In August of last year, Matajuegos sat to chat with Paolo Pedercini (of Molleindustria) about videogames and art and politics, resulting in a conversation we divided in four parts. We already published the first, third, and fourth ones. This is the second one, where we talk about metaphors for tactical media, and the kind of audience it can reach.
Santiago Franzani: You use the term “propaganda” when describing your games sometimes, or “contra-propaganda”. Could you explain the role of propaganda in your projects, what does it mean?
Paolo Pedercini: I think I was talking about it last night. I mentioned propaganda because I started a party which was not a mainstream party at all, it was like five percent representation type of party. So the first game was made as part of a promotion for a referendum, so it was kind of embedded in an organization essentially. And then I spun off from there. But yeah, that was the propaganda part, I guess. At least in the Anglo world, art world, propaganda is a bit of a bad word, ’cause not only it’s associated with authoritarianism, you know the original propaganda itself is from the Church, kind of like an encyclical message that was simple to spread. But still, it’s associated with power and, in art, if you are dissing somebody saying “this is a propaganda”, it’s not just to express some kind of hostility toward having political messages, that’s alright, but more like having a message that can be read only in one way. So, “you’re just using this thing to communicate your ideas and art is supposed to be a bit more lateral than that.”
SF: I understood that you use “propaganda” because you want to be mainstream and not so underground. To be more popular, kind of. To be in the same… The same popularity as the official propaganda, but saying exactly the opposite. You just break it using the same medium, the same kind of language, maybe? It’s the way I read it.
PP: I say sometimes, I use the expression that I took from one of my friends and was also my professor, Bifo Franco Berardi, who’s often actually here in Argentina. But he defined the tactical media, alternative media sort of scene that was happening, or the cultural jamming… as a homeopathic remedy against mainstream culture, and you know, like homeopathy is kind of bullshit scientifically speaking, but the idea is that if you get a little bit of poison, or the substance that makes you sick in a very small quantity, that will sort of develop some kind of, yeah, it will be a remedy.
David Marchand: The thing that in a healthy person causes symptoms, in a sick person will cause like healing or something like that. But it has to be in small quantities.
PP: But, vaccines kind of work like that. Homeopathy was kind of before a lot of science so they were still trying to figure out like how many molecules even fit in a drop and things like that. But the vaccine is maybe a better, or more scientifically sound–
DM: Yeah, I always read the About page of Molleindustria references homeopathy and it felt like kind of off, like you’re saying it won’t work?
PP: Right! (Laughs.) Homeopathy has a really bad rap.
DM: Like it will sound like it works but it won’t work?
PP: (Laughs.) Yeah, it’s like, “homeopathy if it worked”. No, the idea is more like, you don’t have a massive apparatus to counter whatever the proper propaganda apparatus is, so what you can hope to is to just have a micro dose that is actually an antidote. (Laughs.) Another metaphor that we used a lot in the early 2000s was also misguided, but maybe the jujitsu metaphor?
DM: I don’t know that. Never heard of that.
PP: Yeah. (Laughs.) The idea that you have kind of like a David versus Goliath, you have a big asymmetry of the kind of energy and power you can have, and the trick of the cultural jammer, the person who takes, you know like Banksy, for example, the person who takes an advertisement and removes a few words, and now they have the opposite message about this, well, you know, somebody paid for that giant billboard. It was shown as jujitsu as in a martial art in which you are supposed to exploit, take advantage and leverage your attacker sort of like mass and force. So you’re supposed to be like whoa, have a minimal amount of force to derail something. So that’s the idea.
SF: Do you think that being too upfront with your games, with your ideas, may reduce their reach to only the people who already agree with you?
PP: Yeah, this was always a dilemma, an issue. The idea was to make these things as accessible as possible, and you know, available as possible. For example, Oiligarchy even got some money for a short limited exclusive for that game that was almost commissioned by Addicting Games.
SF: Really? (Laughs.)
PP: Yeah, they were like, “Would you make a game for us, for a few months” and I was, “Sure, I got this thing of mine”. But yeah, that kind of existed in platforms that were definitely catering to a completely different audience, which are like aggregator portals that don’t really exist anymore, or they are kind of like being cannibalized by Steam or whatever other communities, I guess Itch.io will be a comparable one. So, actually Oiligarchy, despite the name, ended up being played by quite a lot of people that had no idea.
SF: Oh really? Oh good. Nova Alea is very different from the other games because you can’t tell what it’s going to be. If people play it and don’t know you, they don’t know what it’s going to be or have any bias from the name or who you are. Maybe it’s different in that way. Was it intended to be different, or did it just come out like that?
PP: Yeah, that thing is the first of a series that are supposed to have a more clear framing as I go. So right now I just released that thing with almost no description besides “speculation on the work forces that shape our cities” or something like that, but the idea is to have more of these games and, with similarly meaningful titles maybe, each title will be the name of an imaginary city, and hopefully the sense or the meaning of the project will sort of build–
SF: So the scale is going to be–
PP: I think so, yeah. I mean, that I hope, yeah.
SF: And do you think that more people that don’t agree with your ideological values can play Nova Alea without any bias, or really try to think differently and not be–
PP: Yeah, I was just checking my Twitter mentions and the Association of Real Estate Owners in Illinois was posting a link to that game, and I was like, “What!?” (Laughs.) So yeah, I have no idea how these things work and operate. I only have, you know, anecdotal–
SF: It’s kind of difficult to measure–
PP: I mean, the critics, if somebody writes about it or even like a short blog post or something, usually they get it. Usually they are already in line, but then, even for Oiligarchy, that is more in your face, the oil industry people love it.
PP: Yeah, I had at least three different people from different parts of the world and one of them was like, “Can we use Oiligarchy in our classes?” This was a technical institute of engineers or whatever like offshore drilling, that kind of stuff. The other one was like “Can we use Oiligarchy in this trade show in the Gulf Coast in Texas?” and I was like, “Yeah, you know that it’s kind of satirical?” He’s like, “Yeah, sure, but that’s kind of what we do.” It’s somewhat more accurate than any other game that involves resource extraction, so they like it. If you are a part of the industry you probably recognize, oh, that’s actually how this apparatus kinda looks like, even if it’s cartoonish, so yeah, they loved it. That was the year in which BP oil spill happened, like British Petroleum, Deepwater Horizon happened as they were doing that thing, that trade show, so they wrote me another email back saying like, “Yeah the mood is not–” (Laughs.) “We’re not really into dark humor.”
SF: So, do you think it’s worth it to develop strategies for your games to reach more defensive or conservative people? Because it’s very difficult to reach some people that are more conservative.
PP: Yeah, I don’t think I will try to make a game convincing racist people to not be a racist, you know? There is also another thing. I’m more interested in the pre-political phase that people, that everybody has? It’s the moment in which, and it’s not really a moment in your life, it can be a moment in any different social issue, a moment in your life in which you’re essentially not really aligned yet. To me, after your formative years it’s pretty hard to sort of swing to the other side of the political spectrum, or being actually persuaded. That’s when you form, your teenage years basically. Maybe a little bit earlier too, when you’re forming your mental frames and the ways you interpret the world. And I think games are pretty good for that because they reach that kind of demographic. Same thing for music, or punk music.
SF: So it’s worth more to aim to those people, maybe.
PP: That’s what I always thought, yeah. This discussion about baby boomers, and how there’s no way to convince them.