Interview with Paolo Pedercini (Part 4 of 4)

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, second, and third ones. This is the fourth and last one, where we talk about Paolo’s youth, his first experiences playing videogames and analyzing them critically, the evolution of his political thought, and the stupidity of bees.

Santiago Franzani: So, about you. Did you grow up playing games, is it something that is part of yourself?

Paolo Pedercini: Yeah, I played games, started with Nintendo. Actually a little bit earlier with the Sinclair, which is like Commodore 64 era– the competitor of the Commodore 64. So I started with inheriting that from my uncle, still like cassette tape that you just load this cassettes, so ancient technology. I kind of grew up, I don’t wanna say poor but my parents they got married and they got me very young so in my infancy, like my childhood I’ve always been kind of broke. Never been the guy with the computer first. (Laughs.) So I had that Nintendo, but not enough money to have any amount of– significant amount of games. I did play a few of them perhaps about too much. And then the Amiga that was a bit of a change paradigm shift because Amiga came with a black market of pirated stuff. I’m thinking like Indie Game: The Movie, which– old characters, or at least Phil Fish are reminiscing their experiences and referring back to Nintendo, and that’s kind of my generation, I just didn’t have enough money to even have a Zelda or have a Mario or something. So I don’t really care too much about that part, it’s not really very related to me, but the Amiga era was a few years of my childhood that left a lasting effect. And that was a moment, because people in the industry in the UK do remember that era. That was a moment in which it was not that different from basically the independent game scene. Videogames were made by– PC and Amiga videogames were made by very small teams. There was a market for that. It was totally possible to have a very successful, you know, internationally successful game by just being a group of friends. Everything changed in basically 95 in which you have multi media computers, you have CD ROMs, and when you have a CD ROM you go from having a 1.4 MB of storage space to like 600 MB of storage space basically overnight. That means that there is a more competition over creating content, and there’s a whole multimedia craze that happens, and the shooters too, basically start to exist and start to become the– if not the dominant, at least the type of game that drives the industry and drives the hardware and drives the software, so that kind of need for more content and more sophisticated technology, put the aspect of designing games or more like small games kind of in the back-burner and a lot of small software houses closed in the mid 90s or were acquired by bigger ones. And that’s how you have about 10 years of dominance of very few game companies that are making relatively small iterations of very few genres, and has been again compared to the golden age of Hollywood in which you had the historical colossal movie, you have the Western movie, and just– They work. So you can have one very strong hit that sort of pays back for all the other investments. That’s the period in which I kind of stopped playing games and then I started over almost by accident in the early 2000s. So there was definitely a period of 6 years where I didn’t play games at all.

SF: Do you remember a game from that era, from the moment when you used to play games? A game that you remember that you really liked?

PP: Oh yeah! I remember all the games that I played, and most of them are not that good, you know? I got the Amiga because I saw this game, it’s called Agony. It’s a shooter, except you’re an owl. If you’re watching it now, it’s still beautiful to look at. It was so completely different from the pixelated sort of graphics. I used to say that a game that influenced me is Theme Park, because Theme Park is a management game, it’s an open-ish sandbox-y type of game, so it’s similar to some of the things that I’ve done. Also it had some elements of satire and some ideas that sort of made me think, early on. For example, in Theme Park, you can manipulate your visitors by, I don’t know, creating one way streets so you can sort of direct them kinda like an evil genius.

Theme Park (1994)

SF: Did you like the humor?

PP: Yeah, I don’t know, it wasn’t overtly humorous? I think.

SF: It was the one where you could control the fat of the hamburgers to make you eat more.

PP: Yeah, you could do something like putting basically a french fries stand, increase the salt, in a one way street that goes through the french fries, so you had chubby, stupid users who would just eat french fries and be super thirsty and then you put beverages and charge them a lot. (Laughs.) So those were the things kinda made me think I thought it was quite interesting, and another one was Postal 2, which is a kind of a universally, critically bland game which is an American sandbox shooter. But that was the one that I played after I stopped playing videogames, and made me think, oh that’s actually kind of clever. This is like maybe over-the-top satire of, I guess rural violent America. And it’s like imagine having a GTA type of game, but GTA wasn’t out yet as 3D space, GTA. And there are other inside jokes, so in a level you’re going around collecting signatures for a petition against violent games and you have to talk to people but everybody is super rude, and everybody’s always on the edge of kind of attacking you. So it’s really like Fever Dream America, and when somebody starts attacking, you can do like the most horrible things, it’s Duke Nukem type of humor, juvenile but also super violent. And when somebody starts attacking you, or sometimes just attack each other and you have this mass shooting that happens because everybody has a gun because it’s America.

