LEVEL 1 | A WASTE OF A TURN
PLAYER STATUS | UNCREDITED
Blake had given himself a pep talk nearly every morning of his life since he was 11 – the morning after he’d been teased at school for laughing so hard at his friend’s joke that he’d shat his pants.
That first morning, his pep talk was essentially a brainstorming session for how he was going to deal with the situation when he arrived at school today.
The next morning, after things had spiralled out of control (he thought he could spin things around and become a trendsetter if he pooed his pants again, but it only made things much worse), Blake looked himself in the mirror and brainstormed how to brainstorm better ideas in the future.
The third morning, his pep talk slightly evolved again, and the fourth morning it slightly evolved again, and so on until he was an angsty and apathetic teenager having discussions with his reflection on topics such as parties, fashion, exams and girls.
Nearly thirty years later, with his forties fast approaching, Blake was still staring into the mirror every morning for several minutes. These days though, he stared in silence, trying to come up with something to give his reflection a pep talk for.
But for the last however long, he was drawing a blank.
This wasn’t because Blake was so perfectly content in life that pep talks were no longer necessary… quite the contrary. It was more that he simply couldn’t think of a goal to aspire to that a pep talk would help him work towards.
He didn’t particularly enjoy his job as an anonymous corporate stooge for a large international software developer in Birmingham; nor was he very fond of his cramped cubicle that he often struggled to locate in the office’s endless sea of identical cubicles.
On the other hand, Blake didn’t have any ambitions for some other dream job that he’d rather be doing.
Blake didn’t go on relaxing holidays to tropical paradise islands to help him survive the year, and he had zero interest in adventures like hiking the Kokoda Trail, embarking on the Trans-Siberian train journey or cycling around Iceland on a bicycle.
In short, Blake wasn’t happy with his existence… but he wasn’t really motivated to do anything about it, either. And then one day, Blake’s existence decided it wasn’t happy with him. Something interesting finally happened.
LEVEL 2 | BIRTH OF A CONTAGION
PLAYER STATUS | ASPIRING RECRUIT
So yeah, something interesting finally happened to Blake and it was in no way deliberate.
As a successful software development company, the business he worked for had created a number of rather well-known video games.
Having played them all to the point where they no longer offered any thrills whatsoever, Blake was toying with ideas for a new game that might help him occupy his remaining years on this planet.
In doing so, he did something remarkable… he unwittingly created the most addictive game in human history.
Blake didn’t even pitch it to his superiors. It was simply so addictive that he was struggling to stay on top of his work. He was spending less time in his office cubicle and more time in the toilet cubicle, playing his own prototype of the game.
Eventually, Blake was summoned to his boss’s office. His boss’s name was Susan, and she wanted Blake to explain the severe drop in his work productivity.
Blake apologised profusely, blaming his new game for the decline in his work output. What game, Susan asked, before curiously inspecting the prototype on Blake’s smartphone.
An hour later, Blake’s boss was still playing the game, pausing only to plug in Blake’s charger, which she’d absent-mindedly asked him to go fetch when his device’s “low battery” icon started flashing.
Before long, four more of Blake’s superiors were in the room, and then another three, and so on, until the corner office was cramped with people in suits that were so superior to Blake that he didn’t even recognise them.
Word spread. Buzz accumulated. First around the office, then in the staff’s social circles, and then suddenly it was being talked about in the media.
There’s this new game. You’ve gotta play it. Wait until Friday afternoon though, and cancel all your weekend plans because you’ll be playing it until 8:59am Monday morning, and then you’ll be thinking about it all morning until your lunchbreak, when you’ll dart from your desk to find somewhere quiet to sit down and play it until your lunchbreak is over.
It was ridiculous – Blake didn’t even know what he’d started. The game was called SMACK-BANG.
LEVEL 3 | WHIPLASH II: ESCAPE FROM CUBICLE FARM
PLAYER STATUS | UNDERDOG ROOKIE
While the world adjusted to a new environment where SMACK-BANG existed, Blake adjusted to a new environment where happiness existed.
If shitting his pants was the first time Blake got whiplash from his suddenly inverted social standing, this was the second.
The first deviation from the norm was Blake’s escape from cubicle farm. The endless aisles of sad and defeated anonymous employees living the same monotonous day over and over again glanced up at Blake with contempt as he strolled past them with a box of his desk stuff, en route to his luxurious new corner office all to himself on the upper floor.
