Will Communism Win? MCM London May 2018

I went to MCM London at the end of May to wade through the decadent capitalism, explore the compelling masters of social capital at the Creatorscape, and once again ask… will communism win?

Fantastic music by Matias Spina.

Nintendo Direct Announces Marx for Kirby Star Allies

Kirby fans and comrades alike will be pleased to know that revolutionary German philosopher Karl Marx was announced as a playable character in Kirby Star Allies during tonight’s Nintendo Direct.

The colourful platforming adventure game promises the return of many classic Kirby characters playable in up to four-player co-op on the Nintendo Switch, including Blade Knight, Sir Kibble, and father of modern Communist theory, Karl Marx.

The game’s story mode will take Kirby to Dream Land, where he absorbs a Dark Heart and is granted the ability throw printed segments of Socialist theory at his friends to recruit them as comrades for the Planet PopStar Revolution.

Pong – A Secret Communist Propaganda Video Game?

Pong; it was the first commercially-successful video game and a universally-known arcade classic. But is there more than meets the eye? Is Pong… subliminal communist propaganda?

Come with me on a journey of subterfuge and conspiracy to find out!

Background Music – Hello Lenin! by Schnitz Productions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDB3I…

Is Gillian from VA-11 Hall-A a Revolutionary Comrade?

Is Gillian more than a laid-back bartender with a mysterious past? Is he… revolutionary?

Cyberpunk bartending waifu simulator VA-11 Hall-A doesn’t shy away from having a progressive message, with a gay main character swooning over her boss, android sex workers with loveable personalities, and thematic critique of the dangers of a free market. But there’s perhaps more, hidden in one of the game’s almost-comic relief characters; Gillian.

Your co-worker in the VA-11 Hall-A bar is an elusive figure, working under the name of a deceased prior bartender, Robert, after appearing at the door of the establishment in a “disheveled and emotional state.” We know a few things, and I’m going to use them to support my theory that Gillian is a revolutionary comrade, of sorts.

 

He Work(ed) for the KGB

Let’s get the obvious out of the way; Gillian used to work for the KGB, the Soviet Union’s state security agency, in ways akin to the United States’ CIA or the UK’s MI6. We’re unaware as to the details of his involvement with the agency, but this involvement alone is enough to assume aspects of his political leanings.

What’s especially interesting to note is that, while the body text of his wiki page states that he was involved “sometime in the past,” the entry in his occupation list doesn’t specify it as a former job. In the timeline of VA-11 Hall-A, did the KGB perhaps survive, in secret? Does Gillian still work for them? We can only theorise.

 

He Defected from the Hong Kong Anti-riot Forces

Gillian used to be a member of the Hong Kong anti-riot forces; we know this because of a few dialogue encounters, including with CEO of The Augmented Eye, Donovan D. Dawson, who saw him at the infamous Hong Kong riots where he was assigned.

He defected, however, and stole supplies from the side he once fought on. Perhaps he developed a sympathy for the rioters and their cause? To fight against the corruption and the exploitation of the Hong Kong 1%? If we take into account his likely leanings assumed from his KGB role, it isn’t out of the question.

 

He Mysteriously Disappears for a Few Days

Otherwise reliable, Gillian will disappear for a few days from time to time, seemingly for unknown reasons. He always returns safe, and he seems to be able to take care of himself pretty well. Given all of the information we have, I think it isn’t out of the realms of possibility that, if we are to believe the KGB is still operating in-secret, that Gillian is a heavily-undercover agent.

What are the KGB’s goals? What is Gillian’s mission? We can’t know for sure. What we do know is, that if we combine what we know about his past with what we know about his personality, the resulting individual is a really likeable, laid-back guy, and a pretty probable comrade if I’ve ever seen one.

[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

Does MCM Comic Con Think Communism Will Win?

I went to MCM Comic Con in London last weekend, and decided to ask those visiting the convention one important question; will Communism win? What happens next will shock you!

 

Music by Grandayy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=876tE…

 

Camera Crew:

Jane Aerith Magnet: https://twitter.com/maniacjaneiac

Wesley Jon Nux Elkins: https://twitter.com/fretting_lemon

Brütal Legend’s Revolution Against the Bourgeoisie

Brütal Legend is a 2009 action-adventure slash real-time strategy game by Double Fine starring Jack Black as a roadie named Eddie Riggs who is transported to a world inspired by the lyrics and album covers of heavy metal bands. Your task in the game is to amass an army of the downtrodden and the slaves of the land to eventually combat the bondage-clad forces of Emperor Doviculus. But not before bringing the fight to General Lionwhyte of the Hair Metal Militia, a denizen of Doviculus and the overseer of the continued slavery of humanity, at his pleasure tower.

That’s Communistic as fuck. Allow me to explain.

