and evolving, with a greater emphasis on shifting towards more mature demographics (Ngai, 2005). However, there are still few games that attempt to directly tackle political topics, particularly through the lens of satire.

In this paper, we will look into the potential for computer games to use satire inconjunction with elements of game design, such as gameplay, mechanics, aesthetics and narrative, to communicate political themes. We aim to see how humorous game design is capable of critiquing political systems and inspiring change.

All the while, we will analyse whether the medium of games is able to build upon thefoundations of political satire laid out by previous forms of art, such as theatre, literature, film and television.

Paper-based research will be conducted for a literature review before a game concept prototype is designed and developed for the purpose of playtesting. Participant playtesters will be observed and interviewed, with their results serving as the basis for our findings and conclusion.

Contents

  1. Literature Review
  2. Methodology
  3. Development Iterations
  4. Findings
  5. Reflection & Future Development

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my supervisors, Sarah Wiseman and Federico Fasce, for all their guidance and the ways they have kept me inspired throughout this project.

A huge debt of gratitude must be paid to the participants who volunteered their time to playtest my game prototype and answer questions around politics, satire and games.

Thank you to the lecturers who have taught me so many valuable skills during my time at Goldsmiths University of London. You have truly opened my mind to the possibilities of games as artistic forms of expression.

Finally, a thank you to my partner, Kelly, and my family for supporting me through what has been the biggest and most intense project I have undertaken so far.

Bibliography & References

Articles & Papers

Boyan, A. and Sherry, J. L. (2011). The Challenge in Creating Games for Education: Aligning Mental Models with Game Models. Child Development Perspectives, 5(2), 82-87.

Charles, A. (2009). Playing with one’s self: notions of subjectivity and agency in digital games. Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture, 3(2), 281-294.

Charters, E. (2003). The use of think-aloud methods in qualitative research an introduction to think-aloud methods. Brock Education: A Journal of Educational Research and Practice, 12(2).

Chin, S., Feng, P. X. and Lee, J. (2000). Asian American Cultural Production. Journal of Asian American Studies, 3(3), 269-282.

Clark, C. J., Liu, B. S., Winegard, B. M., & Ditto, P. H. (2019). Tribalism is human nature. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 28(6), 587-592.

Colletta, L. (2009). Political Satire and Postmodern Irony in the Age of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. The Journal of Popular Culture, 42(5), 856-874.

Dahya, N. (2009). Serious learning in playful roles: Socio-political games for education and social change. Loading…, 3(4).

Denike, M. (2015). Scapegoat Racism and the Sacrificial Politics of “Security”. Journal of International Political Theory, 11(1), 111-127.

Dormann, C. and Biddle, R. (2009). A Review of Humor for Computer Games: Play, Laugh and More. Simulation & Gaming, 40(6), 802-824.

Frasca, G. (2001). Rethinking Agency and Immersion: Video Games as a Means of Consciousness-raising. Digital Creativity, 12(3), 167-174.

Freeman, R. E. (1998). Poverty and the politics of capitalism. The Ruffin Series of the Society for Business Ethics, 1, 31-35.

Butler, J. (1993). Critically queer. GLQ: A journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 1(1), 17-32.

Goffman, E. (1966). Involvement. Behavior in public places.

Grace, L. (2014). Critical games: Critical design in independent games. Proceedings of Digital Games Research Conference DiGRA 2014.

Grönroos, A. (2013). Humour in Video Games: Play, Comedy, and Mischief.

Jacobs, S. (2004). Writesizing. Game Developer, 11(10), 18–24.

Jensen, G. H. (2013). Making sense of play in video games: Ludus, paidia, and possibility spaces. Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture, 7(1), 69-80.

Kozinets, R. V., Sherry Jr, J. F., Storm, D., Duhachek, A., Nuttavuthisit, K., and DeBerry-Spence, B. (2004). Ludic agency and retail spectacle. Journal of Consumer Research, 31(3), 658-672.

Lakoff, G. (1993). The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor. In A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and Thought. Cambridge University Press.

LaMarre, H. L., Landreville, K. D., Young, D., & Gilkerson, N. (2014). Humor works in funny ways: Examining satirical tone as a key determinant in political humor message processing. Mass Communication and Society, 17(3), 400-423.

LeBoeuf, M. (2007). The Power of Ridicule: An Analysis of Satire.

Madsen, H. & Johansson, T. D. (2002). Gameplay Rhetoric: A Study of the Construction of Satirical and Associational Meaning in Short Computer Games for the WWW. Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings DiGRA 2002, 73-87.

McCormick, M. (2012). Waterfall vs. Agile methodology. MPCS, N/A.

Miller, D., & Dinan, W. (2008). Corridors of Power: Lobbying in the UK. Observatoire de la société britannique, (6), 25-45.

Nabi, R. L., Moyer-Gusé, E., & Byrne, S. (2007). All joking aside: A serious investigation into the persuasive effect of funny social issue messages. Communication Monographs, 74(1), 29-54.

