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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: davidsgallant.com/igtced.html

— 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. davidsgallant.com/igtced.html

— 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: business.financialpost.com/2013/01/30/dow…

— 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+
228 CommentsRefresh

Avatar image for rabbithearted
Posted By rabbithearted

@geirr said:

@Zvarri said:

@ElleLenore: You really should! Especially since it is a free browser game that doesn't take too long to experience.

I have some friends and acquaintances who have gone through hormonal treatments and Dys4ia seems to represent them fairly well in some of the stuff they had to go through. I know of a few people who might need to play this to open their eyes, or at least make them empathize just a little.

I played this shortly after I made my post, and it was really good! I have friends who are trans, and while I've always tried to be empathetic to their situation is definitely presents some things I did not think about.

Avatar image for leebmx
Edited By leebmx

@DJNeckspasm said:

I had one customer tell me the company I worked for encouraged "niggerly" behavior because we cut off his internet until he paid his bill.

Not to dismiss your experience of working at Call Centres, because I have done a few in my life and they are god-awful. However I think you should give this one customer a break. I expect what he was saying is that your company were niggardly rather than niggerly. To be a niggard is to be be stingy or tight.

Sorry if this is a bit pedantic, I just can't help it sometimes.

EDIT: Just seen bring this up. Sorry for duplicating.

Avatar image for gamer_152
Posted By Gamer_152

Good story. Always interesting to see games about actual human experiences, and I empathise with Gallant.

Moderator
Avatar image for geirr
Posted By geirr

@Zvarri said:

@ElleLenore: You really should! Especially since it is a free browser game that doesn't take too long to experience.

I have some friends and acquaintances who have gone through hormonal treatments and Dys4ia seems to represent them fairly well in some of the stuff they had to go through. I know of a few people who might need to play this to open their eyes, or at least make them empathize just a little.

Avatar image for zvarri
Posted By Zvarri

@ElleLenore: You really should! Especially since it is a free browser game that doesn't take too long to experience.

Avatar image for rabbithearted
Posted By rabbithearted

What I have learned from this is that I really want to play Dys4ia.

Avatar image for rabbithearted
Posted By rabbithearted

@skinnyman: @skinnyman said:

@Jaxboy said:

"and the reporter was just doing their job."

uh huh.

That statement bothered me too, and not just for grammatically incorrect pronoun-antecedent agreement.

The headline "Tax department employee creates online game to vent his frustration with taxpayers" is at best sensationalist and at worst deliberately misleading.

"They" can be used as a singular pronoun and is perfectly acceptable and correct. Although given the fact we know it was written by a "she" I'm not sure why it was used.

Although I agree that the article title is obviously sensationalist bullshit.

Avatar image for zvarri
Posted By Zvarri

@scottygrayskull: I definitely knew there could be repercussions. Technically, I should have submitted the game to management for their own review, where they likely would have requested an utter sanitization of the game, or simply denied me from releasing it at all. I wasn't going to let the Agency stand between me and the game I had made.

There were a lot of potential repercussions I considered, from verbal & written warnings, to being told to take the game down. Termination was a possibility, but not one I considered to be that likely. I was certainly wrong about that.

So, overall, their reaction wasn't a huge surprise. The severity of their reaction was a bit of a shock, but I always knew this could happen. I even said as much to Patrick, and this is reflected in his article.

Avatar image for scottygrayskull
Posted By scottygrayskull

@Demoskinos: Yes, but unless he is an idiot (which I'm pretty sure he isn't, because he acknowledges this) then he knows it's an unflattering way to portray his current job, and that his employer would not appreciate it. And as he was trying to get attention from it, obviously it was going to eventually come to the attention of his bosses and he'd be canned.

Getting a message out and/or trying to get a developer job aside, unless he quit he was going to get fired eventually, and he would be a fool if he didn't realize this at the time.

Avatar image for zvarri
Posted By Zvarri

@CobraCalling: The game is Windows-only, but part of the package you get when you buy it is a .swf file containing the game that will run in a browser. Some Mac users have gotten the game to run that way.

An actual Mac version is at the top of my priority list. Demand for it has been high.

