Critical Approach: All is well in glorious Republia
by Michael Lyons
Resisting the dominant power is not easy. As editor, you have to help pacify a restive population, restore faith in the tyrannical government and suppress information about radicals following a prolonged, draining international war.
Your paper is The Republia Times.
The video game by designer Lucas Pope is currently playable as part of an exhibit for Vector Fest 2014. Simply, Vector explores “contemporary game based artworks,” and the team is gearing up for their second annual festival later in February. Pope’s creation is part of Impedance: Games + Resistance, which has brought together a gallery space full of interactive media, video games, artists and developers who “address contemporary politics and act as forms of resistance.”
In The Republia Times you take the role of the titular national paper’s wire editor. You’re tasked by The Great and Honorable Leader and the Ministry of Media to cultivate loyalty in readers. Meanwhile, the leader of the Republian internal rebellion is sneaking messages into your copy, asking you to sow discontent among the public. The safety of your family, and the Republian paper press, hangs in the balance.
Pope’s games, which include the breakthrough Papers Please, a document processing thriller set in the same universe as The Republia Times, take a delightfully dystopian, pessimistic view of the media, government and dissenting voices. Among the standout games at Impedance are Martin Le Chevalier’s Vigilance, where you take the role of a semi-omnipresent, Big Brother eye in the sky, picking off wrongdoers in the act of breaking the law (from littering, to exhibitionism, to assault). Soha El Sabawwi’s Penalties is a dark, exquisitely written piece of interactive fiction that delves into the dark depths of suicide and depression.
Parallels can be immediately drawn to the current state of the video game industry and other media systems. As Logan and Korell describe in their writing on “Sustainable News Models for a Digital Age” in Thinking About Journalism: “The news industry appears to have borrowed from the old music industry playbook, by which the major recording companies let the independent labels do the research and development, only signing on to new sounds once they start to attract a following. The significant difference in journalism is that no one yet has a viable business model: Corporate journalism is bleeding audiences, advertisers, and newsroom staff, and the independent innovators haven’t figured out yet how to make a living from the journalism of the future.” (64)
Similarly, mainstream video game development is in varying states of creative and ethical decrepitude. Instead of focusing on fun, creative and innovative new ways to tell interactive stories video game corporations are taking the role of highway bandit, gouging players for their coin every step of the way. Endless pay-for downloadable content, zero backwards compatibility, rehashing the same tired narratives, tropes and franchises ad nauseum, etc.
Adversely, smaller independent developers and creators, like the artists involved with Vector, are at the forefront of creating and challenging the ways we create video games, and the stories we engage with. These games are very often a labour of love, and many struggle to find any funding for their ideas.
I’m not sure what the answer to this divide is. As Pope’s game illustrates, when the resistance assimilate themselves into the system, not much changes other than who’s calling the shots. Dominant power obviously means someone is being dominated. In this game called life, resistance is cyclical and never ends.
Vector Festival 2014
Impedance: Games + Resistance
Runs til Sat, Feb 22
9 Ossington Avenue