The Hair Metal Militia are the Bourgeoisie

The Hair Metal Militia reek of decadence and exploitation. Their base of operations is known as the ‘Pleasure Tower,’ a guarded monument filled with shimmering riches, high-class architecture towering monuments to Lionwhyte. He and his agents live in luxury, with hot baths, plentiful booze, and their ways with some of the Razor Girls who find themselves in forced pleasure employment. They’re comprised of those workers who chose to side with Lionwhyte, valuing the benefits he affords them over the freedom of their compatriots. Truly, the Hair Metal Milita encapsulate all the traits of the Bourgeoisie, also known as the Capitalist Class in Marxist theory.

The Headbangers are the Exploited Workers

One of the first missions we play in Brütal Legend is called “Exploited in the Bowels of Hell.” We must emancipate the Headbangers toiling their lives away in the Crushing Pit, a rock mine. Presumably this rock is used to construct the towering architecture of Lionwhyte’s pleasure tower, and we also know that car parts are  unearthed that Lionwhyte takes the leather and vinyl from to give to Doviculus. It also serves as a means of oppressing the people. They are the working class; subjugated by the Bourgeois Hair Metal Militia to do their bidding (or more specifically Lionwhyte’s) as a means of benefiting only themselves. We even see a very clear reference to Marx’s work, as we the player are given a Battle Cry guitar solo that we play in order to inspire the workers to revolt, and are told to “break the chains,” an abstraction of “workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!”

The Battle Cry Represents Class Consciousness

A sub-point to the Headbangers; the guitar solo that Eddie plays to liberate the Headbangers of the Crushing Pit could be argued as a representation of class consciousness, as listening to it’s tasty licks is what gives them the realisation that they don’t need to toil their lives away for Lionwhyte. This, by extension, would make Eddie and Ironheade a Revolutionary Vanguard Party, of sorts.

There is Rebellion in the Game’s Lore

Honestly? We don’t even need to look at these representations closely to know of the revolutionary themes in Brütal Legend. Within the history of the world, there’s an outright revolution; the “Black Tear Rebellion.” A band of humans rebelled against their oppressors, the Tainted Coil, and tried to overthrow them and achieve their freedom. It failed when the Rebellion drank from the sea of black tears and lost their minds, but only after the demons gave them such a temptation to begin with, out of fear that they otherwise might lose.

I think there’s some compelling stuff here. Though, I like to think that with every game that I write about. What do you all think? Perhaps I’ve missed some other pieces of evidence? Let me know!

[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

The First Half of Fable III is Pretty Damn Communistic

If you ignore everything about Fable III that stops it being Communistic, it’s actually kinda Communistic.

Fable III was the final main installment in Lionhead Studio’s iconic franchise, and despite a hefty amount of discourse online regarding whether the game was good or not, I actually rather like it, despite it being disappointing compared to its predecessor, Fable II. And if you ignore the constant of monarchy throughout the experience, it’s pretty communistic so I’m going to ignore it and give you a list of reasons why I’m definitely right.

A People’s Revolution

The first two thirds of the game are all about you, the main protagonist, amassing a revolutionary army to overthrow your tyrant brother, who subjects the people of Albion to destitute conditions of poverty and corruption. You recruit the military, the city resistance, a group of mountain dwellers, and various other groups and factions throughout Albion to assist you. Sure, the primary basis in convincing them all to join is that you’re the true heir to the throne, but that invalidates any point that I might have, so let’s envision a reality where this isn’t the case.

The Age of Industry

At the time in which we experience the lands of Albion, it’s experiencing an industrial age. There are factories, mechanised transportation systems, and a new era of slave-wage labour. It’s all very much inspired by the 1800s, a hotbed for a people’s revolt. It’s during this time that the formulation and rise of Communist thought occurred as a direct response to industrialisation exploiting workers in a way never before seen. It is therefore difficult to argue that Lionhead Stuios weren’t aware of the parallels between the narrative of Fable III and the dawn of Communism

Benevolent Dictatorship

Time to throw you all a curve ball! I’ll be acknowledging the monarchy aspect of this game. Because, if you look at it with squinted eyes and sprinkle it with a heap of wishful thinking, then you could vaguely describe your monarchical status in Fable III as resembling a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship. Not my personal preferred flavour of Communism, but Communism nonetheless! This is further supported by all of the benevolent, for-the-people royal decrees, like abolishing child labour, free public libraries, and putting funding into looking after orphans.

At the end of the day, life is all about perspective.  And to many perspectives, Fable III isn’t at all indicative of a Communist revolutionary story. But my perspective, when looked at from the right angles, is that with a little optimism, maybe it is. Certainly makes the game a little less disappointing.

