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Rhetorics, Simulations and Games: The Ludic and Satirical Discourse of Molleindustria

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Abstract

Oiligarchy Pedercini Molleindustria, 2008 and Phone Story Pedercini Molleindustria & Yes Lab, 2011 are two apparently simple games that integrate game-based and simulational components in a wider rhetorical discourse. It is reductive to consider these satires as simple "gamified" pieces: their use of simulations as well as ludic elements is functional to a political rhetoric that cannot be reduced to mindless escapism. Oiligarchy is a piece raising awareness on the dependency of Western societies on oil. It simulates oil-extraction using mathematical models to describe the decline of production rates; it also employs game mechanics to confute the player's initial assumptions and to propose a persuasive message. Phone Story is a playable satire of Apple advertising, simulating the "identity correction" genre adopted by political activists. This piece also features ludic mechanics to create a complex discourse enhancing its satirical effectiveness. These examples show the potentialities of an overlapping between simulation, playful elements and rhetorical persuasion-suggesting their mutual compatibility and stressing the need for further research in this area.
32 International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013
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ABSTRACT
Oiligarchy (Pedercini [Molleindustria], 2008) and Phone Story (Pedercini [Molleindustria] & Yes Lab, 2011)
are two apparently simple games that integrate game-based and simulational components in a wider rhetorical
discourse. It is reductive to consider these satires as simple “gamied” pieces: their use of simulations as well
as ludic elements is functional to a political rhetoric that cannot be reduced to mindless escapism. Oiligarchy
is a piece raising awareness on the dependency of Western societies on oil. It simulates oil-extraction using
mathematical models to describe the decline of production rates; it also employs game mechanics to confute
the player’s initial assumptions and to propose a persuasive message. Phone Story is a playable satire of Apple
advertising, simulating the “identity correction” genre adopted by political activists. This piece also features
ludic mechanics to create a complex discourse enhancing its satirical effectiveness. These examples show the
potentialities of an overlapping between simulation, playful elements and rhetorical persuasion - suggesting
their mutual compatibility and stressing the need for further research in this area.
Rhetorics, Simulations
and Games:
The Ludic and Satirical
Discourse of Molleindustria
Gabriele Ferri, Università di Bologna, Bologna, Italy
Keywords: Activism, Game, Identity Correction, Ludic, Persuasion, Politics, Rhetorics, Satire, Semiotics,
Simulation
INTRODUCTION
The convergence between traditional texts and
rich interactive media is a stable trend that is
giving birth to new practices and discursive
forms. Computer-based games and simulations
have already entered the political discourse in
different forms - such as Newsgames reporting
on current events, Games for Change raising
awareness on social issues or Advergames
used in political campaigns. Besides these
relatively stable genres there are, however,
other emerging practices combining simula-
tions and game-related elements in the political
arena. Paolo Pedercini, better known through
his “Molleindustria” alter-ego, is a US-based
Italian game designer and game scholar and
he is one of the first authors to systematically
cross-fertilize simple procedural simulations,
game-based mechanics and the textual genre of
satire. Specializing in social satires, he incorpo-
rates apparently simple “casual videogames” in
his critical and political statements. His works
are complex enough that it would be reductive
DOI: 10.4018/jgcms.2013010103
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International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013 33
to simply consider them as ’gamified’ politi-
cal pieces and they adopt simulations as well
as game-related elements as integral parts of
his political rhetoric without reducing them to
simple entertainment. I will argue that:
• Molleindustria’s rhetoric could not be
reproduced in linear texts;
• Interactive segments in Molleindustria’s
pieces are schematic simulations that are
simplified in some aspects but realistic and
accurate in describing causal relations and
ideological processes;
• The ludicity of those interactive parts is
not just an aesthetic choice nor it aims at
mindless escapism but it serves a specific
rhetoric and semiotic strategy and con-
tributes to the persuasive effectiveness of
Molleindustria’s work.
Molleindustria’s use of simulations to pres-
ent a political issue and of game-like interactions
to build a critical argument will be examined in
two recent pieces. Oiligarchy1 (Pedercini [Mol-
leindustria], 2008) is a Flash-based management
game that represents oil-extraction corporations,
critiquing their business model and their influ-
ence on world politics. Phone Story2 (Pedercini
[Molleindustria] & Yes Lab, 2011) is a satire
of Apple’s advertising developed by Mollein-
dustria in association with Yes Lab - a design
initiative that inspired some of the actions at the
Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.
The arguments presented in these pages will
touch on four points. In the first part, the context
for Molleindustria’s work will be detailed. Then,
it will be discussed how Oiligarchy and Phone
Story are part of Pedercini’s political and criti-
cal discourse and are designed for rhetorical,
persuasive and satirical purposes. In the third
point, it will be argued that Molleindustria’s
pieces are also evidently ludic: when examined
from a formal ludological (Juul, 2005) or game
design-based (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004)
perspective they satisfy all the requirements
for being considered proper computer games.
In conclusion, Phone Story and Oiligarchy will
be recognized as complex objects that contain
(amongst other semiotic components) ludic,
procedural and interactive simulations of real-
world phenomena.
MOLLEINDUSTRIA’S
PRODUCTION AND
ITS CONTEXT
As a first step, the field of free-to-play casual
games will be briefly examined to contextu-
alize Molleindustria’s pieces. Casual games
are products designed to be enjoyed in short
sessions, without the need of detailed instruc-
tions, and are increasingly popular on several
platforms – including mobile devices or even
web browsers.
A considerable number of free-to-play ca-
sual games based on the Adobe Flash platform
are available on specialized portals such as
Kongregate.com or Addictinggames.com. On
these websites, the “Political Games” category
contains several simple titles – such as “Dress
Up Barack” (Addictinggames.com, 2007) and
“Dress Up Hillary3 (Addictinggames.com,
2007) in which Obama and Clinton may be
adorned with outrageous clothing. (Figure 1)
Differently from these simplistic political
games, Molleindustria’s titles integrate elegant
game design solutions with non-trivial political
messages, creating highly-praised (and often
quite controversial) pieces. In brief, Pedercini’s
work stands out from the majority of political
games because:
• Molleindustria’s production offers focused
critiques on a explicitly political level, pre-
senting and developing arguments against
specific ideological issues instead of simply
making fun of public figures;
• His political argumentation is produced by
embracing the potentialities of procedural
media, as simulations and game rules are
used for persuasive purposes instead of
simply adding written text to an interactive
experience;
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34 International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013
• In general, games by Molleindustria are
known not only for their political/ideologi-
cal complexity but also for their techni-
cal and graphical quality - having been
featured in several exhibitions worldwide
since 20054;
• Paolo Pedercini, now an emerging auteur
in critical game design, has recently won
the Grand Jury Award at Indicade 2012.
