—Video games are an essential part of contemporary culture. Ignoring them in outreach programmes would be odd. It is an internationally recognized practice: for instance, Games for Change
is an empowering community for games that engage social issues. Their directory includes hundreds of games addressing a variety of subjects ranging from hunger crisis in Africa to marine pollution. In Russia, we are just taking the first steps. There was the excellent case of Spring in Bishkek
, a mobile game developed in Kyrgyzstan that focuses on the widespread abduction of girls and women for forced marriage.
Moreover, games are a big part of today’s ethical debate. Most developers, both high- and low-budget, strive to conform to the latest ethical guidelines, proposing complex narratives and relevant dilemmas, as for instance The Last of Us
, a game that claims anyone is free to love anyone else, regardless of their gender, and revenge is bad for you. The Assassin’s Creed
series is an excellent way of learning about the history of Ancient Greece. With some allowances, for sure, but players are able to explore ancient worlds at their leisure. Following a recent remake, even Mafia
became a beautiful story of betrayal, the freedom to make one’s choices, and the lack of it.
Video games challenge xenophobia and hate speech inasmuch as they allow players to choose characters of any gender, skin colour, or sexual preferences, although a while ago the only available protagonists were white men or extremely sexualised women. Today, developers tend to depart from conventions and stereotypes, and this is also about values.
Speaking of xenophobia, Red Dead Redemption 2
deserves a special mention: it focuses on racial issues in the US and the massacre of indigenous peoples that used to be omitted from game narratives. The game promotes freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and all the other freedoms protected by the American Constitution. On the face of it, Red Dead Redemption seems a Western adventure with bandits, but actually it is a complex, multi-level work with a tragic end. So games are didactic as well.Life is Strange
is another good case in point: a 3D graphic adventure that focuses on an ordinary student girl who becomes a student boy in the last part of the gameplay. The protagonist learns what it means to be different, to accept oneself, which is a precondition of being accepted by others. There are many games along the same lines, and they help people get useful skills.
Clearly, the hardcore gaming community also exists, and the ethics they share are quite conservative, but their influence is limited because they represent just a small part of the audience. They can be vocal all they like, but others vote with their roubles, dollars, and other currencies, and this is much more important.