There are tons of games, gaming guilds, companies and collectives that fall into this category, and I may get roasted for not including even most of them. But the goal of this post is not a comprehensive list; rather, I want to give a very brief overview for those who may not be aware of the extent and depth of left-activist games, left options in every kind of game. This post mentions RPGs, video games, and physical tabletop/board/card games; and readers can always dive in further if they’d like to know more.
RPGs (role-playing games): My friends and I wanted to design some of our own lefty modules for D & D, and possibly for other retro games like Boot Hill (imagine a cowboy-early labor movement adventure) or Gamma World (the post-apocalypse is a natural setting for your ecofeminist critique, just don’t get bitten by a radioactive plant). But Dungeons and Dragons, as the template RPG, makes the most sense as a starting point. Eat the Rich is a collection of D & D adventure games at a really low price (they even have bargains for zero-to-a-few-bucks). The first volume, for example, has 17 adventures and is just about $20. Titles include: “Before we’re bled dry,” “Escape from Prosperity Hill,” and “Is Dryad Property Theft?”
There’s a lot of solidarity-building potential in RPGs, both because cooperation works as a strategy and also because of the performative nature of the games. It’s like Brechtian political/educational theater, or the theater of the oppressed envisioned by Augusto Boal — especially given its participatory nature. In well-managed RPGs, everyone has a say, everyone makes the story happen. It’s narrative socialism, and DMs/GMs (dungeon masters/game masters) can easily incentivize cooperation over competition among players, leaving the greed and amorality to NPCs. D & D modules also offer the opportunity to problem solve in interactive and complex ways. Breaking from the gameboard and going into roleplay mode allows the exploration of nuances and ambiguities, which is important in developing good praxis.
Videogames: Many games have leftist themes, but Means TV, “the world’s first worker-owned, post-capitalist streaming service,” has now produced with its videogame branch. At The Leveller, Ashton Starr reviews Tonight We Riot, which “feels like it could have been released in the early 1990s, as it displays 8-bit pixelated graphics, blasts retro synth-pop, and boasts gameplay in the style of the era’s popular beat ’em up genre.” But it’s no Street Fighter. In Tonight We Riot, revolutionaries take to the streets and factories and buildings to liberate workers, fight cops and white power groups, and eventually take on a final boss who is a technocratic Bezosian billionaire.
Tabletop & Card Games: My personal favorites are the collective and cooperative games created by TESA Collective. Among others, the Collective has made Space Cats Fight Fascism, STRIKE! The Game of Worker Rebellion, Rise Up and the word game Loud and Proud. These comrades are doing it right, in my opinion: their games are games, but they are also seamlessly political in all the right ways. They like to do a variety of game forms, from cards to word and logic games to boardgames. The Collective’s latest effort is a team-up with Beautiful Trouble, a strategy resource organization that makes cards for activist education. At our commune, we played Space Cats Fight Fascism, a really f***ing hard game that’s difficult in all the ways that activism, particularly anti-capitalist activism, is. The fascists in the game are relentless. As a team, we felt stretched thin, needing to devote a lot of mental energy to stretching out resources and remaining life force. The fascists can use anti-cat propaganda and distracting laser pointers to turn the public against cats, or distract activists from militancy. I’m not joking or exaggerating when I say it’s an educational resource in a struggle that is happening right now and right here.