Another sub-genre of political casual games
aims at offering opinions on recent news: as it
was shown before, free-to-play portals feature
several simplistic attempts to make fun of cur-
rent events - i.e. “Election Smackdown 2008”5
– but a minority of pieces attempt deeper re-
flections. Such titles compose a genre recently
named “Newsgames”. For example, only two
days after the bombing of the Atocha train
station in Spain, game designer and researcher
Gonzalo Frasca published on his website an
interactive piece called Madrid (2004)6. It is
a simple computer game aiming to remember
and honor all the innocent victims of terrorism,
representing a silent crowd with candles that the
player can make shine clicking on them with his
mouse. Frasca’s piece earned words of praise
from the game design community and, recently,
Newsgames have gained attention as a way to
report or comment on news with a game-based
rhetoric. Miguel Sicart (2008) defines News-
games as “serious computer games designed
to illustrate a specific and concrete aspect of
news by means of their procedural rhetoric” and
continues suggesting that they are “ephemeral
as the news they illustrate, and they often have
editorial lines correspondent to the lines dictated
by their parent media”. In this sense, Mollein-
dustria’s pieces are not Newsgames - as they
are usually more like opinion-pieces rather than
“ephemeral” and timely reportages on current
news7. Paolo Pedercini has been active as a
critical game designer since 2003, publishing
more than fifteen experimental titles in the
following decade. His first breakthrough as a
satirist and as a designer was The McDonald’s
Videogame8 (2006), which received critical
praise including a prominent mention in Ian
Bogost’s influential book “Persuasive Games”
(Bogost, 2007). He writes:
Procedural rhetorics afford a new and promis-
ing way to make claims about how things work.
Consider a particularly sophisticated example
Figure 1. Dress up Barack
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International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013 35
of a procedural rhetoric at work in a game.
The McDonald’s Videogame is a critique of
McDonald’s business practices by Italian social
critic collective Molleindustria. The game is an
example of a genre I call the anti-advergame, a
game created to censure or disparage a company
rather than support it (Bogost, 2007, p. 29).
The McDonald’s Videogame simulates
the policies of a fast food multinational, with
the objective of showing the impossibility of
being an ethical company and, at the same
time, generating profits on a large scale. Such
stylistic and rhetorical choice will be repeated
in Molleindustria’s Oiligarchy (2008), a piece
that will be examined in the following pages.
Exploring simpler, more casual, sometimes
minimal games is a second, more recent sty-
listic component in Pedercini’s game design
– opposed to relatively more complex earlier
pieces such as the McDonald’s Videogame and
Oiligarchy. After 2010, Molleindustria seems
to prefer presenting fewer variables to players,
favoring more immediate games rather than
complex spaces to be explored. For example,
Memory Reloaded9 (2010) is a casual game, a
variant of the traditional Memory game in which
players have to match corresponding cards, but
in which the cards change their titles to reflect
on semantic shifts in public perception (i.e.
the “universal health care” card morphs into
“socialist health care”).
Finally, Paolo Pedercini is currently ex-
ploring more experimental narrative pieces,
interactive installations borrowing game-like
conventions and controls to propose narrative
and aesthetic content not exactly video games,
at least from a strict ludological perspective, as
there are no victory/defeat conditions. Every
Day the Same Dream10 (2009) and the recent
Unmanned11 (2012) are two examples of Mol-
leindustria’s latest stylistic tendency. This last
trend will be left aside for this paper, concen-
trating more on proper computer games: the
analytical part of this article will consider a piece
from Molleindustria’s first period and another
from the second one – respectively Oiligarchy
(2008) and Phone Story (2011).
MOLLEINDUSTRIA’S PIECES
IN RHETORICAL AND
PROCEDURAL DISCOURSES
As a second step in this study, Molleindustria’s
work will be discussed as part of political and
rhetorical discourses. Presenting a series of
facts - either true or verisimilar - is a common
starting point for a rhetorical argument and,
over the centuries, a wide set of techniques has
been used to carry out such task. In the field
of literary criticism, the notion of mimesis in-
dicates the human ability to produce realistic
texts mimicking elements of the real world.
In classical Aristotelian poetics, mimesis is a
narrative universal, a common trait for every
human being, but it was also considered a spe-
cific form of cognition capable of expressing
general concepts - thus appropriate for political
discourses - as well as a source of aesthetic
pleasure (Herman, Jahn, & Ryan, 2005). On the
contrary, Roland Barthes (1968) introduced the
notion of ’reality effect’ as a rhetorical strategy
to create effects of verisimilitude through the
use of minute details. Fundamental reversals
of Aristotelian mimesis, reality effects are
produced by a complex of signs suggesting
readers to transform reality into a ‘naturalized’
storyworld: the abundance of details regardless
of their narrative relevance is understood, in
Barthes’ view, as a rhetorical effect to produce
realistic depictions.
It could be argued that verisimilar narra-
tive texts produce non-interactive simulations
of real-life conditions, emotions or situations
within the traditional fields of literature, poetry
and possibly cinema - whatever theoretical
framework one chooses to adopt to describe
and understand them. The introduction of al-
gorithmic machines was a unique breakthrough
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36 International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013
for digital textuality - as Murray (1997; 2011)
and Bogost (2006; 2007), amongst many other
scholars, have noted. In addition to mimetic,
figurative realism, digital technologies added
“procedurality” - the ability of enact complex
algorithmic behaviors - as a crucial element for
simulations to show causal relations, actions
and reactions. To quote Ian Bogost:
Procedurality refers to a way of creating, ex-
plaining, or understanding processes. And pro-
cesses define the way things work: the methods,
techniques, and logics that drive the operation
of systems, from mechanical systems like engines
to organizational systems like high schools to
conceptual systems like religious faith. Rhetoric
refers to effective and persuasive expression.
Procedural rhetoric, then, is a practice of using
processes persuasively (Bogost, 2007, p. 2-3).
In this respect, playful practices have re-
cently gained attention also as a way to represent
or comment on real-world events using “the
techniques of games: the simulation of systems
by means of procedural rhetorics” (Sicart, 2008).
MOLLEINDUSTRIA’S
PIECES AS GAMES
To continue the description of Oiligarchy and
Phone Story as rhetorical and ludic systems,
it is now useful to detail the major theoretical
definitions of “game” and “ludicity” to better
situate the two cases in the area. Facing the
difficulty of defining what a game is, relying
on the classical spatial metaphor of the “magic
circle” is a common strategy in this field. In Jo-
han Huizinga’s (1955) amply discussed theory,
a metaphorical magic circle delimits the real
world from a non-permanent fictional world
created to play: inside that space, ordinary social
rules and meanings are temporarily substituted
by their game-based equivalents. Following
Huizinga’s path, Goffman claims that games
are capable of creating «a locally realized world
of roles and events» (Goffman, 1961, p.31).
Instead, the recently-founded discipline
of “ludology” aims at a formal descriptive ap-
proach favoring game-related mechanics over
player-response, rhetoric or narrative analyses.
