Politics, whether we like it or not, is ever-present in the things we retreat to for recreation – music, TV, movies, and, increasingly, video games. The politicization of video games and gaming has been a growing trend over the past few years. Many may point to the infamous Gamergate as an inflection point in the encroachment of politics – namely, the cultural aspects of politics – into the gaming mainstream.
The politicization of gaming, and the question of whether developers should make sociopolitically-conscious games, will continue to be hotly debated. In this analysis, what we wanted to explore was whether the fan bases of certain games – in this case the most popular games in esports – have political leanings. Here’s what we found:
- Overwatch tends to get higher interest in liberal markets
- Call of Duty (CoD) is strongly favored by more conservative markets
- CoD has the strongest correlation of any esports game with a political leaning
- Starcraft attracts bipartisan interest
- Far Cry 5 attracts a more conservative audience
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How Do Fans of Esports Games Lean Politically?
We looked at the games with the highest prize earnings of the past year to explore their fan base’s political leanings. To analyze each fan base, we used Google Search interest for each game in every metro area in the country, and compared it to the vote percentage President Donald Trump had in that metro area in 2016. Voting data was gathered by Fivethirtyeight.
Overwatch, one of the most popular games of the past two years, tends to have a more liberal audience. This correlative relationship is not overwhelmingly strong, but exists nonetheless. No metro area that voted for Trump more than 60% had a greater than 15% search interest for Overwatch. On the other hand, liberal beacons like Eugene, OR; Seattle, WA; and Portland, OR had greater than 18% search interest for Overwatch.
The other end of the spectrum sees FPS juggernauts Halo and Call of Duty. Call of Duty had the strongest relationship (about 30%) between the political lean and search interest of a metro area. The eight metro areas with the highest search interest in Call of Duty all voted for President Trump with more than 60% of the vote. Metro areas like Alexandria, LA and Casper-Riverton, WY are among those eight.
We found that Fortnite, the hottest multiplayer game of 2018, is slightly more popular in red states (9% R-squared). However, there is something to be said about this game and its recent surge in popularity. Many of the other games and franchises we sampled have been around far longer. Fortnite has increased in popularity drastically over the last several months, growing from 45 million players in the beginning of 2018 to over 120 million players this June. This rapid player growth has likely dampened any geographical patterns in the game’s player base. Our data shows that the more popular the game, the more evenly distributed its audience. As we continue to monitor search data, we expect that Fortnite’s players will skew more towards the Republican side of the aisle.
Another hypothesis is that Fortnite players have a much larger percentage of players under the voting age. According to market data from Newzoo, 68% of Fortnite players are between the ages of 10 and 30. It doesn’t say what percentage is under 18, but if it is a large share, that group may not be politically charged enough to have a formal political lean. Thus the search interest in politically diverse metro areas would be closer to even.
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Political Leanings for the Top 5 Selling Games of 2018
We also wanted to look at how interest for the top five selling games of 2018 compared in areas of different political leanings. Of those five (Far Cry 5, God of War, Monster Hunter: World, Dragonball Fighterz and Call of Duty: WW2), three had a political lean.
God of War and Dragon Ball Fighterz both attracted slightly more interest in liberal areas, while Far Cry 5 had more appeal in conservative areas. The Far Cry 5 result is interesting considering the buzz and controversy that surrounded its release. This latest installment in the Far Cry franchise had a plot centering around a far-right militia taking control of a swath of Montana. Was the game supposed to be an affirmation of small-town America, or was it intended as a sociopolitical commentary on the encroachment of far-right ideology into the mainstream? It ended up being neither. Nonetheless, there was higher interest for Far Cry 5 over the past 12 months in more conservative areas. We would still take this result with a grain of salt, however, considering a good deal of interest in the game came from Montana – which tends to be very conservative.
Overall, the relationship between search interest and political lean was much weaker for the five best-selling games than the most popular esports games. We speculate that because Fortnite was released relatively recently and has such a widespread fan base, it hasn’t had time to develop a partisan fan base. Since the five games discussed here were all released in the past 8 months, they also may not have had time to develop an audience that is more liberal or more conservative.
What Do Subreddits Tell Us About Political Lean?
Another data point we explored was the overlap between each game’s subreddit and political subreddits. Using this app, we can explore the overlap of commentators on different subreddits and see a similarity score. We took the main subreddit for each of the games above and explored which had the highest similarity score to r/ The_Donald, the most popular President Trump-related subreddit.
|Similarity to r/ The_Donald
|Call of Duty
|League of Legends
|Heroes of the Storm
|Dragon Ball Fighterz
|God of War
The results did not match up exactly with what we found with Google Trends, though the results are directionally similar. For example, the Call of Duty subreddit had the highest similarity score with r/ The_Donald, which matches our finding that Call of Duty had the highest relationship with conservative-leaning audiences. Furthermore, the five games out of 11 games we identified as having a left-leaning audience ranked fifth or higher for similarity scores to The_Donald.
What didn’t match up was Starcraft having the 2nd highest similarity score, although Google Trends data found it to be bipartisan in appeal. Far Cry 5 also had the fourth least similar score, which contrasts with the conservative audience Google Trends suggests it has.
To determine the search interest for each game within a metropolitan area, we used Google Trends data from the past 12 months (08/17 to 08/18). We then matched each metropolitan area’s search interest for a video game to its vote percentage for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. This data was pulled from fivethirtyeight.com. To see our data, look at our Github page. A relationship between a game and a political lean was determined if the adjusted R-squared value between interest and Trump vote percentage was over 5%.