It’s a well known fact… I assume… that humans like doing things… ok, this is what happens when I try to come up with a powerful opening statement. I’ll rephrase that. I like doing things. Or more accurately I like the satisfying feeling you get from a task well done, and let’s face it there is a good chunk of the games industry out there that relies on other people liking this feeling too. Just think of that Big Bird of puzzle games, Tetris, a game that almost single-handedly blasted Ninty’s humble GameBoy on to the pages of gaming history with its satisfying play loop of ‘stack blocks efficiently – rinse – repeat’ (Note: Do not actually rinse your GameBoy). Games are the best!
… also something that happens is that people have jobs. I’m lucky enough that I have a job I generally enjoy going to each day, and at least to a certain extent I get moments, just brief moments, where things come together, numbers fall in a pleasing order, graphs look more “Oooohhh” than “urrrgghhh”, and I’m treated to that same feeling of ‘a job well done’… or completion… whichever you want to call it. Sadly most jobs don’t offer that early often enough to be considered as great games.
I guess what I’m coming around to saying is that one of the reasons we like games so much is that it can flick that switch of ‘job-well-done’ for those days when things haven’t gone so great, or you’re months in to a long-term work thing having lost the momentum of the early project and with the end not rolling around for another six months, or just when you’ve had a day of meetings, nothing’s been decided and now you’re SO FRICKIN’ BUZZED FROM ALL THE FREE COFFEE THAT YOU CAN’T SLEEP AND THE ONLY THING YOU CAN THINK ABOUT IS THAT NEXT SUPER MEAT BOY LEVEL!!!
So with that seamless and well thought out pre-amble, here are five games that are quite a lot like actual jobs, but also good because you get that “I did a good thing” buzz… but also it’s still quite a lot like work when you step back and think about it…. enjoy!
Mini Metro is really what got me thinking about this whole topic. It’s a game that I enjoyed some time ago on PC and have recently rediscovered as a mobile commuting classic. The player is put in the shoes of some nightmarish real time public transport planner tasked with designing the perfect metro system for a variety of real world cities. With limited numbers of trains, lines, and tunnels and an increasing number of simple-geometric commuters queuing at each station the job is to try to get as many to their desired destinations by designing, redesigning, and expanding the metro system to accommodate the ever-appearing stations. In the world of mass transit rail however, there are no real winners, and ultimately the game is about staving off the inevitable collapse of the system due to overcrowding.
Despite the bleak overall take on the world of urban transit, Mini Metro is a surprisingly tranquil experience (as long as you’re staying on top of everything). The visuals are beautifully clean and simple and styled on the public transport maps unique to the city that you are currently playing. One of the most satisfying parts of the game however is that at the ‘end’ of a level you can pay a short animation showing how your rail system grew and evolved, and even share it if you’re so inclined.
“Hello, 911 operator how may I assist you?”
911 operator is a a bizarre… possibly slightly educational… game about the job of a 911 operator. Presented with a digital map of the city showing where your available units are, the player must take 911 calls, decide how to respond to the person on the other end and then decide what action to take. Can the call be ignored as a non-emergency? should you dispatch an ambulance, police, fire? At a fundamental level it’s little more than being able to strategically get the appropriate units to the appropriate icons on the map before an emergency turns to a tragedy, but I came away from the game feeling a new found appreciation of the responsibilities that emergency services have in managing the various unfolding events across a big city, even if much of the action represents a worst case scenario shift.
On top of all this, it’s a satisfying experience to effectively and efficiently manage all the resources at your disposal to deal with events… especially when some major incident strikes your city. To make things even more interesting you can load maps for cities all across the world allowing the player to guiltily wallow in some horrific natural disaster in their home town… you monster.
Viscera Cleanup Detail
With techno polka music blasting out of a pink HiFi and armed with a simple mop it’s up to you to perform one of the most important jobs of any sci-fi action adventure; Cleanup. Yes, although you’ve never thought about it, there must me cleanup teams that go in to deal with alien invasions, mind controlling space virus contamination, and robot uprising. When the ‘heroes’ walk away having splattered xenomorph brains across every surface, the true work begins.
In a move that baffled our online gaming companions, my wife and I got hooked on this for a couple of months some years ago. There’s something very satisfying about the cleanup process, systematically working through rooms, collecting spent ammo casing and limbs. The aforementioned mop and bucket gradually get bloodier and must be cleaned, and whatever you do don’t know over the water or you’ll be cleaning up your own bloodied footprints for the rest of the round. The great thing is that there is no real ‘win’ condition. You can leave each round whenever you want, but somehow the game compels you to search around for that elusive 100%, finding each last speck of blood and last blaster scorch mark on the walls. Adding to the fun is that levels are frequently unsubtle references to popular sci-fi movies (with my favourite being a cleanup around the Event Horizon) although dodgy network lag can be a nightmare as the crate of limbs your carrying suddenly leaps across the room splattered freshly mopped surfaces.
Masquerading as a fascinating puzzle about efficiency and spacial awareness, SpaceChem is actually a remote interface to an offworld chemical reactor facility where ‘The Corporation’ is crowd-sourcing the most efficient solution to their chemical processing facility. Each stage is a challenge with the player given a particular supply of elements or molecules and a target molecular compound to produce. By manipulating atoms within reactors bond can be added, broken, fusion can change the structure of the nucleus and products expelled for use or further processing.
There is something captivating about working out how to best use the limited resources to form the, often hugely complex, molecules required… and then infinitely disheartening as you are shown where your efforts fall compared to the global stats in terms of speed and efficiency. I found myself unwilling to move on to the next stage as I pondered how on earth someone could have made their system that much more efficient than what I’d produced. It’s a game where you just want to keep revisiting your solutions over and over again to tweak their efficiency and achieve the goal in an even more ingenious way.
DUMDUMDIDUM… DUM DUM DUM.. DUMDUMDIDUM.. DUM DUM DUM… DUMDUMDIDUM DUMDIDUM DUMDUMDIDUM DUM DUMMM……
What more can be said that hasn’t already been said about Lucas Pope’s low-res masterpiece. The job of a border official working in the politically unstable Arstotzka isn’t easy with ever changing entry rules and strict consequences for upsetting your superiors. At it’s heart Papers, Please is a beautifully simple game; citizens arrive at your desk, present their paperwork and you simply have to grant or deny entry in to the country. Armed with today’s virtual rule book you need to carefully comb through all the available information picking at inconsistencies, loose threads, or simply entry requirements not met for the hapless travellers suggested purpose of visit. Half the battle is simply managing your desk space and that’s not mentioning that your family are relying on the pittance you earn for correctly processing each person for luxuries like food and warmth.
It’s a tough job and I’m pretty happy that my own day-to-day activities don’t generally result in fines if I happen to miss that the person I’m looking at doesn’t match the height listed on their passport.