SF: Do you think it was a critique, or it was just something that just turned out that way?

PP: It was definitely satirical.

SF: OK, OK. But sometimes you meet the developers and no, they just made something that just happened or something like that.

PP: No no no, in that case it was definitely a satirical intent that I don’t think I had ever seen in a game, and I was like, oh that’s interesting, what this thing is doing and it was a pretty terrible game. (Laughs.)

Postal 2 (2003)

Pablo Quarta: But that brought you back to playing games or to thinking about making games.

PP: Thinking of making games, yeah. After a few years of not really caring. Also, I went to study computer science with the idea of making games, I didn’t like computer science, I went back to studying electronics and related stuff, so for a while I wasn’t seeing myself as a computer scientist or a game developer. It was like, oh, that’s not what I was thinking, when I was a kid and it was like “I’m in a rock band!” and that kind of stuff. “I like girls now!”

SF: Is there any relation between your background and your politics? I mean your background like your family, or a personal experience. Something that you think, “this made me think in this way later”. Do you think that happened in your past?

PP: Mostly, I would say mostly from hanging out with the right people. The right friends, that are intellectually stimulating. So around high school, I had the luck of having very good friends that were encouraging and stimulating to each other, trying to keep up with each other. So that was where it comes from. Definitely not from my family. My family is not either– it’s kind of like centrist, they are moderate, vaguely liberal but also somewhat Catholic. Nothing that fits the stereotype, like “oh you are like the child of a leftist family tradition”, and not even “oh you are the rebel child of a conservative family”. Nah. They were mostly boring, yeah.

SF: So, aside: did you work in factories, once? Yes?

PP: Yeah. It’s funny cause last week I got interviewed by a local newspaper in Pittsburgh because I tweeted, there was this seven jobs, your first seven jobs hashtag. It was kind of interesting, especially for people you don’t know very well, I think it was maybe read as a way to encourage, like motivational “oh look how this famous people started, so wait, they’re like everybody”, right? But yeah, I tweeted that and somebody was reading all the hashtags and interviewed me and was really interested in me having worked in factories for a few years. Yeah, I did. Yeah, I think it kind of influenced me a lot. I grew up in an industrial region very industrialized. So it wasn’t that strange for kids, like 19 years old, 20 years old, to spend their summers in a factory. Probably rightfully seen as a good formative experience, even for parents. First you make something for yourself, and you see how the real world works. Yeah, I definitely went to school with more enthusiasm. I think I’d never even think of going to the university before I started working in factories all summer. “OK, I don’t want to do this.”

David Marchand: And also you said you were in a rock band.

PP: Yeah, about the same time I was working in factories. I was the singer and guitar player. It was terrible. (Laughs.)

SF: So, David told me that you keep bees. Does beekeeping help you with designing and understanding systems or something like that? Do bees inspire you?

PP: Yeah, no. I thought it was bound to be like that.

SF: Design a broken system?

PP: It is though, a broken system. No, it’s fun, and that’s what got me interested– My girlfriend was more into the “oh we are gonna have honey!” or something, “we’re gonna do something fun”. But yeah, I was more like, there was this beekeeper training camp, boot-camp, an intro class and they were asking, “so, why do you want bees?” And some people were like, “well, honey” or, “colony collapse disorder” or “environmentalist concerns” and I was like, “I’m interested in complex systems.” (Laughs.) “I’m interested in emergent systems and superorganism.” No, it’s actually a very low maintenance hobby, unless you have a lot of them.


SF: So you were expecting to learn something from bees or something like that, in terms of systems?

PP: Yeah, I guess, there is a maybe an idea of bees being kind of a good, perfect, or clockwork system. They are like, “oh my God they are so smart, and they make like this perfectly hexagonal things”. And no, they are fucking stupid. (Laughs.)

SF: So they disappointed you?

PP: No no no! I mean, I guess, I guess, yeah. Maybe.

DM: That’s actually our last question.

PP: “Did bees disappoint you?” No, I think maybe they surprised me in a good way. Being in touch with how stupid mechanical robots they are, and how they make mistakes, in that– Not just mistakes from the human perspective, “oh no, I’m not gonna get honey”, but also like “you shouldn’t do this because you’re gonna die” or you know, as a colony you’re going to die. So I guess– Yes, they taught me to not rely on– to not have faith in self-governing systems. (Laughs.) Self-governing systems can also be dysfunctional. And we were talking about the ants, the spiral of death, right? That’s a beautiful example of how, self-governing feedback emergent system can also be like pretty fucking stupid. It’s almost if you see birds swarming around in a flock suddenly just like going to all smash against a building. It’s something like that, and sometimes bees do that, sometimes ants do that, probably birds do something like that as well.

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