GRAND Theft Auto meets Thelma and Louise. That’s how developers of Lost Wage Rampage describe their creation.

Two women working at a department store run riot through a mall, rocketing their car into objects and accumulating as much capital as possible. The goal? To steal as many valuable objects as they can and avoid the cops in the process.

It may sound like your typical action-adventure heist, but this is a video game with a difference. The women embark on the mission after discovering they’ve been cheated out of wages: while they were told nobody’s pay at work was increasing, they find out their male colleagues have in fact been enjoying hikes. It’s about challenging wage inequality and it’s just one of a growing number of video games taking on the major political issues of the day.

“Over the past five years or so there are more and more accessible game-making tools,” explains Holly Gramazio, curator of the Now Play This section of the London Games Festival, taking place next week.

“It’s not like everyone can go and make their own commercial video game, but there are a lot of tools now that allow people to experiment with game making and that makes it more and more possible for people to make a game. If people aren’t reliant on commercial success, it’s more likely they’ll feel it’s worth making quite political and personal games.”

Now Play This is an interactive event spread over three days which claims to brings the best of experimental game design from around the world. The games showcased cover a range of issues from international borders and identity, to security and terrorism.

Alongside Lost Wage Rampage, another of the games premiering at the festival is The Loss Levels by Bafta-winning artist Dan Hett, whose brother, Martyn, was killed in the Manchester Arena bombing last May. In Hett's creation, players must complete a series of tasks relating to situations in the aftermath of the attack.

Meanwhile, designer Yara El-Sherbini is bringing her innovative Roadmap to Peace game to the festival. It features two roads of intersecting Scalextric, taking on the issue of access to roads in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

These aren’t the usual topics one would associate with video games, but Gramazio says it’s about exploring new ground in the sector.

“I guess what we try to do is look at what’s going on at the experimental end of game design. At the moment that means quite political work. Games are really good at communicating personal stories and explaining systems. What is politics if not a bundle of systems that give way to personal stories?”

Not that political games are an entirely new design. As far back as the early 20th century, the suffragettes movement was regularly featured in Edwardian board and card games. One such example was ‘In and Out of Prison’, a puzzle produced in 1908 where players took on the role of a suffragette seeking to escape Holloway prison through a maze, ensuring not to run into any policemen or wardresses in the process.

Just a year earlier, the suffragettes themselves created a card game featuring both the heroes and opponents of the women’s suffrage movement.

Journalist turned game developer Florent Maurin believes that video games can be a great way to convey human stories that are otherwise difficult to tell.

Maurin is the creator of the interactive dialogue-driven game Bury Me My Love, nominated for an award in the ‘Game Beyond Entertainment’ category at the festival.

It charts the journey of a young woman, Nour, fleeing war-torn Syria to Europe, as told through WhatsApp messages to her husband. Players of the game have to respond to messages from Nour in real time and help make decisions which will lead to her safety.

“I had been wanting to tell the story of the so-called migrant crisis for a while,” Maurin told the Sunday Herald.

“I saw an article on Le Monde about the journey of a Syrian migrant as told by her WhatsApp conversations. I thought it made a very good basis for a video game. We wanted to convey the helplessness, the intimate relationship we have with those that we love.

“I think the games can talk about the real world and real issues, and pose real questions. They are a very powerful medium to do that. They can get players involved in experiences that are very specific. I would never say games are better than movies or better than novels, but they are a kind on their own.”

Political? Undoubtedly. But aren’t video games meant to be fun as well? For Maurin and his team of developers at The Pixel Hunt – the business he founded – games are about more than just entertainment. He believes they can also be a medium of exploring political issues and the very essence of what it is to be human.

“We have quite a broad definition of what a game is,” he says. “I’m convinced that games don’t always have to be fun. For my next game, I plan to explore what makes us human and keeps us alive. Sometimes you should allow yourself to explore new territories and that’s what we’re trying to do.”


SCOTLAND may have been put on the video game map by Rockstar North and Grand Theft Auto but there are a bunch of new kids on the block ready to make their mark.

One of these is Glasgow-based company Blazing Griffin. Founded in 2011 as a game development studio, it’s since expanded and also works in film production and television post-production.

It will be in attendance at the Games Finance Market, part of the London Games festival, where developers get the opportunity to meet with potential investors from around the world.

“The games market is really useful to us,” said Blazing Griffin’s Justin Alae-Carew.

“As a small indie developer, it’s difficult to work on so many things at once. The great thing about it is the diversity and breadth of people who will be there from different areas of the world and with different types of finance.”

The company’s latest development is Murderous Pursuits, a multiplayer peer to peer stealth-em-up which follows on from the success of The Ship: Remasted.

Carew says Blazing Griffin is just one of a number of companies showing that Scotland can still compete in a crowded video game market.

“From a very practical perspective, the amount of talent in Scotland is great,” he said.

“Scotland will always have a challenge across industries to attract people, especially competing with London.

“However, from a games perspective it’s great for such a small area to have so much activity and it really helps having Rockstar and Grand Theft Auto still here in Scotland.”

The belief that Scottish game developers can continue to succeed is echoed by Graeme Struthers, the Glasgow-born co-founder of video game publisher Devolver Digital.

However, he is calling for more help for the industry, particularly in the post-Brexit climate.

“We punch seriously above our weight, but unfortunately it’s one of the last things politicians want to talk about. I don’t think they take the world of video games all that seriously.

“The uncertainty of Brexit is making getting investment more tricky and you’d hope we might get more help to allow companies to become self-sustainable.”