Thursday, 1 July 2010

Politics and gaming

The main reason for this post is to A come up with some other things to talk about when things get a little slow, and B get a bit of practise in identification and evaluation.

Perhaps my most nerdiest "hobby" is finding political subtexts in fiction especially in the fantastical variety and then over analysing and criticising it. For example I found a unbelievably omnipresent US Liberal subtext in World War Z (a book about a near Zombie apocalypse told from a global perspective) which together with the numerous cultural and historic errors really ruin the book for me, but I might get to that later. Obviously for some books and films the politics is so transparent and in your face that isn't even subtext it is the whole bloody thing. And sometimes the actually subtext is entirely unintentional and all in your head. I once watched an interview with the creators of Bagpuss where they told the story of how they received a research thesis about how all the characters in the show represent one class or professional elite in modern society and how they interact with one another, they found this very surprising as they thought the show was about a lazy toy cat and his friends.

Anyway one theme that does often interest me time and again is the depictions of future/alien societies that have gone down a completely different social evolution to are own. Thats probably what attracted me to Sociology back in six form. And also explains why I did so poorly at it given that I spent much of my time watching telly and playing games rather then revising for the exams.

Thee most common examples are of course the space Fascists. Probably because a militaristic dystopia run by hyper nationalists with a strong emphasis on duty to the state despite being run by an oligarchy of military officers and political serpents is both easy to show (swastika like symbols, read banners, and soldiers everywhere) and starkly different to our individualistic liberal civilisation ensuring stark contrasts.

And I have to say I actually quite like Fascism.... in space anyway. The Cardassians from Star Trek always struck me as the most interesting villains of the show sociologically, the Klingons were just a race of drunk vikings and the Romulans were just evil for the sake of it. Where as the Cardassians in contrast were developed to be somewhat realistic and human (despite being reptiles) they were Fascistic but the back story gave very believable and understandable reasons for why there society developed as it had done. But again I'll come back to them later.

Anyway I've recently been playing my old video games recently since I've had a bit of down time while looking for work, one of the games I've been playing that got thinking of the whole subtext in media thing was the Killzone series. Now if your not family with it its the one set in the future were mankind has colonised a few planets and theres a war between the American accented NATOesque ISA (the military wing of Earth and its colonies) and the Helghast a subspecies of former humans who are up in the picture, and could reasonably be described as British Space nazi's (there voiced by Sean Pertwee and Brian Cox among other Brits) at least in the first game.

Again the back story which is surprisingly detailed and complex for a game called Killzone. Pretty much subverts it, like the Cardassians the explanation for why the Helghast decided that goose stepping was the way to go is fairly understandable and parallels the rise of Hitler.

A brief(ish) summary:

The Helghast were originally the Helghan corporations a company that under Earth orders colonised and ran two worlds the paradise of Vekta were they lived and Helghan a nightmarish world with bad weather and a poisonous atmosphere, but was also loaded wit petruxide (space oil) and thus was the site of many refineries and work crews.

Stifled by Earth corruption Helghan tried to secede, Earth called in the ISA and easily crushed the Helghans who only had a police force/customs guards. The survivors flee to Hleghan to escape Earth oppression and are force to make a new life on it. The atmosphere is do harsh that many perish, the survivors evolve to better cope and become somewhat separate from the human genome as a resoulte.

Earth decides it will be cheaper and easier to force the Helghans to keep mining the ore themselves rather then having to occupy it so make peace with them granting Helghan its desired independence but they must keep production levels up and sell them at a severe undervaluation in a way similar to how Germany after the Treaty of Versailles had to keep giving up millions of Tonnes of its resources to the Allied powers or face invasion. (the justification for the occupation of the Ruhr was that Germany missed a payment of lumber).

The humiliation of defeat and the continued economic plundering coupled with the inability of the Helghan government to do anything but kowtow keep the Helghans impoverished and angry as resentment bubbles other. This is obviously a play on the stabbed in the back myth in Germany as well as the continued economic stagnation and seeming powerlessness of the politicians to stand up to foreign bullying.

These internal fractures enable a young charismatic demagogue by the name of Visari to build a mass populist movement of all Helghan society in opposition to the status quo by offering not only future revenge but also pride. Visari is the one who comes up with the name Helghast deriving from the German Ghast meaning ghost or spirit to differentiate them from humanity. He also starts the trend of using the gasmask A symbol of low standing) into a symbol of Helghast pride. It quite obvious that Visari is supposed to be Hitler (in the 30's anyway) as one thing that is sometimes missing in documentaries and anylses of the rise of the Nazi's is that they didn't just preach hatred of the foreign meddler or how the Jews and Slavs were rodents, they also spent a lot of there time and propaganda budget on rebuilding German pride. They were also very critical of the Bourgeoisie snobbery of the Prussian Yunkers and industrialists and would often spend time venerating the tools of Labour (the German Labour Front had its own militaristic parades). In fact the whole the doctrine of Volksgemeinschaft was about creating harmony between the classes of Germany based on the shared pride Proles and Bourgeois had for there German national identity, and any symbol of German life that wasn't tainted by international Jewery was not to be belittled no matter how low.

Visari sweeps to power after a fake assassination attempt similar to the Reichstag fire. He then begins a program of rapid militarisation paid for by black market smuggling and some long overdue renegotiations on Helghan trade agreements, similar to Striessmens deals to lessen the economic burden of Germany in the late 1920's.

The militarisation of Hleghast society complete, Visari sets out to reclaim the planet of Vekta in a similar way to Hitlers early land grabs in the 30's or Clemenceau's Revanchist goal of reclaiming Alsace-Lorraine from the Germans after the humiliating Franco-Prussian war.

Summary over. There we see the main ingredients for the birth of Fascism are humilitaion, the feeling of unjust treatment inflaming the passions of the populous. We also see that the type of Nationalistic collectivism needed for a Fascist state class "harmonisation" is achieved in opposition to continued oppressive actions by the "Outsiders". And that through extreme military expansion the Fascist society can carry out the aims that maintain its stability; conflict and tensions with the "enemy" keep the people together and mobilised against one foe and give a convenient scapegoat to remove any dissent.

Thats pretty deep for an FPS that has lightning cannons and hover tanks.

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