Things don't always turn out the way you imagine they would when you're a kid. For David S. Gallant, the dream was to be a teacher.
Now nearly 30 years old, he finds himself working a hideously tedious job as a call center agent who, amongst other things, is there to update account information. It's not the most exciting job, as you might imagine. But would it make for a good video game? Maybe so.
You've probably been in a call like the ones Gallant handles—maybe for your bank, or credit card, or anything where you have personal information. You probably know the exasperation that can happen when two people realistically want to deal with the issue in the call, but can't because of procedure. And you probably only have to make such a call every once in a while. David has to handle these calls every day.
He doesn't like it. But the job is important to him as a married man who must be responsible in order to pay the bills—regardless of how much being sensible tests him emotionally.
In 2011, Gallant found an outlet: game development. "I had finally discovered the thing that I want to do for the rest of my life," Gallant told me in an interview, "Unfortunately I was still at the call centre. "
After finding his calling, he was "ready to turn down a contract extension, leave the job, and go full indie, until I realized the financial cliffjump I was about to make. I'm not a young, single indie dev able to take big risks with money." Risking the livelihood of his wife seemed particularly unthinkable when Gallant considered his own upbringing.
"My father had an entrepreneurial spirit and put the family into a lot of debt to pursue ventures that didn't pan out for various reasons," Gallant explained to me, "We pulled through because my mother earns a ridiculous income and managed to carry the family through."
Gallant did the next best thing to going full indie: he went for compromise as a part-time game developer. His first commercial release is a autobiographical game called I Get This Call Every Day, and though it doesn't walk you through the ugliest bits of the job—"The screamers, the criers, the terminally ill, the broke ones with massive bills, the single mother with a missing payment before Christmas," as Gallant described to me—it does show you what can be considered an amalgamation of typical calls Gallant gets every day.
Maybe these are on par with the awful bits—they're the ones he has to deal with every day, the ones that grind him down. It's always the small things that end up breaking someone.
I played through the game earlier this week, and I can't imagine having to do what Gallant does for a living. I Get This Call Every Day is possibly one of the most infuriating games I've played all year.
The game works like a point and click adventure, and you get to choose how you respond to the person calling in. Maybe you're terse. Maybe you're helpful. It's up to you.
I think we're hard-wired to try to be the good guy if we can—we play games to be heroes more often than not—but it's a difficult thing to do in I Get This Call Every Day. The person calling is obtuse and doesn't seem to understand that you're just trying to do your job.
Perhaps the worst part about it is recognizing myself as the caller, making someone else's life more difficult than it needs to be. And even if you manage to get through the call without losing your cool or breaking the law by going outside of procedure, it still doesn't feel like winning. That's the point.
Why would someone make a game like this? Hell, why would someone want to play it? This all sounds incredibly depressing! These are valid concerns, and yet I can safely say that I Get This Call Every Day is a game that I'm glad I played.
It embodies the type of shift that I'd like the game industry at large to see: less impersonal games that don't really say anything or communicate what it's like to live. I'd rather play a game like this—admittedly not fun, and even kind of ugly-looking—than play most triple-A games out there.
I Get This Call Every Day releases today for pay-what-you what, with a $2 minimum.