Jesper Juul attempted to define a game as “a
rule-based system with a variable and quanti-
fiable outcome, where different outcomes are
assigned different values, the player exerts effort
in order to influence the outcome, the player
feels emotionally attached to the outcome, and
the consequences of the activity are optional
and negotiable” (Juul, 2005, p.36) while Katie
Salen and Eric Zimmerman propose a slightly
different formulation: “a game is a system in
which players engage in an artificial conflict,
defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable
outcome” (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004, p.96).
Other researchers favor less formal meth-
odologies and, acknowledging a “ludic turn”
(Sutton-Smith, 1997; Raessens, 2006) that
seems to influence contemporary society, focus
more on the notions of “ludicity” (Conway,
2010; Lopes, 2008; 2005) and “ludic interfaces”
(Fuchs, 2012; 2010). Compared to ludological
definitions, these are much wider concepts also
including simple playfulness, ease of use or
compelling participation besides the ludological
definition of game.
Oiligarchy and Phone Story, the case stud-
ies to be presented in these pages, satisfy all the
above-mentioned definitions as they possess the
components, rule-sets and mechanics (Järvinen,
2007) to qualify as computer games even from
a strictly formal point of view. The dual nature
of these pieces - being procedural simulations
and simple videogames at the same time - is
not an anomaly: on the contrary, ludologists
(Frasca, 2003; Eskelinen, 2001) argue that
computer games are the first widespread form
of “simulational media”.
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ANALYSES: COMBINING
RHETORICS, LUDICITY
AND SIMULATION IN
POLITICAL GAMES
In the following analyses, it will be described
how Oiligarchy and Phone Story combine their
characteristics analyzed so far (being “simula-
tions” and being “ludic”) integrating them in a
wider political discourse.
Oiligarchy
A formal ludological analysis may describe
Oiligarchy simply as a game of resource
management, representing an oil-extraction
corporation and requiring players to optimize
certain variables in relation to simulated events.
However, its rhetorical use of a ludic simula-
tion for persuasive purposes will be highlighted
in these pages. The rules governing how oil
extraction is represented, a central feature of
this game, are realistically simulated using
Hubbert’s Peak Theory, a mathematical model
that describes the production rate of a resource
over time (Hubbert, 1956). (Figure 2 through
Figure 4).
Game designer Paolo Pedercini himself
details the contents and the ideological assump-
tions underlying his game:
Oligarchy’s main mechanic is loosely based on
the Hubbert’s peak theory [stating that] for any
given geographical area the rate of petroleum
production tends to follow a bell-shaped curve.
Early in the curve the production rate increases
due to the discovery rate and the addition of
infrastructure. Late in the curve the production
declines due to resource depletion. Peak oil ac-
tivists [...] argue that if global oil consumption
is not mitigated before the peak, the availability
of conventional oil will drop and prices will
rise causing catastrophic chain reactions on
the whole economy (Pedercini, 2008).
To persuasively express these points,
Molleindustria implemented into Oiligarchy
a simulation of Hubbert’s model and made it
playable according to two axiological sets of
ethical assumptions. (Figure 5)
Oiligarchy: “Profit by Any
Means Necessary”
In a tutorial before the game, players are in-
structed to aggressively maximize profits:
World War II is over and the future looks
bright for the West. Your new office is on the
top floor of one of the biggest oil companies
in the world. Your task as CEO is to turn that
Figure 2. Oiligarchy game play: Inland scenario
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38 International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013
Figure 3. Oiligarchy game play: Ocean scenario
Figure 5. Oiligarchy game play: Shareholder meeting
Figure 4. Oiligarchy game play: Dealing with representatives that are oil-reps/eco-reps
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International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013 39
black sticky stuff by any means necessary. [...]
Now you know the basics and you should be
able to run a booming business. At least, until
the oil production will start to decline. At that
point, things might get a little crazy...(Pedercini
[Molleindustria], 2008).
This short text primes the initial expecta-
tions, tactics and objectives for gameplay prac-
tices, also drawing a strong moral disposition
inside the diegesis (“profit at all costs is good”).
The algorithmic procedures governing
Oiligarchy are set up so that following the
aggressive strategy suggested in the tutorial
yields goods results until the oil availability
starts to decline. When oil extraction cannot
be augmented anymore (“peak oil”), two key
parameters enter the game: on one side oil ex-
haustion, the degree to which natural reservoirs
have been used; on the other side oil addiction,
an index representing how dependent from fossil
fuels Western societies are. The ideal gameplay
practice primed by intradiegetic assumptions
and by the “profit as the supreme good” set
of values will keep on maximizing oil extrac-
tion to satisfy addicted societies in spite of the
impending scarcity. This will conceivably push
players towards more aggressive policies to
keep the offer/demand ratio in check, leading
to even less balanced conditions in the second
half of the game. Trying to continue on that path
leads to worse and worse scenarios, frequently
ending with a nuclear war (Figure 6).
Oiligarchy: “Green Economy”
The first failures are a turning point for the
rhetorical organization of Oiligarchy: the simu-
lation of Hubbert’s Peak Oil theory interacts
with the other variables in the game so that
the winning strategy for the first half - build as
many oil rigs as needed - becomes impossible
to sustain in the second one. Staying true to the
quest assigned at the beginning (“maximize
profits by any mean necessary”) leads, as a
secondary consequence, to the end of the world.
Users may, afterwards, re-play Oiligar-
chy - this time ignoring or re-interpreting at
least part of the originally proposed quest for
maximum profit. Given the implicit failure of
the suggested “maximize the profits” stance,
users are thus supported in their experiments
with other alternative strategies - until they reach
the one rewarded with a more optimistic final
scenario. Players should gradually diminish oil
extraction before the peak is reached for a more
optimistic conclusion - a transition towards
a green economy, the one Molleindustria is
implicitly pointing at. The positive ending, a
“retirement” scenario in which the world does
Figure 6. Oiligarchy game play: Mutual assured destruction scenario
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40 International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013
not need fossil fuels anymore, is technically a
defeat for players who adhere to the original
premise - rhetorically proving it wrong via this
ludic simulation (Figure 7).
Oiligarchy: Simulation
As a political message, Oiligarchy aims at rais-
ing awareness on the topics of oil extraction, its
availability and western societies’ dependency
on it. “Peak oil [is] a key issue - writes game
designer Paolo Pedercini - to understand pres-
ent and future crisis and to contribute to the
re-framing of the vague and deceptive argument
of “dependency of foreign oil” that is dominat-
ing the current political discourse in the US”
(Pedercini, 2008).
The most relevant parameter simulated in
the Oiligarchy game is the production rate of
oil fields. While many other issues - such as the
discovery of new reservoirs or the maintenance
of existing oil rigs - are greatly simplified, the
algorithms implemented in Oiligarchy to calcu-
late how much oil is extracted from each facil-
ity are coherent with Hubbert’s mathematical
model used to foresee oil production in the real
world. The key point of the Peak Oil Theory is
faithfully implemented in the rules governing
Oiligarchy: after reaching its maximum capac-
ity, the production rate of a reservoir does not
drop immediately but reduces gradually, with
its output diminishing proportionally over the
years. Pedercini argues that “this factor deeply
affects a typical game session that will have an
expanding phase (as in all the mainstream strat-
egy and business simulation games) followed
by a contracting phase marked by the struggle
to keep up with the demand and the convulsions
of the economic system” (Pedercini, 2008).
