Highlighting social issues in gaming can be an appropriate and perfect platform to raise awareness. Join us as we share 5 games that highlighted a variety of these social issues. Just a brief reminder before you continue there may be some discussion around uncomfortable themes. Please do not continue if these make you uncomfortable as we do not wish to put anyone under any stress.
5. Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley is a cozy, lovely, and warming farming sim. However, the characters created for this world by Concerned Ape tackle several different social issues. The character of Shane, whom the character can romance and experience several moments with helps highlight the issue of alcohol dependence. After several encounters with Shane, the player realizes that he is in fact dependent on alcohol to mask and cope with his diagnosed depression.
Another example is the character Linus. Linus is a homeless inhabitant of Stardew Valley and it is revealed he has been this way for so long he has acclimated and does not want to return to living in a home. Linus stays in a tent for the entirety of the game.
It features toxic family members, as seen with Penny receiving emotional and physical abuse from her mum Pam. Hints of alcohol dependency are also detected as Pam seems to react negatively to Penny when under the influence of alcohol. Thus, highlighting again the issues of addiction.
A final example lies in the issue of war. A character Kent in the game is gone for long periods of time due to him being a soldier. If you enhance the relationship with Kent, the player is privy to a scene that involves Kent having post-traumatic stress disorder due to hearing popcorn pop on the stove. Kent then goes into fight mode and becomes verbally abusive to his wife. The player is witness to this and can either side with Kent or with his wife.
Overall, Stardew valley has done a wonderful and clever job of highlighting several social issues and raising awareness. Concerned Ape has done this alongside delivering a warm and heartfelt experience. Stardew Valley is definitely a unique game.
4. Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is 25 years old but the message set out in this game is more relevant to the experience of the world now. Final Fantasy VII has overarching messages regarding environmentalism and an eco-friendly message. Shinra, the evil earth-destroying company threatens the main characters’ way of life. The player joins them in a journey with a band of resistance fighters to ensure that the survival of earth is maintained. Of course, other story elements are introduced but this is a crucial plot point.
In the final scene of the game, we witness a prosperous future where the planet is lush with vegetation and thriving. The ending may be open to interpretation but it feels like a win for players and inspiration for a future generation of avid environmentalists.
Whiplash follows the story of a weasel and a rabbit in an animal testing facility as they break free and try and escape. They are both chained to one another and must solve puzzles and engage in combat to achieve their goal. Redmond and Spanx rampage through the testing facility and interact with various scientists before wrecking and destroying expensive equipment. A monetary value counter tracks the progress for the player and the more damage the better.
Many regulatory bodies raised concerns when it was released as it was believed to be inciting terrorism amongst a younger generation in relation to animal testing. However, with no isolated incidents being fuelled by whiplash it’s safe to say it brought a more positive awareness that animal testing does exist and it is a troublesome and cruel industry.
The game highlights some of the issues that animals have to face during testing with this quote below.
“If ripping off their limbs, grinding ’em up and feeding ’em back to themselves is cruel, if shooting their butts so full of poison they got to sit on their face is cruel, if skinning ’em alive until they’re dead, and than doing an Italian fandango on their cute, little graves is cruelty to animals, than, yeah, I guess they should just cart me away and lock me up!”Head Scientist, Whiplash (2003)
Overall, there is not much coverage relating to animal testing in the video game industry so having any game no matter period of release, to raise awareness is a positive instance. Whiplash also adds a more satirical approach thus resulting in the overall message not being too preachy.
Featuring several moving scenes Spiritfarer follows the story of Stella a newly appointed ferry rider. Stella’s goal is to help the deceased fully accept their death and move forward into their next adventure. The game features beautiful stories that the characters tell when interacting with Stella about their life and what they fear to leave behind. To all future players, I recommend an abundance of tissues to help cope with the overflow of tears.
Spiritfarer ended up on the list due to the fact it’s a beautifully delivered game about coping with loss and dealing with death. Video games are notorious for killing off fan-favorite characters or featuring death in their games. However, it’s rare for coverage on the impact and how to deal with this. Spiritfarer raises awareness about the grieving process for those who have lost someone and those who are coming to terms with their own mortality.
Overall, death is one of the least discussed issues in society. Therefore, a game raising awareness about the impact, the difficulties, and the positives around it should be celebrated.
1. My child Lebensborn
My Child Lebensborn is set in Sweden after the second world war. In the wake of the Lebensborn program which was a eugenics experiment. This saw children with blonde hair and blue eyes being conceived using specific genes by pairing women and men. This was due to the Nazi party desiring blonde hair and blue-eyed participants, this was in line with what they called “true Aryans.” The game takes us on an emotional experience where you are in the care of one of these children. Most of the children were adopted out in Sweden and faced a life of isolation and pariah due to the fear and hatred of them being associated with the Nazi party.
The player caring for either the male or female child has issues helping them settle into their life in Sweden. There are periods of helplessness where the child has been physically attacked by other children and called horrific slurs. The player can attempt to educate the village to help promote equality and make the village accept their child but this is to no avail.
Overall, this game raised awareness on several fronts. Despite, being a historical setting it is something that could happen nowadays. The game has cleverly designed an emotional and unique experience for the player to directly face the social issues of war, conflict, bullying, and hatred of others.
As always, thank you for joining us on our journey to bring you five games that highlight important social issues.
25, Scottish, Gaming, writing and cooking 🧑🍳 🎮