[-empyre-] Videogames of the oppressed / oppressive games

paolo - molleindustria paolo at molleindustria.it
Tue Mar 5 10:16:41 EST 2013

I'm going to condense a couple of answers in one message for the benefit 
of your mailboxes.

On 3/3/13 11:49 AM, Ana Valdés wrote:
> I has been in Palestine several times and played with kids games done in the Middle East by Assad Media, a Syrian video games company. They did a game called Freedom Fighter, where the main character must destroy an Israeli Merkava tank and free the Al Aqksa mosque. It was exact the same kind of game the American army launch to recruit kids in the army, the difference was only the symbols.

If you are referring to Afkar Media's games Under Ash and Under Siege, I 
agree that their treatment of conflicts is strikingly similar to that of 
the Western FPS from which they are derived. To me this is a further 
proof that we need to imagine new gameplays to express new instances.
However, while Western military shooters tend to be straightforward gun 
porn, those two titles at least try to qualify the violence and framing 
them within real events. Beyond the surface they have rather unique 
features you won't find in titles like America's Army. For example the 
playable heroes in Under Siege who decide to resort to violence are 
eventually killed.
I had the luck to meet Radwan Kasmiya, the director of Afkar Media, in 
Spain. I found him extremely thoughtful and articulate, unlike any AAA 
developers of shooters from the US. You can read an interview here:

I am glad these games exists because they provided us with a important 
mirrored image of our violent games. I'm also glad his new company is 
now focusing on games in Arabic for a very specific Middle East 
audience, staying away from idiotic controversies.

On 3/4/13 9:52 AM, Robert Nideffer wrote:
> In '04 we did a follow-up at the Beall called "ALT-CTRL" on a much 
> lower budget, but which was equally fun and interesting, perhaps even 
> more so

Oh yes, I remember. That was the first time one of my games was 
exhibited in a gallery space, something I had not predicted. I think I'm 
going to start a thread later this week about games in the white cube.

On 3/4/13 12:17 PM, Claudia Pederson wrote:
> As Paolo points out this approach is in development. Perhaps you could 
> speak more about the case of cowclicker, a game that you worked on 
> with Bogost.
> http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/12/ff_cowclicker/.

I did not work on Cowclicker, only on "Cowclicktivism" a short lived 
experiment in "Cowclickification" which was one of the various offshoots 
of that project. Anyway, Cow Clicker is a great example of procedural 
satire, using games to talk about games. The irony is that the project 
was successful because it generated great discussions and great features 
like the Wired profile you linked. The story of this respected scholar 
enslaved by his own joke-game, forced to confront his noisy, idiotic 
players was much more appealing than the game itself. It's a form of 
media intervention. Not unlike my Phone Story, which, as a game, was not 
great nor sophisticated, but the act of sticking it into the App store 
and getting banned from it become more important than the product itself.

Apparently a decent amount of people actually got addicted to Cow 
Clicker, but the extent of the phenomenon didn't really matter. Among 
activist/pranksters circles we use a fancy word "mythopoesis", to refer 
to the conscious act of myth creation. It's kind of like lying to the 
media knowing that media always lie.
As the poet once said: "In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the 
/true is a moment/ of the /false/."

On 3/4/13 9:23 AM, Renate Ferro wrote:
> Many of our subscribers are not gamers but new media artists,
> programmers, and curators. My question is (and my apologies if this is
> naive) but how much do you think the platform, that is the coding and
> programming structure and the scale of games has to do with your
> understanding for the necessity of the aesthetic of less abstraction
> as you describe it.  Games especially successful ones seem to  have a
> common aesthetic or at least those that I am aware of.  Any thoughts
> about that? I refer here to the look not the content here....
> Thanks. Renate

It's true, big budget games (aka AAA games) are rarely abstract. Since 
the mid '90s there have been a tension toward more polygons, more 
definition, more details.
Videogames are both drivers and victims Moore's law. In the personal 
computer market, games are historically the main reason people upgrade 
their machines. In the console market the hardware/software relationship 
is even tighter: games *have* to justify the cycles of planned 
obsolescence. It would be very hard to get the approval for a 
playstation 4 game that looks like it's from the playstation 2 era.
It's also a cultural thing on the consumer side: gamers do like that 
kind of hyperrealist puppet theater that make many of us cringe. It 
makes them feel like their money is well spent. Fortunately this 
aesthetic is changing - or at least differentiating. Independent game 
makers, out of necessity or nostalgia, are proposing new-retro styles: 
low-resolution and low-poly visuals are becoming somewhat edgy and 
appealing for the mass market. Minecraft is an obvious example.

Anyway, when talking about the abstraction-realism continuum, I wasn't 
referring to the photorealistic surface but more to the distance from 
real-world scenarios (sort of equivalent to the blurred line between 
fiction and non fiction in literature and cinema) and to the fidelity of 
the model to the simulated bit of reality, which as I said before is a 
slippery issue.
Alex Galloway once made a very useful distinction between Realistic-ness 
and Social Realism. I don't have too much to add to this great essay:

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