We have decided to join #ResistJam, an online game jam hosted by itch.io and sponsored, among the others, by IndieCade and IGDA. The aim of the jam is “creating games that resist oppressive authoritarianism in all its forms”.
We started our research around the concept of ‘authoritarianism’. We all know what it is but a bit of research does not harm, right?
According to the respected Encyclopaedia Britannica:
Authoritarianism is the blind submission to authority, as opposed to individual freedom of thought and action. (It) denotes any political system that concentrates power in the hands of a leader or a small elite (…) Authoritarian leaders often exercise power arbitrarily (…) and they usually cannot be replaced by citizens choosing freely among various competitors in elections.
Wikipedia reports different definitions and several political science theories about the concept. What it is important for our small research is to identify the common elements defining an authoritarian government or an authoritarian behaviour as such. We will use them to brainstorm. They will be the focus of our message: what we want to highlight and, potentially, exaggerate in a playful way.
Authoritarian organisations are generally defined by:
- limited political pluralism
- minimal social mobilisation
- minimal social mobility
- limited press freedom
- limited or absent independency of judges
- a type of popular acceptance that can be passive toward a government ( Regime) or active around the figure of a leader (Populist Government)
- absence of free elections or manipulated election system
- centralised power
We are obviously worried about the way the worldwide political situation is heading to. We are all aware of the turn many countries have already taken in Asia, Latin-America and Africa. But what about Western countries? It is undeniable that many ‘democratic’ countries are not doing any better. This is why we explored the concept of Semi-democracy which can be paired to Semi-Authoritarianism or Competitive Authoritarianism.
Competitive authoritarian regimes are civilian regimes in which formal democratic institutions are widely viewed as the primary means of gaining power, but in which fraud, civil liberties violations, and abuse of state and media resources so skew the playing field that the regime cannot be labeled democratic. Such regimes are competitive, in that democratic institutions are not merely a façade: opposition parties use them to seriously contest for power; but they are authoritarian in that opposition forces are handicapped by a highly uneven—and sometimes dangerous—playing field. Competition is thus real but unfair. 
Basically, we are talking about:
- democracy in appearance
- authoritarian in nature
- presence of democratic institutions not working the way they should
Scary, isn’t? Also, this description rings many bells…
☝️️ Go to top ☝️️
So, what do we want to say and how?
We are concerned about the authoritarian behaviours and actions of countries that are famous to be ‘example of democracy’. Obviously, simply defining an entity as something does not make it such. Definitions do not always correspond to reality. It is proven that:
- the use of the language affects the way people frame reality (“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” 1984) (also have you read this?)
- many people do not challenge the authority of a definition or whoever state that definition. They accept it.
Defining as democratic something that it is not (or it is rather authoritarian), may justify behaviours, actions or attitudes that should not be morally and ethically accepted. We all know the story of actions done for the sake of democracy, right? We think that unmasking this fake definitions can contribute to build awareness. And awareness leads to active thinking and self-determination…
We believe that instead of pointing out the problems of other countries, we should start from where we live. We certainly cannot join revolutions around the world (well, some people do but this is another story) but we can raise the voice in our places! We can actively criticise and provide positive input. As Westerners, we can afford the incredible luxury of standing up and say ‘Hey, stop! this is not democratic! this is oppression and we do not accept it!‘
✊So, our message is not only about the dark side but rather about the path that leads to the dark side. We would like to talk about authoritarian behaviours masked by democratic façades (that can potentially lead to full authoritarian systems).
How to represent all of this? First of all, political power requires a community to exercise the power on (citizens, population). By definition, this involves a massive group of people who have different roles inside the system and are stratified in classes. Class stratification is directly related to social mobility. How can we possibly represent them in a visual way?
💡 Then we thought of a sentence we heard in many places around the world. It is a sentence people say when they argument their defensive attitude toward immigrants:
These are the rules of my house! I do not go to their house to mess around!
People refer to their countries with the metaphor of the house. It makes sense for us because houses are vertical buildings so we can use the floors as representation of the social stratification. Following this idea and extending to a condominium, we can apply the idea of governing to the building management (which may be elected and has to make decisions which affect the inhabitants’ quality of life). This idea is perfect for us because we are working on a prototype of a tower tycoon game, so we can reuse some of the assets.
So, here we are:💡 a condo as metaphor of society. The player is the manager of the building. He will make decisions by taking (or not) into account tenants’ needs and the property owner requests. Each decision will directly affect the different social classes (some may like a reform while another not!). The whole set of decisions rates the ‘authoritarian rate’ of the building manager.
Here you can see a mockup.
I know… is it silly thinking of a society ruled by a real estate owner, isn’t? But this is a game! Do not worry!
Looking for inspiration about all the things above, we found a dystopian novel we did not know: High-Rise (J.G.Ballard, 1975). The author imagines the life in a building where everything is provided (from schools to supermarkets). The book depicts the interactions between residents, the growing social stratification between floors and the escalation into chaos. When we read this, we felt like our idea is not that bad!
Another great source of inspirations we love is 1984 (G.Orwell).
We would like to hear from other jammers! Give us a shout on Twitter @impertinentgame!