Layoff… Anybody Want To Play?

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Open Shutter Light Painting by the author.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” — Kris Kristofferson

About ten years ago I noticed that there had been a lot of buzz about a new game called Layoff. So much so that it was numero uno on the Yahoo! Buzz chart.

If you weren’t familiar with it, it was evidently a variation of a number of similar video games where you try to line up circles or spheres of the same color, which then causes them to ignite and disappear. In this case, instead of random colors, the game pieces represent employees with varying responsibilities. Theoretically (and I have only read about it, not played because it took too long to download) you, the game player, are a person in management who is downsizing his or her company by eliminating duplicate positions.

Like the other games, when you line up three or four of the pieces of the same color, they disappear. Unlike the other game, each individual marker is a real person with a real set of financial and familial needs. You didn’t just make a game piece go poof. That was George, the financially strapped disabled vet.

Several thoughts come to mind simultaneously at this point, but I’ll elaborate on one.

Is it an educational experience or is it exploitation? If the people in the game are not “real” real people but only examples of people in different types of circumstances, that might soften the jaundiced edge here a bit. Still, there is something a bit perverse about a game in which “winning” means getting as many people laid off as possible so that you only have the bankers left.

Arundhati Roy, in her essay Public Power in the Age of Empire notes how Hollywood and the U.S. news media specialize in exploiting the suffering of others. For profit. From her vantage point in India, it seems to her that when tragedy strikes our news cameras are Johnny-on-the-spot to keep ratings up so they networks can sell those commercial spots that fuel these infosystems with dollars. And Hollywood is seldom far behind.

Two significant films about horrors in Africa that have won awards in recent years include Hotel Rwanda and The Last King of Scotland. Both films were powerful. Both films gave Americans a brief glance at the hard realities of the suffering that has taken place in two remote places in our lifetimes. It would be very easy to defend these films as informational, but I can also see Ms. Roy’s point of view: exploitation for entertainment purposes, and profits.

On the other hand, if writers don’t tell their stories, who will hear? It takes money to publish books like The Last King of Scotland. The publisher spends money to promote it because it is a story worth telling, in fact, remarkable. Selling film rights to the book motivates others to tell their stories, which increases our understanding. Life is hard. There is much suffering in our world. Stories of resilience inspire us.

I myself honestly don’t know what to think. I once knew a man who survived Idi Amin’s brutal slaughter by hiding under a pile of dead bodies, which included his family. What would he have thought of the Forrest Whitaker film based on these selfsame events? Where is the line between informing and exploiting?

All perspectives and insights welcome comment.

Originally published at on February 12, 2019.

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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