Interview with Paolo Pedercini (Part 1 of 4)

In August of last year, Paolo Pedercini came to Buenos Aires to give a talk and a workshop at Media Party 2016, a free conference about the “future of media”, with special attention to advances in tech.

We at Matajuegos already translated texts of his, wrote about his project Molleindustria of subversive games, and have admired his work for years, so we asked him if he had a few hours to sit with us and talk about videogames and art and politics.

The resulting conversation was transcribed, cut, and divided in four parts. We already released the second, third, and fourth ones. This is the first one, where we talk about the origin of Molleindustria, its changes over time, and the importance of expressive systems.

Santiago Franzani: What’s the origin, what’s the meaning of “soft industry” (molle industria) actually?

Paolo Pedercini: The title was like a reference to the industrialization or post-Fordization of the industry. I mean, it’s just a name, I didn’t think too much about it. But it also means “soft factory”. It depends. And it’s basically a reference to software, “soft” as in software essentially. “Molle” means “soft”.

SF: So, was Molleindustria an art collective first? You were more people?

PP: No, it was more like an anonymous entity that I presented as collective.

SF: But you were alone?

PP: Yeah, I was alone all along. (Laughs.) The idea was to make it become a collective, essentially.

David Marchand: Was there a point where you thought you were going to start presenting yourself more as Paolo, where you abandoned the idea of Molleindustria as a collective?

PP: Yeah, it kind of happened a bit gradually and it was because… it was starting to get just ridiculous. If I had an interview and just kept pretending, like, I don’t know, “We are a collective” and nobody ever sees the rest of the collective, so I am the spokesperson… It was a bit awkward, and then more importantly I realized that as I was talking to other developers and I’m going around, people were kind of surprised and also kind of mind blown that I was making a game by myself without a company or something. And it was like, oh, maybe there is some revolutionary potential in being just a dude sitting in my bedroom. And that’s when the independent game scene was starting, right? So, people were like “yeah, I made this game in five hours” and that’s cool. So it started more in the hacker type of culture? A nickname in part was also, “Oh maybe it’s an OK way to avoid some legal implication of working with copyrighted material and things like that.” And also it was part of the refusal of celebrity culture that sometimes artists have, especially at that point, especially from the media activist side. That’s why it was framed like that, and that’s why it gradually stopped being. Actually, a friend of mine wrote a whole essay on that, but that’s not very important.

MayDay Parade (2004)

Pablo Quarta: In general, between what your vision of the project was in 2003 and what your vision of it is now: How has that changed?

PP: It was more coming from the perspective of the tactical media scene. In my mind, it was more like indie media. That was what I was doing at that point, I wasn’t doing art or I wasn’t really into videogames.

SF: You were thinking more like transmedia, not doing only games, but other stuff?

PP: Well, yeah. I was merely thinking in terms of “this is just one of the many things, one of the many pieces of pop culture that needs to be transformed.” So I’m gonna do these few games and move on next year. The next step was to make a porn studio, you know? (Laughs.) And do essentially the same thing but with porn. Cause it was like, why porn– why does it have to suck so much, and why there is no alternative, or radical idea in porn? So that was the idea, but obviously it’s a bit harder to start a production like that.

PQ: What do you feel the vision for Molleindustria is now, as compared to that?

PP: I think the mission is based on the fact that I have a certain freedom of movement in trying things that– essentially right now I don’t have to be solvent in economic terms. I don’t have to be financially sustainable, because I have a job and the job allows me a decent amount of time to work on these things. It also allows me to work a little bit more long term than I used to be, so right now I can say, OK, I’m gonna take five years from my life to work on a project. Which is something that a lot of people don’t have. In order to start a project like that, you probably need to have a breakthrough commercial game that was really successful, or maybe it’s the story of many people who are coming out from the industry and they have decent savings, so it can be like, “now I invest on my personal thing.” I’m in that situation, and therefore I’m kinda trying things maybe, that I think nobody else would like to try. (Laughs.) I guess that’s the mission. There’s no need to make a case for political games or radical games, because there are other people that are sort of starting to either integrate certain perspectives into games that are not primarily radical or political or whatever, and then there are also people that are making these things, so that’s great. I think that phase sort of like ended, that “oh let’s create a proof of concept.” To me, if there is a mission now it’s more verging on going beyond the issue of representation and storytelling in conveying meaning. There is great work that’s being done on the narrative side, the storytelling side, but that’s always been like, of course, we know how to tell stories. We’ve been doing that for quite a while, we’re just not as good at making game systems, or making meaningful systems that are expressive or operate in the same way. So that’s why. And it’s shitty because I don’t think there is even really a market, or anyone that interested in systemic games. Specially in this phase or conjuncture, in which story games are pretty big. Or even if you’re making a puzzle eventually you sort of have to have some kind of story, or narrative into that, otherwise you don’t really sell.

Nova Alea (2016)

PQ: So you’re saying that expressive systems, or expressive systems and telling something through mechanics and systems simulation is the next step? Or is–

PP: I don’t think it’s the next step, but it’s what I should be doing because not many people are doing it.

PQ: Just to keep with that thought, I’m sorry, do you know Nicky Case’s work? How do you feel about–

PP: Yeah, he’s one of the few other ones that are actually interested in that. But then you have this– I think maybe his most famous stuff is not even the system-based ones, but the Coming Out Simulator, or the first game he made, had this story. It had a gameplay that was quite interesting, but, Nothing to Hide was also kind of story-based, or kind of character-centered.

PQ: They were telling me yesterday about telling stories through systems and how they thought a lot about them. That’s what they wanna do moving forward.

PP: I mean, I think not many people are interested in that and I should try to focus on that. (Laughs.) And it’s weird because probably the games that are, maybe not the most popular but the ones that have been appreciated more, of mine, are the ones that are not really system-centric. I think, Every day the same dream was like, unanimously “oh that’s great” and you know, still receiving e-mail from people who’re like, “oh this is so meaningful” and I’m like, “OK?” (Laughs.) Unmanned is the same, like even full story, it’s more like an intervention, but those are the ones that exhibitions tend to pick up because they are, “OK, this is a thing with a story and with characters that we can understand and the journalists understand those kinds of games and they can write about it.” While a more system-oriented game, you kind have to play it, and kind of going deep.

Interview with Paolo Pedercini: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.