Computer games transport real-world references, meanings and ideologies and can therefore be political and social media, in a positive, educational or ensnaring, propagandistic manner. The GLOBALE »Global Games« exhibition, between August 2015 and April 2016 at the ZKM, showed the scope of the computer game as a politically and socially relevant medium. Since November 2016, the »Games and Politics« exhibition, developed by the Goethe Institute with support of the ZKM, travels around the world. From January 29 until February 23, 2018, the touring exhibition has been on display at the Goethe-Institute Nancy, France.
Whether computer games are seen as a political issue, as an entertainment medium or – even – as art, they all have to be viewed in a contextual manner. Every game positions itself in a society and picks it out as the central issue at the same time. A political relevance can be postulated for all computer games, even and especially if they seem to evade any kind of political action. Because the following holds true even in these games: The players issue directions but must play by the rules of the game in order to be able to play at all. At the other end of the spectrum are games which are consciously used for the purposes of political education or propaganda objectives in view of an otherwise hard-to-reach target group. The »Games and Politics« touring exhibition is now investigating how computer games develop their political potential.
Based on computer games from the last twelve years which have had obviously political ambitions, it asks about the opportunities and limits of the genre to design a counter-position within the entertainment industry. On one hand, this counter-position can be formulated in simulation of the contingency of political decision making itself, or in the explicitly critical illustration of social conditions and grievances, which unifies all the games shown in the exhibition. Within the games, precarious working conditions can be the central theme in the same manner as gender issues, the surveillance state, the consequences of war, the handling of refugees or revolutions against totalitarian systems.
But can the game still be a political game in the art institution museum? And is the computer game a suitable medium for dealing with such complex political themes? »Games and Politics« would like to show examples for all these political levels within games. Most of these games can be played as part of the exhibition. The exhibition curators also ask experts from media and cultural sciences and game developers about the political potential of computer games. Their answers will be incorporated in small documentaries and an introductory film for the exhibition as well as in the catalogue being published for the exhibition.