[THIS IS A DISCLAIMER THAT I’LL BE ADDING AS A FOOTNOTE TO ALL OF MY WORK FROM NOW ON: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

Mario Kart’s Rubber-Banding is Like a Soviet Five-Year Plan

Once again, Nintendo and its creations eerily mirror the Soviet Union in a number of ways, this time with Mario Kart.

Mario Kart is a game designed for the whole family, pitting popular characters from the Mario and greater Nintendo universe against each other in a go-kart race to the finish line with speed boosts, sky-soaring jumps, and infuriating special abilities.

One of the ways that Nintendo have made the Mario Kart franchise universally accessible is through a number of balancing mechanics that keep every player continually challenged in a fun way and makes sure that, even if you’re lagging behind, you’re afforded opportunities that keep the race equally competitive. And I can’t help but see parallels between these mechanics and a Soviet five-year plan, so let’s look into this some more.

 

Rubber-Banding

When playing Mario Kart with AI, a patented mechanic is implemented: rubber-banding. Introduced in Mario Kart 64, the game will either give CPU racers who lag too far behind you an abnormal speed boost as an opportunity to catch up with you, or will hinder the performance of your vehicle for the same effect. While this may initially seem unfairly-punishing to players who put the extra work in to make it to first place, in reality it keeps the experience consistently challenging, and makes sure you’re always on your toes.

This mirrors the Soviet Union’s five-year plans, wherein every facet of economic development including agriculture, transportation, health and education, was carefully monitored and controlled to maintain an equal level of growth.

 

The Blue Shell

The Blue Shell is perhaps the most infamous of Mario Kart’s item roster, introduced in the 1996/97 release Mario Kart 64. It’s similar in function to the Red Shell, firing off and homing in on the player ahead of them to stall them for a few seconds and giving you an advantage. Only, the Blue Shell specifically targets the player in first place. It, and other powerful items, become more likely pick-ups the further you are from first place, as a means of giving players performing more poorly a chance to get back into the fray.

This aspect of Mario Kart also ties into the five-year plan system. During each five-year period, while every aspect of the economy was maintained at roughly the same level, special focus would be given to a specific industry throughout the plan in order to bolster it depending on the needs of the state.

 

Intention vs. Reception

Mario Kart’s balancing in these two aspects were always intended to make races an even playing field regardless of skill, experience and accessibility, because at the end of the day, Nintendo wanted to make something that anyone can enjoy: that sells. But, varying from iteration to iteration of the franchise, it’s always been ragged on by some who feel that it makes the game boring, and that it doesn’t reward players who put a lot of effort into being really good at beating their counterparts.

Similarly, many Capitalist thinkers who praise the free market as a bastion of diversity in options and that rewards the hard worker over what they’d call the “freeloader,” don’t understand that unregulated economy breeds systematic inequality, and harms the little guy who might not have the resources or opportunities afforded to those better-off, and thus will suffer under such a system.

 

What do you all think? I suspect, especially given Nintendo’s track record of being comparable to the Soviet Union, that this is pretty conclusive evidence of the Soviet Union inspiring a lot of what the Japanese company did and how they behaved, especially back in the day.

[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]

Complex Narratives, the Rise of Fascism, and Wolfenstein II

Wolfenstein is no longer appealing to the target demographic that the series has historically adored it, and there are two main reasons why.

As October creeps ever-closer, so does the release of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, MachineGames’ sequel to the 2014 revival of the iconic nazi-killing action series. Wolfenstein has been a mainstay of video games since the third title in the series, Wolfenstein 3D, revolutionized the first-person perspective by introducing simplistic, fast-paced gun combat into the series’ anti-fascist formula, and practically inventing the FPS genre back in 1992.

And once again, it’s bringing a revolution to the industry: or, more accurately, to an alternate version of 1960’s America where Germany won the Second World War. Nazi flags fly in the streets in place of the star-spangled banner, Klansmen talk with SS officers about catching up on their German lessons, and game shows like “German… Or Else!” are broadcast to every television set in the United States. And we, dear old B.J. Blazkowicz, fight alongside a unified resistance movement to try and bring freedom back to the land of the free.

And that’s all well and good, you’d rightly assume. If you asked someone to list things that they could kill in a video game, Nazis will almost always be one of their first three responses. Their historical hatred and acts of genocide has cemented their ideology as one of society’s generally-agreed true evils.

But in the past decade, far-right mentality–not limited to Fascism and white supremacy–has experienced somewhat of a mainstream resurgence. It’s always been there, creeping in the shadows and manifesting with subtlety in power structures across the globe, but until recently it hasn’t been worryingly-common to see them marching in the streets brandishing swastika flags. The normalization of such bigotry can no doubt be attributed to a fast-growing movement spawned by the likes of the National Policy Institute and 4chan: the Alt-Right.

