Releasing political games — A Panic Barn interview

Recently, I stopped playing Not Tonight, from Panic Barn. You see, I say ‘stop playing’ because I don’t tend to play many games beyond a video record or a written review. I don’t play games for fun anymore — not often anyway.

Not Tonight is different. This especially relevant, political game is not only fun to play, but shows England — a country I have grown to love — after Brexit, something that I am not too fond of. I gave it extra time, I played it, I enjoyed it.

As Brexit approaches, many people are questioning the decision to leave the EU. Games4EU has started, talking about the effects leaving the EU will have on UK-created games. With more and more happening around this huge event, it seems only natural that someone makes a game about a world that happens after Brexit.

Interestingly enough, it was Panic Barn, who had previously made soccer games, who created it as Not Tonight. It came as a surprise to me when they made such a political charged game.

So, you went from creating soccer based games to creating a game about Brexit — what caused this change in focus?

Wanting to make PC games. I grew up with big box PC games; Monkey Island, Deus Ex, Ultima etc. [I] really wanted to make something on PC. And the PC audience is definitely more open to niche concepts like Not Tonight.

When it comes to making games, creating the game isn’t enough. You also need to promote a game. Some games are more challenging to promote — and promoting political games seems like even more of a challenge, but it seems like Panic Barn found it to be a breeze.

How have you found promoting a political game?

With help from No More Robots; all good. The Brexit angle helped with the mainline press especially in Europe and further afield. But leaving the political stuff aside it’s also been a learning experience for me witnessing first hand the more typical marketing stuff, for instance building a community before launch and understanding Steam’s foibles.

Building a community is always important in releasing games. No More Robots always have an active Discord for their games, interacting tons with their growing communities. Even with a large community, you do find negative individuals. When it comes to topics like politics, where people have very strong opinions, you end up getting more than ever.

How have you dealt with the negative comments?

Even without the political angle you have to get used to criticism when releasing anything to the public. The most important thing for me is that people are enjoying the game. That will stick long after the Brexit discussion has died down. Also the Discord community has been at the forefront, cheerleading the game and helping balance out the crazies.

Many, many individuals have commented saying that games just shouldn’t be political. I find that talking about important issues, in any media, is super important when it comes to not only understanding, but raising awareness.

Why do you feel games should be political?

Not all games, but a political slant can make a game more interesting and potentially raise awareness. In my case I grew up in South West England where the effects of government neglect, even before the last decade of austerity, was apparent. Witnessing the blame being shifted onto Europe was absurd so I made a game set in the South West! To me that was super interesting as I could reference my youth. Rest in peace youth.

It feels that despite Brexit getting closer and closer, many people aren’t talking about this huge change. Have you found talking about such a pressing and real matter is helpful to our society?

[I] think it’s ramping up now. It’s difficult not to switch off, but apathy is worse than anything. It’s been helpful for me therapeutically but I wouldn’t like to assume the game has much value to society. It has a non-violent positive message and maybe it can make some people consider the impact of Brexit. Definitely talking about Brexit in any form is super useful.

Lastly, I wanted to know if Panic Barn really sees the world becoming like their game.

Do you think if Brexit goes through, that it will become this bad?

Wealth disparity will increase and some things in the game will occur — probably the loss of the NHS and removal of any remaining social safety net. But, the more ridiculous elements like The London Wall and forcing people to work as a bouncer not so much. Well hopefully not.

As Brexit does approach and seems more real, you can enjoy a somewhat playful look at what the world could become — all while being a bouncer, looking to make a living and survive despite being an immigrant. Panic Barn have created a game which is very fun to play and has several different English pubs you can end up working at, with much to explore. You can even attempt to become part of the resistance, helping society along the way.

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