New Video Game Lays Off Workers at Rapid Pace

Student creators use subtle techniques to show importance of corporate responsibility




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Need to boost profits? Send someone packing. It’s a harsh reality that has now even entered the realm of video games.

“Layoff,” a new game developed by students at Rochester Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College and researchers with the Values at Play project, allows players to assume a management role and instructs them to maximize their score (boost profits) by eliminating as many jobs as possible.

Cold hearted? Only on the surface.

The games’ creators, who are all part of Tiltfactor—an interdisciplinary lab based at Dartmouth that specializes in creating games that reflect social justice causes—say it contains a subtle, but powerful message.

As players rush to lay off workers, the game’s music becomes eerie. Observant gamers will also notice that a short biography of each employee flashes on the screen before they are laid off. The goal is to demonstrate that employees are real people who shouldn’t just represent dollar signs.

“We hope that the bios make players stop and think about the people that are about to lose their jobs and the impact it will have on their lives,” says Chris Egert, a professor in RIT’s newly formed Department of Interactive Games and Media who was involved in the game’s creation. “We want players to realize that there are consequences to their actions.”

Greg Kohl, a fourth-year RIT computer science major who programmed the game, thinks it sends an important message to college students as they prepare to enter the work force.

“We want people to understand what’s going on in the world today,” says Kohl. “You can watch the news and have a sense of what’s going on, but it doesn’t impact you until it hits home—there’s a disconnect. In this game, we want to make that connection for people.”

Meanwhile, Kohl and other students involved in Tiltfactor learn lessons themselves. Working long distance, the group conducts its brainstorming sessions and other meetings through Web chats and video conferencing. They represent a variety of skill sets and disciplines.

“As a programmer, I’m used to speaking to other programmers and spurting technical terms,” Kohl says. “Now I’m working with artists and others who don’t understand those terms. I have to work hard to make sure we can communicate. But because we have different skills, we get different perspectives and generate ideas that I wouldn’t be able to fathom on my own.”

To play the game, visit www.tiltfactor.org. Within a week of its launch, the game received more than one million Web hits.