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How Making a Video Game About Your Life Can Get You Fired

Designer David Gallant knew creating a game about his experience working at call centers might cost him his job, and then it actually happened.

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“This game is a work of fiction. It is inspired by real events. Similarities to real and actual events are intentional.”

When Canadian game designer David Gallant created the purposely mundane I Get This Call Every Day, based on his employment experience at various call centers, he knew it could get him into trouble. But it’s easy to think in hypotheticals. On Tuesday, however, the worst case scenario actually happened.

I Get This Call Every Day was originally conceived during a mini-Ludum Dare game jam from last September with the theme “Not Game.”

Gallant's job at the Canada Revenue Agency was not the first time he'd worked in a call center.
Gallant's job at the Canada Revenue Agency was not the first time he'd worked in a call center.

“That’s where I kind of got the idea of a call center simulation where there’s no good outcomes,” he told me on Wednesday. “There’s no real way to win the game.”

Development continued for several weeks after the jam, and it was finally published on his personal website on December 21. Gallant followed the popular pay-what-you-want model with a minimum of $2. On launch day, Kotaku ran a story on it, which drove a little bit of attention his way, but nothing notable in terms of sales. Gallant was just happy to have someone pay attention to his game.

The game itself falls into a similar category as Cart Life. I Get This Call Every Day has less to do with fun and more to do with imparting empathy through interactivity. Games are in a unique position to convey an activity, even one as dull as talking to taxpayers on the phone. I Get This Call Every Day has players sitting at a desk, waiting for a green button to flash, and choosing how to respond. Both characters are voiced by Gallant, and the whole experience--interface, visuals, art--is humorously crude.

It’s also, ironically, very easy to get fired yourself in I Get This Call Every Day.

Gallant published the game on Desura and Indievania, and made a move for approval on Steam's Greenlight service. It hasn’t gone well, with users responding negatively to the MS Paintish aesthetic.

“Things were, for the past week, really quiet,” he said.

Then, a reporter for the Toronto Star contacted Gallant. The Toronto Star is a big, notable newspaper in Canada, so if the Toronto Star comes a-knockin’, you answer. The reporter wanted to discuss I Get This Call Every Day, and revealed a key bit of information about Gallant’s life: the reporter knew he worked at Canada Revenue Agency.

I contacted the reporter in question, Valerie Hauch, to learn more about how she found out about the game, but Hauch did not return my request for comment, as of this writing.

His co-workers were aware of his hobby, and he regularly passed out business cards to promote the part-time business. Either nobody went to the website prominently featuring I Get This Call Every Day, or nobody cared. He didn’t actively discuss and showcase I Get This Call Every Day, though, knowing it might solicit unwanted attention.

“I got the idea that my fellow coworkers really wouldn’t be the audience for this game because it is an experience that they already have to deal with,” he said.

Nonetheless, Gallant’s not-quite-secret secret was about to become very, very public.

“To this point, I had never disclosed who I worked for deliberately,” he said. “The game doesn’t mention what employer it is.”

Gallant was told this detail would be included in the reporter’s piece, which appeared in a story on Tuesday titled “Tax department employee creates online game to vent his frustration with taxpayers.” Furthermore, the reporter contacted the government to get an official response.

“I knew that was always a possibility,” said Gallant. “This game could, in a way, be linked back to my employer, it could be something they take offense to, and I always knew there was a risk that I could lose my job because of that.”

He knew the risk, and the reporter was just doing their job. Pretty quickly, the situation snowballed. Gallant was unable to disclose the exact nature of what happened on Tuesday. Take a guess. He could only confirm he no longer had a job, and it’s pretty clear the reason Gallant is no longer taking phone calls is due to the game he made.

“The Minister considers this type of conduct offensive and completely unacceptable,” said National Revenue Minister Gail Shea in a statement to the Toronto Star. “The Minister has asked the Commissioner (of Revenue, Andrew Treusch) to investigate and take any and all necessary corrective action. The Minister has asked the CRA to investigate urgently to ensure no confidential taxpayer information was compromised.”

It’s not difficult to suspect how a story like this might end.

The story that ended up running in the Toronto Star about I Get This Call Every Day.
The story that ended up running in the Toronto Star about I Get This Call Every Day.

Gallant attracted a bit of attention from the story itself, but when it became clear an investigation would happen, he received a flurry of questions about his employment status on Twitter. He was, at least, able to disclose that he was no longer employed at the Canada Revenue Agency.

“Anyone hiring?” he wrote.

Since then, there’s been an unbelievable outpouring of support from the community.

LD'er @davidsgallant made a game about his job, got covered by Canada's largest(?) paper, and lost it. Help a bro out:

— Mr The Mike Kasprzak (@mikekasprzak) January 30, 2013

Buying this game right now - the developer, @davidsgallant , was fired for making it. Be kind and share this link.

— Alan Williamson (@AGBear) January 29, 2013

Yesterday @davidsgallant got fired for a game he made. I thought it was a fabulous example of games as art:…

— Daniel Kaszor (@dkaszor) January 30, 2013

“Oh, my god,” he said. “I don’t think I have a word for the emotional experience that this has all been. It was pretty tense yesterday [Tuesday], and then just coming home to the explosion of support--all the media coverage. And it’s still ongoing. I really thought by now it would have died down, but it’s still going!”

Besides media coverage, he's received support from Double Fine’s Chris Remo, Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail, Molleindustria’s Paolo Pedercini, and others. These are developers he admires, and they’re talking about his game.

“Both the local Toronto community and the online community has stepped up to this plate that I didn’t even know existed,” he said. “The amount of home runs being hit right now are...I can’t fathom it. I really wish I could say more. I’m just speechless.”

The outpouring of support has also translated into money for Gallant. His numbers don’t update in real-time, so it’s unclear how much he’ll actually make from all of the attention, but it’s enough to give him some breathing room over the next few months. He’s still looking for a job, though.

Dys4ia is an interactive reflection of Anthropy's experience with gender identity disorder.
Dys4ia is an interactive reflection of Anthropy's experience with gender identity disorder.

For the time being, Gallant and his wife are trying to take it day-by-day. They've taken to watching Star Trek episodes as a distraction, while watching email notifications about new sales come in, $2 at a time. He’d love to transition over to full-time game development, but eventually attention towards I Get This Call Every Day will dry up, and there’s not enough to gamble on just yet.

The enormously positive reaction he’s received has reinforced his desire to work on video games that do more to encompass the human experience. He pointed to Minority Media’s Papo & Yo and Anna Anthropy’s Dys4ia as formative moments for him, both as a player and developer.

“I had a friend who went through a gender change and, at the time, I didn’t really know how to deal with it,” he said. “Playing Dys4ia years after that happened really made me realize what I’d been missing in that whole experience,what she must have been going through that I really didn’t consider at the time. I think it’s really important that games are doing that,” he said. “I don’t think every game has to, but it’s something that deserves exploring, that I really want to see more developers explore.”

Patrick Klepek on Google+