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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Gone Home: Gender in Narrative and Digital Space

“The basic feminine impulse is to gather, to put together, to construct: the basic masculine impulse is to scatter, to disseminate, to destroy” is Charlotte Perkins Gilman theory on gender behavior (Fullertone). The rise of indie games allowed alternative types of digital spaces and narrative to target the gender overlooked by mainstream games: woman gamers. Rather than simply relying on the formula to successfully entice Western Cartesian males with a fantastical adventure or warfare competitive environment, Gone Home stimulates critical thinking and challenges the limitations of these mainstream games. By providing an alternative digital space, new type of interaction and gameplay, and a more insightful narrative, independent games appeals to an inclusive audience.
The traditional digital spaces for created for male players are organizational structures, “a series of levels which escalate in difficulty” whereas women, “need an opportunity to explore and manifest their own indigenous fantasy play space” (Fullertone). In Gone Home, the challenge is not to defeat enemies or demonstration of skilled gameplay to level up, but instead “players discovers, uncover and reveal plot elements as they progress through the game” and are rewarded with clues to solve the mystery (Fullertone). The limited digital space enables the player to concentrate on the content of the narrative or message rather than being distracted by repetitive actions (fighting or competing) and over stimulating graphics typical of mainstream videogames. Research states that “women and girls resonate with games that have storylines and character development” (Fullertone). Even though the exploration is limited to the interior of the house, interaction with objects is almost limitless, and the complexity of secret passages, abundant rooms and hauntings add intrigue and challenge to the game.
There are several female protagonists in Literature, for example “Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden and Mary Poppins, among others, offer a cast of female heroines who open portals to and explore magical, alternative” worlds which can be seen as allegory for women escaping the domestic space (Fullertone). Traditional mainstream games unfortunately do not offer alterative game spaces and reflective narratives but indie games such as Gone Home, the heroine is encouraged to explore the domestic space and unveil the secrecy. In the game world though there are fewer female protagonists, and almost none that are not created as “Barbie kicking butt” but rather as Lara Croft to appeal to the male fantasy. In Gone Home, the protagonist and secondary character are both regular modern women that female gamers can relate easily to. This relatability becomes a connection with Sam especially, who is metaphorically kicking the butt of the constraints of domestic space especially under an almost puritanical religious household. The reason for this more emotional game play is that “Butt kicking is not what many girls and women have in mind as a form of empowerment through play” but rather complex characters and a detailed and coherent narrative (Fullertone). The realistic situation and characterizations in games are what causes relatability and a more emotional connection possible with indie games such as Gone Home.
Independent games such as Gone Home provide alternative gameplay, narrative structure and digital space than those to the generic mainstream videogame by creating innovative and inclusive games. This particular game experimented with generate awareness amongst gamers about greater issues which trouble modern society: gender, sexuality, abuse and relationship.
Jennifer Annunzii

Works Cited
Fullerton, Tracy, Morie, Jacquelyn and Pearce, Celia. “A Game of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Digital Space.” Proceedings of perthDAC 2007: The 7th International Digital Arts and Culture Conference: The Future of Digital Media Culture. 2007. http://eleven.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-074-a-game-of-one%E2%80%99s-own-towards-a-new-gendered-poetics-of-digital-space/