Nielsen, J., Clemmensen, T., & Yssing, C. (2002, October). Getting access to what goes on in people’s heads? Reflections on the think-aloud technique. In Proceedings of the second Nordic conference on Human-computer interaction (pp. 101-110).

Ngai, A. C. Y. (2005). Cultural Influences on Video Games: Players’ Preferences in Narrative and Game-Play.

Plevriti, V. (2014). Satirical user-generated memes as an effective source of political criticism, extending debate and enhancing civic engagement. Unpublished Dissertation. University of Warwick.

Van Bavel, J. J., & Pereira, A. (2018). The partisan brain: An identity-based model of political belief. Trends in cognitive sciences, 22(3), 213-224.

Veeder, J., Pierce, M. S., Jarvis, E., Latta, J. N., Dangelmaier, H. T. and San, J. (1995). Videogame Industry Overview: Technology, Markets, Content, Future. Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, 486-487.

Weaver, R. K. (1986). The politics of blame avoidance. Journal of public policy, 371-398.

Wilson, D. and Sicart, M. (2010). Now It’s Personal: On Abusive Game Design. Futureplay ’10: Proceedings of the International Academic Conference on the Future of Game Design and Technology, 40-47.

Books

Arksey, H., & Knight, P. T. (1999). Interviewing for social scientists: An introductory resource with examples. Sage.

Billig, M. (2005). Laughter and ridicule: Towards a social critique of humor. Sage Publications Ltd.

Caillois, R. (1961). Man, Play, and Games (M. Barash, trans). Free Press.

Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Sage publications.

Denscombe, M. (2014). The Good Research Guide: For Small-scale Social Research Projects. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Feinberg, L. (1967). Introduction to satire. Iowa State Press.

Foucault, M. (1980a). Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. The Harvester Press.

Foucault, M. (1980b). The history of sexuality. Volume one: An introduction.

Freud, S. (2013). Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Read Books Ltd. (1905).

Girard, R. (1986). The Scapegoat. JHU Press.

Goodwin, B. (2016). Using political ideas. John Wiley & Sons.

Grayson, R. S. (2010). British Politics. Oneworld Publications.

Gruner, C. R. (1997). The Game of Humor. Taylor & Francis.

Heywood, A. (2013). Politics (4th ed.). Palgrave Macmillian.

Isbister, K. (2016). How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design. MIT Press.

Lau, J. (2003). Multiple Modernities: Cinemas and Popular Media in Transcultural East Asia. Temple University Press.

Macklin, C. and Sharp, J. (2016). Games, Design and Play. Pearson Education, Inc.

Morreall, J. (1997). Humor Works. HRD Press, Inc.

Nozedar, A. (2008). The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols: the Ultimate A-Z Guide from Alchemy to the Zodiac. HarperElement.

Fiction Books

Huxley, A. (2007). Brave New World. Vintage Classics (Original work published 1932).

Twain, M. (2014). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Penguin (Original work published 1884).

Film & Television

Colbert, S. (Executive Producer). (2005-2014). The Colbert Report [TV Series]. Busboy Productions, Comedy Central, Hello Doggie and Spartina Productions.

Kubrick, S. (Director). (1964). Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [Film]. Columbia Pictures and Hawk Films.

Parker, T., Stone, M. and Garefino, A. (Executive Producers). (1997-). South Park [TV Series]. Comedy Central.

Riley, B. (Director). (2018). Sorry to Bother You [Film]. Cinereach, Forest Whitaker’s Significant Productions, MACRO, MNM Creative, and The Space Program.

Games

Asymmetric. (2017). West of Loathing [Computer Game]. Asymmetric.

Bruxner, G. and Bowker, T. (2018). The Haunted Island, a Frog Detective Game [Computer Game]. Worm Club and Superhot Presents.

Buchanan, G. (2019). American Election [Computer Game]. Buchanan Productions Ltd.

Galactic Cafe. (2013). The Stanley Parable [Computer Game]. Galactic Cafe.

House House. (2019). Untitled Goose Game [Computer Game]. Panic.

Lawhead, N. (2017). Everything is Going to Be OK [Computer Game]. Lawhead, N.

Molleindustria. (2008). Oiligarchy [Computer Game]. Molleindustria.

Necrophone Games. (2014) Jazzpunk [Computer Game]. Necrophone Games.

Pope, L. (2013). Papers, Please [Computer Game]. 3909.

Tomorrow Corporation. (2018). 7 Billion Humans [Computer Game]. Tomorrow Corporation.

Triband. (2019). What The Golf? [Computer Game]. Triband.

