I’m not one to read any non-existent meaning into a book, movie, or video game. However, there are some works of art like Game of Thrones or V for Vendetta that can’t help but promote the conservative tenets of capitalism, small government, or personal liberty—regardless of the creators intent.
A recent National Review piece made a compelling case that any good art will carry with it a conservative slant. As human nature is broken and power is corrupting, the argument runs, any art that accurately represents that human nature will naturally express conservative sentiments. In this case, there are a few recent and popular video games—a medium that speaks to the millennial generation—that inadvertently act as an advertisement for conservative principles.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Playing as a protagonist who has lost his memories, Zelda has a disparate plot that gets pieced together nonsequentially as the protagonist Link experiences deja vu throughout the game. He wakes up to a dystopian world with advanced robots subjugating peoples and a dark leviathan haunting the country’s center of government, the royal castle.
As the player reconstructs the main character’s memories, the story of the dystopian country reveals itself. The people had discovered ruins of an ancient civilization consisting of mechanical beasts and semi-sentient robots. The scientists of the monarchy and the intellectually gifted princess then studied and discovered how to reactivate these machines. With technological supremacy, individuals began to rely upon the machines for everything from farming to defense. Soon after their discovery, though, the antagonist takes control of the machines, turns them upon the people, and subjugates the realm in one swift coup.
If taken as a direct commentary on humanity’s dependence upon technology, then the video game ignores political commentary in favor of a cultural one. However, an important detail lends itself to a political reading: the government has control of the machines.
Friedrich Hayek popularized a critique of centralized power in his seminal work Road to Serfdom. In it, he warned against any political structure that centralized power and control as it sets a country up for totalitarianism. Things may go well so long as a benevolent, democratically elected politician controls education, the military, health care, media, or any other institution. However, it is inevitable that a corrupt politician will gain the seat of power. When that occurs, the prior centralization multiplies the corrupt ruler’s ability to inflict harm upon the country and so, much like Ganon in Zelda, centralized power once a supposed benefit now allows a dictator to subjugate their people.
Stardew Valley is a quaint game. A farming simulator, most time is spent watering a garden, milking cows, or gathering berries. The story begins with the unnamed protagonist sleeping at his or her desk under fluorescent lights in a sterile office environment, answering calls and entering data. From there, the character inherits their dying Grandfather’s farm and begins a new life as a farmer, free to construct their life as they see fit.
Ironically, the intent of the game is to criticize corporations. From the game’s opening, the player is provided images of corrupted, corporate leaders and listless employees. The game shows capitalism bringing with it routine work from which a worker is at a distance, thereby providing them with no sense of meaning or purpose.
Perhaps this critique is true; office work can be drab. However, the character has the option to leave. With minimal regulations and no mandates telling the character what to do, they have the freedom to choose another career, another way to create wealth and meaning in their life. This freedom to choose our own work is a foundational tenet of capitalism.
Perhaps tangentially, specialization plays a role in the game, too, as you can even choose what variety of farming to focus on or to eschew farming altogether and become a miner, cook, or artisan. If the non-farming path is chosen, any product you are not creating on a subsistence farm or creating yourself can be bought from others who have specialized in that trade.
Any First Person Shooter
For those who don’t game, a first-person shooter is the prototypical video game; it is any game where you play through the direct eyes of the protagonist and the goal of the game is to point a gun at and subsequently shoot the baddies.
The message of these games is simple. Sometimes bad people take power or threaten innocent lives. Elections, persuasion, or any other nonviolent course is ideal but sometimes the only way to stop anything from a dictator to a violent criminal is with a gun.
It may seem presumptuous to assume like National Review does that any good work of art will advance a conservative worldview but that so it’s so easy to extrapolate out conservative themes from any video game gives credence to the argument. Moral messages are common across the literature and, despite accusations to the contrary, conservatism is the more moral option. Anytime a game affirms the freedom to choose or any means to squash totalitarianism, it is conservative whether or not the creators think so.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.