Fed up with his unsatisfying job at a call center, game designer David S. Gallant channeled his frustration into a video game called I Get This Call Every Day, a game where you play a guy working an unsatisfying job at a call center. Brooke talks to Gallant about what it's like to make a game that's not necessarily fun to play.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone. Video games allow a player to personify a space marine, a Kung Fu master, a Jedi knight or, in the case of David S. Gallant’s game, I Get This Call Every Day, a call center operator. The goal here isn’t to save the universe or stop a mad scientist, it's simply to help a caller change the address you have on file. It's based on the real-life job that recently Gallant held at the Canada Revenue Agency. Gallant’s game, I Get This Call Every Day, effectively captures the angst of the crappy 9-to-5.
DAVID S. GALLANT: It’s very similar to what you would call a point-and-click adventure, except there's no adventure.
You’re, you’re essentially staring at a single screen. You have a computer in front of you, you have a telephone. Every once in a while, you’re prompted to create a response. You're given the option essentially to either be polite and patient with this person, who is not prepared to answer the questions that they need to in order to change your address, or be a little rude.
OPERATOR: What was your net income last year? MALE CALLER: Is that how much I made?
OPERATOR: Yes, that is essentially your net income.
MALE CALLER: I don’t know, I think I made about 10,000 last year.
OPERATOR: I’m sorry, that doesn't much our records.
MALE CALLER: Fifteen-thousand? OPERATOR: Now you’re just guessing.
DAVID S. GALLANT: You also have the option of bending the rules to try and help the person out in the situation. Taking those variations will inevitably result in the agent getting fired.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is it possible to win the game?
DAVID S. GALLANT: No, and, and that’s the point. The game is called, a, a personal tale of unwinnable realities.
Even under the most polite option, the person still can't answer the security questions and the call will simply end with you asking the person to try again.
MALE CALLER: Whatever. I’ll just call back.
OPERATOR: No problem. Thanks for calling, sir. Have a nice day.
MALE CALLER: [BLEEPS]- sole.
OPERATOR: Sir, I’m still on the line.
DAVID S. GALLANT: I’m hoping to inspire a little bit of empathy.
I’ve been successful in that a lot of people do exclaim to me how much they want to punch their computer screens or never work in call centers, ever.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you said earlier that the conclusion of the game might be that you get fired. You actually got fired.
DAVID S. GALLANT: You know, the game had been covered by, you know, sort of the gaming press a little bit, but it very spontaneously also got covered by one of the national newspapers in Canada.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We’re talking about the Toronto Star.
DAVID S. GALLANT: That article really leaned into the angle that this was by an agent of Canada Revenue Agency. Canada Revenue Agency is essentially the IRS of the North. When someone had a question about their taxes, whether it's to change their address or find out if something could be claimed on their taxes, that was the position that I was in up until recently, is just answering questions like those.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, when the reporter contacted your workplace, she received this response, quote, “The minister considers this type of conduct offensive and completely unacceptable.”
DAVID S. GALLANT: Minister of Revenue Gail Shea, who provided that quote - I don't believe she actually played the game.
And I – I’m not convinced she would find it offensive if she had actually taken the time to experience it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, in spite of losing your job, it seems as if the gaming community and the gaming press have rallied around you.
DAVID S. GALLANT: I’ve been supported both by the local game development community in Toronto and the wider game development community around the world, not only encouraging people to buy it to support me, now that I’m out of work, but also writing articles questioning whether this was a matter of wrongful dismissal, holding [LAUGHS] the game up as an example of games as art. It's been utterly overwhelming.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You’ve made a little money on it, right?
DAVID S. GALLANT: To date, it’s $6700, more than I would have made in a few months’ of work at my previous employer and, ironically, income that I will have to consider the tax implications on.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let’s stipulate that for psychological reasons this was the game you had to make, what's the one that you dreamed of making when you were at your day job?
DAVID S. GALLANT: [LAUGHS] Maybe this makes me sound like more of a nerd than I already am, but I want to make income taxes fun. When I started working at Canada Revenue Agency, I was fascinated by income taxes. If I could use the medium of games to make it something that people don't dread and rather even possibly enjoy working with, I’d love to be able to explore that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Boy, David, that sounds like a very hard sell.
What, what about another game that works out one's psychological issues?
DAVID S. GALLANT: There's more experiences that came from this job that I possibly would like to express. You know, I’ve dealt with some desperate people who I've wanted to help and been unable to: You know, an individual who’s facing eviction and has three kids and, because of a simple error with an address, are now not going to receive child benefits for three months, individuals who are trying to help out a relative who is in a vegetative state but have never been granted the proper authority to deal with their information and, and never can be because that person is not in a position to grant that authority.
Not being able to help those people made me feel like less of a human being. You know, write us a letter. In two to four weeks, maybe we’ll get to it. If I were to make another game like this, that’s where I’d go with it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you’d go from something that plays like a Saturday Night Live sketch to something that's much closer to Kafka.
DAVID S. GALLANT: The irony is that I modeled it very closely over a real situation that I deal with and, and never really found it to be funny. It's not where I intended to be with it, actually. I sort of expected it to be a little existential.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David, thank you very much.
DAVID S. GALLANT: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David S. Gallant is a game developer.