PanoptiCorp, part 1: the Soul of a Corper

4 minute read

Warning: this is long, rambly, and has no context. I will write a part 2 with more context, when I’ve had some time to process what I experienced.

My flight left Denmark before I had time for a proper debrief, so this is also me pouring out my thoughts on my character. I noticed afterwards how much I could’ve used the debrief: the game was very present in my mind afterwards. Note on the person used in this text: I deliberately create a difference between myself and my character by referring to him in third person, as per debrief-instructions given after the game.

I played an ex-academic turned a marketing monster. The original concept was modelled a bit after Pekka Himanen, the Finnish philosopher who went big very quickly, perhaps a bit too quickly. He turned his academic skill into business, my character went into marketing.

After all the workshopping we did, I had some kind of a vision of the character: kind of confident, but a bit out of his league with all the marketing messiahs. I envisioned my character having written a couple of books that looked very edgy and business-like to an academic crowd, but in the crowd he was put in now they were rather conservative.

We built relationships with two players before the game, with one antagonistic and one friendly relationship. Both turned out kind of ok, but didn’t really hold together as planned very well during the game. The antagonistic relationship started with some light taunting, but quickly melted away when the deadlines roared hot on our tails. The friendly relationship stayed like that to the end, but did not really develop at all during the game, probably for similar reasons.

This seemed like a running thread in my personal experience of the game overall: whatever I thought of my character in the beginning of the game didn’t really work when the going got busy. There were a couple of reasons for this:

First, the character concept was quite close to what I’m really like. I went the easy way and didn’t try to create some elaborate character concept that would’ve required me to go out of my way as a person. It felt easy and natural, but that was probably also part of the problem. If there had been a strong character concept to latch onto, it would’ve been easier to see things through that character. But that would’ve required something very polar to myself, and that might have been too difficult for me to do.

Second, the more I had to put energy into performing well as a creative marketing-type, the less energy I had to reflect on what my character was like. He became a skin I wore, but at times that skin was paper thin. When the deadline was in five minutes and we needed a tagline for a multi-million marketing campaign, there was no time to reflect on what my character would have thought. My character did the best he could, but so did I.

This was especially true, when there was a real fear of failure and ridicule. So, not coming up with something striking wasn’t just a failure on the part of my character, but also of myself. Everyone was under constant evaluation, and that evaluation wasn’t limited to only my character. It’s easy to manage bleed when there is a strong character to use as a shield, but when it is your actual work on the line, the experiences of success and failure are far more real. It doesn’t matter if it is a character in a game that hates the concept you came up with, there is still an another human being that that hates your work.

I’m not very competitive by nature so that was probably the hardest part of the game. My character was never particularly hot or not, staying somewhere in the middle of the status ranking the whole game. My character never landed a big hit, but never messed up big time either. The others probably didn’t see him as comptetition, so there was no reason to downvote him for that reason. I’m sure there was a lot of jealous downvoting going on otherwise - I know my character did that several times.

The competition was probably the hardest part because I steered away from some aspects of the game, like the casual handling of sex and relationships. I didn’t engage with that because I didn’t know how and would have put me seriously out of my comfort zone. This is in large part because of the issue mentioned earlier: there was occasionally only a very thin layer of fiction separating me from my character. While playing with bleed might be interesting in some context, that was not a area I would have wanted to do so.

After the game was over I said to one of the designers that I’m not sure whether I would play the game again. It was stressful, demanding, and - in his words - “designed to be evil.” But the thing is, these are things that I will probably forget.

What I will remember later are the thrill of getting the client, the energy of coming up with a crazy pitch for a marketing campaign in five minutes and the satisfaction of rising a level on the Hotnot-ranking. And the designer in me will admire how well the game does what it is trying to do. Even if that thing is evil.