Avatar image for bisonhero
Posted By BisonHero
@skinnyman

@Jaxboy said:

"and the reporter was just doing their job."

uh huh.

That statement bothered me too, and not just for grammatically incorrect pronoun-antecedent agreement.

The headline "Tax department employee creates online game to vent his frustration with taxpayers" is at best sensationalist and at worst deliberately misleading.

Yeah, that's my main issue with this whole situation. His game was critical of call center jobs because of how soul crushing it is. It really has little to do with the CRA or taxpayers in particular. Sure, the reporter would look lazy if they didn't do the basic research to find out where Gallant worked, but it could've just been a minor detail in the story. Putting it in the headline that he hates taxpayers is clearly inflammatory. But whatever, the reporter often isn't the headline writer, so some other dickhead at the Star is probably the one to blame for the headline that pretty much forced the CRA's hand.
Avatar image for demoskinos
Posted By Demoskinos
@scottygrayskull The point of this has sailed over your head. This is not about insulting his employer. Its about trying to show people a perspective that some people may not have on this.
Avatar image for cobracalling
Posted By CobraCalling

Great read- I would love to see a quick view- I'm a mac user, but really want to see this game

Avatar image for skinnyman
Posted By skinnyman

@Jaxboy said:

"and the reporter was just doing their job."

uh huh.

That statement bothered me too, and not just for grammatically incorrect pronoun-antecedent agreement.

The headline "Tax department employee creates online game to vent his frustration with taxpayers" is at best sensationalist and at worst deliberately misleading.

Avatar image for daedelus
Posted By daedelus

@Jaxboy said:

"and the reporter was just doing their job."

uh huh.

Sounds like the reporter went out of their way to make sure his employer had their nose rubbed in a story that was clearly biased against the guy. So really the reporter was just being a douchebag.

Avatar image for sooty
Posted By Sooty

Indie games! So edgy!

Avatar image for sickvisionz
Posted By sickVisionz

@Humanity said:

While it sucks that he lost his job and everything, but what did people expect would happen? Everyone is outraged and I don't know about Canada, but in the US if you badmouth your job in a public manner you are at a pretty high risk of losing that job. Especially big government jobs where the HR department doesn't mess around.

I 100% agree with this.

Plus, the way he talks about his job makes him seem borderline suicidal so it's probably a really good thing that he can no longer work there.

Avatar image for swoxx
Posted By Swoxx

Good story!

and you should be ashamed!

Avatar image for festeringneon
Posted By FesteringNeon

I bought it. It sucks, but that's the point. I'm sure a ton of people I show it to, can relate and get a chuckle.

Avatar image for xbob42
Posted By xbob42

@GlassHalfAwesome said:

I hate to stand up for Gail Shea and her administration but I guess I'm on her side this time.

He's clearly not the happiest employee and he created a game based on his experiences working in his current and previous environments. The knee-jerk reaction is to assume that confidential information has been compromised and they would need to do an investigation.

When it comes to working with confidential information you have to assume the worst has happened. From a PR perspective there's no way he could keep his job. I wish the guy luck in the future, though. I wouldn't say he screwed up but I can understand how other people would think he has

Fuck PR and fuck knee-jerk reactions from idiots.

AND FUCK YOU BILLY.

Avatar image for glasshalfawesome
Posted By GlassHalfAwesome

I hate to stand up for Gail Shea and her administration but I guess I'm on her side this time.

He's clearly not the happiest employee and he created a game based on his experiences working in his current and previous environments. The knee-jerk reaction is to assume that confidential information has been compromised and they would need to do an investigation.

When it comes to working with confidential information you have to assume the worst has happened. From a PR perspective there's no way he could keep his job. I wish the guy luck in the future, though. I wouldn't say he screwed up but I can understand how other people would think he has

Avatar image for jaxboy
Posted By Jaxboy

"and the reporter was just doing their job."

uh huh.

Avatar image for internetdetective
Edited By InternetDetective

If you are just tuning in the score is Scoops 114, Haters 6. We now return you the the ass-whooping already in progress.