Oiligarchy: Political/
Persuasive Discourse
Political discourse is a specialized genre, pro-
duced with the intent of persuade, influence and
give form to decision processes in democratic
systems. Different subjects may take part in
the production of political discourses - from
public institutions, to political parties or single
politicians, to NGOs, associations and even
single citizens. From a semiotic point of view,
the borders of political discourses are broad -
including not only public speeches, propaganda
and articles but also demonstrations, pamphlets,
socially engaged art and satirical messages com-
menting on political issues. In this discursive
genre, a critique is often built elaborating on
an existing situation or possible future ones -
with an ample use of semiotic constructions
to present them as objective facts on which an
argument is built.
Oiligarchy situates itself in this genre,
using an interactive simulation to represent
the world from Molleindustria’s point of view
and to promote its political/persuasive message
while leaving the player relatively free to play
Figure 7. Oiligarchy game play: Retirement ending
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International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013 41
with the simulated parameters. In principle,
this type of critical games are different from
linear discourses presenting facts in a rigid
and monological fashion – and leave to users
a chance to explore the simulation and develop
a critical perspective through trial and error. In
this specific case, the political critique is built
by assigning in the tutorial an impossible-to-
sustain axiological principle (“profit as a su-
preme good”) and by letting players deal with
the almost inevitable catastrophe. Given the
possibility to experiment with the simulation,
a different gameplay strategy could emerge -
starting a transition towards a green economy
approximately at the time when maximum oil
production is achieved.
Oiligarchy: Ludic Simulation
At a superficial level, it could be argued that
the pragmatic meaning - what players may
understand after a series of Oiligarchy games
- is equivalent to what a linear text detailing
the risks of ignoring the Peak Oil Theory could
express. If this was true, it could be argue that
Oiligarchy is an “intersemiotic translation”,
an interpretation between different semiotic
systems, of a more traditional activist pamphlet
on that subject. But, in practice, transpositions
between semiotic systems so different from each
other often lose part of the intended meaning.
In specific, the semiotic differences between
rhetorical strategies in linear texts and those
at work in interactive simulations are signifi-
cant: while persuasive features in traditional
texts often rely on intertextual authority (i.e.
other literature cited) and explicitly presented
arguments to suggest a set of conclusions and
expectations, simulations are generally more
free-form - presenting a sandbox model with
different variables to be observed.
However, as it was noted before, Oiligarchy
is not only a simulated - and simplified - environ-
ment, but it also obtains its persuasive effects
by using game-based feedback. Molleindustria
played with users’ expectations: by considering
Oiligarchy as a game and not as a political pam-
phlet or a socially-engaged art piece, players are
well disposed to adopt an aggressive economic
strategy or, in other words, to play to win. But
those apparent winning conditions (maximizing
the profits through oil extraction) are actually
what Molleindustria wishes to critique. In this
specific case, the contested strategy is associ-
ated with very poor gaming performances and
the winning strategy for Oiligarchy coincides
with the political and persuasive message that
the author aims at transmitting. This piece
stakes much of its persuasive potential on mak-
ing players catastrophically lose some games
before realizing the correct course of actions - a
rhetorical strategy that would be impossible to
replicate in linear texts, as well as a situation to
avoid at all costs in the real world.
PHONE STORY
On September 13, 2011, Phone Story was re-
moved by Apple from the App Store because,
according to the official statement, it depicted
violence against children and questionable
content. This decision was widely debated on
blogs and newspapers - most of which, however,
focused on Apple’s ruling (was it censorship?)
without analyzing Phone Story and its satirical
game mechanics. From a formal ludological
perspective, Phone Story is a casual game - a
simple game of skill, composed by four inde-
pendent mini-games that are based on swiping
movements on the touchscreen to drag objects in
the correct part of the playing field at the right
time. While its mechanics are rather standard
for the casual-game genre, the related figurative
and narrative layers are evidently anomalous.
Its first level (Figure 8) represents a mine
where slave children work with armed guards
watching them - the goal is to extract minerals
without interruptions, moving the guards in front
of every slave that stops working. The second
one (Figure 9) shows suicide workers jumping
from the roof of their factory, with the player
maneuvering a safety net to intercept them. The
third level (Figure 10) features a crowd mind-
lessly rushing towards an electronics store and
a player-controlled clerk waiting just out of the
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42 International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013
door. The goal is to throw phones to consumers
before they crash into the store windows. The
final one (Figure 11) represents a conveyor belt
loaded with different materials to be disposed
of - plastic, metal and electronic components -
and some workers towards whom the players
must drag each type of waste. This gameplay
sequence ends with a cut-scene parodying the
Figure 8. Phone Story: Slave mine level
Figure 9. Phone Story: Suicidal worker level
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International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013 43
Figure 10. Phone Story: Electronic store level
Figure 11. Phone Story: Conveyor belt level
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44 International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013
launch of yet another high-tech product - an
“iThing beta” - with the comment “And the
cycle continues...”.
Returning to a ludological analysis, it is
clear that these basic game mechanics pres-
ent minimal challenges even to inexperienced
players once the basic commands and goals
are understood. More interestingly, gameplay
is accompanied by a synthesized background
voice, directly addressing the player between
one stage and the other: it is only by proceeding
past superficial gameplay and considering this
additional feature that Phone Story begins to
emerge as a complex satirical piece rather than
a simplistic game.
Phone Story: Game, Satire
and “Identity Correction”
To provide some context to Phone Story, we
need to take into account the practice of “Identity
Correction” - as theorized by The Yes Men /
Yes Lab, co-creators of this piece. The former
are a group of media activists, founded by
Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos, that produced
a considerable number of “media jamming”
actions, or “subvertising”. Yes Lab is a series
of practical workshops organized by The Yes
Men and hosted by the Hemispheric Institute
of the New York University.
According to this activist group, identity
correction consists in selecting a person, or
company, to criticize by impersonating it
satirically in public - subverting ordinary dis-
courses and acting as if the intended person
was publicly admitting his misdeeds. Over the
past years, Yes Men have often managed to
“grant” interviews to unsuspecting journalists,
or to make speeches at public events, posing
as PR-specialists and spokespersons of their
victims. In such occasions, Yes Men produced
“parodies”, “subversions” of the conventional
public-relation / interview discursive genres -
respecting the appropriate linguistic, semiotic
and contextual conventions such as tone of
voice, use of rhetorical figures and textual
organization while drastically altering the con-
tents themselves. In many instances of The Yes
Men’s actions, the impersonated characters
ended up apparently accusing “themselves” in
their mock-discourses.
In this context, the lines spoken by the
background voice in Phone Story seem coherent
with an identity correction discourse. The first
sentences at the beginning of a game session
are particularly significant in this sense: “Hello
consumer, thank you for joining us. Let me tell
you the story of this phone, while I provide you
with quality entertainment” (Pedercini [Mol-
leindustria] & Yes Lab, 2011). Right from the
start, Phone Story makes it clear that gameplay
will be a double experience - a blend of “qual-
ity entertainment” and storytelling elements.
