Games Storytelling
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Games Storytelling

Rosa Carbo Mascarell, Corbyn Run

Rosa Carbo Mascarell

Rosa Carbo Mascarell makes games and interactive art, including Invisible Garden, a virtual reality soundscape commissioned for Somerset House. She talks about being the co-founder of Games for the Many and how games can address political issues. You can find more of Rosa’s work on her website, http://rosacarbo.co.uk/, and follow her on Twitter (@moreelen) for future updates.

How do you think games can help people engage with politics?

Games are fantastic rhetorical machines. They can express and teach more than traditional media, as they require interactivity. Through interacting, you can teach a player not just how the world looks or sounds, but also how the world works. Game loops are small but also scalable, so you can use them to teach at any level of complexity or depth. From a player who just spends two minutes and can just get the game, to a player who spends hours and explores all the possibilities that loop can afford.

Secondly, games can also be easy to pick up. Everyone plays or understands the concept of play. Mobile games in particular are played by a wide audience. By speaking in a language that people understand you can start to communicate political ideas, inspire thought and guide them towards resources to find out more.

You are best known for Corbyn Run. What did that game aim to do and was it successful?

We wanted to teach people about Labour’s manifesto in a way which was engaging. Our goal was to reach as many people as possible. We also wanted to spin a more positive note to the gloomy political tone that was around us at the time.

It went viral way beyond our expectations. It was downloaded 150,000 times in one week and was covered across all major media in the UK. I was in full time work at the time it all went down and I remember having to sly away to take calls from journalists and do BBC interviews in my lunch breaks — camera and all.

What was the response to the game?

My favourite responses towards the game actually came from Conservatives. I was a bit worried about alienating different political viewpoints, when what we wanted was for Corbyn Run to smash through filter bubbles and get a wide range of people to engage with Labour. We succeeded and had Conservatives at the very least find it entertaining. One Conservative MP even said his party was out of the loop because they weren’t making games like the Labour party.

How did Games for the Many start?

When the snap general election was called in 2017, a project James Moulding and Richard Barbrook were working on was canned. I wasn’t a part of the team at the time, but it was a digital democracy project to democratise Labour’s manifesto. Instead, the Labour party suggested making a game. This is when James came to me, considering he had no experience making video games before. Together we came up with Corbyn Run and built a team which could deliver in the three weeks we had to make it. A lot of it was thanks to Federico Fasce who had a two week gap in his schedule at the time to build it and Joshua Balfour who managed to speed it through the iOS store and google play.

When Corbyn Run was released it went viral. Off the back of it we got more support from the Labour party and we held various game jams to teach activists how to make games and get game makers to think more politically with their game development.

Games for the Many makes political games. We want to further intellectual dialogue around politics in games and build a community of political game makers. However, it’s important to clarify that Games for the Many is a project by Digital Liberties. As Games for the Many we do political activities funded by the Labour Party. Meanwhile Digital Liberties is a co-operative which isn’t tied to any political party and looks at games and play for social good on a more general plane. Digital Liberties has been running for decades and consists of myself, James Moulding, Richard Barbrook, Eva Pascoe and Fabian Thompsett. As a member of Digital Liberties, I co-founded the project Games for the Many with James Moulding.

What are the challenges of making games for political parties or organisations?

A lot of it comes from a lack of knowledge from parties or organisations on just how expensive and time consuming a game is to design and make, especially, when it includes a research component. This is a conversation we’ve found difficult to navigate and we’ve been exploring ways to either raise awareness of the cost of games or find ways to quicken our process without putting undue stress on our workload.

Many people in the gaming community like to claim that games aren’t political or that politics should be kept out of games. How do your respond to that?

Art has historically been used for making political statements and often I feel the sentiment that games shouldn’t be political comes from a misconception about the role of art in our society.

Diego Rivera and the Muralismo Mexicano movement started because the Mexican labour party wanted to make politics accessible to all. They paid artists to paint murals that would teach even the analphabetic population about the country’s history; the key figures in the political landscape and what they stood for.

In 1968 you had the Situationists, who in the years before were using play in the streets and subversive art to try and take down capitalism. They like to take credit for starting the 1968 uprising in Paris and while that is contentious, their slogans were graffitied over walls. The Situationists have a lot to owe to the Surrealists and the Dadaists before them. One of my favourite Dada collages is Hannah Höch’s Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany from 1919. She used her art to comment on the politics around her during a time of political instability.

That’s not to say that we should look up to art as some sort of sacred guide. It’s a form of expression that can include all forms of politics. Take the Futurists as an example. Their art focuses on the love of humans merging with machines and they fetishised war and violence. They supported the fascists and opposed democracy and used their art as a way to paint a future of hyper industrialisation.

Also take a look at Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People or Goya’s The Disasters of War. Art has a political impact.

All it comes down it is that games are art. Like all the paintings and art movements I just listed, they too can and should be aware of the political messages they impart. Games are the most consumed media out of film, TV and music and they have already been shifting the political landscape. We need to recognise it and take responsibility for it.

How important is the growth of mobile for an organisation like Games for the Many?

The fact that Corbyn Run was available on mobile was one of the major reasons it went viral. The mobile games market has a much more diverse audience than PC or web and we found when people heard about it via a news outlet, the first thing they did was search for it on their app store. We were worried about the over-saturation of the mobile games market but found that the novelty of political games helped it stand out and we ended up on the front page of the iOS store through virality alone.

Games for the Many also actively supports game developers. How do you do this?

I feel the games industry has a big problem of access. There are plenty of graduates unable to find jobs and yet at the same time, there are game companies unable to fill positions. In future projects I hope to use these game jams and short projects as a way to give graduates a chance to prove themselves. As political games are often small in scope and budget, this puts us in a perfect position to provide that opportunity for people.

Digital Liberties is also a co-operative which runs a bit like a collective. We wanted to run a studio which was fair to everyone involved, but also that would adapt well to the nature of political games, in that they are often short projects. By being a collective, we can contract game developers on a project by project basis. By being a co-operative, every member of Digital Liberties has voting rights on the overall direction of the company.

It’s worked great so far and off the back of Games for the Many, Kai Oliver found a job at Preloaded, Federico Fasce is now making games at the Guardian and we’ve taken Tim Phillips on to work with us on a project with Nesta.

What do you picture for the future of Games for the Many?

I would love to have a community of political game makers, which include game developers as well as activists. I would love for Games for the Many to ignite the politically disenfranchised and use it as a platform for people who would otherwise not have a voice — teaching them how to make games and allowing them to express their stories. Together we create games around political events, create games around issues people care about and in that way affect change.

How can people get involved in Games for the Many?

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook and make sure to come to one of our game jams.

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British Council Creative Economy

British Council Creative Economy

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