One of the many debates, that I am now wading into, is about politics in gaming. Is there a place for politics at the game table? Should real-world issues matter when a group of people get together to throw some dice and tell a tale?
My response to this is unequivocally, yes.
At it’s most base, heroes in a fantasy role-playing game simply cannot save a kingdom if there is no formal political organization to that made-up fantasy setting. It could be a monarchy, a republic, a democracy, theocracy, but in the end, it’s political. Any attempt to pretend like that’s not the case, to put it diplomatically, naive.
For anyone that might think that this stuff is just window dressing, it isn’t. If you have a contract, even if it’s an oral one, there’s some kind of legal system. If the contract isn’t honored because of an appeal to some kind of cut-throat legal system, then cut-throat justice is permissible. If you have a repressive elite running the area your player characters are adventuring in, then you have people being repressed. It isn’t possible to be “a political” when you run games.
Consider that fantasy RPGs are generally what people think of when it comes to the universe of tabletop role-playing games. This often implies a monarchy. In most places, monarchs were disposed of as the head of state a while ago. Yet, they persist in games. There are implications to this kind of social organization, and those implications are unavoidable. Whether the peasants like their ruler, loathe their ruler, or are indifferent doesn’t matter. They are still peasants. Power lies elsewhere. Politics matter in gaming.
However, rather than try and avoid politics in gaming, I think it’s something to be embraced. How does a society organize itself? What are the implications of that choice? These are crucial world-building questions, and the real world can influence that. Whether that influence is explicit or implicit is of secondary concern. There is essentially no way to truly avoid politics in gaming. People can pretend that’s possible, but they’re wrong.
*The picture chosen for this post is an image that represents the book “The Apology” by Plato, in which Socrates defends himself against charges of heresy and corrupting the youth. In the democratic city-state that was Athens, the man that was arguably one of the greatest minds of all time was sentenced to death by poison by the democratic state that he was a member of. In acknowledgment of the fact that Socrates was a product of his society, he refused to accept an offer for exile, and instead drank the hemlock that killed him. Plato also wrote The Republic, which is one the foundational books on political science. In it, he argued that aristocracy (rule by a self-selecting elite) was the ideal form of government, not democracy. Just some for thought for gamers that thinks politics don’t matter.