Sitting in your car, you take a deep breath in a vain attempt to mellow your nervous tics and anxiety. You’ve been showing up increasingly earlier to your store over the past month, you lie to yourself that you’re just playing it safe to avoid rush hour traffic, but deep down you realize it’s become harder and harder to work up the nerve to walk through those doors.
Sitting there in a moment of numb serenity as the clock ticks closer to the top of the hour, you shut off the engine, the radio cutting out after half a second. As soon as the cold silence of the car interior hits, your stomach drops and the anxiety comes flooding in: Time to start your shift.
Night Of The Consumers is a new horror game by Germfood, positioning itself with the gusto of a Crazy-Taxi-Meets-Retail-Hellscape pastiche and refreshing visuals that still hearken back to retro console looks while sidestepping indulgent graphical tropes. Consumers is gauche, vivid, and colorful in a beige-and-yellow piss-stained-floors-and-years-of-cigarette-smoke kind of way. Garish, cynical, and smarmy, the art drips with disdain for the oppressive atmosphere of customer service whilst turning a look of sympathy towards those who have been in the waxed-tile floor trenches. For those who have spent years engaging with the public, Night Of The Consumers ensures you feel seen, sometimes a little too seen.
You mumble to yourself as you spot The Manager, taking note of how difficult it is to tell which side his face is on considering how much he brags about having eyes on the back of his head. His shiny bald scalp has a tendency to give him the appearance of a lighthouse, or even the guard tower in a panopticon, seemingly omnipresent and always ready to pounce, nature’s apex predator preying upon the good will of the working class.
After a short conversation about your newest duties, you passive aggressively fling your backpack into the locker. A recent policy change means no more phones on the floor, not even for emergency family calls, can’t have anyone getting distracted by material reality when re-stocking trinkets and re-processed sugar flakes. Unless of course, you’re the manager, then somehow frequently checking your latest score in Clash Of Feudal Sharecroppers Gaiden II on SocialCloud while lording over the peasants, literally and figuratively, is retroactively justified as vital business.
Consumers cultivates a real lingering miasma, the bad vibe of a near-empty store that would send dread down anyone’s spine as you glide down the aisles with some box of stupid Halloween shit nobody really wants, I mean, it’s March for Christ’s sake. On stock day, the store looks like a war-zone and feels like one too, but at least in real combat you’d be teamed up with a battle buddy to watch your six, no such luxury here, however, leaving you with a palpable sense of vulnerability 24/7. “EXCUSE ME!” Without warning, customers hunt you down and charge towards you, immediately affixing your focus 100% on them against your will for whatever capricious and swiftly-changing whims they need satisfied today.
For the most part, the customers are generally benign if you keep your distance, but with no clear indication of how far away they can spot you, the only safe bet is to hide in a storage closet until they pass. That’s assuming you can outrun them, of course, as seemingly every customer of this establishment sprints at the same velocity as a cheetah who hasn’t eaten in 5 days seeing their first gazelle. Ideally, their requests will be straightforward and hopefully close at hand, like taking them to where the magazines are, but if panic sets in and you make too many mistakes or God forbid take too long, they’ll summon down the wrathful vengeance of the manager upon you.
Once alerted, The Manager becomes a horrifying entity ala the Yeti from Skifree, a real bloodthirsty mother hubbard storming towards you with inhuman speed and extreme prejudice. If you value your job security, RUN.
Five hours in and you’re no less exhausted than when you started, no matter how many Turbo Energy Elixir: Gamer Editions you seem to chug. It doesn’t matter how much sleep you get or what mindset you put yourself in when you arrive, something about this establishment just drains the capacity to care out of you. If one more customer comes up asking about Bubbly or demanding that you help find their lost baby….
As much as you try to memorize the store layout, it never gets easier to navigate. It’s almost like it’s alive, reconfiguring itself over time in response to your mastery of the space. Bright fluorescent lights, something about the putrid color scheme, the obnoxious tacky muzak that saturates every square inch of this place, even the break rooms… sometimes it feels like reality is melting away, twisting itself into some projection of your psyche, a winding mobius strip of…. Maybe this is the moment your philosophy degree trained you for!! All those years of talking about Deleuze, or those awesome film critiques where Zizek talks about the ways in which society subsumes the individual and the society of the spect- God, who are you kidding, this isn’t some abstract high concept horror novel like Shack Of Plants, this is just your average everyday hellscape where nothing exciting happens except finally finishing your shift.
Your friend was telling you the other day about how those famous zombie flicks you used to watch together were “like, metaphors, man” for consumerist society, but you realize a darker truth, life imitates art:
Zombies just want to eat your brains, but Consumers devour your mind.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice