Instructor Carolyn Jong
English 255B – Video Games and/as Literature
14th February 2017
Games in Context
Capitalism is “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by state” (Oxford Dictionary). It’s a system that wants to maximize its profit and it aims for innovations. Employers hire workers to make profit and then they sell the product on the market. While going through Mattie Brice’s article entitled “Our Flappy Dystopia”, I learnt that video games are a product of the capitalist system themselves. The author argues that “any critique or reporting on games that doesn’t include an intersectional perspective on the presence of capitalism in games is incomplete” (Mattie Brice). Capitalism leaves its footprint everywhere. Furthermore, “games have sprung from the machine system central to postwar capital’s power and profit—the computer”(Witheford and Peuter, p.18).
To begin, new games are released all the time and what I learnt from Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter’s article (entitled “Games of Empire”) is that “for the majority of the world’s inhabitants, a mint copy of Halo 3, let alone the Xbox 360 on which it plays with its $400 price tag, remains a luxury for all but elites” (p. 15). It’s indeed very exciting when a new video game/game console comes out, however, you will feel it in your wallet! I can totally relate this to a personal experience of mine that happened on my 18th birthday. I received a PS4 as a birthday gift and I must admit that I cried when it was given to me…
Consumption and production of video games is constantly rising and “the game industry is omnipresent around the planet, though its pleasures and its pains are unevenly distributed” (Witheford and Peuter, p.18). On one hand, we have the consumers and on the other hand, the workers. I find that “To Build a Better Mousetrap”, a game released by Molleindustria, is a great example of the capitalist system and it speaks about the struggles that workers encounter. The game is a management simulator in which mice are working for a higher figure (i.e. a mouse disguised as its own predator, the cat). This cat/mouse represents the capitalist as an authority figure. The game consists of three different areas/levels: the research and development group (the green level at the top), the manufacturing group (the red level at the middle) and the unemployed (the blue level at the bottom). The working class receives a regular
supply of money (or cheese? [represented on the top right side as a cylinder]) according to how much you decide to give them. If they are not satisfied with their salary, they become unhappy. If you ignore their demands, they sabotage the work. The unemployed mice also grow upset and start revolting by destroying the structure.
Because capitalism is slowly absorbing everything, “rebellion against it upsurges at many points, from work to school to leisure, and from many agencies, including workers and unions [and] antipoverty groups fighting for a living wage” (Witheford and Peuter, p.18). I think “To Build a Better Mousetrap” depicts this problem that occurs not only in the video games field but also in many areas in the world. To begin, as far as I know, the game has three possible outcomes. Two of them are “bad endings” for the capitalist cat character because one results in him/her going bankrupt and the other concludes with the mice (workers) defeating “you” through their protests/riots. The “happy” ending is where the capitalist (cat) makes an ample amount of money which leads to his/her retirement. To complicate things, I noticed that if the rodents have been working under you for awhile, they are no longer happy with a minimum wage and they will demand a higher salary. Often, I would offer it to them knowing that they would riot and sabotage me if I don’t. However, I quickly found a new way to get rid of their complaints: I fired them… This made me think that many companies in the real world would not raise the salary of their workers if those employees were as demanding and as troublesome as the mice from “To Build a Better Mouse Trap”.
Furthermore, I must admit that I am also guilty for buying games just because I know they have a good reputation/they are popular. New games represent a new product (just like in “To Build a Better Mousetrap”) and they are in high demand once they are released. I have seen people sleep in tents next to stores because they HAD to be the first ones to purchase an “X” game as soon as it was released. Personally, I find that this behaviour is a little out of control. Mattie Brice mentions this in her article when she states the following: “Gamers and others see quality in games that show high production value, and defame games that seem to be a waste of money in this model, EVEN IF THEY ARE FREE GAMES” (Mattie Brice). This concept is portrayed in “To Build a Better Mousetrap” fairly well. The first time I played, I was very excited to make a new product. However, I noticed that buyers would stop purchasing my products if it got “old”. This forced me to come up with a new and better product. This new product was also worth more capital but the newer it was, the more popular it was on the market (represented by a statistics graph on the mid-right side of the screen). I had to constantly keep developing new products. I think the same goes with the video game industry. Video game players will always want something new after completing their old games. Playing a game twice could be fun but playing it three or four times (from beginning to end) can get a little tiresome for me. The research and development area develops new and more stimulating products which turn out to be more costly.
Moreover, I find that “To Build a Better Mousetrap” tested my ability to balance between the requests of the rodent workers and the automation production. After several failed attempts, I realized that, sadly, the most efficient way to “win” the game is to get rid of the rodents and replace them with machines (which do not demand a salary and do not protest). The game production is becoming international and this is further emphasized in the article by Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig De Peuter entitled “Games in the Age of Empire” where they proclaim that: ”it is not just consumption but production that is going global. As much as any other industry, the video game business works with transcontinental value chains. The U.S. and Japanese console manufacturers— Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo—have their new machines assembled offshore” (Witheford and Peuter, p.18). Consequently, I assume that many workers end up jobless because they are replaced with workers from other countries. “Most of the sales of this supposedly global media are in North America, Europe, and Japan, with the United States still the largest single market” (Witheford and Peuter, p.17). Those countries are big consumers which further emphasizes Witheford and Peuter’s concern when they write that “game culture is heavily concentrated in the developed, rich zones of advanced capitalism” (Witheford and Peuter, p.17).
While playing “To Build a Better Mousetrap” I realized that, in order to reach the end goal and create the best mousetrap, I had to incarcerate the protesters and saboteurs which resulted to their impoverishment due to the lack of an occupation/job. In other words, I locked up all the protesting mice in the “jail” (bottom left corner) which turned out to be the only successful way to stop them from destroying “my” company. I felt very, very bad.
In the end, I came to understand that the mouse wearing the cat mask as a disguise is only looking for personal growth. He/She is not preoccupied by the unemployment and the poverty that was caused. Instead, he/she wants to be a great little capitalist. As American author, Edward Abbey, wrote: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” (p. 114).
Abbey, Edward. The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West. New York: Dutton, 1977. Print.
Brice, Mattie. “Our Flappy Dystopia.” Alternate Ending. 10 February 2014.
Dyer-Witheford, Nick and Greig De Peuter. “Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire” In Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Videogames. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. xi-xxxv.
OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2016. Web. 6 February 2017.
To Build a Better Mousetrap (Molleindustria, 2014).