The fashionable city of Milan has become the staging area for a new breed of online social protests.
By Clark Boyd
Via della Pergola is only a 15 minute walk from the centre of Milan.
Activists make their point with virtual protestors
But in a sense the street could not be farther away from the glitz that you find downtown.
Here, you can find Pergola Move. It is a rambling old
set of buildings that is part cafe, part restaurant, and part youth
But it serves mainly as a meeting point for a loose collection of Milan's social activist groups.
Activists have been squatting in these buildings since 1990. Now, they pay rent and use the facilities for their work.
Among those working here is Blicero, a computer hacker with a group called Reload.
He says the members of Reload decided early on what they meant by hacking.
"For us it meant basically dismantling stuff, reducing
them to components, and trying to put them back together in a way that
looked like something we liked more.
"We thought that this was perfectly
parallel, perfectly integrated with the idea of people who were
involved with social struggle," said Blicero.
"We felt that social struggle was about taking apart
social reality and building it up again in a way that is socially more
interesting, or socially more right for what we think."
Reload calls it Reality Hacking. The group uses the internet, for example, to stream its own radio content.
It used the online station to get people to participate in this year's May Day marches.
Reload then teamed up with another hacker group named Molleindustria, which means soft industry.
Together, they created an online May Day march. Virtual
activists could march by choosing their own character complete with
different hair colours and outfits.
But predictably, many had their characters march naked.
Molleindustria also supplies simple computer games for Reload's activist projects.
The games are politically and socially charged.
In Tamatipico, you try to keep your assembly line worker
happy by making sure he gets enough rest, enough food, and enough time
in front of the television. If your workers not satisfied, he will go
Blicero says that games like Tamatipico are first and foremost, fun.
"If you have fun, it tends to drive your attention to
the thing that you're doing, and maybe stop and think about a couple of
things that are happening," he said.
"I think the whole point is to make people aware of what they're actually living.
"And to have this, you have to create
images, fantasies, idea, fun, things people can recognise easily and
interact with easily and get near to you, talk to you, and then decide
whether you're talking bullshit, or things that make sense.
For some, like computer game expert Matteo Bittanti
sips, what Reload and Molleindustria are doing is a new way of thinking
Mr Bittanti is the driving force behind a series of books on video games currently being published in Italy.
Pergola Move hackers have created their own patron, Saint Precarious
To him, Molleindustria games work like a great film - you're entertained, but you come away with something more.
"I got a feeling the video game industry doesn't want to grow up," he said.
"They keep making very lame games. I mean the medium is so powerful, you can do so many things with it.
"And yet, you always end up with the same
games, shooting people. I think you can do smart games that actually
sell well, you have a whole generation of new game designers that have
"And the technology's cheap, you can do very easy games that have a global view and can actually influence people."
Others, like Noah Wardrip-Fruin, co-editor of the computer game book First Person, say these games are just that, games.
He argues that people who march in a virtual May Day parade are not involved in serious political activism.
"They aren't actually putting their
physical bodies online. In a way, it's just a more dramatic way of them
signing an online petition.
"And the same with people who are doing things like
cyber-hippie work or things like that where they do these sort of minor
attacks on military computers and things like that.
"But I think there's definitely more potential than that."
And the Reload collective is thinking ahead. It is
offering workshops, and courses on hacking and on creating online radio
stations that need just one microphone and one computer.
It is also exploring ways to use the internet to link up
with other social activist groups, not just in Italy, but across the
Clark Boyd is technology correspondent for The World, a BBC World Service and WGBH-Boston co-production