The new "management game" To Build a Better Mousetrap takes its title from the famous misquotation of Emerson and ode to the American capitalist spirit, "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door". It's the latest provocation from Paolo Pedercini, the game maker and activist who publishes as Molleindustria, and it arrives at a propitious moment. Marx is in. Left-ish literary journals are flourishing. Marxist economic critiques of the limits of neoliberal capitalism are ubiquitous. And Pedercini's game, a simple and savage little number released on International Worker's Day, fits right in.
You play as the unseen boss of a faceless corporation, and your job is to manipulate wages and hiring in order to maximize cheese: profits. You drag little Art Spiegelman mice—labor—right from the hiring line and into production and R+D. To succeed at the game, you have to reproduce the dynamics of modern industrial capitalism. Early on, this means setting wages high enough to prevent work stoppages but low enough to turn a profit. Later, it means automatizing production so you don't have to pay workers at all.
Political games have a tepid history, although Molleindustria previously made the drone pilot choose-your-own adventure Unmanned, one of the very best. In To Build a Better Mousetrap he's done something very difficult, which is to clearly, concisely and with a shockingly dark sense of humor explain the way that our economic system is gamed against working people, by making players recreate it. It's ingenious, not least because the only way for the mice to win is for you, the player, entrenched capital, to lose. How's that for a five minute Flash game?
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
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