Thursday, June 28, 2007

No Laughing Matter?

Molleindustria, the Italian group that makes political online games and had previously produced a blistering game critique of the ecology and economy of McDonald's, has a new offering available.

Operation: Pedopriest
is a game that satirizes the cover-ups of the Catholic Church of child sexual abuse by clergy. Since Molleindustria has produced games with titles such as "Orgasm Simulator" and "Queer Power," it's clearly not their first game about sexual politics, although Pedopriest is very different from previous depictions of sexuality by the company that focus on consensual couplings between relative equals.

In the game, players can deploy red-garbed "Silencers" to intimidate and distract potential witnesses while molesting priests evade arrest. I played the game at all three levels and found the experience of gleefully thwarting justice disconcerting although engaging to attempt. I also thought it provided a useful model to show the significance of physical space in incidents of molestation and the role that public and private built environments can play in scenarios of victimization. Furthermore, in speaking to Water Cooler Games, the creators have characterized their work as a kind of documentary game, because a BBC exposé on "Sex Crimes and the Vatican" served as inspiration for their small-screen digital work.

Certainly, it's not the first political game about pedophilia. After the Mark Foley scandal involving sexually explicit IM messages to congressional pages, the Internet gave us Help Hastert Hide the Perv, which I would discount as a game because it has no definitive win-or-lose end state, and Pedophilia: The Mark Foley Game, which may have been too much like real life rapid-fire closings of pornographic pop-up browser windows to register as entertainment or political commentary.

However, I think that doing online games about sexual abuse is rhetorically risky, even ones that use a critique of the institutional politics of the Vatican for context. In this country, the equations already made between common digital practices and criminality connect quotidian file-sharing activities and the use of social networking sites with the sexual exploitation of minors. By representing this abuse so cartoonishly, digital artists may be missing an opportunity for a more persuasive critique. I understand that they probably wanted to strip the act of any seductive or erotic potential, so the game play focuses on opportunistic machinations and undercuts player involvement with the actual acts of rape, but it also attempts to trivialize a potent metaphor.

I predict that we will eventually see a serious game against sexual harassment to substitute for the cretinous online tutorials currently used for consciousness-raising mandated by many employers, as long as it is not done in a sleazy or cheesy way. In contrast, after the disastrous McMartin trials and the tarnishing of the reputation of the Children's Institute, I doubt that we'll see any further forms of play therapy -- including digital games -- for underage victims.

The other problem with this game is that, as political resistance, it is much more ephemeral than other kinds of art actions against the church involving this issue. Four years ago, as church records show, protestors stormed the Los Angeles cathedral of Our Lady of Angels with a large wooden cross covered with pictures of the victims and insisted on installing it in a chapel dedicated to the abused. As you can see, the cross is still there. As a precursor of social media practices that involve traditional photo sharing, it shows the rhetorical power of collecting and exchanging such images.

(For another religious game from Molleindustria, you can go to their Italian home page and play PAPAPAROLIBERO, where you make papal nonsense from utterances floating by on clouds.)

Update: This story has taken an amazing turn as the Italian parliament has threatened legal action against the game on the grounds that it is a form of child pornography. Given the lack of graphic detail in the game, this seems like a ludicrous assertion that potentially limits many forms of free speech, including some art made by victims and their advocates. Read about the unfolding events here in commentary by Ian Bogost on Water Cooler Games. Having played the game, I suspect that this is an attempt to regulate blasphemy rather than sexual content.

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Blogger mazzetta said...

Hi there from Italy

at the moment a deputy's initiative as driven to an international action, charging the game about containing pedoporno virtual images.

Where you said that it "..-undercuts player involvement with the actual acts of rape" you where right, but it's a common opinion that censors haven't seen the game actually.

Anyway, the US' provider shot down (supposedly informed or charged from Italy) a whole blog platform ( because some of its blogs where hosting Operation Pedopriest.

The day later (today) the same provider said that, heard his lawyer, there's not a single legal objection in keeping the game online for US' law (nor the Italian one actually) and has reconnected Noblogs, that in the meantime had been able to re-surface from elsewhere despite the censorship.

you can find more on or at the very source

nice blog ;)

12:02 PM  

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