Skip to content

Games for the Demoralized

I have to admit, I’m not much of a gamer, but the following sounded intriguing:

Most games with social themes are built around tiresome moral lessons. But the titles created by Bogost’s development studio, Persuasive Games, invite us to be ruthlessly greedy, helplessly incompetent, and breathtakingly rude. The goal of Airport Security, for example, is to relieve infuriated passengers of prohibited items in accordance with continuously changing carry-on rules. In Bacteria Salad, players grow veggies for profit and try to avoid poisoning too many people. And in last year’s Disaffected!, we assume the role of a Kinko’s employee struggling to deliver print orders as lazy coworkers shuffle papers into the wrong stacks. Bogost proudly cites this user review: “I could actually feel myself getting angry and depressed and my sense of self-worth going right through the floor.”

Serendipitously, I read about these games shortly after seeing Michael Moore’s Sicko. The film chronicles the fates of various Americans who are ensnared in a game of chutes and ladders by insurance companies.  With “life energy” running out, “players” desperately attempt to get “medical directors” to approve life-saving treatments.  But it turns out that sometimes these authorities don’t even look at the denial letters! 

So I can see why Bogost’s games might become popular.  Games are usually supposed to mirror real life, but to be a bit more fair, so as to give players an experience where they have a bit more control over their fate.  Skill would matter more in the game space than in real space.  But as the real world gets more demoralizing, perhaps a fair or ennobling game experience becomes just too fantastic to merit even a momentary suspension of disbelief.