The setting for Obsidian’s upcoming RPG The Outer Worlds is one wrought with political turmoil, but the studio is asserting that the game is more humorous than politically-charged. In a recent interview with Video Games Chronicle, the game’s co-director Leonard Boyarsky stated that Obsidian is being very careful in avoiding lecturing players about the themes represented in the game. While the story might imply some kind of political ideology, the team won’t be leaning too hard into those implications.
Boyarsky explained the central theme of The Outer Worlds will be that of how power is used against people without it. “It can be insidious; the way which people control the stories you tell about the world,” Boyarsky said. “If you let other people control that narrative, then they can control you to a certain degree. That can be any form of government: if it wasn’t capitalism it could be something else.” That doesn’t mean he is against capitalism, though.
“I like money: I’m not against capitalism and in a lot of ways I’m happy with our society,” Boyarsky stated. “But of course there are a lot of ways in which it could be improved… Having grown up in America and been through the onslaught of consumer culture, we’re very familiar with that and like to poke fun at it. But like how with [2001 RPG] Arcanum when we were dealing with racial issues, the story always comes down to balance of power, how people get power and how they use it. We’ve been very careful, I’ve been very careful.”
To that end, Boyarsky explained, “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.” He then detailed that the team has gone to great lengths to ensure that every character has a sensible and believable stance in the game world. When you encounter someone, you should be able to empathize with them and draw your own conclusions about where you fall.
I understand the stance Boyarsky is taking and I even agree with him. If you don’t want your game to be preachy, then let players decide how they align with characters in the story. That doesn’t mean your game isn’t critiquing modern society, though. You wouldn’t be including a racist faction, for instance, if you didn’t want people to despise them or agree with them.
Themes don’t exist in a vacuum outside of real-world influences and it would be wise for companies to understand that. Politics aren’t some evil, disgusting thing. You can have your own stance and still present a story that goes against it. That’s exactly what media exists to do: create controlled scenarios where we can explore and understand how situations blow out of control. Maybe a lot of that is philosophical pondering, but removing politics from a clearly politically motivated game is a great way to make an uninteresting title.
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Obsidian asserts The Outer Worlds is more ‘humorous’ than ‘politically-charged’