Factions: politics and purpose

Many games these days feature the ability to pick a side in a conflict, Imperials vs Stormcloaks, Intuition vs Mystic vs Valor, The Institute vs The Brotherhood of Steel, etc. The choice of what side you are on can be a reflection of your friends (tribalism), your personal beliefs (philosophy), or simply curiosity for the road less travelled.

In older games these factions had marked differences to make it easy to distinguish between them “heroes vs villains” as in City of Heroes, but as games’ stories have become more complex there have been increasing shades of grey thrown into faction choice to mimic what we see in the real world where idealism and political realities clash.

In the game Star Wars: The Old Republic the player had the ability to choose between the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic, generally understood as bad and good respectively.  However, the player can choose to be morally good or bad within their storyline in either faction.  This blurring of moral lines is further reinforced by the flaws in the ideals of each faction.

For example a player in the Galactic Republic may believe in the ideals of a united republic of worlds; but will encounter the dishonesty of leaders practicing politics and rampant corruption. Whereas a player within the Sith Empire may be surprised to find that their faction is always honest in its code of conduct and its intentions.  However the execution of their plans is often brutal and any dissent is met with harsh oppression.

The flaws in these factions makes the choice one of lesser evils, do I side with one who promises to work for the good while being corrupt? Or should I side with one who is honest yet brutal?  The choice itself presents the player with a moral dilemma.  It is important to realize the real world faction choices these in-game decisions echo. Republican or Democrat, pro this and anti that, for each ideal we hold there are flaws in ideology which will always be present even if not in ourselves in others who identify with our cause.

The beauty of this experience, that has been so elegantly introduced and executed in games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, is that it makes the player aware that each side has a narrative that can be filled with stories of good and evil.  That banners themselves devoid of context, of the actions of those who carry them mean little.  It is how we behave and share with the world our beliefs that ultimately define whether something is good or bad, right or wrong.


Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.

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