By Alec Meer on May 3rd, 2013 at 3:00 pm.
I Get This Call Every Day is a simple Flash game for Windows and OSX about working in a call centre, based on the real-life experiences of David S. Gallant. It achieves absolutely everything it needs to despite being a simple Flash game. I’ll just need your name, address, previous address, social security number and date of birth, and then you can read all about it.
I do this routine every year. The interest rate on my savings account falls off a cliff, my utility companies all push me onto the highest payment rate, my car insurer tries to renew the policy at a higher price than before even though my no-claims bonus has grown.
So I have to pick up the phone and call a bunch of companies to request closure and transfer, then call a bunch of new ones to request activation and authorisation. Usually, both sets of companies will keep on calling me to try and talk me into taking something else out too. There’ll probably be some problem with payments and tax too, so I have to call my bank and the HMRC to resolve things.
I get these same questions every time, I get to do the same miserable dance from endless automated systems to bored operators who have to ask me the same things yet again. And I think I am so damned hard done by. My precious time! How awful to be intoning date of birth and address and national insurance number and convoluted password and to-the-penny recall of the price of something I bought two weeks ago. How could the world make a generally good-natured human being suffer so?
If I really was all that good-natured, I’d be thinking about the poor schmoe on the other end of the line instead of myself. I have to do this maybe a dozen times every year; he or she has to do it hundreds of times every day. I look on them as my persecutor; they must look at me as but one of the thousand cuts they die by every week.
At least I am merely impatient, never rude to my unseen nemesis, but then again perhaps someone ranting and raving and swearing and threatening infinite vengeance is at least more entertaining than yet another grumpy and disorganised average joe.
I have always strived to remind myself “it’s not their fault, they’re just the messenger of a cruel master”, but I haven’t ever truly considered what they’re feeling. I fall into thinking that this call is as important to them as it is to me, that they really have some agenda for it, rather than that it’s just one more dour stepping stone on their long, rocky path through a day spent answering the same phone and asking the same questions.
I Get This Call Every Day puts the shoe on the other foot. It is very simple, in both mechanics and its MS Paint appearance, but to include anything other than choosing conversation options would only be to the detriment of its miserabilist roleplay.
It’s startling how easily and how rapidly my sympathies switched – it’s comparable to how I’m exasperated by the impatience and aggression of drivers when I’m a pedestrian, but exasperated by the idleness and ignorance of pedestrians when I’m a driver.
I see a computer screen – old, beige, without ornament, without even the faintest suggestion that it could be used for anything other than the database of Canadian tax records it displays. I see a phone, and I see its call light blinking. I don’t see anything or anyone else. I certainly don’t see myself, because the ego has no role or purpose in this place. In this call centre.
I answer the phone, because that’s all I can do. On the other end, a young man. He sounds as though he’s not really paying attention, even though he was the one who initiated this conversation. He sounds as though he has never payed attention to anything in his life. But he can focus enough to ask something of me. Just a simple thing, he thinks, just to have his address updated on the system.
When I am that (not-so-young) man, I cannot for the life of me see why this request, why this call, should take more than two minutes. This is my name. This is my date of birth. This is my old address. This is my new address. Have a nice day.
Now on the other side of this anti-flirtation, I quickly learn this is not the case. This clearly feckless gentleman must share with me a wealth a information if he is to have status on the tax system altered. I can choose only variations upon a theme – greet him cheerfully or tersely, prompt him to be specific or allow his vagaries as sufficient. Easier said than done, when said vagaries include claiming that his full name is simply “Bill.” When he can’t or won’t tell the difference between past address and current address. When he thinks ’10 November’ is all I need to hear when I ask for his date of birth.
He’s a prick. He’s a loser. He hates me simply because I am the one who answered this phone. And I hate him because he is the one who rang it. Yet I have to keep working with him, trying to coax just a little more information out of them even though I wish I could plunge my hand through the receiver and tear his slacker face off. I have to prove every damn little thing, every number, every street, every mailbox even though I do not for even a single second believe that this man is not who he claims to me. I have to not react when he says ‘Vagina Street.’ I have to be simply an audio extension of what that beige monitor says.
I can’t say – spoil – much more, but this isn’t a game about reaching a happy ending, or even about anyone learning anything. It’s a game about trying to co-operate with someone who doesn’t want to, about trying to find the miserably thin line between pissing him off so much that explodes and catering so much to his vagueness and helpfulness that your suitability to working at a place that has security in its blood is thrown into extreme doubt.
It’s not a game in which you get to do much of anything. It isn’t a game to make you feel good about anything. It’s a scrappy but entirely effective simulation of working in a dead-end job where nobody cares about you, where people even actively want to see your job, simply because it might entertain them for a millisecond. It’s a game about seeing the other side, but raw and unsympathetic rather than didactic or apologetic. It’s a game about how we’ll feel the world’s out to get us, no matter whether we’re customer or operator. It’s a game for everyone.
I feel awful.
I Get This Call Every Day is out now. It costs $2. It’ll probably last you half an hour max. That’s OK.