Therefore, to make sense of the semiotic strat-
egies in Phone Story, we need to consider the
background narration as much as gameplay:
Coltan is found in most electronic devices. Ma-
jority of the world’s coltan supplies is located in
the Democratic Republic of Congo [...] [where]
military groups enslave prisoners of war, often
children, to mine the precious material. Directly
or not, we are all involved in this complex,
illegal traffic. (Pedercini, Molleindustria, Yes
Lab, 2011 - stage 1, narrating voice).
[...] this phone was assembled in China, inside
a factory [where people work] in inhuman
conditions and are forced into illegal overtime.
[...] More than 30 committed suicide out of
extreme desperation. We addressed this issue
by installing suicide-prevention nets. (Peder-
cini, Molleindustria, Yes Lab, 2011 - stage 2,
narrating voice).[...] Then, you purchased this
phone. It was new and sexy. You waited for it for
months, no evidence of its troubling past was
visible. Did you really need it? Of course you
did! We invested a lot of money to instill this
desire in you. (Pedercini, Molleindustria, Yes
Lab, 2011 - stage 3, narrating voice).[...] Soon,
we’ll introduce a new model that will make this
one look antiquated and you will discard it. It
will join tons of highly toxic electronic waste.
They say they will recycle it, but it will probably
be shipped abroad [...]. There, the material
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International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013 45
will be salvaged using methods that are both
harmful to human health and the environment.
(Pedercini & Molleindustria, Yes Lab, 2011 -
stage 4, narrating voice).
On closer examination, the narrator’s
position in the text varies from objectivity
(“Like most electronic gadgets, this phone was
assembled in China”), to including the player
(“we are all involved in this complex, illegal
traffic”) and finally overlapping with the brand
itself (“We invested a lot of money to instill this
desire in you”).
When analyzed in relation to the identity
correction satirical practice, Phone Story reveals
itself as more complex and multi-layered. On
a first and very basic level, it is a simple game
simulating some very disturbing actions - ex-
actly the “objectionable content” that made
Apple ban it from its App Store. But it quickly
becomes more complex and ambiguous than its
simple set of rules suggest: what is the source
of the narrating voice? Is it a generic narrator
set in the game, or is that a voice mimicking
the Apple brand discourse? On a second level,
Phone Story constitute a critical reversal of
Apple’s own brand discourse, simulating and
imitating it through Yes Men’s characteristic
practice of identity correction.
Yet, there are even more semiotic compo-
nents at work in this Molleindustria’s piece.
With an abundant use of deixis (“Let me tell
you the story of this phone”; “Then, you pur-
chased this phone”), Phone Story emphasizes
it is directly addressing the player and also
that it is referring to the player’s own phone -
exactly the piece of hardware that is actively
used during gameplay. In this case, the satire
becomes more complex because of its interac-
tivity, involving more actors than a linear one
in a nuanced relation. On one side, the game
simulates the promotional discourses of many
digital corporations - distorting them, “correct-
ing” them to expose their objectionable business
practices. But the procedural rhetorics of this
game directly targets also the player, who is
required to interpret the role of those corpora-
tions criticized by Molleindustria and Yes Men.
If the user suspends his gameplay practice to
examine it objectively at a meta-level, Phone
Story argues that multinational corporations
are not the only ones to exploit child labor in
the Congo but - on a smaller scale - so is the
player. For two reasons: the first, diegetic in the
game, is that he is given the agency to move, or
not, the guards in front of child slaves and the
second is that, in a wider pragmatic context of
the gameplay practice, he has actually bought
a smartphone that was built - as Molleindustria
and the Yes Men argue - in a very unethical
way. The persuasive strategy at work in Phone
Story employs gameplay as a bridge between
macro (Apple and its chosen social, economic
and political) and micro (the player, its values
and its consumerist smartphones) practices: not
only it tells the misdeeds of big corporations
but it also challenges players to re-enact their
simulation on a smartphone, exactly the product
that the game itself criticizes. A ludic simulation
was used, in this case, as a lure to make players
interpret the role of Apple’s accomplices inside
a farcical “identity correction”, only to remind
them later that they are actually involved in it
since they hold a smartphone in their hands.
Phone Story: Simulation
Differently from Oiligarchy, Phone Story
does not implement a precise model - such as
Hubbert’s Peak Oil Theory for the previous
example. It is, instead, a translation of the key
semiotic components of The Yes Men’s discur-
sive practice of identity correction, embedded by
Molleindustria into this software and translated
into the domain of digital interactive media.
As it was detailed in the previous para-
graphs, this piece is organized as a mise-en-
abyme of several different layers of simulation.
At the surface level, Phone Story may be a
simulation, some kind of a replica, of a live
satiric performance by The Yes Men. While
in other projects the activists themselves have
appeared in person in public performances to
satirize their intended target, in Phone Story
their voice is substituted with a synthesized
one that effectively plays the role of narrator.
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46 International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013
Furthermore, it could be argued that the satiric
form of identity correction itself is a form a
representation - based on the showing of the
supposed “true” motives, values and implica-
tions of the intended target. Finally, Phone Story
- instead of choosing a linear form and present-
ing, for instance, some video clips at the place
four mini-games - implements an extremely
ideological “simulation” of Apple’s business
practices as part of its political discourse. This
way, this piece not only implies that multina-
tional corporations benefit, directly or indirectly,
from child labor in Congo but it also requires
the player to take part in their schematic - but
disturbing nonetheless - simulation.
Phone Story: Platform-
Specific Ludic Simulation
The ludic components of Phone Story are
simplified and leave only minimal agency to
the player but they are far from ineffective.
On the contrary, they are essential in order to
insert a moral stance into the user’s practice -
following a pattern similar to the one already
described for Oiligarchy. A tutorial is absent
from Phone Story but the piece still relies on
the widespread tendency not to immediately
question the morality of the actions simulated
into a game. At a very first glance, users are
disposed to comply with the required actions (i.e.
moving armed guards in front of child slaves)
because of previous interludical competences:
it is common knowledge that players have to
complete the assigned tasks as soon as possible
to win and, also, it is not common to critically
question game mechanics.
As for the gameplay, Phone Story is cer-
tainly less complex than other titles. Compared
to Oiligarchy, it does not allow the player
to explore the simulation and is more linear,
more outspoken in his criticism of Apple and
other electronics multinationals. On the other
hand, the rhetorical strategy of Phone Story
is innovative in the field of satirical games.
Unlike others pieces, this game integrates its
technological platform and its usage situation
into its discourse. It is designed to make sense
for a player who has bought a smartphone
and is using it to play Phone Story. That is the
final layer of the mise-en-abyme composing
this piece: users are not only the audience for
The Yes Men’s identity correction, and they
are not only players of Molleindustria’s game
mechanics - they are already “accomplices”
of Apple’s business practices, having bought
the phone that it being used to play the Phone
Story game. It is no coincidence that, after the
game was removed from the Apple App Store,
Molleindustria immediately converted it to
the Android platform - while a Flash-based
computer version was distributed much later
and without any publicity.
