PanoptiCorp, part 2: When Now Is Too Late

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This is the second post about PanoptiCorp. The first was about personal experiences, so it actually makes more sense to read this first to get some context for the first one.

PanoptiCorp was a larp about a dystopian marketing company with all the worst parts of capitalism. Everything and everyone was on the line of not being good enough, everyone’s performance was constantly evaluated and the company ran under a spirit of constant competition. Deadlines were usually very soon and the office worked more or less around the clock.

We played the new Copenhagen office, so there was a good reason that the characters didn’t know each other before the game started. There were some exceptions built with pre-game character building, but it was convenient, because the players didn’t need to act like they all knew each other.

The official language of the game was a kind of newspeak variant of English, with words like “cust” (customer) and “corper” (Panopticorp employee). Everything good was “hot,” everything bad “not.” “Now” meant something okay, but not good - it wasn’t enough to live in the moment, everything had to be “NexSec.” Mostly it was easy to stick to the vocabulary, but since it was very limited, it didn’t change the play experience that much.

A lot of the game happened on social media. Before the game we created profiles for our characters on Facebook and Google+. It was also recommended to have Twitter, Instagram and Vine accounts, so I also created those. The idea seemed to be that Facebook would be our main social media during the game.

Unfortunately, Facebook wanted confirmation that our characters were actually real people, so we were forced to move to other platforms, making Google+ our main account (Facebook doesn’t officially accept pseudonyms, other social media are a bit more tolerating). In the end that worked very well. It’s hard to say whether Facebook would have been better. Twitter, Instagram or Vine weren’t used at all, as far as I know. For a small community keeping the communication focused in a specific place makes sense, especially since in Google+ you could post text, pictures and video.

The customers contacted us either in person, by just walking in the door, or by sending in an email. Having real people come in and say that they represent something real made the experience also feel very real. The customers often seemed demanding, troublesome or both, but that was probably partly because of the demanding environment and the short deadlines.

The assignments ranged from interesting to horrible. I was tasked with coming up with a creative image for a new cocktail bar in Copenhagen. But I also worked on a campaign trying to prove that parkour is bad for Islamic girls and a smear campaign showing how poor people are also bad people. We also defended a company manufacturing tests for breast cancer after it was revealed that their test wasn’t very reliable and that their competitors were coming up with better tests. These were only a small part of what we did. New work came in all the time, people switched projects quickly and there was never enough time to finish everything properly.

I walked out on the campaign against poor people, but I’m not sure whether it was because of any moral qualms or just because the assignment was boring. Making life harder for poor people is hardly a new concept. Generally, the morality of marketing something was never a question. If there was money in it, Panopticorp would market it.

The campaigns reflected how Panopticorp and the people in it thought. The campaigns had to be edgy, cool or “NexSec”. Euthanasia was marketed with kittens. Danske Bank with dragons. An up-and-coming artist was made more visible with a campaign to kill Justin Bieber. Everything had to be more outrageous than what the competitors (or “comps”) would do.

Succesful campaigns were reflected in the internal ranking, the HotNot-system. Every four hours (or so, it wasn’t that punctual in practice) there was a democratic voting of the people who were hot or not. The people that were hot were on the top of the pecking order and got the best work-places, best campaigns and a lot of jealosy. One of the players that ended up at the bottom of the ranking in the first voting told me how everyone just disappeared, forcing to play alone for an hour before anyone would work with him. So the effects of the HotNot were very real.

PanoptiCorp’s portrayal of capitalism is a satire, and it is easy to see what it criticises and how. You don’t have to experience it to see evil side. But worse, at times the reality we live in feels painfully close to the satire, as Vice showed.