Attending "Making & Playing Games In A Time of Political Struggle"

Last Thursday, EMi did some field research by heading down to NYU Game Center to catch Austin Walker’s talk as a part of the Center’s reoccurring lecture center. Learning from others is critical, and we’re big fans of Austin's work; we thought it might be fun to share EMi’s takeaways from the experience. She’s also a professional photographer, so we have her snapshots from the night to share.


The talk was both compelling and humbling, particularly coming from a position in the industry as people who strive to use games to improve the world around us. Austin didn’t hesitate and dove straight into a discussion on about nazi movements and the rise of fascism we’ve had to face. He offered a call back to the last time had spoken at the Game Center to give a keynote for Different Games, a conference EMi has helped co-organized for the past few years. He told the audience of his hope and optimism at that time, due in part to the anti-capitalistic focus of the event. You can watch that keynote here.


But, he told the crowd, fascism has used our own vocabulary against us. “I could not feel more firmly that games will not save us,” he said. He described  how games that are often “for change” can let us down because they attempt to employ common storytelling techniques of games for play. This results in the games themselves falling flat, and the meaningful conversations left without any kind of nuance due to their attempts to adhere to these conventions. He mentioned a few titles he had been hopeful about, but ultimately disappointed by.

His talk ended on what was ultimately a positive note about the fact that there always has been and will be play, as there has always been labor. “Games will not save us but we cannot escape them,” he said, and continued that they do not need to be treated as a “special” medium in order to be good or valuable.

It was certainly a lot to take in, but when EMi recapped it for us afterwards, we all agreed it was very motivating for us. We firmly believe we can’t use games as a substitute for real world empathy, and Austin’s talk reinforces that games can’t be a closed conversation that aims to resolve a challenging issue with an hour or two of play. They have to be a tool that can help open a door into a deeper conversation.


Mediums such as books, films, art, have done this for centuries in spite of the limitations of their structures. We agree with Austin’s critique that “games will not save us”, in the end we have to save ourselves, but hopefully art can help us open doors to a better future. We will continue to strive, in the artistic sense, to serve as the opening of that conversation and not seek to conquer it. We cannot attempt to vanquish social ills as easily as though they were a boss battle. We want to use our games to start a productive conversation, and hopefully a positive step forward or at the very least, a means to explore a fresh perspective.

We’re really looking forward to internalizing Austin’s talk and reflecting on it more in the days to come as we approach our work attempting to create games that can make people’s lives better. You can find a video of the talk here

We hope you enjoyed this reflection! If you did, please be sure to let us know. We'd also love to learn about other events you’d like for us to visit and learn from in the future. This could become a regular feature now that we have our blog up and running and we want to write about things you enjoy! So please, be in touch.


Marguerite Dibble