There can’t be many of us left who’ve never ordered a package from Amazon, despite increasing awareness of the human cost behind that convenience. Upcoming game The Last Worker, the first from developer Oiffy, is a dark comedic take on the horror and absurdity of the online-retail “fulfilment centre”. In an age where we just accept corporate billionaires raking in obscene profit at the expense of an underpaid workforce as a sad fact of life, this game might be the chance we need to find the humour in it all.
The Last Worker is a story seen through the eyes of its protagonist, Kurt, set in a world where automation has reached dystopian heights. Kurt is the last human employee working in an otherwise fully automated fulfilment centre for Jüngle, an online retailer which totally isn’t up to anything sinister. His job is to get packaged orders ready for shipping and he’s never made a mistake in 25 years of service, which is the only reason he hasn’t been replaced with a robot. He takes some pride in his work, but when he becomes the reluctant recruit of an anti-Jüngle activist group, might he be pressured into stealthily sabotaging the company?
Jörg Tittel (@newjorg), the game’s writer and director, describes the game as “a horror story in a way, but not a horror game”. He believes that The Last Worker’s charm stems from empowering players to “laugh at the absurdity” of our own hyper-capitalist world. “There will be moments of sadness and there are moments of loneliness, but we have to also entertain and make people laugh because it’s so hard to be a human right now. I don’t want to depress people.”
A warehouse worker isn’t an obvious candidate for a video game protagonist, but as Jörg points out, “their job has already been gamified”. This is a game that is unafraid to talk about real-world issues, but it’s not going to think for you; it’s tackling a difficult problem that doesn’t have a perfect solution. As Jörg told me, “The game doesn’t propose a solution [but] it definitely draws attention to the problem, or the multitude of problems that we’re facing as humans right now, and also as entrepreneurs and as engineers.”
The game is coming to VR as well as standard platforms thanks to VR pioneers Wolf & Wood. Jörg feels that “VR is a way for people to really embody it, to be in it physically, because I think empathy starts with that … To inspire empathy in people in today’s distraction economy, we need to give them more than just a fact or an image or even a book because people read words and they just flow by, like they don’t mean anything.” He hopes that “by physicalising this, hopefully by putting a really fun narrative in a colourful world, with lots of humanity in it, we can make people think about it”.
Is it too late to stop Jüngle? Do we even want to know what they’re really up to? Should you risk your job for the cause? If Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please showed us that immigration bureaucracy can be entertaining, then The Last Worker is on track to help us find the ironic fun in low-wage corporate drudgery.
August 17, 2022 at 02:43PM Hannah Heilbuth