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A Videogame to Fight Cubicle Malaise

Paolo Pedercini's experimental game, "Every Day The Same Dream," challenges players to escape the dreariness of the working world. When the...

Paolo Pedercini's experimental game, "Every Day The Same Dream," challenges players to escape the dreariness of the working world.

When the curtain fell at last, it was an act of mercy. -Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road

The thankless malaise of office life is no mystery. In fact, the last year bubbled with depictions of the dreary inner workings of American workplaces. Sam Mendes' adaptation of Revolutionary Road and its suburban miseries was in lockstep with the Matthew Weiner's Mad Men on AMC. Both works, to varying degrees, present the potential dreariness of cubicle life-Frank Wheeler stays with a job he loathes while Mad Men's Peggy Olson desperately seeks affirmation in an ad agency where her work often goes unappreciated.

Game designer Paolo Pedercini shares Yates and Weiner's often pessimistic views of the workplace. "That was the fear of my life," he says of his time at a technical college in his home country of Italy as he worried about entering a repetitive career. (He subsequently switched to the greener pastures of art school.) His newest project, "Every Day The Same Dream," attempts to make those fears of the working world manifest and stems from a comic he drew more than ten years ago. The game's unnamed central character wakes up, gets dressed, drives to work, and sits at his cubicle-unless you help him make some changes. There are clues sprinkled throughout "Everyday" to help you turn your grey-suited avatar into a changed man.

Pedercini admits that "the greyness of everyday life" isn't a new concept, but argues that games are uniquely positioned to address the theme. Now a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, he says that he wanted to use a concept common in games-dying-as a new interactive way to address the concept of workplace ennui. "I wanted to take advantage of the fact that you generate actions many times so that there's repeating and recursion. That makes you learn about the game. Because you physically die you learn how to solve a certain problem."

"Every Day" was developed for the Experimental Gameplay Project, headed by former Electronic Arts designer Kyle Gray. The goal of the project is "rapid prototyping" that focuses on building a new game mechanic around a particular theme in a short period of time. Pedercini had a week to create the game and opted for simplicity, using sparse notes of color to guide players throughout the game.

However, the game isn't merely an abstraction. Back in his hometown of Milan, Pedercini was involved with the EuroMayDay movement, a collection of activists and organizers. In particular, their target is "precarity" or the use by employers of casual, intermittent and temporary work that can result in low pay, lessened rights, and no conventional contracts. As an extension of his real life, the 28-year-old's works for his studio Molle Industria fall in line with the "persuasive games" or "serious games" movement that hopes to create videogames that challenge players to question existing social norms and conditions.

"I'm really concerned with the new generation of labor," he says.

Jamin Brophy-Warren is a freelance writer living in New Haven, Connecticut. He is a former arts and entertainment reporter for the Wall Street Journal, a contributor at Slate, and editor of the forthcoming gaming magazine Kill Screen.

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