CLOSING REMARKS:
LUDIC SATIRES
Italian semiotician Paolo Fabbri (2012) recently
discussed the characteristics of contemporary
satirical discourse. Satire is an elusive con-
cept, difficult to define and differentiate from
similar genres and from their related rhetorical
devices. Satirical discourses, argues Fabbri, are
heterogeneous in their semiotic components,
often blending different stylistic and emotional
tones. Differently from comedy, which often
aims at humoring the whole audience, satire
is ideologically biased and focuses against a
specific, well-identified target. An important
consequence: satirists aim for concrete, prag-
matic effects - such as the harsh critique of their
intended target - by evoking a wide palette of
strong emotions. Prototypical satires are based
on the author’s indignation or anger channeled
through humor in order to embarrass, to shame
the intended target.
Oiligarchy and Phone Story, the two pieces
discussed in these pages, not only showcase
the integration of playful and simulational
components in a wider rhetorical, political and
persuasive discourse but emerge also as ludic
and procedural satires.
Satirical elements may be identified in Oili-
garchy: a clear ideological perspective (unbal-
anced capitalist economy will damage society),
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International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 5(1), 32-49, January-March 2013 47
well-identified antagonists to be shamed (oil-
extraction industry and its underlying political
bases) and a diverse emotional palette (from the
satisfaction of playing successfully in the first
part of the game, to confusion when apparently-
winning strategies bring the players to an
unexpected defeat). Oiligarchy’s apparently
upbeat tone - cartoony graphics, instrumental
music and cheerful written texts - may also be
interpreted as an element of parody, a rhetori-
cal device traditionally associated with satire.
Phone Story seems to adopt a more subtle
semiotic strategy, as required by the more
elaborate “identity correction” textual genre.
In this case, parody emerges as a prominent
satirical device: the game hijacks Apple’s brand
discourse, staging the telling of “the real story”
behind the production of a smartphone - while
actually presenting Molleindustria’s ideological
perspective. Identifying not only Apple itself
but also the player as criticized antagonists is
a defining feature of this piece - a case of guilt
by association, having bought the phone that
it being used to play the Phone Story game.
As it was argued in the previous paragraphs,
the two pieces by Molleindustria not only situate
themselves in a satirical discourse but are also
games and simulations. Oiligarchy represents
oil extraction fields and applies Hubbert’s
Peak Oil mathematical model to describe how
their production rate declines over time; also,
it rhetorically employs videogame mechanics
(objectives, victory and defeat conditions) and
related expectations (supposedly, it should be
possible to win a game by completing the as-
signed mission) to confute the player’s initial
assumptions and to propose a political message.
Phone Story, on the other hand, simulates Apple
discourses using the tropes of the “identity
correction” activist practice and, doing so, it
proposes simple mini-games.
Open Questions and Future Work
Molleindustria’s pieces show the potentialities
of an overlapping between the fields of simula-
tion, playful elements and rhetorical persua-
sion - suggesting their mutual compatibility
and stressing the need for further research in
this area. As Paolo Pedercini and other critical
game designers continue exploring the relation
between ludic and satirical discourses, research-
ers need to develop methodologies to better
understand and describe these phenomena.
In this sense, this paper is part of an ongoing
research effort and constitutes a first survey of
the potentialities of this field. Some theoretical
and analytical themes raised in these pages open
up new research questions to be addressed in
future work. So far, the relation between the
roles of game designers, players and the rules
themselves appears to be even more complex
when in the context of playable satires and
ludic simulations.
In the light of further work in this direction,
some research questions remain open. Both
Oiligarchy and Phone Story problematize the
tasks assigned to players: what does it mean
to play a game in which the simulated actions
are, at least partially, the object of the proposed
satire? What happens when victory conditions
lead players to an undesirable state? Who may
be the target of a ludic satire: the simulated
system or, at least partially, the player? These
issues highlight the need for a wider survey
of ludic and satirical simulations and for the
development of more specific descriptive
methods in this area.
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ENDNOTES
1 The Oiligarchy game can be played on-
line at http://www.molleindustria.org/en/
oiligarchy/.
2 The Phone Story game is available on
the Google Play Store for the Android
platform at https://play.google.com/store/
apps/details?id=air.org.molleindustria.
phonestory2. It was also ported, several
months after being published as a mobile
game, on the Flash platform and can be
played online at http://www.phonestory.
org/game.html.
3 These two games may be played respec-
tively at http://www.addictinggames.com/
girl-games/dressupbarack.jsp and http://
www.addictinggames.com/girl-games/
dressuphillary.jsp
4 See http://paolo.molleindustria.org/paolo_
pedercini_cv_2012.pdf for a complete list.
5 Playable at http://www.addictinggames.
com/funny-games/electionsmack-
down2008.jsp
6 This game is still playable online at http://
www.newsgaming.com/games/madrid/
7 See also Bogost, Ferrari, Schweizer
(2010) for a more complete discussion on
Newsgames.
8 The McDonald’s Videogame can be played
online at http://www.mcvideogame.com.
9 The Memory Reloaded game can be played
online at http://www.molleindustria.org/
memory/memory_reloaded.html.
10 Every Day the Same Dream may be played
online at http://www.molleindustria.org/
everydaythesamedream/everydaythesa-
medream.html
11 Unmanned can be played online at http://
unmanned.molleindustria.org
AUTHOR'S DRAFT
... While the analyses of this type of game often discuss the many rhetorical devices common in satire [39,41] it has not delved deeper into defining the concept of satire itself as applied to games. Outside of Ferri's scholarly reflections on the satirical digital games by Molleindustria [20], a theoritical framework on the analysis of satire in games by Caselli et al [13], work by Wills on Far Cry 5 [70], and Gualeni [28] on self-reflexive games, among a few others, academic literature and research related to satire has not focused on games and is primarily concerned with print and TV [60]. By providing an analysis of our game design decisions, we hope to contribute to the understanding of how games can be satirical (i.e. which elements can convey satire and how) as well what practical aspects the designers of satirical games may need to consider. ...
... This combination brings the satirical aspects of the game to fruition through the interpretation elicited from the player. The players' participation in what initially appears to be a simple game of sorting becomes an important factor in the satire, "the final layer of the mise-en-abyme, " when it is pointed out that precisely that action has made the player an accomplice in the very business practice they are criticising [20,45]. ...
... 'Skinning' is a common method for attempting satire and in the approach taken by Construction BOOM! mechanics interact coherently with the other components of the game to reinforce the message of the satire. We believe that without integration in the mechanics of the game, there is a risk of satire falling flat, as suggested by observations made by Ferri and Treanor et al. [20,65]. This fusion of the operational elements (a prominent feature in games) and interpreted components, (present in most literary works) would appear to be unique to games, and game designers have started harnessing this novel aspect in games such as Rod Humble's The Marriage [32] and applied with satiric intent in Molleindustria's Phone Story [44] and The McDonald's Videogame [44] [20,65]. ...
