Irish comedian and geek extraordinaire Dara O'Briain once said of the video game Grand Theft Auto 4, "I've a day off work, and I'm in a commute. I cannot believe that I've taken the time of my own to sit in fake traffic, when I could be out in London driving somewhere nice in actual traffic." Certainly a sentiment that makes sense. How many of us play games, watch films, or read books for a healthy dose of escapism? And this is how it's been, probably since one caveman read the comics his buddy drew on the wall.
But there's a weird phenomenon happening in the indie video games scene at the moment. People are making games about the mundanity of everyday life. Something that goes beyond the "Playing God" sort of games like The Sims. Games that simulate paperwork, cash transactions, and running errands. Here are some examples that you might want to look into, each a bit more soul-crushing than the last.
Viscera Cleanup Detail isn't terribly realistic, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the game is based around a job 99% of us wouldn't sign up for. Remember Doom? Where one lone space marine blows roughly 37,000,000 hellspawn into roughly 37,000,000 times as many pieces? That's the prequel. In Detail, you're the janitor on that space station, and you drew the short straw and thus have to clean up after the epic space battle. Armed with your high-tech space mop, an incinerator, and a never-ending supply of wash buckets and trash bins, you clock in to a generic, dark, steely corridor, and get to work. Viscera Cleanup Detail is in early alpha (an industry term meaning "barely playable"), but for taste you can play the latest build at their site , or pre-order the full game for $5, a price that will increase as the game is further developed. It has also passed through Steam's Greenlight, meaning it will be available on the ubiquitous PC gaming service once the game is done, if not before. An example of gameplay follows:
Papers Please takes place in the fictional Eastern Bloc county of Arstotzka during the Cold War. But you're not in control of missile silos, submarines, or even a platoon of soldiers. Courtesy of the Arstotzkan labor lottery, you play as an immigration officer. You get a set of rules each day, and hold each person from the never-ending queue to scrutiny. If you're good, and you run through enough people correctly, you just may make enough money to keep your family fed AND the heat on in your assigned Class-8 dwelling for the day. Each day the rules get a bit more complicated, and your pace gets a little more frantic. You will also deal with death threats, sob stories, budget cutbacks, kilometers of diplomatic red tape, terrorist attacks, corrupt coworkers, and a mysterious underground organization known as The Order of the EZIC Star. It's an interesting experience, in that within the first day or two of the game (say about 10-20 minutes), you realize you've become a bureaucrat. You've become part of the government machine, and you're acting sometimes in direct contradiction to your own morals. Papers Please is available now for $9.99. Trailer follows:
And now, the last and most soul-crushing entry on our journey into mundane gaming. In Cart Life, you play one of three characters: single mother and coffee hut owner Melange, Ukrainian immigrant and newspaper stand owner Andrus, or caffeine-addicted bagel cart owner Vinny. Each character offers his or her own story, scenarios, hard choices, and no-win situations. The more customers you serve, the more money you make. The more time you spend talking to customers, the more likely they'll become regulars and give you tips. It offers a microscope on a part of our world that no one usually thinks about...and it turns out, it's probably because we don't want to. Cart Life is available at Steam and the developer's website for $5, or a free version is available (sans Vinny) at the developer's website. Trailer follows:
Honorable mention on this list goes to I Get This Call Every Day. This hits too close to home for me, along with anyone else had a job where you have to answer a phone with a computer in front of you. In this game, you are presented with a phone and a computer. A customer calls, and you answer the phone. Everything goes sharply downhill from there. I Get This Call can scarcely be called a "game" so much as a Kobayashi Maru masquerading as interactive fiction. While you can get all the options in the game "right," it doesn't leave you feeling like a winner. Arguably, the only person who had ever won at I Get This Call Every Day was its sole developer, David S Gallant, who was fired from his day job shortly after the game was released. You can support David by purchasing I Get This Call Every Day for $2 or more. Honestly, he deserves at least that just for saying what all we past and present call center drones and numb meat popsicles only wish we could. Trailer follows.