Trump’s election ushered in a political winter doomed to last at least four years, assuming he escapes impeachment. Since then, creatives in virtually every industry have responded by turning Trump’s inflammatory soundbites into kindling for the artistic fire. TV shows such as Netflix’s Dear White People and The Handmaid’s Tale have played on the anxieties induced by the barely veiled misogyny and racism in his rhetoric. In cinema we see films such as BlacKkKlansman, Battle of the Sexes and The Post capturing the tension of the era with prescience, given their long production cycles. Resistance politics has also erupted off the screen in the #MeToo movement.
Video games have been all but absent from this conversation – though the medium is no less capable of meaningful cultural narratives that capture the zeitgeist. Out of dozens of titles released in 2018 for the PS4 and Xbox One, I count only two that could be read as Trumpian satire. Far Cry 5 depicts an impoverished middle America being slowly taken over by a mind-controlling religious cult – though it has nothing to say about America or current US politics. Detroit: Become Human depicts a world where androids are becoming ubiquitous and causing mass unemployment; angry humans to want to destroy them, leaving it up to the androids to prove that they are deserving of life. The setting is significant: the game makes clunky references to Detroit’s history as a route for escaped slaves to cross from the US into Canada via the underground railroad, and its racism allegory is not exactly subtle.
But two titles does not a resistance make. Dmitri Williams, associate professor at the University of Southern California, is an expert in the video game industry and offers some insight as to why we might be seeing a lag in the medium’s response to the political shift. “The most obvious reason why we aren’t seeing a tidal wave of progressive game content right now is that the production cycles on the larger titles can be pretty long – [maybe] two or three years. So a game that’s already in development will have a harder time reacting to current events of any type,” he says. “Most of the really big titles already have a mythology and backstory and are on sequel tracks. We shouldn’t expect the next Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed to be ripped from the headlines.”