The loosely-defined group of extreme right-wing thinkers purposefully evade any definitive goal or official organization, allowing them to dodge critique and paint the left as paranoid and reactionary. But in observing the beliefs of many who claim ownership of the term, much of the Alt-Right stands for one thing: the advocacy of a socially-conservative white ethno-state. They’ve always walked the fine line between what is considered socially risqué in a liberal-centrist society and outright Nazism, aiming to present a less-threatening image, tidying up their language; opting for dog whistle terminology like “identitarianism,” and “preserving Western values.” But in doing so, they’ve shifted the global political spectrum far right enough that bona fide fascism is beginning to be seen as simply a “differing political opinion,” and as such, more and more have begun to openly espouse the rhetoric of groups like the National Socialist Party of America.

Now, how does this all relate to Wolfenstein II? Well, Wolfenstein as a series and the countless first-person shooters that have spawned from its legacy have always marketed to a stereotype target audience: the young, hyper-masculine “dude-bro” archetype. This demographic is seen to have an undying love for fast-paced, action-packed, gun-running violence, and for a significant portion of the genre’s history, this was almost always directed at video games’ favourite villain, the Nazi.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And for a while, this was absolutely fine. But, as with many things, we can apply a Venn diagram, and there’s a large intersection between the target demographic of the FPS, and the target demographic of Alt-Right recruitment: insidious propaganda campaigns designed to appeal to both the impoverished white working class and the middle-upper class yearning for a sense of purpose, making promises like “reclaiming the honor of your ancestors.”

Of course, nothing definitive or factual can be said of the circumstances without conducting studies and surveys, but we can at least theorize that a chunk of the typical first-person shooter demographic may have fallen victim to the temptations of the Alt-Right. This in turn may introduce these same people to other flavours of pie in the far-right pie shop, so to speak, possibly explaining fraternal groups like the Proud Boys.

And with the FPS genre focusing more on the modern day and futuristic landscapes in recent times, it makes sense that we haven’t seen this politically-incidental backlash until recently. Only now that video games are really returning to Nazis as the central villain in their worlds are we feeling the heat from Alt-Right gamers. The comment sections of The New Colossus’s trailers, the replies to tweets from the Bethesda and Wolfenstein Twitter accounts, and threads on forum sites like Reddit and NeoGAF are worryingly filled with comments decrying the game for encouraging the murder of ‘people with different political beliefs.’

But killing Nazis isn’t the only part of Wolfenstein II that’s fueling far-right outrage. Many are also critical of the diversity present in the resistance, and accompanying the defense of Fascism are accusations that Bethesda are pandering to ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice warriors.’

Those that Blazkowicz will ally himself with in The New Colossus are quite the varied bunch: people of colour, those experiencing varying degrees of disability, and even a positive portrayal of (genuine) Communists. B.J. himself even fits into this crowd, as a now paraplegic jewish person who only finds himself on his two feet and slaying Wehrmacht thanks to a futuristic exo-suit. And in reality, these are groups of people that would and do in fact lead the charge against Fascism wherever they see it.

The representation in Wolfenstein II is an example of how far video games have come in their ability to convey rich and complex narratives. In Wolfenstein 3D, due to technical limitations and societal perspectives on what video games should be allowed to explore, all you really did was run around a castle and shoot SS soldiers. But now that we have even bigger studios with teams dedicated to storytelling, all existing within a slowly-maturing industry, the stories that we tell in games have a heightened potential to show us more of the intricacies and details that one would find in the real world.

We saw resistance movements resembling that in The New Colossus in Nazi Germany. They were small and often disorganized, but they were certainly there. Red Orchestra, a group of anti-fascists, Communists, and Anarchists, assisted in the production of anti-Nazi propaganda and aided Jewish people and other targeted minority groups in fleeing the country. Not to mention the countless attempts on Hitler’s life throughout the period of the second world war. And it’s this aspect of a Fascist occupation that we can realize in games, with more dedication and time put into them, and it’s exactly what’s being realized in Wolfenstein II.

This no doubt contributes to the greater outrage surrounding the game. But it also has another impact: it’s making it more appealing to the progressive left. Whether intentional or not, MachineGames have, in their fleshed-out depiction of a Nazi United States, given the voiceless and the downtrodden some representation in a fight against Fascism. If it weren’t enough that one could enjoy killing Nazis with giant guns as it is, we can now do so alongside people that we feel stronger connections and a greater degree of empathy with.

Through a mixture of a global political shift, a rise in Fascism, and a greater ability to construct narratives in video games, the target audience of Wolfenstein, be it intentional or not, has shifted. No longer is the demographic the hypermasculine with a penchant for violence. Wolfenstein is now a game for the exploited, the minority, and the unashamed anti-Fascist.

(Special thanks to my editor Wesley Elkins for helping me with what was a very lengthy job.)