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To recognize satire, the audience must be aware of the context and the satirical intent of the work in question. Academic research on the possibilities and effects of satire in games is minimal, if compared with other rhetorical uses of playful interaction. This paper contributes to our understanding of satire in games by discussing and annotating design decisions that were meant to be taken satirically. More specifically, the focus of this paper is Construction BOOM!, a tile-laying boardgame designed by the some of the authors of the paper (Gualeni and Schellekens) themselves with the overt intention of satirizing the current situation of real-estate development in Malta. Part of our contribution consists in lever-aging the notion of the 'implied designer' as articulated by Van de Mosselaer and Gualeni to show how game elements participate in the player's inferring a satiric implied designer for the game. The paper highlights the opportunities available for designers to implement satire into the various elements of a game and opens the door to further research into exploring how much these elements influence the perception of satire by players.
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... Its essential features are disputed [13], and the consensus has been that a unifying definition of satire is elusive: "no strict definition can encompass the complexity of a word that signifies, on one hand, a kind of literature [...] and, on the other, a mocking spirit or tone that manifests itself in many literary genres but can also enter into almost any kind of human communication" [16] It is due to this that scholars often choose to define satire using a "family-resemblance cluster of nonessential features" [12,385]. Additionally, 'satirical discourses' are "heterogeneous in their semiotic components": they blend different styles and emotional tones and are expressed through a broad range of media, with different and even diverging critical intentions, commentary, or positions [17]. Satire is also, importantly, transideological [19,30] -that is, it could be used equally for conservatively corrective as well as critical ends. ...
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The persuasive potential of games and their use in political propaganda and raising social awareness are well-established components of the game studies discourse, and the literature around persuasive games highlights satire among the expressive tones of several games. Despite this, what persuasive games' literature still lacks is a complete and stand-alone defining account of satire in games, which could be useful in analyzing both analog and digital games used for satirical purposes. Our intention with this paper is to frame satire within the field of game studies through notions and perspectives borrowed from other media studies and narratology. In that pursuit, we initially give an operational definition of satire focusing on concepts such as entertainment, critique, and rhetoric. Subsequently, we explore how this definition relates to, and interacts with, key concepts in game studies, such as procedural rhetoric, and the implied designer.
... In this case, the concept does not refer to a "hole" that the player "must fill" in order to understand the text, but rather one that the player "can fill" in a nonexclusive manner and without coercion by any designer, or even as a subversion of the limits that the designer could set. This theory would set the bases for a challenging debate about the limits of discourse and interpretation in video games (Ferri, 2013;Pérez-Latorre, 2015;Pérez-Latorre & Oliva, 2017). ...
Article
Due to its affiliation with formalism, ludology, the scientific perspective prioritized in game studies, considers the rule-mechanic binomial to be an essential principle of any scholarly approach to video games. Nevertheless, the limitation of the game system order implies that, as a fundamental part of this epistemological approach, the empirical validity of its methodology is already being rejected. As such, this article attempts to shift the focus away from the rule-mechanic relation, and from a cybersemiotic perspective, to refocus it on a conceptualization of the human-machine relationship. In order to do so, the concept of convolution regarding said relation is defined, including both parts of the video game system in terms of signal processing. Likewise, this model is contrasted with a randomized total sample of 1,200 games (N ¼ 1,200, n ¼ 300) in order to arrive at a set of conclusions about the behavior of the distinct video game genres in the indicated terms.
... Player are tasked with enforcing child labour, catching suicidal factory workers, throwing phones at consumers so intent on rushing the store that they would otherwise smash into the store's doors, and recycling unused phones in environmentally harmful ways (see Fig. 2). Its use of satirical and persuasive rhetoric is discussed in detail by Ferri [15]. ...
Chapter
Shock tactics in the form of controversial messages are used in advertising to solicit viewer attention and as a persuasive tactic. Persuasive games are becoming increasingly popular, however the use of shock tactics in games have not been explored in much detail. This paper discusses how three Molleindustria games use potentially controversial mechanics and messages for persuasion. In a user study, we explored how the perceived controversy of these games influenced their efficacy. Overall, the results show that perceived controversy correlates significantly with the percentage of their study compensation participants were willing to donate. The findings point towards shock tactics as a potential tool for the design and evaluation of persuasive games.
... Did you really need it? Of course you did! [...]) and (iii) the role of the phone industry (e.g., "We invested a lot of money to instil this desire in you") [21]. The initial invitation of the game, is for the player to think of themselves, as mobile phone users, and their complicity in the larger harm perpetrated by the mobile phone industry. ...
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This paper is a critical reflection on persuasion and behavior-change in serious computer games, with a particular focus on the design and play of games that can influence players’ real-world value judgments and actions through activating or manipulating empathy. Various models of behavior change and persuasion have been proposed that provide conflicting conceptualizations and design recommendations, while the literature investigating empathy is similarly clouded. In this interdisciplinary examination, we aim bring clarity the complicated design principles of persuasion and empathy, drawing a distinction between attitude and behavior change as a design intention and focussing on two core aspects of game persuasion: procedural rhetorics and empathy arousal. An operationalization of empathy is proposed which takes into account emotional, cognitive, dispositional and situational aspects of empathic experience. We then initiate an ontological analysis to examine the complexities of in-game communication, persuasion and empathy, attitudes and behaviors. A model of Action-Intention (mAI) is described to dissemble the interplay between one’s own actions and intentions as a player and those of others (including Non Player Characters, and the designer) within the imaginary ‘magic circle’ of the game. The mAI reflects concepts and properties from empathy research, Theories of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior, models of persuasion and behavior change and is inspired by the foundational ontology DOLCE. Applying the mAI, we examine the mobile/online game Phone Story (http://www.phonestory.org) and analyze its challenging matrix of gameplay and design elements. The four levels of this game enact a series of ethical and environmental conflicts concerning mobile phones, with a strong narrative message of each player’s complicity in an inhumane and unsustainable industry. Our discussion explores each level as the player is presented with different configurations of procedural rhetorics, empathy arousal, action and intention, often utilizing sharply contrasting mechanisms. Our approach offers a fresh perspective on persuasion and empathy serious computer games, with implications for the design of game mechanics and player interactions and contributes to the application of ontologies in the study of computer games, demonstrating their potential to inform game design tactics and strategies for attitude and behavior change.
... There is even an online generator that proposes new definitions [8,47]. Since the 1930s, philosophers and game scholars have proposed more than 60 definitions across multiple contexts [123]. ...
