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Propaganda. It’s that thing that’s all around us and is probably bad for you, but no one gives a shit, except for one man because he’s all out of gum:
[audience laughs]. Okay, that probably wasn’t a John Oliver-worthy opening, but propaganda in video games is real and has influenced many a game since the inception of the industry itself. In his landmark book, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, sociologist Jacquest Ellul defines propaganda as “the group of manifestations by which any society seeks to integrate the maximum number of individuals into itself, to unify its members’ behavior according to a pattern, to spread its style of life abroad, and thus to impose itself on other groups.”
Now, you’re thinking, why should I care? Well, like Roddy Piper in They Live! (before he got that special pair of shades), the video game target demographic is highly vulnerable and susceptible to hidden messages designed to directly appeal to the subconscious. These messages serve to ‘nudge’ people onto a path the author wants, and if that message is destructive, well, I don’t need to explain the rest, do I? Without further ado, here our list of 9 games that were made with the intent to spread propaganda.
1. Anti-Japan War Online
Developed by PowerNet Technologies, an organization linked to the youth wing of the Communist Party of China, the game’s title clues us in to its propagandistic nature. Set amidst the fires of the Second Chinese-Japanese Revolution, the game purposefully plays up the “ugliness” of the Japanese (represented in both conduct and physicality). A testament to the strong anti-Japanese sentiments that still exist within China even today.
2. Special Operation 85
The usual FPS scenario is CTs versus terrorists. This one takes it down a different route. Two Iranian nuclear scientists, married couple Maryam and Saeed, are kidnapped by American forces whilst on a spiritual journey, and thrown in a secret jail somewhere in the country. You are Bahram Nasseri, elite commando for the Quds Force, tasked with freeing them and four of their colleagues. There’s even a special mission where you hunt down the Iranian nuclear mole!
Developed in three years, and costing a measly $32.000 to make, the Union of Islamic Students willingly forked over the cash as an offense-response to Kuma Reality’s Assault on Iran.
3. Bato: Ang Bumangga Giba!
4. America’s Army
Designed from the outset to be a sort of recruitment tool for the United States Army, U.S. Military Academy then-Chief Economist and Professor Casey Wardynski says of it, “We’re using computer game technology to provide the public a virtual Soldier experience that is engaging, informative and entertaining” (Wardynski is also the person responsible for initial development of the game).
With a whopping $32.8 million invested in its development, the game is surprisingly free for the downloading, a tactic to recruit more soldiers from the Gen Z demographic.
5. Guard Force: Covert Strike
Just like America’s Army, Guard Force: Covert Strike was designed as an American military recruitment tool, possessing RTS gameplay with American military themes. Developed by the Army National Guard, even though Covert Strike isn’t half the success America’s Army is, taken together, both games have managed to attract upwards of 1.5 million enlistees!
6. Ethnic Cleansing
A pretty horrifying title for a video game, Ethnic Cleansing is the atrocious brainchild of far-right white supremacist group the National Alliance, and published by the self-proclaimed skinhead label Resistance Records. You are a Neo-Nazi, ready to Make America Hate Again™ by shooting African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinx-Americans, and so on. This goes in the bin.
7. Heavy Fire: Afghanistan
Next up, we’ve got Heavy Fire: Afghanistan, yet another game advocating the supremacy of the U.S. Army. Kill all the terrorists in sight first, ask questions second! It’s got some pretty cheeky combo descriptions, though.
8. Rendition: Guantanamo (CANCELLED)
Had this game been released, you would’ve been able to play a Gitmo detainee, complete with cuffs and orange jumpsuits, who would fight their way to the outside world. ONE guess as to why it never saw the light of day.
9. Hezbollah: Special Force
Developed and released by Hezbollah, this is yet another Genesis3D creation on the list (the other one being Ethnic Cleansing), where you get to defeat the hordes of IDF soldiers trying to take your land! Even the cover proclaims it ‘a testament to the heroic spirit of the Palestinians in the struggle to kick the Israelis out’. It was so successful, it even spawned a sequel, which is what is depicted in the video above as we couldn’t find a video of the original one.