Developer takes aim at gun control debate

Molleindustria's The Best Amendment designed as sarcastic tribute to the NRA's "madness"

Earlier this week, Molleindustria released its latest "radical game," The Best Amendment. After producing games about the US military's drone strikes (Unmanned) and the human cost of smartphone manufacturing (the banned-from-iTunes title Phone Story), developer Paolo Pedercini is using his latest game to consider the recent controversy over violent games in the US, and the National Rifle Association in particular.

"The Best Amendment is based on a prototype I made last year but it was only after the NRA 'more guns in schools' press conference in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre that I decided to turn it into a sort of sarcastic tribute to their madness," Pedercini told GamesIndustry International. "They released their infamous mobile game [NRA: Practice Range] right after railing against the 'shadow industry' of videogames but I was so disappointed by it... so humble, so tame, so boring. The NRA deserved something more flamboyant."

"There is substance in Call of Duty: it's the same narcotic substance that prevents people from marching in the streets to stop an absurd war that has been going on for exactly 10 years."

Paolo Pedercini

Taglined with the NRA quip, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," The Best Amendment is set in a circular arena where a player controls a white-hooded figure and must survive a series of gun fights. However, the rival gunfighters are not controlled by AI; they are instead the player's past selves, faithfully reproducing their actions from earlier rounds. To progress, the player must kill those past selves and pick up the stars they leave behind.

While Pedercini has a reputation for making games with messages, the developer doesn't think that separates him from any other game makers out there.

"I think there is a kind of substance in all games, not only in the arthouse, political or educational ones," Pedercini said. "There is substance in Call of Duty: it's the same narcotic substance that prevents people from marching in the streets to stop an absurd war that has been going on for exactly 10 years."

But now that games have Supreme Court-approved right to free speech, Pedercini said more developers need to start using it to say something.

"I think this is a crucial aspect that is missing from the whole celebration of games as art or as 'mature' medium," he said. "Recognizing the cultural relevance of games also means recognizing that our minds, our mental models, are increasingly affected by game culture. So it's worth asking what kind of values, dreams, behaviors our games are glorifying or ignoring."

While Molleindustria has been successful in getting attention for its efforts over the last decade, it hasn't met some of the other usual criteria for developer success. For one thing, its games are usually free.

"I set up Molleindustria to be a negative profit enterprise and so far I've been very successful," Pedercini said. "There's a lot of money to be unmade in radical projects. For the second quarter I'm projecting to burn about 50 percent of my salary in unsellable products. People are always asking me for advice on how to effectively de-monetize their games but it's not an easy task: gamers love to buy games, especially when the Apple Store or Steam tell them to do so."

The Best Amendment is an exception to this, being sold on a pay-what-you-want basis. Proceeds will go to a series of workshops Pedercini is setting up titled "Imagining Better Futures Through Play." Those workshops will be part of the Allied Media Conference, a gathering of activist media makers set for this June in Detroit.

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Latest comments (6)

Tudor Nita Lead Programmer, Gameloft Romania7 years ago
I feel the "with substance" game sector is completely underserved. There are very few, good, commentary games. Games built around political, social, economical topics as opposed to games that just briefly scratch the surface of those topics or use them as pretext for another bland shooter.

The negative profit enterprise has got to be one of the best quotes of the year.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tudor Nita on 20th March 2013 11:27pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 7 years ago
I'd say anyone convinced that GAMES are a direct cause to gun violence can play this and then go watch Peter Bogdonavich's still amazing TARGETS (made before video games were a target of the media and political dopes on every side of the aisle looking for scapegoats). It might help or it might not, but it's better to go in with the brain activated than just brain dead and spouting off the usual lines in this debate I always hear on the news when I feel like torturing myself...
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Neil Sorens Creative Director, Zen Studios7 years ago
I suspect that this person will be all in favor of games making statements until one makes a statement he doesn't like. His attacks on the "ideology and stupidity" (quote taken from his website) of the commercial games business come off more as jealousy and disconnection from reality than as a coherent philosophy.

Blaming Call of Duty for lack of anti-war sentiment? That is silly. The anti-war sentiment was going strong despite Call of Duty until a Democratic president won office said it was the "right war." Then the opposition somehow just melted away, making it seem as if the lack of opportunities to use the war as a way to score political points against Republicans, rather than a Call of Duty addiction, was the cause of most the sentiment to begin with.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Neil Sorens on 21st March 2013 4:44pm

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Ian Lambert Software Engineer, Criterion Games7 years ago
@ Tudor Nita

Agreed. Sadly I'd say one of the reasons we don't get more genuinely topical and socially relevant games is that we're not always allowed to sell them:
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For those developers not forward-thinking enough, not radical enough, or just not gorram ballsy enough to have embraced the negative profit model, being banned from selling games that focus on current issues means that a lot of brilliant, insightful games that might broaden debate on these issues to a wider audience (and crucially, make that debate more informed rather than the usual internet knee-jerks) just aren't going to get made.

It's a real shame; from a political/social standpoint, titles like this could make the news more relevant to a section of the population not typically very engaged in current affairs (no stats to back that up, pure assumption here :)). Equally, I think if interesting and thought provoking games were more commonplace & high profile then we'd have added another point to add to the "why games aren't evil/childish" arguments.

However, if major platform holders are too risk-averse to let potentially provocative games reach the masses, they're kind of doomed to remain a under-funded, under-appreciated branch of the medium.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Ian Lambert on 21st March 2013 7:33pm

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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 7 years ago
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Tudor Nita Lead Programmer, Gameloft Romania7 years ago
@Ian Lambert
Completely agreed and more eloquently put than what I've managed to hack together. We've stumbled on to these platform holder issues in the planning stages of a game and it just seemed ludicrous to us at the time.

@Neil Sorens
Some might, some won't. Either way, a good, heated, but civil, debate is exactly what you should be looking for with a product like this. From my POV, quiet, general acceptance would almost equal failure for them.

The idea is to get these kind of products put forward, even if they might be pro or anti Gun lobbysts (for example). As long as the content and the reasoning behind the game can stand on its own, the side you take is less relevant. So are the people behind it.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Tudor Nita on 22nd March 2013 12:39am

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