The video games industry is generally thought of as less politically active that other areas of the entertainment business. Fewer games tackle political themes in a meaningful way and most creative voices in design and development world staying largely out of newsworthy topics – save for instances when the topic is the games industry itself (i.e. the gaming-censorship controversies of the 1990s).
Despite this, the games business has been increasingly drawn into the political fray in recent years, most notably in regards to military themes in games like Call of Duty and the so-called Gamergate movement. Now, politics and the games industry have collided yet again, with a growing number of game developers poised to withdraw their support for the Oculus Rift VR platform over its creator’s newly-revealed controversial political activities.
The Oculus Rift has not only been at the forefront of the most recent attempt to push so-called “Virtual Reality” headset displays as the next frontier for video games. The company’s eccentric creator and founder Palmer Luckey (now considered a “near-billionaire” after selling Oculus to Facebook) had very much become the “face” of the movement – even posing for an iconic shoeless photograph sporting the headgear on the cover of Time Magazine. However, a report published by The Daily Beast has now cast Luckey in a different new light; namely, as the money and power behind a controversial political organization that supports U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump.
According to the report, Luckey was the principal financial backer of “Nimble America,” which describes itself as “a social welfare 501(c)4 non-profit” group organized chiefly to translate so-called “sh**posting” memes – typically associated with the darker sides of 4Chan and Reddit subculture – into more traditional political-advocacy media specifically in support of Trump and in opposition to his Democrat challenger, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The report went on to identify Luckey as having “outed” himself on Reddit as a user associated with the group’s forum under the handle “NimbleRichMan” – an admission that Luckey now disputes but original reporter Gideon Resnick says he retains records of.
Open support for both Presidential candidates has been common and received uneventfully in the U.S. games industry during the current election season. However, the Trump campaign has come under fire for failing to distance itself from outside support groups (often, like Nimble America, based online) perceived to engage in extreme anti-immigrant, nationalist and racially-charged rhetoric. By that same token, Luckey’s association with Nimble America prompted outrage thanks to its connections to Milo Yiannopoulos: a political agitator (infamously banned from Twitter for the harassment of Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones) employed by Breitbart, an online news and opinion outlet frequently associated with the white-supremacist “alt-right” movement.
As such, a growing number of game developers are now stating their intent to cease support of the Oculus Rift platform (up to and including not releasing their games as compatible with the device) so long as Luckey remains part of the equation. Superhypercube and Fez developer Polytron has already withdrawn support, as has Tomorrow Today Labs – with multiple others in the field also showing support though not definitively pulling their games yet. Still others have publically pledged donations to the Clinton campaign with the goal of offsetting the $10,000 Luckey is said to have invested in Nimble America’s activities.
As part of the same Facebook post denying the NimbleRichMan identity, Luckey has apologized for his actions casting a bad light on his company, and has downplayed his own participation in Nimble’s actions – maintaining that he only gave the organization money and describing himself as a “Libertarian” who plans to support third party candidate Gary Johnson in the upcoming election. While no one has suggested that Luckey not be “allowed” to support whatever political causes he wishes, many consumers and industry professionals continue to take to social media to state their intent to support Oculus’ competitors like Playstation VR and HTC to avoid the prospect of their money going (indirectly) to support the Trump campaign – though others have pledged support for both Luckey and his views as well.