I was recently lucky enough to see a talk by Paolo Pedercini of Molleindustria (creators of previously-reviewed Phone Story and Every Day the Same Dream) on his own fascinating approach to politics and narrative in games. Pedercini seeks to engage the “bored employee network”—the demographic that plays Farmville between morning meetings—but takes a more aggressive, deconstructivist approach to casual games than mainstream game companies. He believes that the artifacts and memes that shape our culture can and should be smarter intellectual endeavors than glorified Skinner boxes or funny cats.
This approach is echoed in all of his works. Games like Phone Story, McDonald’s Videogame ,or Oiligarchy recall casual games through their visual aesthetics and their mechanics. McDonald’s Videogame plays like any resource management game of its kind. But where games like Diner Dash and Farmville present shallow choices whose only consequence is the outcome of the game, Pedercini’s games introduces a difficult moral dynamic, forcing the player to make unethical decisions to get ahead. He notes that “the freemarket system doesn’t punish you for being unethical” and he does an excellent job of presenting these systems in game form.
Much of Pedercini’s work, in fact, focuses on modeling real-world systems through game systems that showcase the social or political problems with their real-world counterparts. He talks about game creation in terms of recognizing a narrative or process that is “gameable,” meaning it will lend itself easily to gameworld constraints. The power of these games comes from the player’s participation in the system, and the emotion such systems are able to conjure. For example, Every Day the Same Dream’s game system models the repetitive endeavor of living the same day over and over through a monotonous office job. The player becomes bored and seeks out small changes that make her appreciate any variation in activities.
Most impressive, for me, is how much meaning and emotion can be packed into modeling certain real-world systems. Orgasm Simulator, for example, features a first-person view from a woman while she’s having intercourse with a man. The goal of the game is to successfully fake an orgasm to make your oblivious sexual partner “feel more like a man.” The implications for power, agency, and control are multiple and interesting, despite the game’s mechanical and graphic simplicity.