Radical Games: Union Town! & Event as Narrative


How is your game story radical?

My game is radical because it teaches the player about labor organizing and the power of solidarity. The player has the option to put their head down, not get to know their coworkers, and listen to the manager to get promoted, or build relationships with their coworkers through giving them cigarettes, picking up shifts, and learning about their lives to unionize them. They have to make decisions about whats more important: the illusion of upward mobility or solidarity with other members of the working class that builds collective action.


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Old Worker suggests labor organizing to player


How have you used events in your main and secondary level to express your game story?

In the first level of the game, the player is introduced to an old worker who was recently fired from the restaurant for trying to organize the workplace. This worker sets up one goal for the player: unionize the workplace. They explain that it’s a risky job but that the player might be good at it, and it can be done by just talking to co-workers. Then, (this isn’t built into the game quite yet) the manager comes out to talk to the player and explains that if the player keeps their head down and does their job, they might get promoted and made employee of the month in due time.

In the second level, the player talks to their coworkers and learns about their lives and hardships. While the manager isn’t listening in, one worker, after the player gives them a cigarette, tells the player how difficult it is to go to college and work full-time because the manager refuses to coordinate the work schedule with their classes. Another worker can’t find child care for their daughter while they’re at work and is often late to shift because of it. The workers only tell the player these stories after the player bums them a cigarette or they feel a certain level of solidarity with the player.

How have you used hitboxes and triggered animations as expressive elements?

I didn’t get a chance to include this in my game build, but I was planning on including hitboxes throughout my levels that would trigger a smoking animation, so any time the player collided with the hitbox they would pause, face forward, and take a drag of their constantly lit cigarette, no matter what level they were on. This would bring levity to the game and give the playable character a deviant personality, showing that they don’t really care about the rules anyway if they’re willing to smoke indoors in their workplace.

How have you tried to surprise the player?

I’ve tried to surprise the player with the places they can find cigarettes in the game, like among trash bags and in the refrigerator. This adds a kind of scavenger hunt element to the game since you need cigarettes to get the coworkers to talk to the player.

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You found half a pack of cigarettes!


Is your game entertaining? In what way?

I hope my game is entertaining. I tried to make it entertaining! I aimed to bring a levity and playfulness to the dull and depressing life of the fast food industry. I wanted to show that union work and getting to know coworkers is what brings life to the workplace, and I tried to show that through the artwork and the walking animation. The aspect of the cigarette scavenger hunt also makes it fun because that’s just a funny thing to include in a game.

Conflict and choice in the Game.

The player is supposed to be somewhat conflicted in the game by being given the choice to not get to know their coworkers and instead get a raise. But ideally, I want the player to learn the power of solidarity and building relationships, so the reward for unionizing will be much more satisfying than the raise or promotion. The conflict arises when the boss asks you to do little tasks, and you must decide whether you’ll complete the tasks of the boss or the favors for your coworkers.

At this point, what ideas are keeping your game alive for you?

For me, the idea of building a UI element that measures solidarity levels among coworkers is very exciting to me. I want a little bar at the top of the screen that goes up and down depending on what you’ve learned about your coworkers and how much they trust you. If solidarity levels are high enough, you can file for a union election, but if they go too low, workers will quit or stop talking to you completely. This adds an element of stress to the game as it provides a tangible measure to how close you are to winning and failing.

Any new inspirations?

Undertale’s combat system is intriguing to me and I would like to draw on that for my game by adapting the combat system to be used for certain conversations. The player enters combat when talking to other coworkers and must build their levels of trust in order for them to tell you certain things and want to sign a union card. This idea comes from Undertale’s use of the combat system where you don’t have to fight–instead, you can compliment you enemy or flirt with them to make them not want to fight you.

Undertale combat system
Author: Anna Schlenz