Images

Buchanan, G. (2019). Screenshot from ‘American Election’ [Image]. Itch.io. https://gregbuchanan.itch.io/american-election

Cook, D. (2012). Diagram of a gameplay loop [Image]. Lostgarden. https://lostgarden.home.blog/2012/04/30/loops-and-arcs/

Department of Classical Studies. (2020). ‘The Acharnians’, one of Aristophanes’ most famous satirical plays [Image]. Department of Classical Studies. https://www.classics.upenn.edu/acharnians-1886

Finkelstein, R. (2018). Theatre of the Oppressed where audience members can participate in the play [Image]. Theatre of the Oppressed NYC. https://www.tonyc.nyc/julianboalworkshop2019

Grace, L. (2014). Diagram of structural rhythm and motivations in critical design [Image]. Digital Games Research Association. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Grace_Lindsay4/publication/267153275_Critical_Games_Critical_Design_in_Independent_Games/links/544675d40cf22b3c14de26e8.pdf

HARVV. (2015). Screenshot of avatar’s hand in ‘Jazzpunk’ [Image]. Steam Community. https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=225776993

Juul, J. (2007). Diagram showing the level of abstraction between rules and fiction [Image]. Jesper Juul. https://www.jesperjuul.net/text/acertainlevel/

LaMarre, H. L., Landreville, K. D., Young, D., & Gilkerson, N. (2014). Diagram of Horatian and Juvenalian processing paths [Image]. Mass Communication & Society Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/15205436.2014.891137?casa_token=sPJEJ4ConzIAAAAA:V0K3FeVYUoqCnLC_f5VplPZiXa5ijxU_7DiT6JaSpZSnyEVq0-vzijTmK6CztarlVFZ9X9miblk

Plymouth Live. (2019). General election results map 2019 [Image]. Plymouth Live. https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/general-election-2019-night-britain-3640791

Sepulveda, G. (2019). Scene from ‘Dr. Strangelove’ [Image]. Medium. https://medium.com/@gabrielacorn.13/dr-strangelove-and-the-male-ego-42e06309ae01

Triband. (2020). Screenshot from ‘What The Golf?’ [Image]. Steam. https://store.steampowered.com/app/785790/WHAT_THE_GOLF/

Websites & Videos

Adams, E. (2004). The Designer’s Notebook: Dramatic Novelty in Games and Stories. Gamasutra. https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/130575/the_designers_notebook_dramatic_.php

Adams, I. (2012). 6 tips for Writing Video Game Dialogue That’s Actually Funny. Gamasutra. https://gamasutra.com/view/news/176248/6_tips_for_writing_video_game_dialogue_thats_actually_funny.php

Barber, N. (2017). Why Reality is Now too Strange for Satire. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20170412-why-reality-is-now-too-strange-for-satire

BBC. (2019). Results of the 2019 General Election – BBC News. BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2019/results

Bogost, I. (2010). Is Cow Clicker a Travesty? On the different sorts of satire. Ian Bogost. http://bogost.com/writing/blog/is_cow_clicker_a_travesty/

Bruxner, G. (2019). Building Games Around Humor: Lessons from The Haunted Island, a Frog Detective Game. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJXAtpSl7HM&list=PLgau4WpOjmyphrrzEl4A7GGGzPsUvS2EF&index=8&t=1528s

Campbell, L. (2020). UK protests: Far-right demonstrators clash with London police – as it happened. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2020/jun/13/uk-news-live-patel-warns-of-health-and-legal-risks-at-blm-protests-coronavirus

Carless, S. (2004). Lost In Translation: Japanese and American Gaming’s Culture Clash. Gamasutra. https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/130437/lost_in_translationjapanese_and_.php?print=1

Cook, D. (2012). Loops and Arcs. Lostgarden. https://lostgarden.home.blog/2012/04/30/loops-and-arcs/

Johnson, Z. (2018). There’s Goofs in Them Thar Hills: The West of Loathing Approach to Comedy in Games. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZzpDOK8PoI&list=PLgau4WpOjmyphrrzEl4A7GGGzPsUvS2EF&index=16

Juul, J. (2007). A Certain Level of Abstraction. Jesper Juul. https://www.jesperjuul.net/text/acertainlevel/

Keating, C. (2018). Indigenous Peoples Are Decolonizing Virtual Worlds. Medium. https://medium.com/s/story/indigenous-peoples-are-decolonizing-virtual-worlds-fbe2d8f933de

Lee, G. (2019). Untitled Goose Game: Is it Good to Be Bad? YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31zMosHQK2A&list=PLgau4WpOjmyphrrzEl4A7GGGzPsUvS2EF&index=2&t=0s

Lee, G. (2020). Lisa Hanawalt: Being Human by Being Animal. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oG058g3f8Ik

Magra, I., Peltier, E. and Méheut, C. (2020). Far-Right Groups Push Back as Protesters Rally in Europe. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/13/world/europe/george-floyd-protests-police.htmlPedercini, P. (2014). Videogames and the Spirit of Capitalism. Molleindustria. https://www.molleindustria.org/blog/videogames-and-the-spirit-of-capitalism/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: