Let’s zoom in on ones based around exploration and player freedom. As someone who grew up playing Halo, a military, sci-fi, first-person shooter known for its mixture of running, gunning, and driving through wide-open alien environments, the power-driven appeal is plain to see; it’s the fantasy of playing an uncontestable super-soldier fighting the good fight. Over time, though, it’s become hard to ignore how much the designs of games like Halo and its contemporaries—first-person shooter games, open-world games, and beyond—are rooted in colonial ideals. It’s easy to create distance when playing something like Halo because of its outlandish setting, and less so in games that pursue gritty realism, placing you in a digital facsimile of the real world, gamifying drone strikes in queasily fascist fantasy. While genre fiction allows a step of removal from such discomfort, there are often few ways to interact with a game world other than through violence, at least in the mainstream of video games anyway.
Such games are concerned with conquering supposedly barren land, its denizens, more often than not, merely obstacles in your path to doing so. But this isn’t a condemnation of the player, as it’s not simply the player’s actions that makes things this way. Contemporary game writing is equally attached to real systems of globalist exploitation, starting with their perspectives.1 In games that don’t allow for character creation and customization, the player will typically play a white Anglo American (and even when customization is possible, players like myself will struggle—hair options for Black characters are notoriously terrible, for starters2).
The colonialist impulse in video games isn’t limited by genre; it includes a wide range of games, from the real-time strategy3 game series Civilization to the more overtly named Age of Empires, which gamifies conquering and resource grabbing. Even Animal Crossing: New Horizons,4 a seemingly innocuous social simulation game, joins the likes of Monster Hunter: World, where “the world is a bounty.”5 Open-world action games like these make the power fantasy more direct.