MICRO ESSAY: CAPITALISM IN VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY: HOW TO BUILD A BETTER MOUSETRAP

By: Jennifer Annunzii

“If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door” is the saying from which the name of this game originates, which is defined as the invention of a product that is used widely, an appropriate marker for this game. The game How to Build a Better Mouse trap is an alternative to Empire which exposes the manipulative maneuvers of capitalism. This game consists of a 3-level simulated managerial structure in which the player is in control of research and development, production and recruitment. The aim of the game is to make most profit or remuneration, yet the choices are limited since in order to “win” the player has no other choice ironically, but to think like a capitalist. By focusing on making profit, the player ignores the disgruntled employees demanding higher or equitable wages and winning in this case makes me feel like a bad guy, since to win I must cut down on costs and exploit the workers. By playing this game the player becomes aware of the detrimental effects of capitalism in the game as in reality on employees and how they are threatened by evolution (machine) and replacement by new motivated employees.
The game illustrates that the gaming industry as a capitalist structure is unfair and fueled by a desire for power and money. As stated by Dyer-Witherford and De Peuter, “the continuing dynamism of the game industry has depended on trapping the innovations of the game player-producers within commercial structures” which means that creations are taken or bought for cheap and turned into profitable mass market products without necessarily benefiting the original creators (xxx). In How to Build a Better Mousetrap, the employees who are either producing or creating new products are paid poor wages for long hours and the constant threat of losing their jobs to other employees or machines.
As the player we play as the powerful cat or owner who controls the less influential worker mice who do all the work with barely any advantage to them. This simulation represents large companies as those for example the videogame industry today such as Nintendo or other such “console manufacturers have their machines assembled offshore” which allows them to bargain cheap labor elsewhere and consequently avoid dealing with providing equitable working conditions enforced by labor laws (xviii). In How to Build a Better Mousetrap, revolts from disgruntled employees who are unsatisfied with their working conditions are easily solved, since even though they start to cause havoc due to low wages by banging and shouting, we have the control necessary to fire, replace them by machinery, or imprison them for revolting in the recruitment level with the cat security guard.
Often the “paid and unpaid labor in game production” is overlooked, but alternative game structures such as How to Build a Better Mousetrap serve to expose exploitation by the capitalist industry of videogames. Due to the fact that the player is forced to act as a capitalist in order to win, this game was important for me as it probably was to other players because it allowed me to realize the lack of control and the disadvantaged position of employees in such structures (xxvi).

Works Cited:

Dyer-Witheford, Nick and Greig De Peuter. “ Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire.” In Global Capitalism and Videogames. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press,2009. P. xi-xxxv.

Pedercini, Paolo, creator. How To Build a Better Mousetrap. MolleIndustria, 2014. Video Game.

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