One thing I really wish about video games is that they were more like work. For journalists, that “dream” is now a reality with the Coop Times, a game that simulates the terrifying feeling of writing on deadline. In this case, the deadline is simulated by an ominous black bar that descends over the screen as you scramble to type something — anything — on whatever random topic the game’s editors assign.
“The deadlines, good Lord. The deadlines are always pressing down. Always,” reads the game’s in-character description. “They press and they press and when you get to feel like you’re gonna die if they squeeze you any tighter, they press some more. You got no choice but to pull through on some lousy last second article on who wore what to which race, ’cause that’s livin.'”
This character is you, the tired-looking man hunched over a typewriter in what Kill Screen described as the “traditional battle stance of the journo fighting back deadlines.”
The game launched this week. Here is the idea: It’s the 1950s, kind of, and you play an old-timey journalist. As is an eternal fact of journalist living, your office is a little bit depressing. Editors give you assignments of varying difficulty, ethical integrity, and nihilism, and you’re supposed to produce something readable before the scary black deadline bar overtakes what you’ve written so far. You have to hit a minimum number of characters before you can submit, and there are a few rules — like no profanity — that if broken will earn you a stern talking to from the editors.
Creator Adam Carr said in a statement announcing the game that the idea is to create an environment where “writing a finished piece was kind of like beating a level.”
Once you submit your piece, the editors give feedback. Then, it’s published — in real life — on a separate site collecting all the articles generated in the game. This is actually one of the cooler parts about the whole project. The game’s creator has said he’s interested in removing particularly offensive content and gibberish, although (fair warning) it’s possible that at any given moment you’ll find both on the front page of the Coop Times.
Some more enterprising reporters for the Coop Times are even sharing their work elsewhere:
— Rowan Walker (@rowan_walker1) March 3, 2015
The game contains a handful of story prompts, which range from the absurd:
…to things that read like a heightened version of journalism’s actual business model today:
I asked a couple of my colleagues to try out the game and see how they did. Here was one response, via Gchat:
Me: tell me how you feel rn
Journalist: I was asked to write a puff piece on narwhal tusk harvesting because a sponsor paid us for it. That’s not ethical.
But my piece was excellent.
And look how another crumbled under the pressure:
Oh, and the BACKSPACE key doesn’t work, so any typos you make are there to stay. Good luck!
[Clarification: The opening sentence of this piece is a lie.]