Networking, whether you do it consciously or as a side effect of enduring social work events, is something we’re all familiar with – or at least the concept is. Often seen as a necessary evil, it has routinely demonstrated that it doesn’t have to be so craven. Our complacency with common structural vulgarities like crunch, poor planning, and fearful avoidance slowly and gently acclimates us to unsustainable modes of being. The industry is, and has demonstrated that it is, capable of doing better. When used tactfully, jaded dark humor can be the very signal flare we need to draw our attention to the desperate need for change.
@corpsepile‘s Networking Event Simulator takes that idea and warps it into a deliciously hellish liminal space. One part cynical piss-take on mundane repetition and one part exhausting omnipresence of cookie-cutter social behaviors, it’s a game that puts you in the position of climbing your way to the top through one of the most passive-aggressive sports known to humanity.
In the facsimile of a professional party, the de-contextualization of the action of networking throws us down a fractal staircase to our deepest social anxieties. We find ourselves unable to overcome impostor syndrome, even with the best accoutrements at our disposal and with the highest absurdities of social protocol plain in view. The CEO has new clothes, and we find ourselves frozen with fear, not by the idea of stepping out of line and endangering our career; rather, wondering if we too should be naked and simply missed the memo about a new dress code.
NeS illustrates that the mere act of starting out from scratch is seen as a failure state, a weakness rather than a common human experience easily overcome with practice and determination. We accept that in games we have to progress or level up over time, yet we extend no such courtesy to ourselves in real life. As though the Dire Pianist or Mythic Accountant were merely born that way, performing exceptionally right out of the womb from day one.
Networking Event Simulator is a game about intentionally marooning yourself on an alien world, incomprehensible and populated by assholes, a world where you may roughly speak the language but you know none of the colloquialisms or customs. The twist? Neither do they. The plodding, crushing pace of the dialogue, which you may optionally speed up, only accentuates the numbing perpetual stimuli, the sound of the metaphorical hammer driving down the nail that stuck out too far, driving it deeper and deeper until only a crater remains where once was a naïve over-performer.
The mundane, faceless geometry of characters ramps up to obscene levels. A routine game of socialite whack-a-mole turned madness-inducing möbius strip presents itself literally and visually as you try to maneuver and morph your own signifiers into a shape compatible with your conversational partner. The reward? A lukewarm, tacit expression of approval, one tiny step closer to the prestigious role of salaried busyworker. This isn’t dog-eat-dog – it’s slow-paced bumper cars, ramming awkwardly into one another in the hope of winning a game no one wanted to play.
Networking Event Simulator has one moment of sublime genius that struck me in particular: you, the new upstart, get a fellow attendee suddenly flagging you down for a change. The individual in question posits to you how old-fashioned these events are and how we really should have more effective means of team building that aren’t so exploitable by ruthless dilettantes. Initially, you are given the choice to play the contrarian, to offer a counter-argument that if you play into the status quo intelligently enough you can win without sabotaging your integrity.
They begin to backpedal, and you pursue. Eyeing a public moment of weakness and sensing blood in the water, you become the very shark whose predictable wanton ignorance you have been trying to cynically exploit this whole time. In one of the only role reversals of the game, you deliver swift, crushing disapproval, obliterating this former ally’s clout and demolishing their self-esteem. The one opportunity given for solidarity with your spiritual kin, a shot at redemption, instead forces you to finally crystallize your villainous intent and assert your destiny: the one influencer to rule them all.
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