Avatar image for king9999
Edited By King9999

I can empathize with David. I worked in a call center before I left for school to make video games. I was actually working there part-time while attending school, but after they wouldn't adjust my schedule so I wouldn't be late coming from school, I said see ya. I can totally relate to the call center experience; I'm not joking when I say that his game is an accurate reflection of what a call center job is like. You guys might not like dealing with CSRs, but I can assure you that the feeling is mutual on the other end of the phone. At least for me, anyway.

Seeing as how my situation is similar to David's, I would say this to him: get a job to support your family, but don't stop making games if that's what you really want to do in life. You may be able to get the dream job you want!

I thought his name was familiar. I have some people from the indie community on my Twitter who follow him.

Avatar image for king9999
Posted By King9999

@bleatingheart: Not worse than the Sun.

Avatar image for scottygrayskull
Edited By scottygrayskull

Pretty dumb of him to publicly insult his employers like that, but maybe that's what he wanted.

A lot of people are stuck in horrible jobs, and most don't have the courage/willingness to do anything about it either out of complacency or financial/family obligations. Looking for a job sucks, and there's no guarantee you'll get something better than what you have now. At least this way he's forced himself to pursue a new job, and maybe even get something that won't continue to crush his spirit. Plus all the attention his game has gotten will surely help if that's the path he wants to take.

Still kind of a dick way about it though.

Avatar image for bleatingheart
Posted By bleatingheart

The Star is pretty trashy tbh. I hope that reporter is pleased with herself.

Avatar image for suigyoken
Posted By Suigyoken

People also have to realize that Canada has different laws than those in the US, and while it sucks he got fired... he kinda set himself up by advertizing himself, but that was a time before he made his game... if it were me, I probably would have released it on a different company, but then again his success wouldn't have been so if he had gotten fired in the first place.

Avatar image for manicmyna
Posted By ManicMyna

probably a good thing - if he's got other talents its time to get out of the unintelligent cretin zone that is every call centre that I've had the misfortune to phone.

that said a call centre worker might have been the pinnacle of his career path seeing as he was openly stupid enough to jeopardize his employment

Avatar image for jerr
Posted By Jerr

This stuff is so exciting to me. I think this is the future of gaming, where games aren't just simulations created for fun, but actual emotional experiences that reflect deep aspects of the real world. This guy deserves all the support he can get.

Avatar image for drdarkstryfe
Posted By DrDarkStryfe

@feargalr said:

@Triumvir said:

Man, I hate my government sometimes.

EDIT: Oh, I finally got the quest. Cool. Anyway, I hope Minister of National Revenue likes lawsuits.

Yeah that was the first thing that occurred to me reading this, if he didn't actually disclose any confidential information, or breach his contract, how the frak can they justify firing him?

Also maybe it's just me, but I really dislike that reporter from the toronto star, go and find a real story you jerk. They got this guy fired for something that isn't even real news.

Most businesses have in their policies that you are not allowed to be a representative of said business unless approved by the company to be such. This game is a representation of his work experience, and it was public where he worked. It was only a matter of time before he would be fired.

Avatar image for y2jbone
Posted By Y2JBone

Great article Patrick. Keep up the good work.

Avatar image for mattyt
Posted By MattyT

I'm just not getting why this is such a big deal. He knowingly took a risk. Risk backfired. He doesn't have a job. There wasn't any sort of injustice.

Avatar image for jesterpc238
Posted By JesterPC238

@Rowr: THEN I DON'T WANT TO LIVE IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE!

I was mostly commenting because I know Patrick now has a service for editing and such so that he can push out articles more frequently. Figured it would be a good thing to know.

Avatar image for meatsim
Posted By MeatSim

Well at least he doesn't have to work in a call center for the time being.

Avatar image for overnumerousness
Posted By Overnumerousness

Great story, Scoops!

A tough situation, but it sounds like this is the start of something better for him anyway. Good luck!

Avatar image for rowr
Edited By Rowr

@JesterPC238 said:

Thanks for this Patrick!

I don't really enjoy Gallant's games much but the premise of I Get This Call Every Day is very interesting. It's a shame it caused him to lose his job, it seems pretty harmless to me.

Also, I hate to be "that guy" but "what she must have been gowing through" in the last paragraph.

