I hate offices. Does anyone like an office? All that paper and wood and plastic, an odd assemblage of people thrown in together on the same swath of carpet, as though it were a raft. The printers. God, the printers. And the ink cartridges. And the chairs, the desks, the ergonomic mouse and keyboard. The imagination hardly needs firing for the horrors to show themselves. The office is a cage constructed with the approval of human resources – and that, after all, is what we are when we are in the office: a resource, to be burned and belched out. Playing Control recently, it struck me that offices, when they appear in video games, are a wonder. Let’s journey through the most memorable offices that games have given us.
The best thing about the setting of Control, a place called the Oldest House, is the way it toys with the tyranny of bureaucracy. The feeling of holding a lamp aloft, with the power of your mind, and firing it towards a filing cabinet, is singular and wholly satisfying. I’m convinced it has something to do with the resentment that builds in us, as time goes by, for the trappings of our daily trap. We are, in fact, resentful of the lamp and the filing cabinet. It would be a fine thing to hurl one into the other – or even into some unsuspecting, utterly deserving, person. The other thing is that the Oldest House is beautiful – all crisply cut stone and polished metal, flanked by still flags – it manages to give a homely gloom to the oppressive architecture, which cries out to be cracked and blown apart.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Now, in something of a similar mode, the offices in which Adam Jensen works, in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, are both chic and cruel. There’s an odd mix of the antique and the futuristic – plush upholstery and stacks of dusty books cramped in by cut glass desks and wall-size screens. Also, much of the light was urine-yellow, as if an indifferent god was pissing on the place from on high. The best thing about the offices in Deus Ex: Human Revolution is that they give you a glittering vision of the future while filling it with the same old bickery politics: people complaining about meandering coffee mugs and misplaced passwords, griping about their colleagues in snippy e-mails. Hardly a human revolution, then, but you could tip the bins upside down in protest.
Papers, Please definitely counts. It may be a booth on a border checkpoint, fit only for a single, solitary worker, but it’s a vestibule that’s been vested with the powers of the state – a Soviet-styled one no less – and so it comes ready-weighted with glum resignation. The odd thing about Papers, Please – the ink-dark thing that's been stamped on my brain in the years since its release – isn’t the horrors of government cruelty; it’s the way they are numbed into normality, and even everyday comfort, by stationary. I relish the thought of that soft thud, when you mark a passport with a green or red stamp, and of course I love the paper – lined, dotted, punched with holes, and the colour of old milk. Only an office could turn the evil into the banal, and thence into the cozy.
Even more than my dislike of offices is my horror at the sea. It’s unfathomably deep, and it has a tide that pulls you out (read: it actively tries to kill you at all times) The offices in Rapture, the underwater city in BioShock, come with a number of added bonuses – little perks to liven the daily doldrums. For one thing, they are all done up in art deco style, with blue light leaking in through the windows. For another thing, this also means that the water outside will bring all manner of horror past the windows – blue whales, sharks, the endless void of the ocean. If you work in Rapture day and day out then you are bound to get bored of even these quirks. Fortunately, it isn’t long before the halls are patrolled by Plasmid-crazed thugs, which is enough to shock anyone out of corporate lethargy.
This one goes without saying, but actually I don’t like it.
Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil 2 is as satirical as any and all zombie fiction is – in that filling any setting with droves of the dead can be seen as commentary. Shopping Malls, military complexes, or even just the streets of a city that could be anywhere. But the offices in the Raccoon City Police Department building were always a pleasure to observe. Glowing vending machines, crackling plastic blinds, typewriters, ink ribbons, wooden partitions with frosted glass, computer monitors so large they must require a mortgage, and ashtrays! Imagine that. I always got a kick out of the way the offices here were dead themselves – trapped in time and shuffling into obsolescence. At this point, the blood-stains and far-off groans are labouring the point. If hell is an office, I hope to wake up in the RPD when I die.