The game’s first frill comes when you launch it. Rather than the usual low, medium, high, or ultra graphics quality tabs, you select among cardboard, copper, gold, and emerald. Yup, that’s a little twee, but the details matter in this game, though not in a self-important way. Over the quarter-to-half hour it takes to play through it you’ll see that it packs the social punch of good comedy.
People tend to get grumpy when their entertainment goes awry. (Just ask the developers at BioWare who felt it necessary to give their fans a different ending to “Mass Effect 3.”) “Dr. Langeskov” makes a farce out of disappointing entertainment by barring the player from the game itself on account of its being played by someone else. Compounding this indignity, the narrator — voiced by the English comedian Simon Amstell — tells you that the staff behind the scenes of the ongoing game, the one which you cannot yet enjoy, has left. And since the person playing the game requires props and effects and no one else is around it falls to you, of course, to help that unseen someone amuse themselves.
As you scamper through a backstage environment pulling on levers and clicking switches, you come across resignation notices and picket signs bearing slogans like “We Are Not Being Paid Half Enough” (my motto, pretty much). The paradox of turning the consumer of an entertainment product into a worker on said item isn’t far-fetched when you consider that businesses have been doing this for some time. There is a memorable segment in the Frontline documentary “Generation Like” that tells the story of publicists extracting free labor from people who admire series like “The Hunger Games” by giving them incentives to demonstrate their top-fan status if they posted relevant items on social media. And there are vehicles like “Super Mario Maker,” whose raison d’etre is unpaid, user-generated content. In our age, the easiest way to get people to work for nothing is to flatter them with the ideal of self-empowerment or participation in the arts.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that “Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist” is both an uproarious take on the deprivations of work and a twinkling satire about video games. After all, it is directed by William Pugh who co-designed “The Stanley Parable” — a classic game about an office worker who is doomed to seek out variations to his Sisyphean days.
The magic of “Dr. Langeskov” is how it gestures toward the prevalence of unfair labor practices in our daily lives without sanctimony. A door in the game bears the sign “High Concept Miscellaneous Interactions,” as if to deflate any overvaluation of the game’s class consciousness. You can’t accuse the developers of failing to see that a collection of signs, however right-thinking they are, is only as significant as the acts they inspire.
If you decide to give “Dr. Langeskov” a go, try not to miss the cassette tapes scattered about the environment as I did my first time through. “Dr. Langeskov,” the funniest game that I’ve played this year, features voice work by Justin Roiland of “Rick and Morty” fame, and it would be a shame to miss the tale about the attack of pencils that provokes a shedding of clothes.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer who has been playing video games since the days of the Atari 2600. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Barnes & Noble Review, Al Jazeera America, the Guardian and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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