Something that I tend to do during my usual late-night listless, depression-fueled time wasting is open up my PSP emulator and play a random game. I’ve spent a lot of late nights playing RPGs in five minute bursts, or some Japanese platformer the rest of the world has forgotten about. Or replaying Tokimeki Memorial for the other endings. Good stuff.
I’ve also found myself playing a lot of Work Time Fun. Usually around 1 A.M. Not out of any sense of routine, it just coincidentally works out that way. Nobody’s pinging me on Discord to play Overwatch, it’s too late/too early to jerk off, and I don’t have the motivation to do anything else. So I’m going to talk about it.
At first glance, WTF looks like nothing more than the PSP’s answer to Wario Ware. And mechanically speaking, that’s true. It’s a series of mini-games that last mere seconds or minutes (barring a few, which go on a little longer) that you play on the go. But that’s where the similarities end.
I’ve spoken before about “Nightmare Games” (see example). Games that have that surreal element of being in a fucked up dream. Now, WTF is not a scary game. Far from it; this isn’t Resident Evil 7 here. But it does have that dream-like haze to it, whether you’re playing at 1 A.M or not. Different monsters and demons appear, telling you the virtue of hard work. The mini-games are presented to you as odd jobs, ranging from playing a game of Chicken at the edge of cliff, or playing in traffic, or counting the number of people crossing the street, making sure to only count the humans and not the aliens or monsters. Or even completely mundane shit like putting the caps on pens in a pen factory. They either finish after a set number of rounds, or they ramp up in difficulty to a point of either near-impossibility or outright impossibility. Several of these jobs are presented with what looks like creepypasta clip-art. Blood, mucus, mushrooms, skeletons, all types of cool shit. Even the pen capping job looks to be set in a sweatshop. All of which looks to be done in a very “royalty-free” sort of way. I realize this makes no sense right now. Please bear with me.
After each of these jobs are done, you get a paycheck. With one or two exceptions, you will never make more than five dollars doing these jobs. You probably won’t even crack the three dollar mark. And keep in mind, these jobs are not designed to be fun, like the Wario Ware mini-games. These were designed to be tedious and dull. This money is spent on vending machines, where you will randomly unlock either a new job, a “Tool,” which is basically the PSP equivalent of a crappy phone app (things like a flashlight, or an astronomy chart (the lone exception is the Ramen Timer, which rules)), or a crappy rubber toy.
And this is where Work Time Fun goes from “Wario Ware knock-off” to committing only the most heinous of Vid Con Crimes: putting politics into your games. Capitalism Is Bullshit, it tells you. Working a shitty, draining job for no pay fucking sucks. This is a game about being stuck in this capitalist nightmare (the Japanese title is something like “Part Time Hell,” which tips its hat a little more than WTF), surrounded by monsters, doing things that don’t make a whole lot of sense, all on backgrounds with that familiar sanitized sheen that comes from a corporate sense of pinching every penny, at the expense of everyone but the highest management; hence why I used the term “royalty-free” earlier.
WTF feels very much like the work of someone on the verge of a mental breakdown. Someone who has worked a shitty, thankless job for years on end with no break. Overworked, underappreciated and underpaid. Someone using humor and satire to cope with the feeling of living in a fishbowl, laughing at themselves so as not to commit some act of self-harm. I’ve been there, and I made a lot of seemingly self-destructive things during that time. Games As Art is something of a laughable term, usually reserved for either Creepy Nice Guys making bad platformers about getting with that one barista at Starbucks, or Angry Queers making things in Twine before some cishets cast them out of the industry over something exceptionally petty, but it’s a term that works here. Work Time Fun is, as a game, kind of bad. I mentioned that it’s dull and monotonous, with no real reward other than filling in an empty list of toys with humorous captions. As a creative work of art, though, I cannot possibly recommend it any more.
It seems like now, more so than ever, is a game like this important. We as a society have reached what appears to be capitalism’s logical conclusion. We’re poor. We’re sick. We’re angry. We’re scared. We have literal monsters and talking heads telling us the virtues of hard work, while they themselves do not have to lift a finger in their day to day life, and make life harder for us. They do everything they can to ensure that we have to fight, claw and scrape for every last cent we’re given, for how little that is. Nothing makes any fucking sense. It feels as though Armageddon is right around the corner, with any remaining hope fading fast. Everything is a nightmare. What can you do about it? Fuck it, may as well enjoy the time we have left and buy some toys.
What The Fuck?
Something that was developed as a joke, while also based off of very real anxiety, twelve years ago manages to resonate far harder than it was ever meant to. It feels weird. Weird to connect with some long-forgotten PSP game on this level. That this game has suddenly borne the pain of mental illness and outside anxiety factors. But I am, and you probably might, too.