Top 10 Games Set in Political Dystopias

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A dystopia is a futuristic imagined universe, in which oppressive societal control under the guise of a perfect society is maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control.

While a terrifying situation to actually find ourselves in, dystopian settings make up the bulk of the societies in games we play and are sometimes the major driving force behind the story. And with a less-than-ideal political election coming up for the US, the notion of creating a political dystopia is becoming more and more prevalent among unhappy voters. 

As such, let's take a look at my top 10 choices for games set in political dystopias.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Throughout the Deus Ex series, we play as a character with superhuman abilities at the cost of some of his humanity. In Deus Ex: Human Revolution our main character, Adam Jensen, is the survivor of an attack that killed his girlfriend. His survival came at the price of having the majority of his body augmented with cybernetics and robotics.

Throughout the game, you see just how much of an impact the modification of our bodies with cybernetics has divided the people. The shadowy mega corporations that work behind the scenes use their influence to sow discord, and skew the population's perception on the topic of transhumanism.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor takes a very interesting approach to political dystopia by looking at the internal struggle for power within the society of the Uruks, the main enemies of the game. As the player, the Gondorian ranger Talion, you can influence the hierarchy of power between the Uruks in a number of different ways. This ranges from assassination, to taking control of a war chieftain's mind and forcing him to do your bidding.

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 takes place in post-nuclear Russia and has some very interesting elements of political dystopia. For the most part, society has survived this devastation and is starting to rebuild in the Metro, the subway system that the fortunate few were able to escape the nuclear destruction. However, the peace is dangling precariously in the balance between the rising tensions between the 2 main political factions -- the Fourth Reich and the Red Line, communists who follow Stalinist ideology.

Dishonored

This list would not be complete without a mention of Dishonored, a game all about political dystopia, deception, and revenge. You are Corvo Attano, bodyguard to the Empress of the Isles and you've been framed for her murder. Throughout the game, you learn more about the coup that made you a scapegoat as you dole out revenge while doing the Loyalists, a resistance group fighting to restore Dunwall to former glory.

Bioshock

Welcome to Rapture, where the people are insane and everything wants to kill you. It wasn't always this way, Rapture used to be a thriving utopia and haven to the social elite removed from the law of the surface world. I mean, what could go wrong?

Everything went wrong.

The population became divided, a resistance grew, and a battle was waged. You just happened to get stuck dealing with the aftermath as Jack, the sole survivor of a plane crash. Given the circumstances wouldn't you rise up against the tyrant running Rapture? Even go so far as to Kill him? Would you kindly...

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

Shadow of Chernobyl puts you in the boots of a stalker -- a scavenger mercenary that illegally trades artifacts from "The Zone." There are many other factions in the zone that are vying for control over the artifacts that you'll encounter, some friendly and some that shoot on sight. Who you chose to interact with molds your relations with the other groups in this hostile, unforgiving environment.

Red Faction: Guerrilla

With a word like Guerrilla in the title, you can expect that the game has a certain level of dystopia. In Red Faction: Guerrilla you play as Alec Mason, a simple mining engineer looking to start a new life with his brother mining on Mars. The Earth Defense Force, the main corporation in charge of the mining operations, however, have other plans and kill your brother, who was a member of Red Faction, a resistance movement.

Fallout 3

What could be more of a political dystopia than post-apocalypse Washington D.C.? In Fallout 3 you play as a vault dweller who leaves the safety of the vault to find your father, who leaves the vault without saying a word.

Civilization is doing what it does best in the fallout wastelands -- trying to rebuild and even flourish. Throughout your journey looking for your father, you'll encounter settlements of hopeful wastelanders just trying to survive, raider scum, remnants of the former government, and the Brotherhood of Steel. Along the way you'll make choices that will not only affect you, but the fate of those who call the wastes their home.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

The Phantom Pain is a game rife with politics and dystopia. For starters, you play as Big Boss, a legendary soldier turned leader of the mercenary outfit Militaires Sans Frontieres (Military Without Borders). You and your men are willing to fight for anyone and anything, as long as the price is right.

The game has a number of controversial topics within it such as child soldiers, blood diamonds, nuclear armament, and unethical human testing. There is also a number of flashbacks to moments of extreme violence from Big Boss' past that breach the topic of PTSD in those who experience the harsh realities of war.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

While many would look at Skyrim as a fantasy RPG the story has a heavy political agenda. You're in a world at the brink of a civil war between the Nords of Skyrim and the Imperial Legion of Cyrodiil. The Jarls of the various holds across Skyrim also have their own agendas and corruption can be found throughout the land in all manners.

As the Dragonborn, you can choose whose side to join, or not join a side at all. The beauty of these types of games is that it does not punish you to remain impartial, even if it does limit your options later down the line.

We all know what the best dystopia is though, no not Equilibrium. But 1984, George Orwell's 1949 book, turned movie that released in 1984. Some of these games have come close to matching the detail of 1984, with Deus Ex: Human Revolution coming closest.

What are some games you feel have a dystopian theme? Let me know in the comments below.

Published Nov. 5th 2016

Columnist

Lover of gaming since he first wrapped his hands around the original GameBoy, to draining his allowance away at the local laundromat arcade cabinets as a kid, and now broadcasting his adventures on twitch.tv Justin practically dreams in pixels. When he’s not playing games he’s typically found prototyping a game concept or consuming otherworldly amounts of caffeine.


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