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Realpolitik and Political Theory in Role-Playing Games

What can we learn from the political fiction of some good RPGs (and what RPGs have to learn from realpolitik and political theory)

“a fight for something or the representation of something.”

Interestingly, this quote can also serve to define the functions of politics: all politics are made in order to fight for something or someone and/or in order to represent (in a different sense of games) the partial expression of a people. In this story, I will show how both aspects of politics can be captured and elaborated by political fiction in RPGs, especially tactical RPGs.

Oil on canvas “The Third of May 1808" (1814), by Francisco Goya. Museo del Prado, Madrid.
From left to right: Disco Elysium; Dungeon Encounters.
Photo of a meeting between Vladimir Putin (President of Russia, left) and Emmanuel Macron (President of France, right) in which they talk about tensions between Russia and Ukraine weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Source: Valor Econômico.

Real politics in video games

When intending to make a video game about politics, there are many reasons to study real politics or “realpolitik”, that is, political phenomena that actually happened or are happening. The main reasons that make this study extremely useful for game developers are:

  • Examples to increase the verisimilitude of political events;
  • Inspiration for mechanics.
Schindler’s List: Source: Netflix.
  1. Historical plausibility.
Triangle Strategy scenes. Sources: Nintendo Blast; IGN.
Scene from the movie “Ivan the Terrible, Part II” (1958), by Sergei Eisenstein. Source: Criterion.

Political Theory in video games

Just as political history can be useful for developers of politically themed RPGs, political theory can also be useful for those developers. I believe the main uses are:

  • Examples of arguments to be used in dialog lines;
  • Inspiration for creating characters.
The modern traditions of realism, liberalism and idealism in international relations. Source: Guilherme Casarões (Twitter).
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster. Sources: Nintendo Blast; Gaming Trend.
Disco Elysium. Source: YouTube.

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Vítor M. Costa

Brazilian historian and philosopher. Nintendo Blast (PT), SUPERJUMP (EN) writer. Here, I write gaming essays about what video games are and what they can do.