Electron Dance
20Apr/11Off

Engaged In The Struggle: Jonas Kyratzes – Part 2

This is the second part of Electron Dance's interview with Jonas Kyratzes on Wikileaks Stories. The first part was posted yesterday.


What’s been the response to the games?

Mixed, but I suppose that's normal. You Shall Know The Truth basically just disappeared - some of the few people who played it had very strong positive responses, but the game sank without a splash. Well, it got covered in some very high-profile mainstream media magazines and newspapers, but mostly in the context of the project as a whole. (Unsurprisingly, most journalists didn't take the time to play the game, either.) But as far as I know, no-one in the indie/gaming scene wrote about the game. I did send lots of emails, but... nothing.

One response I heard, which struck as me as rather telling, was that the game was "too extremist" to cover. I find this particularly chilling because the game really does nothing more than speak up for traditional democratic values - it doesn't preach socialism and revolution, just basic human rights. But these days that seems to be a radical position, especially when you suggest the Democratic party might not stand for those values.

Leaky World did much better, which was nice. Wikileakers got some positive user responses, but I don't think it got particularly many plays or press exposure.

I was surprised at the lack of Wikileaks Stories coverage across gaming sites. Then again I can't think of any agitprop-type project that has done well in terms of exposure. Titles such as Pictures For Truth or Global Conflicts don't really get much airtime. The only one that comes to mind is Littleloud's The Curfew and that is more about the theory of oppression rather than a real-world scenario. Games for Change has been going for seven years and barely makes a mark in gaming discussions.

Now there wasn't an audience for art games a decade ago so do you think it's just time that's needed for political/issue games to be taken more seriously?

You know, I wrote to Games for Change about You Shall Know The Truth, and they never responded.

I don't think the cultural/political/economic reasons for political games being ignored are going to change on their own. It may be that as the world continues to plunge deeper into the abyss of faith-based economics, political games will find bigger audiences. But the forces arrayed against any kind of political art - from conscious oppression to exclusion by economic factors - will also grow stronger.

Some topics will always have it easier, too. Just like in every other medium, works that deal with identity issues or "green" subject matter will always be viewed much more positively than works that deal with economics or human rights. That's not to say that people shouldn't make games about the environment or gender; these are serious issues. But we need to be aware that "topical" games aren't necessarily radical or progressive; in Europe, after all, most Green parties are big business pro-war parties that happen to like puppies. And I'm not sure the people of Afghanistan would really care whether the President bombing their country is a black man or a white woman, even though we're constantly told that it's dreadfully important. That's something to keep in mind when thinking about the evolution of political gaming and what is deemed "acceptable."

How many games might we expect to see added to the project in coming months?

No idea. A couple of people were working on text adventures, but the project is meant to be open to all who want to contribute, so people aren't required to tell us what they're doing or register with us. Consequently, I really don't know.

I still hope there might be something about Bradley Manning or perhaps, to provide a historical context, Daniel Ellsberg. I watched a documentary about Ellsberg last year and it was fascinating. Do you think games on serious subjects are just too hard to pull off? Art games don't have to be "fun" yet they still get attention.

Good games are hard to pull off, no matter what their content. But good games are also fun to make, and serious subjects can inspire and drive a project. So I don't think difficulty is the issue. Lack of political awareness, fear, economic factors and the belief that true art must not be political - these issues are much bigger problems than difficulty.

But they're not insurmountable.

Games are stepping up to address mature, grown-up issues now and not just on a small scale: Red Redemption's Fate of the World is a serious attempt to explore the challenge of climate change.

But "MP For A Week," an educational game about the day-to-day life of a Member of Parliament doesn't touch on how MPs are paid, and how this opens the door for corporate lobbying and expense abuses. PETA's "Cooking Mama: Mama Kills Animals" is so concerned with a pantomime dehumanisation of meat-eaters that any facts they want to put across disappear almost entirely. Molleindustria's Oiligarchy was condemned by a Kill Screen review as propaganda: "gameplay shouldn't be abused to push blatantly political messages".

Whilst games can be a force for good, do you have concerns about games becoming vehicles for propaganda and disinformation?

Every artform can be abused for propaganda, so there's nothing really new there. I thoroughly disagree with the statement that "gameplay shouldn't be abused to push blatantly political messages," because that translates to "art shouldn't be used to seek and demonstrate truth" - but of course games can be used to promote lies and hatred as easily as they can be used to spread enlightenment and truth.

Actually, it's much easier to do the former, especially since the press rarely seems to mind quasi-fascist scenarios about killing evil North Korean Taliban Iraqi Terrorist Gays from Iran, but has plenty of outrage for those who argue that the current political system might have a few problems.The gaming scene is really just one facet of the overall situation - the prostration of the media before corporate interests, the failure of academia to stand up for democratic values, the confusion and lack of direction in artists - and it reflects that situation in its own way.

The question is how to change that.

Thank you for your time, Jonas.


Jonas is currently working on far too many projects to be considered healthy, such as Nexus City with Terry "VVVVVV" Cavanagh, The Book of Living Magic and Alphaland. More news on his projects can be found on his blog.

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