Game Politics (gamepolitics) wrote,
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McDonald's Game Parodies Fast Food Ethics

Politics has taken more than its share of swipes at the video game industry in recent times. But what happens when games bite back?

Socially- and politically-aware games are becoming increasingly common online, the most recent being Molleindustria's McDonald's Videogame, a multi-tiered sim satirizing the process by which Mickey D's tallies up its millions served.

According to Paolo Pedercini, spokesman and founder of Molleindustria, the McDonald's Videogame was inspired by books lik Jeremy Rifken's Beyond Beef: The Rise & Fall of the Cattle Culture and Naomi Klein's No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies which deal, respectively, with the cattle industry and the emergence and persistence of brand-based culture.

"We have often claimed that video games have the potential to make complex systems such as the economic and social easy to understand," says Pedercini, "so we tried to give a practical example."

In "McDonald's," game play occurs on four stages, which the player can switch between at any time. Gamers start out in the agricultural sector of South America where they farm to produce soy cultures, and rear and grow livestock. In addition, players can clear away sections of rainforest for farming, and corrupt the mayor for the use of land. At the feed lot, players fatten up cows - being sure to monitor for sickness - and add hormones to speed up the fattening process.

When managing the actual restaurant locations, employees must be hired, fired, chastised, and rewarded in order to keep the line of hungry customers moving. Meanwhile, at McDonald's HQ, the player can devise marketing campaigns, effectively pay off detractors (environmentalists, politicians, etc.), and oversee sales and progress of the company in the board room.

Although the game shines with the harmless, plastic aesthetic of a Happy Meal toy, it quickly becomes clear that this is a sink-or-swim business sim. Money tends to disappear faster than it's made. To earn the volume of customers and cash that the fast food industry has become known for, players must balance their time between multiple stages, know when to play it straight, and be willing to get their hands dirty.

Beyond its implicit messages, the game's visualizations and text offer their own commentary on the industry. The marketing department consists of a Mac-occupied designer, a child doodling mindlessly, and an older girl, smoking marijuana. In the restaurant, the grillmen are almost always Hispanic or Asian. In the tutorial, those same grillmen are described as preparing sandwiches "like T-model Fords."

Previous Molleindustria games like TuboFlex and Tamatipico also refer thematically to "Fordism," a topic which is of particular interest to the company, whose name translates literally to "soft industry," or "soft factory." According to Pedercini, "We are all precarious knowledge workers, a new class that needs a new imagery, so we decided to satirize the outdated radical-leftish style based on factories, gears and soviet stuff."

Other Molleindustria games deal with social issues like gender and sexuality. In Orgasm Simulator, the player simulates the timing of a woman's moans during intercourse, being careful to keep them up to speed with the man's lest he loses interest or realizes she's faking.

In the end, no matter how potent a game is, its message is only as powerful as its audience is large. Although not a household name, Molleindustria has made a considerable impact on the casual, internet games community, with "McDonald's" having been dugg, featured on Boing-Boing, as well as offered on a number of online game portals. "In my opinion," says Pedercini, "those mainstream, casual online gamers are a more heterogeneous user catchment area than, let's say, the hardcore gamers that drive the console market."

-Reporting from Ireland, GP Correspondent Scott Jon Siegel

Tags: ethics, mcdonald's game, molleindustria, paolo pedercini, parodies, scott jon siegel
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  • 17 comments
I have, and it turns out that I'm not a very good CEO. :p
This "orgasm Simulator" sounds fun :)
as a fatten simulator?
a cholesterol simulator?
I doubt very much that the game, satire or not, injurious or not, would count as fair use of McDonald's trademarked names and logos. Considering that the corporation has some kind of presence in nearly every country in the world, I wouldn't expect this game, in its current "branded" form to be available much longer.
I read that as "I better download it now".
I doubt very much that the game, satire or not, injurious or not, would count as fair use of McDonald's trademarked names and logos.

It's tricky. It's an obvious parody, and they're not pretending this is an official McD's website. It that case I think trademark names & logos are fair use, especially considering that the game is not being sold...
I'm just saying that I wouldn't put my money on the developer in this race.

I'm not sure the "parody" ruling would protect a company using another corporation's trademark in the name of their game. Basically, a game about a fast food restaurant that uses not only the name of an actual company in the name of the game, but their trademarked logotype of that name could cause the type of market confusion that trademarking exists to protect against.

Even if McDonald's were to decide that the game was innocuous and did not harm the company itself, the use of the trademark in that manner cannot go unchallenged.
If you look at the "Why this site" section also, the explanation is given by "Ronald McDonald". That may cost them in the long run.
Just for the record ... I'm not a lawyer (nor do I play one on TV!). But in my last job, I spent a lot of time dealing with an enthusiastic online fan base for our games who had absolutely no clue about Intellectual Propery rights in general, including misuse of other's copyrights and trademarks.

I'm of the opinion that we really ought to be teaching kids about IP law when they are in the 5th grade ... and even that may be too late for the lesson to be learned!
I played it a few times...and I have to say it's so difficult to play it's almost not worth it.

it's too easy to focus on one area for too long and without a warning or something to tell you there is a problem on another screen, you cna forget about it and cause you to lose the game.
CactusJack: There actually is a warning that alerts you to which sectors needs your attention. A tiny button below each sector's icon in the lower left corner flashes when that particular sector needs attention. The first few times I played I lost very quickly, because I kept forgetting to hire staff. ^_^ But once I got the hang of it, it turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. And that's a lot coming from me, who normally dislikes sim-type games (no offense to Wil Wright). -sj
This is what the video game industry needs: More games dealing with complex political themes! That would really help boost the image of the video game industry. Since this is a political satire, this won't be banned from the constitution. Now the only thing the game designers have to do is make more that have strong political themes.
I found the game to be incredibly fun, and managed to make it like 20 years before I got sued into bankrupcy by fat people.

I'm not too sure about how much attention it will bring towards any of McDonalds 'shady practices', but it's certainly a step in the right direction.
I've senn the game on Newgrounds its pretty good, it got second place in the monthly awards there.
Insert McCaption here

Now why does backrupting McDonalds feel so pleasing?

Also; anyone here beaten my highscore? 153 years!