Thursday, November 14, 2019

What The Outer Worlds Gets Wrong About Anarchy

As you might have guessed, I seem to be getting past my weird anxiety around playing video games, helped in part by an exciting new game my partner and I bought called The Outer Worlds. As it turns out, I found the game to be only okay, worth playing maybe only for the chance to shoot murderous capitalist overlords in the face. 

The AAA game is perhaps the first to explicitly bring anti-capitalist and even anarchist ideas to the forefront. I don't remember ever seeing this in-game, but according to Wikipedia, this is the backstory:

The game is set in an alternate future that diverged in 1901, when U.S. President William McKinley is not assassinated by Leon Czolgosz at the Pan-American Exposition. As a result, Theodore Roosevelt never succeeded him, allowing large business trusts to dominate society well into the future, where megacorporations have begun colonizing and terraforming alien planets, to varying results.

Leon Czolgosz was an actual anarchist, as anarchism was at the time a serious political affiliation in the U.S. with a small but not insignificant membership. That was before the entire idea of anarchy was successfully propagandized as nothing more than a bunch of criminal terrorist kids running around in black causing property damage or lawless piracy in Somalia.

In The Outer Worlds, a far-off space colony is run by a "board" of corporations that have taken capitalism to an extreme, completely dominating people's lives and making not working a crime, pretty much completely destroying any line between the capitalist wage system and slavery. Workers have no rights and there is an extreme class separation between the rich and poor with escape from poverty being nearly impossible except for by lottery. And, spoiler alert, the result of that lottery is not what it seems.

So it's probably not at all surprising that I was excited for this game. The criticism of capitalism is impossible to ignore, with some of the policies of the colony overlords bumping right up against real world policies from companies like Amazon. For example, the idea of being punished for "time theft" from the company is a real thing that the most exploited Amazon employees have been fired for.

However, the game still manages to misrepresent actual anarchism and presents it as an idea either for literal cult leaders, naive kids, or completely selfish people willing to let hundreds of other starve rather than help them. What the game really pushes is the false idea that something in the middle is the ideal. In other words, liberalism. While it criticizes capitalism and the class system, the characters who are clearly presented as being the most reasonable and logical are constantly saying shit like "we have to have some kind of structure," by which they mean a hierarchy that is exactly what anarchism is against.

It's so bad that on one of the planets, there's a conflict between a town led by a former member of the Board who believes in re-joining the board and influencing them to implement "reforms" (liberal) and the leader of a religious group called the Iconoclasts who is in all ways other than name presented as an anarchist who believes you can't compromise with capitalists. Yet when you mention anarchy to the guy, he immediately rejects the idea, saying that they're not anarchists because "there have to be laws" or something like that.

This is the essential misunderstanding of the nature of anarchism. Anarchism doesn't mean "no laws," it means nobody has power over other people. In a true anarchist system, the community would come together to make rules for said community as a true democracy, with one person having one vote and nobody put in a position of power to make rules for everyone else, as is the case of the U.S. representative democracy system. If someone broke the rules, the community would again come together to discuss what would be done.

And yes, these kinds of societies have existed and do exist today. They're rare today, because capitalists absolutely hate them, and capitalist power is massive right now.

I'm still glad The Outer Worlds exists and I would recommend getting it when it goes on sale (it's not worth full price in my opinion for various reasons), but I felt the need to put out the message that its depiction of anarchism is unfair and at times completely inaccurate. Anarchist ideas are, at the core, about freedom and fairness above all things, and in general are really interesting. Anarchists also love making their educational materials accessible to everyone, so it's real easy to become more educated on the subject.

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