By: Tyra Baltram
When playing games, it’s easy to think of the so called ‘real world’ as something far off and distant, mostly non-existent, which is not exactly surprising in the face of dragons and magic spells, heists and rocket launchers. However, when faced with something like Molleindustria’s To Build A Better Mousetrap which is just fraught with symbolism, it’s a bit more difficult to divide the lines between what is pretend and what is not. Games like this and, to a certain extent, games like Sid Meier’s Civilization or Paradox Interactive’s Crusader Kings blur the lines between reality and fiction in that they subtly incorporate pertinent aspects of real life into a colorful or, in the case of latter two games, expansive interface. Civilization and Crusader Kings primarily do this by approaching issues of empire and industry, of population, society, and the trickle-down effect in various styles of government.
Setting aside Civilization and Crusader Kings though, Molleindustria’s game, To Build A Better Mousetrap, incorporates issues of real life by seeking to parallel the capitalist system present in our society with mice as people, cats as corporations, and delicious cheese as a representation of our economy and they are, for the most part, successful. However, much like Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter say in their article, “to connect [political critique] to virtual games is not to import some distant, gloomy concern to the carefree world of play.” (19) Concerning To Build A Better Mousetrap, there is definitely a link missing between casual criticism and true enlightenment, in that the game may suggest some things toward the injustice in the system, such as when the mice get frustrated with their stagnant wages, the conflict when they demand better pay, and the overall lack of jobs there will inevitably be as spots fill up on the upper levels. However, they ultimately miss the mark on enlightenment when they fail to show the true brutality of the capitalistic system. Games like Molleindustria’s Phone Story succeed where To Build A Better Mousetrap failed because they pull no punches, so to speak, layer the actualities without sparing anything for aesthetics.
Given the fact that video games are primarily targeted at a young audience, from teenagers to young adults, it is interesting to consider the effect that this game and games like it have on the mind. I wonder if they are bringing to light the issue with the industry we have in place, shaping young minds in the hopes that they will solve this problem for generations to come with another method of industry to cure this madness. Or perhaps they are attempting to numb the mind with reiterations of this injustice, demonstrating the fact that this is simply the way things have to be because, much like in To Build A Better Mousetrap, there is no feasible alternative, no way to ‘win’. It speaks volumes to the fact that there is no use for people to try to go against this built-in system because the result is that you will become the mouse stuck in the cell.
Dyer-Witheford, Nick and De Peuter, Greig. “Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire.” In Global Capitalism and Videogames. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. xi-xxxv. Print.
Pedercini, Paolo. How To Build a Better Mousetrap. MolleIndustria, 2014.