I could help but see “To Build a Better Mousetrap” as a game of resistance after reading the introduction to Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games by Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter. The focus of Dyer-Whiteford and Peuter’s book, as discussed in the introduction, is to examine video games as a “media of Empire” (xxix). Their understanding of “empire” is informed by Micheal Hardy and Antonio Negri’s book Empire. Hardy and Negri explain that the contemporary iteration of imperialism is a “governance by global capitalism.” Its force is not only acted out by the traditional imperialist institutions, the nation-state and military, but also by multinational corporations, world financial bodies, and non-governmental agencies. Multinational corporations and financial bodies have enormous power within a capitalist economic system. They use their capital and resources to expand the global capitalist market and increase their sphere of power. As their power and influence increases other countries and economies are forced to enter a system that is already dominated by the multinationals and global financial institutions. Essentially this is a form of economic imperialism that allows easy access to a larger section of the globe without extensive military intervention. The implications of such an empire are worrying. Any entity that is forced to join this type of power system must also conform to new value system. “To Build a Better Mousetrap” uses resource management game mechanics to show how human life is valued within a system that prioritizes the accumulation of capital.
The goal of the game is to maximize profits by managing several factors and resources. The Player must balance the companies capital, consumer demands, employee demands, and demands of the labor market. The management of these resources proves to be very challenging and as such the Player is forced to be scrupulous in order to win. If the Player does do not produce enough new products at a low cost, they go bankrupt and lose. If the Player does not satisfy the wage demands of the employees and the demands to unemployed workers, the player loses because of an insurrection. I did not ever win the game but the strategy the allowed me to survive the longest was to constantly hire and fire employees. I do not know if this is the best strategy as I did not win, but the game certainly hints that it is a viable one. When an employee has been at his post for an extended period of time they ask for a higher and higher wage. The unemployed workers at the bottom of the screen desperately want a job and will accept the minimum wage. I was able to advance the farthest in the game by firing employees that had worked for me for a long period of time and who demanded a high wage, and hiring unemployed workers who only asked for the minimum wage because they had no choice. After the Player fires an employee, the employee is desperate like the other unemployed workers and will accept the minimum wage again. By constantly firing and rehiring employees I was able to keep the cost of my labor low. Essentially the game encouraged me to exploit my workers. The game implies that the workers in a corporation are just another resource, equivalent to your capital, that needs to be managed. They are something that can be distributed and redistributed according the needs of the company. It is interesting to note that there is no game mechanic that allows you to invest in your employees. Real corporations sometimes* spend time and money to train good employees to increase productivity. And this practice translates well into the “level-up” mechanic that many video games use. It is feasible that “To Build a Better Mousetrap” could have included it. Instead of experienced workers being a burden to the company, they could become more efficient and faster workers. A possible explanation for this mechanic’s absence is the abundant unemployed labour force. Why spend resources improving and maintaining workers when the labor market provides the company as many inexpensive workers as needed? The game forces the Player to ask these types of questions and to make decisions that they might not be morally comfortable with. In this way I feel “To Build a Better Mousetrap” illustrates the concerns and anxieties of economic imperialism. If Video Games are indeed a “media of Empire” as Dyer-Whiteford and Peuter suggest, then they have found at least some space for resistance in this game.
Dyer-Witheford, Nick and Greig De Peuter. “Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire” In Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Videogames. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. xi-xxxv.
*Edited on March 17th 2015: Added the word “sometimes.”