Obsidian’s upcoming sci-fi RPG The Outer Worlds may be about uncontrolled megacorporations colonizing entire planets, but that doesn’t mean it’s meant to be politically charged according to co-director Leonard Boyarsky. The Outer Worlds is being co-directed by Boyarsky and Tim Cain, the creators of the original Fallout.
Boyarsky’s comments make Obsidian the latest in a string of game studios positioning their ostensibly political games as apolitical. Just recently, the developers of Far Cry 5 and The Division 2 - about a militarized religious cult in the American Midwest and a clandestine special ops team mowing down looters after the collapse of the government, respectively - have claimed that their games have no particular political message. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemont and Vice President of Editorial Tommy Francois have also released statements saying that they want their games to show multiple viewpoints rather than take any specific stance.
In an interview with VGC, Boyarsky shared similar sentiments about Obsidian’s goals for The Outer Worlds, saying that it wants to show players different sides of the same issue rather than “lecturing them.” He points out that the game tries to humanize characters who have viewpoints that he doesn’t personally agree with, while making sure not to portray those who he does agree with as unquestionably good people. Boyarsky also says that the game is not about the modern state of the world at all. Everything shown from The Outer Worlds so far seems to skewer corporate capitalism - also a common theme in Fallout - but according to Boyarsky, capitalism isn’t the real target. The topic of politics in game has been in the spotlight a lot recently, but it’s often muddied by inconsistency of what “politics” even means, as one comment from Boyarsky illustrates:
“I don’t want people to think this is a really hard, politically-charged game: it’s supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be humorous.”
This, along with promises not to “lecture” players or put people with disagreeable ideas in an unflattering light, seems to define anything “political” as inherently both dull and one-sided. The discussion is complicated even further by some right-leaning players for whom the mere presence of women, people of color, or LGBTQ characters is as “political” as explicitly anti-fascist or anti-capitalist statements.
It’s not hard to see how companies desperate to recoup the enormous development costs of a game like The Outer Worlds could be scared into stripping potentially controversial political statements from their games, or simply denying that they’re there. Developers want their games to appeal to the largest possible audience, but in sanitizing them, they can unwittingly play into the hands of a vocal minority who would be all too happy to push certain ideas - and people - out of gaming entirely.