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GDC: Mollendustria's Pedercini On 'Reappropriating' Video Games

At GDC, Molleindustria's Paolo Pedercini (Operation: Pedopriest, Every Day The Same Dream) discussed his unique approach to "serious" games, and shared his documentarian's inspirations and key philosophies.
Multimedia artist, Carnegie Mellon professor and independent designer Paolo Pedercini is best known for his Molleindustria projects -- the shorthand definition of his work would be "serious games", but he defines it as "a reappropriation of video games that combines media activist attitude with game criticism." These have included McDonald's Videogame, a criticism of the fast-food chain; Operation Pedopriest, a look at the Catholic church's response to molestation scandals, and Every Day The Same Dream, a widely-praised short piece about "alienation and the refusal of labour." "The idea is to spread unpopular ideas using video games, taking advantage of the viral infusion of content on the net and at the same time investigating the relationship between ideology and entertainment," said Pedercini at the Independent Gaming Summit at GDC 2010. His class at Carnegie Mellon is called Game Design for Artists, Mavericks and Troublemakers. The idea is to introduce non-geeks, non-gamers -- basically normal people -- to the art of game design and game development," he explains. One of Molleindustria's main ideas is the hypothesis that games can be useful tools to explain and to represent complex systems, like economics, politics and social interaction, due to their procedural nature. The systems inside these games don't punish unethical behavior -- the games are in fact a satire of the fact that the real-world "system" permits it. In order to be most effective, transparency is an essential principle: "We should try to provide documentation and footnotes in order to justify or at least explain the design choices that we make," he asserts. Another principle is the concept of authoriality. There's a debate within the practice of documentary-making, a field to which Pedercini feels closely-connected: "Should we pose as objective, or try to make sure that everybody knows that I'm making a point?" To answer the question, Pedercini pointed to the work of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, controversial for his aggressive style, but interesting in terms of his approach: He always appears in the frame when interviewing subjects, and is generally highly vocal and visible in his own work as opposed to focusing solely on the subject matter. "I respect his style, because making clear you are making a point provides some kind of distance," says Pedercini. Before the term "art game" was popularized, he adds, games dealing with social issues tried to do so in a very deliberate way. "I generally choose a satirical approach to game-making," he says. "And I prefer to be heavy-handed instead of being light," he adds, against the backdrop of a game demonstration showing raging blue donkeys and red elephants furiously racing one another. "I understand that this is not a very popular choice," he concludes good-humoredly.

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