Molleindustria, is an Italian game development company that describes itself as:
Since 2003 we produced homeopathic remedies to the idiocy of mainstream entertainment in the form of free, short-form, online games. Our products range from satirical business simulations (McDonald’s Video game, Oiligarchy) to meditations on labor and alienation (Every day the same dream, Tuboflex, Unmanned), from playable theories (the Free Culture Game, Leaky World) to politically incorrect pseudo-games (Orgasm Simulator, Operation: Pedopriest).
Created as a criticism and rejection of stablished game making ideologies and methodologies, Molleindustria creates game that question not only the game world but our day to day existence through the means of play. Critiquing our capitalistic society, highlighting the perpetuation of violence through hate crime and the banalities of life is their bread and butter and it is the reason I will be addressing their work this time.
The Best Amendment (2013) is a simple Flash game where the objective is to gather a series of stars while being confronted by a black figure during a series of rounds. However with each progressive round, more stars are required and the only way to acquire them is by eliminating the black character. Subsequent rounds increase the number of “enemies”, stars required and the weaponry. While at first it is easy to be pulled into the video game logic of eliminating the opponents and collecting resources, as time passes it is evident that the enemies are in fact recordings of the players previous round. In this way the game unveils its (admittedly thin) message: violence perpetuates violence and the hero of old becomes the villain of a new generation. The brilliance however lies in the execution and the slow realization by the player that they are themselves the villain as there is indeed no hero and the player only believes so through the clever use of video game mechanics and visual clues.
The Best Amendment exploits our knowledge of game mechanics and our lack of questioning to situate us in the same mind space as someone that sees guns as a tool to solve every problem (the proverbial hammer). The stars hold no function whatsoever, posses no narrative importance besides moving on to the next round. Meanwhile our character a conical character resembling the Klu Klux Klan famous hood, is faced with an immobile black version of itself, the only difference is a subtle visual clue. The white figure possesses childlike eyes, big and bright, while the black one’s eyes are squinted and appear menacing. This enforces the dichotomy of white is good, black is evil, however the first time we encounter this character it is completely harmless and is only the subsequent versions of the player that are aggressive. It is here that a second level of meaning can be deduced. Beyond the social criticism of gun ownership and the siege mentality of US versus THEM, we are also faced with a criticism of video games systems themselves. The very idea of playing a video game puts us in an adversarial mindset which is easy to exploit in order to create meaning in the gameplay. In this case we become senseless killers because we ACCEPT the delusion that a black figure (or anything not similar to our player) is by default an antagonist.
In game development one of the core design ideas is to create visually distinct opponents for the player as this allows for more intuitive play and less confusion on enemy attributes and target prioritization. In simpler terms, enemy characters are color and shape coded to allow easy targeting by users, eliminating confusing friendly fire situation as well as indicating what kinds of attack an enemy can do. One of the best examples can be found in Valve’s Team Fortress 2 and its teams. While the game is symmetrical both in character abilities and models, by color coding the teams and creating distinct body shapes, the user can easily determine character allegiance as well as the attacks that character can inflict and from that information create an effective battle plan. The problem does not lie in the use of visual cues to generate distinction between characters, but in the use of phenotypes as the means of separating antagonist from protagonist. One of the most notorious examples is the Uncharted series where in the first game the majority of the enemies are Indonesian or afro-caribean , Eastern European in the second one, by the third one however there is a shift probably in response to the criticism the prior two games received. Sadly this practice is quite common in through all kinds of fantasy and science fiction. And so, The Best Amendment forces us to ask ourselves if we began shooting simply because we have been trained by an inherited system of racism, i.e. people of color are enemies in video games. And more importantly is this “truth” a product of a society that treats black bodies as dangerous or does a society treat black bodies as dangerous as a result of the images we absorb everyday through music, radio, tv, film, video games, books and the internet?
Finally we have to ask ourselves, why would Moleindustria pick as a medium video games and not film, or writing or any other form? I believe the answer lies in participation, it is easy to distance ourselves from the consequences of actions when we are simply told or shown a situation, however the emotional distance in a video game is much shorter. We pulled the trigger, we decided that the small black cone shaped figure was a threat and proceeded to “kill” it, and finally we did not question our actions or the motivations behind the game. By making us complicit, Moleindustria forces us to question our thoughts and actions regarding racial issues as well as our unquestioning obedience to game systems. If thats not what art is supposed to do, I honestly have no idea what it should do.