6 video games to help you cope with existential dread from your day job

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Is your day job a slog? Do you feel that getting up each morning, putting on a tie, and sitting in a cubicle is pointless and draining you of vitality? Lucky for you, millions of other people feel the exact same way. And a few of them have gone so far as to make video games about the experience, for your amusement and commiseration. Try these games out if you want to reflect on your day job through art, or simply desire to live out a version of your daily office grind that’s a lot more fun than the real thing.

The Stanley Parable

There’s no game quite as meta as The Stanley Parable, which takes place almost entirely in a large office building. All you do in the said building is babysit a computer screen and pretend to be busy. Sound familiar? Hopefully not, but if this reminds you of your job and is already sending you into an anxiety attack, have no fear: the game spices up a lot after mocking the monotony of the average office gig for a few minutes.

The whole adventure of The Stanley Parable is narrated by a sardonic Brit. He’ll instruct you on how to progress through events the way he (and the universe at large) wants, but unlike in your real day job, you’ll have no incentive to obey. Therefore, you can go rogue and do whatever you want in the office, and as you do so, you’ll discover a whole bunch of mind-boggling, whacky surprises that’ll plop you in another game altogether.

For tired office employees who want a graphically minimalistic and profoundly entertaining game to play on their work computer while the boss is out to lunch, The Stanley Parable is a therapeutic breath of fresh air.

Anthem

Poor, poor freelancers. They’re perpetually overworked, underpaid, and at the mercy of clients who could cut them off at any time. For all my freelancers out there who wish they could put their suffering in the context of a slightly more fantastical setting, try out Anthem. The game is poorly optimized on PC, so shoot for the PS4 or Xbox One versions, even though those don’t run very well, either.

Anthem is about a bunch of freelancers being assigned random, pointless tasks so they can keep making pitiful amounts of money (in this instance, minimal experience points and weak loot designed to stretch the game out). The difference between Anthem’s freelancers and our real-world freelancers, though, is that Anthem’s get to do their jobs wearing Iron Man suits while hunting dangerous creatures. 

That might sound a bit sexier than sitting behind a screen typing out education manuals or managing food blogs all day, but fear not: Anthem somehow finds a way to make Iron Man suits and monster hunting boring and relatable, in true freelancer fashion. Still, the game’s a decent way to pass time if you have friends to play through it with. Because much like with any work, it’s a heck of a lot more tolerable when you have buddies along for the ride.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is among the most cathartic office escape stories one can imagine. In the game, you have a personal office with a desk, a computer with unread emails, as well as a boss who shouts at you and gives you headaches. But here’s the fun part: the whole game is about escaping. Perhaps you’ll abandon the office to track down kidnapped scientists or take a detour to a news station to shut down fake news circulation. Either way, you’re constantly finding reasons to ditch the corporate shackles.

Though there are additional elements of the game I’m not addressing here, like the fact it’s set in the future and stars a half-cyborg who can shoot pellet-sized grenades out of his biceps, that’s all just icing on the cake. The real core of this game’s brilliance is that it’s about eschewing bureaucracy and assuming direct control of your workday and the decisions therein.

Orwell

If you’re not happy with your job and think it’s unfulfilling being tied to a computer screen all day, try out Orwell: Keeping an Eye On You, or its sequel Orwell: Ignorance is Strength. Both are dark, dystopian satires that take inspiration from George Orwell’s famous novel 1984. The games put you in the shoes of an NSA agent who’s tasked with monitoring people’s social media feeds online presence, and even GPS locations, all with the purpose of framing them for whatever crimes suit the government’s needs. If you wish you had a little more power in your office work and want desperately for your computing actions to feel like they have meaning, Orwell is the twisted fantasy for you.

Papers, Please

If you think your desk job sucks, give Papers, Please a try. This is a game about being an immigration inspector. You make very little money and can barely afford to feed your family, and if you don’t cruelly decline and detain refugees and immigrants to fill your quotas, your family will suffer because of it.

This is not a fun game. It’s stressful and boring at the same time, and it might actually make you grateful for the job you do have. That’s why it’s on this list.

State of Mind

What state of mind does work put you in? That’s the question State of Mind seeks to answer. Everything about SoM’s lead character’s life is a mess. He hates the lack of journalistic integrity at the office that employs him as a journalist, he has marital issues and uses the stress of his unfulfilling work as justification to cheat on his spouse, his writing is overly cynical, his ambitions are constantly stifled, and he just can’t figure out a way to get out of his own head. 

If this game sounds like it’ll strike a chord with you, play it. You’ll hopefully learn some things from it that might help you iron out your real-world problems. Because if you can identify with SoM’s main character too much, and trust me when I say I’ve been there, finding a more fulfilling day job is just one of the many pieces of rock-solid advice the game will give you.