Friday, February 10, 2006

Gaming Strategies II

The restaurant executive should not live by bread alone, even of the artisan sort. Some recreation amid the ideation is a good thing, as the industry seems to know intuitively. When I worked for another publication, we hosted a gathering of chain officials at a fancy West Coast resort. The place begged us to come back the following year because its lounge had been packed with attendees every night of the conference. Every afternoon, too. Fortunately for presenters and sponsors, the bar didn’t open until midday.

Certainly a dash of post-work diversion can be refreshing. But why should a much-needed battery-recharge have to wait until quitting time? We’re practically doing your employer a favor by providing this link, an escape you can enjoy right from your workplace computer: Best of all, it could actually hone your career capabilities. Where else can you experience what it’s like to run McDonald’s or subsidiary operations?

I hate to be a hair-splitter, but the sampling may not be a completely, totally, 100-percent-accurate depiction of life at the top. The interactive simulation, for instance, allows you to extend the volume of hamburger coming out of your meat supply house by adding “animal flour.” It’s not clear what that might be, but it’s probably not on the revised food pyramid.

Similarly, if you’re plumping up the cattle that will become tomorrow’s Quarter Pounders, you can increase your yield by mixing toxic waste into the feed, along with heaping doses of bovine growth hormone.

The computer game allows you to manage what its creators put forth as the four underpinnings of McDonald’s business: a farm; a feedlot/meat-processing plant; a restaurant, complete with three kitchen lines; and corporate headquarters. In each setting, you can exploit employees, poison the environment, erode food integrity, and generally act like the social lout that anti-corporate forces have long portrayed McDonald’s to be. All for some innocent but edgy fun.

Hardly. The game’s creators, a group of Italian artists and programmers, readily acknowledge they have an agenda. They call their approach gamevolution, and explain that it’s a concept inspired by the anti-global protests in Seattle a few years ago. “We can free videogames from the ‘dictatorship of entertainment,’ using them instead to describe pressing social needs,” explains the game maker, a concern called Molleindustria.

In other words, it’s subtly selling a political viewpoint by slipping it into a fun, seemingly innocuous activity like playing a computer game (which, I’ve been told by a colleague who’s done extensive research on the matter, can be highly addictive). Ironically, the technique is akin to what detractors have slammed McD’s and other fast-food chains for doing with their hug-able mascots, Olympic sponsorships, and other disarming promotional techniques.

Makes you wish that hotel lounge were open right now.

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