“Mosaic” tells the story of the dreary life of an office worker who receives, via an app on his phone, productivity breakdowns that detail his rate of underperformance in relation to other employees and “friendly reminders” that late absences will result in severance of his contract. His phone also tells him how fast he should alter his pace to get to work on time and offers him a discount on a drug to boost his cognitive performance.
The anonymous man in question lives in a small apartment with a kitchen table covered in overdue bills. He has a habit of sleeping with his work clothes on and slapping his face to wake up after his alarm goes off. I found it mildly comic at first to click on a mouse button and watch him do so. But, upon guiding him to the bathroom and watching him straighten his tie in the mirror and brush his teeth, the ironic distance shrank as I saw him grip the sides of the sink and bob his head, as if about to vomit, then raise himself up and cover his face with his hand. Those who have coped with depression likely know this pantomime well.
Using a simple point-and-click interface, “Mosaic is divided between linear narrative sections and puzzles that represent the man’s work tasks. Essentially, the narrative elements are a series of visual metaphors that underscore the protagonist’s alienation. Many of these scenes are visually striking, if unsubtle, such as when the man imagines his fellow workers being ground up on a conveyor belt and turned into electric impulses that pass through a circuit board; or when walking to work one day he sees a butterfly fluttering in the distance, a luminous creature amid the drab cityscape. A shift in perspective allows the player to guide the butterfly through a construction zone. What happens next struck me as obvious from the get-go. Upon taking control of the butterfly, I simply waited to see how it would die. Some of the visual metaphors are droll. I gave a little chuckle at one point watching the man stand beneath an advertisement for a sleeping drug on one side and an energy booster on the other, the images neatly summing up the conditions of a society that creates the problems for which it sells the remedies.
The sections of “Mosaic” that correspond to the young man’s office tasks take the form of puzzles that unfold across a hexagonal grid. Your task is to build a chain of hexagons that stretch from the bottom of the grid upward to a “milestone.” Clicking on individual tiles sends resources up to a tile to construct a link. A number of variables determine how the chains can be constructed. For instance, to connect one tile to another a space must be left between linked units and one must build around shaded tiles that represent rules and regulations. As chains become longer, it takes more time for the resources at the bottom of the screen to reach, and thus construct, a clicked-on tile which creates an active link.
Complicating matters are roving threats — colored clouds that range over areas of the grid which infect the chain links that they touch. Infected areas must be cleansed by dispatching resources to that area and threats must be neutralized by figuring out how to marshal enough resources to hem them in. Figuring out how to use things such as “loopholes” to quickly shoot resources from one area to another is essential.
Although these puzzles are not terribly challenging, they may cause a little aggravation at first because you are given very little direction on how to go about them. This is on purpose. Before you tackle the first puzzle, a message box appears on the screen saying, “In our ongoing efforts to optimize your workflow, numerous changes have been made to the OS. Onboarding costs are cut, so if you’re confused don’t bother your supervisors.” Recognizing how I moved from a state of mild perplexity early on to an ability to handle the later puzzles on autopilot, I noted how “Mosaic’s” puzzle mechanics serve to mimic the natural condition of the office worker who struggles with tasks in the beginning that later on become second nature.
“Mosaic’s” appeal rests upon its aesthetic character rather than its gameplay. If you’re not drawn in by the game’s theme and visual style than you’ll be let down by the experience. Although I wasn’t overly entranced by “Mosaic”— its approach is too straightforward for my taste — I tip my hat to the developers for making a game that punctures a hole in the noxious ideology that work, necessarily, gives meaning to our lives.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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