Paolo Pedercini, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, is shown on a Downtown street during the G-20 Summit in 2009.
By Anya Litvak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Working in factories has taught Paolo Pedercini nothing.
For several summers in his late teens, Mr. Pedercini reported to work in various manufacturing plants in his native northern Italy to make swimming pools, plastic car parts and Barilla cookies. He worked mostly alone; interaction was limited by station design and overhead noise, and during the ample thinking time, he would write lyrics for his band.
If others tout their roots grudging through factory work before an ascent to the C-suite, Mr. Pedercini is having none of it. Not the romanticized value of rote and physically draining work and not the ideal of rising through the ranks to management while humbly keeping the blue collar in the back pocket.
He is an artist whose medium is subversive video games that eviscerate capitalism and everything that flows into and from it. For work, he teaches media production and experimental game design at Carnegie Mellon University.
He doesn’t even use his factory worker days as street cred for raging against the machine.
“They were all extremely stupid jobs,” he said. While any job is better than no job, he said, “It was very automated type of work. So, you're kind of keeping up with the machines.”
“The main benefit was realizing that I didn't want to settle for a slave type of job,” he said.
The experience nudged him to go to college, where he studied media design and electronic arts.
Mr. Pedercini was 22 when he launched Molleindustria, a game development venture with a name that roughly translates as soft factory. That was in 2003.
“At that point, nobody was doing socially engaged work in the field of video games,” he said. “I thought there was a necessity there because games were becoming hard to ignore.”
In his video game designs, Mr. Pedercini plays with factories as centers of efficiency and control — and not in a good way. In “To Build a Better Mousetrap,” the player is a manager who must distribute his worker mice between research and production, figure out how much to pay them to keep them from organizing, all while developing the means to make them obsolete.
“Phone Story,” a game designed to be played on smartphones, traces the realization of an iPhone from children mining minerals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at gunpoint to the Chinese factories where the devices are assembled. One sequence has the player hustle a net across the screen to catch suicidal workers — a play on the Atari game where a bar at the bottom is used to bounce a ball into a stack of bricks. It’s a reference to the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China, where more than two dozen workers have fallen from windows to their deaths in recent years. In response, the company installed nets around the complex.
When you lose “Phone Story,” the game-over message is: “Don’t pretend you’re not complicit.”
All the games are free at Molleindustria.org, relatively short, and socially conscious. None are subtle; nor is that the point.
In launching his label 13 years ago, Mr. Pedercini’s manifesto said: “Molleindustria doesn’t like video games, for this very reason it creates them.”
He believes most video games — from Tetris to Civilization to Farmville — are basically exercises in management: the allocation of resources and swatting of obstacles in pursuit of a single outcome.
Like factory production, games are oriented toward a goal. The best games are considered to be those where each variable introduced to the player has its place in the achievement of that goal -– just as in a factory the more streamlined the operation, the more efficient the path to the goal.
That leaves little room for creativity, divergence or discovery in either scenario.
Mr. Pedercini is more interested in making problems bigger and brighter through games rather than solving them.
His topics form “theoretical explorations,” he said. Like when his recent experience buying a house in Garfield inspired his latest game, Nova Alea, about financial speculation and gentrification. It’s an adventure in flipping houses and displacing people.
When he hears the forlorn rhetoric of politicians pledging to bring factory jobs back to America, Mr. Pedercini wonders: Why?
“I don’t think the problem is to bring [back] manufacturing jobs, but rather to redistribute the amount of labor in society based on the fact that because of automation, you’re able to do that,” he said.
“It’s kind of like rethinking what a job is and how much time in a day” one should be doing it, he said.
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