Artist mobile phone video game
PakeTown is an ethnographic mobile game documenting Cuba’s Paquete Semanal, an alternative offline media distribution network that every week supplies Cubans with new Netflix series, Telenovelas, Hollywood movies, music albums or computer games. Given the restricted access to the internet, digital data circulate throughout the country on external hard drives, through an elaborate network of compilation houses and deliverymen, so-called paqueteros.
This phenomenon has its roots in the 1970s when paperback novels came to be the first entertainment materials distributed outside of government control after the Revolution. By the 1990s there existed an informal video rental system based on VHS recorders and cassettes and illegal satellite antennas that allowed the grabbing of US and Latin-American TV programming. With the increasing penetration of computers on the island that facilitated data copying during the 2000s, these dissemination networks further adapted to changes in media formats, available technologies and user interests. Based on biographical interviews with paqueteros and developed by one of the island’s first independent game studios, PakeTown invites players to become entrepreneurs in the informal Cuban media sector and experience this history of alternative media distribution themselves. Aesthetically and conceptually, it draws on the genre of business simulation or tycoon games. While the Cuban private sector remains very limited, simulation games like Pizza Syndicate, FarmVille, or Resort Tycoon are highly popular and a much-consumed content in the Paquete.
Inside Cuba, we share PakeTown for free through the Paquete, in the very medium it portrays. Outside the island, we distribute the game via a multimedia installation that documents the research, development and marketing of the game. This installation takes on the form of an exhibition booth (as you would encounter at a video game fair) where audiences can playtest and download the game.