This year’s Digra conference has just ended. There were numerous papers that touched up on pervasive games, and we will list and link them as soon as they are available in the Digra digital library. Instead, now I want to write about a game Mary Flanagan talked about at the conference, a game she designed called Layoff.
Layoff is a swap-adjacent-cells-to-form-sets-of-three-or-more -game, but with a twist. Instead of jewels you are moving employees around, spotting redundancies and removing them. Slowly the corporation is filled with suits (who cannot be eliminated, on the contrary, the more the merrier). Instead of points the player’s success is measured in the amount of money he has saved for the company. At the bottom of the screen the player can see all the laid off people in the unemployment office. Each worker also has a short bio to underline the fact that they are not just statistics but “real people”. There is also a news ticker informing the player about recent layoffs.
Now these kinds of games are not pervasive. Though they might make the player uncomfortable and even influence the player’s real life opinions, they are not pervasive in the way that it would be unclear at any point where the game begins or ends. Persuasive game need not be pervasive.
So this game doesn’t really connect to the subject of this blog. But I can’t help voicing some of the thoughts that the game (and Flanagan’s presentation provoked). As it turns out, some people have objected to the game’s content. It has made some people uncomfortable as it discusses serious, real life issues. Flanagan herself said that the game is, in some way, activism. The game is designed to make people think.
The game made me think about the song Amerika by the German rock band Rammstein. The chorus goes something like this: “We’re all living in America / Coca-Cola, Wonderbra / We’re all living in America / America, America”. When the band was accused of playing politics and being “anti-American” (this was back in 2004), they simply said that the song was not political, but descriptive, a reflection of the world they live in.
Layoff feels that way to me. It seemd to be a description and a reflection of the world we live in – or at least the world Flanagan and her team lives in. I’m not saying the game (or for that matter the song) is not political, but that it does not openly advocate any action or political agenda. It simply holds a mirror and shows, from one angle, what corporate life looks like.
(As a side note, I have to say that in my circle of friends there are numerous people who work in IT – I did that myself for some six years – and in those circles everyone plays the layoff game by trying to make themselves indispensable. The question is not whether or not there will be layoff, but when. So you need to be prepared. I have a friend who has gone though eight layoff rounds and been fired only once. He is the expert player.)
Flanagan also just published a book, Critical Play. I have yet to read it, but I’m really looking forward to it.