Obsidian creative director Leonard Boyarsky said in a recent interview with VGC that the studio is not trying to make its upcoming RPG The Outer Worlds into "a really hard, politically-charged game," and that it is being very careful not to "lecture" players about its themes. But his description of those themes, which include "power and how power is used against people who don't have it," has an awfully political ring to it.
The Outer Worlds is about a deep-space colonist whose ship gets knocked off course, and so ends up being awakened from cryosleep decades later than intended, into a galaxy dominated by mega-corporations and rampant capitalism. Despite that obvious setup for a heavy-handed takedown of consumer culture, Boyarsky said he's not against capitalism and he's pretty happy with the state of society overall, although "there are a lot of ways in which it could be improved."
"It can be insidious; the way which people control the stories you tell about the world. If you let other people control that narrative, then they can control you to a certain degree," he said. "That can be any form of government: if it wasn’t capitalism it could be something else."
That sounds awfully political—"Control the narrative, control the people" is something you might read in a dystopian sci-fi novel—but he said that the goal is to avoid staking out a position on obviously political matters, and instead let players draw their own conclusions.
“There are people in this game who have philosophies that I don’t agree with and I take pains to make those people very likeable, very sensible and very believable. Then there are people in the game who say things I agree with, who are perhaps not very nice to hang out with," Boyarsky said. "So we don’t want to set up strawman or anything and say, 'Look how horrible this is!' It’s really about looking at all aspects of issues. The last thing we want to do is make a game that people feel is lecturing them."
Boyarsky compared Obsidian's approach to the handling of "racial issues" in the 2001 RPG Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, which he headed up for Troika. "The story always comes down to balance of power, how people get power and how they use it," he said. "We’ve been very careful, I’ve been very careful."
The Outer Worlds comes out on October 25.