While attempting to type some inane email in It is as if you were doing work, pop-up windows proclaiming “Success is no accident” and “No one ever drowned in sweat” kept interrupting my text. Then there were the incessant buttons to click, documents to send, and other mildly irritating tasks, all as I worked towards the next promotion. The recently released game, created by Pippin Barr, is a simulation of office work using late ’90s Windows sound and visuals, set in a near future where robots have taken on the real labor.
The game “poses as an application that humans who have been put out of work by robots and AI can play as a way to recapture the sense they once had of doing work and being productive,” Barr, an assistant professor in the Department of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University in Montréal, writes in a release. “It’s a kind of semi-condescending service offered by this new world to those of us who can’t deal with it.”
It’s also a sadly accurate simulation of many offices, where attempts to get work done are constantly derailed by work motivation, whether meetings, messages, emails, or just a particularly aggravating motivational poster. Barr often experiments with game structures for unconventional play, such as his digital take on Marina Abramović’s “The Artist Is Present,” and the v r 3 museum of rendered water launched earlier this year. Players begin It is as if you were doing work as a lowly “Screen Administrator,” before progressing through meaningless tasks and some enforced “breaks” to play Breakout, and being promoted to titles like “Big Data Administrator.” You’re rewarded with perky sound effects and pop-up windows, yet the job always stays the same. The only things you can change are your desktop backdrop (a cat and a photograph of a messy desk being options) and the looping MIDI music, including a “world” selection that has a grating pan flute accompaniment.
It is, needless to say, rather depressing. Alice O’Connor, who shared the game on Rock Paper Shotgun, notes that it’s not too far from reality, as there are fake companies in France run as real offices for the unemployed to get workplace training. Other games have similarly pondered the office in an automated future, including Owlchemy Lab’s VR Job Simulator (Kotaku made a list of 10 games that simulate office jobs). And Barr’s creation evokes some of the irony in games such as the Sims, where the mechanics involve mundane life actions like microwaving a ramen cup or reading a newspaper’s “help wanted” ads. Increasingly, performative office communications like Slack basically turn the workspace into a large-scale RPG, or at least add more digital noise to the desktop. It’s possible to imagine a future where that element of distraction becomes the job itself.
It is as if you were doing work by Pippin Barr is available to play online.