Note the quotation marks to indicate that this is something quoted from gallant about his friend who had a sex change.

It's the rules, if a canadian guy says gowing, you have to quote it as such.

Avatar image for zvarri
Posted By Zvarri

@FierceDeity: Yup.

Consider that the term "shipped", which originates from the retail sense of releasing a game by shipping physical copies out to retailers, continues to be used for digital-only games with no physical presence.

Therefore, I shipped I Get This Call Every Day on December 21st, 2012.

Avatar image for feargalr
Posted By feargalr

@Triumvir said:

Man, I hate my government sometimes.

EDIT: Oh, I finally got the quest. Cool. Anyway, I hope Minister of National Revenue likes lawsuits.

Yeah that was the first thing that occurred to me reading this, if he didn't actually disclose any confidential information, or breach his contract, how the frak can they justify firing him?

Also maybe it's just me, but I really dislike that reporter from the toronto star, go and find a real story you jerk. They got this guy fired for something that isn't even real news.

Avatar image for rothbart
Posted By Rothbart

I'm still not sure why he got fired. Were his employers working under the assumption that call centres don't suck? Making an artistic statement about how terrible it is to work in a call centre isn't exactly pushing the envelope when it comes to the message. There are plenty of jobs that just suck, there's no need to pretend that every company has happy employees.

Avatar image for ttfd
Posted By TTFD

@graf1k said:

I'm kind of surprised at the dude who made the game as well as Patrick's reaction to the reporter calling the article “Tax department employee creates online game to vent his frustration with taxpayers.”

At best it's a leading title for an article. That said, I can't really believe the government would let someone go over something so small and insignificant especially when the game itself doesn't mention where he works or is unfairly critical of his employer of the people who call in. That's pretty much bullshit. I expect better from Canada.

Remember who runs the federal government right now...this type of reaction doesnt surprise me.

Avatar image for jesterpc238
Posted By JesterPC238

Thanks for this Patrick!

I don't really enjoy Gallant's games much but the premise of I Get This Call Every Day is very interesting. It's a shame it caused him to lose his job, it seems pretty harmless to me.

Also, I hate to be "that guy" but "what she must have been gowing through" in the last paragraph.

Avatar image for christaran
Posted By ChrisTaran

I must remember to buy this game this weekend! The insane overreaction by the government is sad, but unfortunately expected.

Avatar image for manatassi
Posted By Manatassi

Hmm seems like he could have a serious case for Wrongful Dismissal against the CRA.

Avatar image for yellownumber5
Posted By yellownumber5

They still have newspapers in Canada?

Avatar image for oueddy
Posted By oueddy
@joetom said:

I don't think the reporter was "just doing his job" when he made that headline. He clearly wanted to stir shit up by creating controversy where there wasn't one. If I didn't know better, I'd think Patrick made a mistake and confused the Toronto Star with the Toronto Sun, because that's exactly the kind of sensationalist bullshit I expect from The Sun.

I'm with you on that one, being from the UK I may have a bias to hate newspapers and gutter press reporters (of which we have many), but the whole phrasing of that article and the headline was designed to cause controversy
Avatar image for monkeyking1969
Posted By MonkeyKing1969

I bought and played the game.  It was interestesting for sure.  If nothing else, it feels good supporting the guy, if buying that game helps him I'm all for it.    Hope hope enough people buy his game (maybe toss in a few extra bucks) so that he can get enough money to make it another step up the ladder of game development.  What he may lack in technical knowledge he makes up for in creativity and heart.   
 
I do not work in a call center, but I get calls like that every day too.

Avatar image for crcruz3
Posted By crcruz3

I just bought the game for $10.

Thank you Patrick for the article, I´d have missed the opportunity to give a little help to this guy otherwise.

Avatar image for kingx
Posted By KingX

Everyone should make games about their jobs, and especially by those that are tired of their jobs :)

With the unemployment rate going on in the western world it could be the start of someting beautiful hehe.

Avatar image for nipcrip66
Posted By NipCrip66

@HellknightLeon: yeah I couldn't believe that either. The journalist outed them in a very public article and essentially ratted him out to his employers. Cannot believe Klepek gave her a pass.