Conference Paper
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Games can be a valuable tool for enriching computer science education, since they can facilitate a number of conditions that promote learning: student motivation, active learning, adaptivity, collaboration, and simulation. Additionally, they provide the instructor the ability to collect learning metrics with relative ease. As part of 21st Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE 2016), the Game Development for Computer Science Education working group convened to examine the current role games play in computer science (CS) education, including where and how they fit into CS education. Based on reviews of literature, academic research, professional practice, and a comprehensive list of games for computing education, we present this working group report. This report provides a summary of existing digital games designed to enrich computing education, an index of where these games may fit into a teaching paradigm using the ACM/IEEE Computer Science Curricula 2013 [13], and a guide to developing digital games designed to teach knowledge, skills, and attitudes related to computer science.
... 35 She explains the games mobilize a nonlinear rhetoric through "schematic simulations that are simplified in some aspects but realistic and accurate in describing causal relations and ideological processes," so that ludic aspect of gameplay "serves a specific rhetoric and semiotic strategy." 36 Pedercini places the user in the position of power "to feel complicit with the 'bad guys.'" This tactic distinguishes Molleindustria's games from 3rd World Farmer (Denmark, 2006), in which players manage an African farm, or Darfur Is Dying (United States, 2009), in which players experience being a political refugee. ...
Chapter
Lev Manovich explains that interaction is an obvious function of the computer that should not be confused with precomputer audience interaction in the form of reading audiovisual information and interpreting meaning.1 Digital media, then, functions within closed systems, not outside them. This chapter examines two types of interaction that are potentially not overdetermined by corporate and state surveillance of data gathering. Here, interaction functions as critical or tactial engagement. We analyze digital media that forwards the ideals of tactical media that Rita Raley has described that engage in strategic micropolitics rather than grand revolutions.2 We examine digital media projects that include counter-gaming, machinima (3D animation shot in a game engine), video performances, and documentaries that appeal to affective and subjective forms of knowledge and reject assumptions that objectivity and evidence are the only valid forms. Identities are not fixed but performed, that is, contingent upon politics rather than place. We also probe narrowcasting, which reconfigures the push of broadcasting on commercial networks in the direction of P2P models, somewhat like the “spreadability” described by Henry Jenkins.3 Given restrictions on both print and online access to journal articles, Katherine Hayles argues that academic work largely has “a negligible audience and a nugatory communicative function.”4
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Games that utilize satire have largely been unexplored despite their potential to be used as learning supplements or tools to foster conversations around difficult large-scale topics. To what game genre do these games belong, and what are the uses and benefits for learning from such games? In this exploration study, we examine six popular and culturally relevant digital games (5 directly, 1 indirectly) utilizing satire as part of their narrative and gameplay. The range of games covers topics such as global overpopulation, the use of artificial intelligence for surveillance, and the process of mass capitalist production and the manner of its consumption. Satirical digital games serve both the purposes of serious games and entertainment games, pointing to the problematic connotations of the term serious games. It is suggested that the name satirical games is used to describe digital games created for entertainment with underlying political messages and to make a statement and/or commentary on society. Satirical games have potential as powerful learning tools to help facilitate discussion around difficult topics about society’s functions and practices. Future studies should examine additional digital game titles that rely on satire in their narrative and gameplay and investigate the relationship between satire and its role in the learning goals of the games.
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While women maintain an increased visibility in the games culture, the issues involving gender in computing gaming is still relevant; and it is evident that the industry could benefit from the involvement of women in all aspects from consumer to developer. Gender Divide and the Computer Game Industry takes a look at the games industry from a gendered perspective and highlights the variety of ways in which women remain underrepresented in this industry. This reference source provides a comprehensive overview on the issue of gender, computer games, and the ICT sector. It supplies students and academics in numerous disciplines with the concerns of the computer games industry, male dominated occupations, and the complexity of gender in the workforce.
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The promotion and development of learning based on games and playing must be supported by a unifying theoretical structure that will allow for: contextualising and clarifying the various concepts involved, particularly those of the game and the toy, playing games and play, distinguishing between the characteristics of each of these manifestations; establishing a connection between the types of ludic interaction that are dominant in each of these manifestations and highlighting the nature of the relationship that each of the manifestations has with the others. This theoretical structure will suggest a design framework for projectual ludicity, which may guide the creation of a range of interventional and research methodologies, which is essential for the promotion and development of learning activities that are based on, or which make use, of ludicity. Given that the proponents of the multiple and diverse theoretical and practical approaches to the game, the toy, playing games and play attribute an identical meaning to such distinct actions as play, playing games, games and toys, understanding these theories, and the reality which they are intended to analyse, becomes somewhat more difficult. As there is no existing unifying theoretical framework, the author of this paper has built up the conceptual structure known as ludicity, rooted in the work done in the pragmatics of human communication by Gregory Bateson (1972), (1979), (1956), (1955), Paul Watzlawick, Janet Beavin and Donald Jackson (1967), Edward T. Hall (1959) (1983), Stuart Sigman and Cronen (1995). This article introduces, for critical review, the conceptual structure that enables both an understanding of the diversity and multiplicity of those experiences that result from the human and social condition of ludicity, and an anticipation of the effects arising from such experiences. Ludicity is communication, learning and change.
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The recent success of Nintendoís Wii Remote and Microsoftís Kinect systems is an indicator of a process that makes ludic interfaces the core driver for a transformation in the sector of video games cultures. The changes we are about to see are of relevance to age-and gender-related issues, to the attitude and the style of the gaming community, and to a ludification of non-gaming cultural groups and settings. The authors of the chapter participated in coining the notion of ëludic interfacesí and suggest investigating games cultures with regard to interfaces used for the interaction of (wo)man-machine systems. Historically, this approach responds critically to earlier theoretical positions that grasped video games from an object-based viewpoint (the video game image, the video game text, the video game algorithm) or from a player-based viewpoint (types of players). Abstract The recent success of Nintendo's Wii Remote and Microsoft's Kinect systems is an indicator of a process that makes ludic interfaces the core driver for a transformation in the sector of video games cultures. The changes we are about to see are of relevance to age-and gender-related issues, to the attitude and the style of the gaming community, and to a ludification of non-gaming cultural groups and settings. The authors of the chapter participated in coining the notion of 'ludic interfaces' and suggest investigating games cultures with regard to interfaces used for the interaction of (wo)man-machine systems. Historically, this approach responds critically to earlier theoretical positions that grasped video games from an object-based viewpoint (the video game image, the video game text, the video game algorithm) or from a player-based viewpoint (types of players).
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This article identifies and interrogates a primary design principle that exists across digital game genres and formats, articulated as ludicity. The article uses specific examples across videogame genres to communicate a spectrum of ludicity with two opposing poles, hyper-ludicity and contra-ludicity. Hyper-ludicity describes instances where the game mechanics inflate, expand, or enable the player to perform actions either beyond their usual effectance, providing a sense of empowerment, or provide new actions previously outside the boundaries of the game mechanics. Contra-ludicity is the opposing principle, where the game mechanics deflate, contract, or disempower the player, where tried and tested mechanics become less effective or have no effect at all, and in some instances where entire mechanics are wholly removed from the system. Though this would seem contrary to the pleasure of play, this article investigates how this design principle also maintains its own form of pleasure.