Of course, they only looked up long enough to get a quick glimpse of him… then it was straight back to sneaking in a few games of SMACK-BANG when the boss wasn’t looking.
Within a few weeks, Blake had gone from being anonymous to being respected, revered and envied all at once.
He’d even managed to become attractive to some – the first person to demonstrate this was Susan, on that very first day that Blake chose to share SMACK-BANG with the world. Once all the bosses had left her office and Blake’s smartphone battery had finally died, she proceeded to drain his battery too.
As Blake’s success grew, he realised there was only one thing he found more addictive than his own game… money. Actually, two things… cocaine. Because now that he was making a lot of money, he was able to snort a lot of cocaine.
And thanks to the game that had made him rich which had made him a coke fiend, all of his colleagues were too preoccupied with SMACK-BANG to notice that he was now a crippling drug addict that rarely showed up to work sober.
As Blake sat at his unnecessarily oversized desk, one eye on his computer as he racked up another line on Susan’s naked butt-cheeks, he didn’t know whether his erection was from having his boss bent over his desk or from the ever-growing bank account balance being displayed on his computer screen.
Of course, not everyone was having as great a time as Blake was.
LEVEL 4 | BACKLASH II: UNDER ENEMY FIRE
PLAYER STATUS | CAPABLE AMATEUR
If Blake’s “I’ll just shit my pants two days in a row” idea had resulted in the fastest backlash he’d ever received, then the backlash from SMACK-BANG was a close second.
No sooner had Blake found something to be proud of in life, than people were trying to take it away from him. First it was the company he worked for, which wanted to claim full ownership over Blake’s intellectual property.
Needless to say, Blake wasn’t having it (this newfound defiance proved to make him even more irresistible to his boss Susan… and suddenly, to her boss as well).
They reached an agreement, and Blake managed to keep a majority stake of SMACK-BANG on top of a substantial promotion and very generous pay-rise… money was coming at him from all angles.
The next enemy to rear its ugly head had initially been his ally in getting SMACK-BANG off the ground… the media.
You see, it turns out that SMACK-BANG wasn’t addictive in a harmless, okay-fine-I’ll-have-another-slice kind of way… It was addictive in a not-so-harmless, give-me-all-the-heroin-you’ve-got-on-you-or-I’ll-slice-your-fucking-throat-open kind of way.
It started with a slight yet noticeable drop in social activity. People would politely decline invitations to events, instead making a respectable excuse to hide the fact that they’d rather stay at home playing SMACK-BANG.
People stopped meeting up in cafes, bars and parks. People stopped walking their dogs, going to the gym, and attending important weddings… even their own.
Actually, Blake specifically remembered the “wedding incident” being the turning point.
His colleagues (the upper floor suits that used to be oh-so intimidating back when Blake was merely a single, withering crop in the lower floor cubicle farm) would hustle into his office with a beer and a chuckle, giddy with excitement to enlighten him on the latest SMACK-BANG-related scoop in the news.
One of these daily (then hourly, then quarter-hourly) updates was that some guy in Bratislava, Slovakia had missed his own wedding because he’d been playing SMACK-BANG for 42 hours straight and lost track of time.
When the father of the bride had arrived at the groom’s house to kick his ass, the two had ended up playing SMACK-BANG together for a further 29 hours, and even made it onto the global leaderboard for a brief stint – something which was rapidly becoming a rite of passage for any keen SMACK-BANG competitor.
The media had covered that story with a tongue-in-cheek, “men will be men” kind of attitude. Blake remembered seeing the headline: DO YOU TAKE THEE, SMACK-BANG?
But then things started to get grim.
First was a story about a Siberian chap from Irkutsk named Igor, who no one had seen around town for a few weeks. Given that Igor was normally quite the man about town, some locals went over to his house and found his corpse hunched over on the toilet, smartphone still in his hand.
Apparently SMACK-BANG was still smack-banging on his phone when they found him. The SMACK-BANG database later revealed that Igor had been playing SMACK-BANG for 193 days straight.
He’d brought an extension cable into the bathroom so that he could charge his phone from the toilet, and dragged his fridge in from the kitchen (also plugged into the extension cable) for easy access to food.
He’d even filled the bathtub with water for hydration… literally, he’d thought of everything! So why had he died?
The first clue was that his skull was out of shape, almost as if someone had smashed it with a hammer 17 times. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what happened. While blissfully eating and drinking from his toilet seat for the last few months, Igor had gotten quite good at SMACK-BANG and consequently knocked a fellow Russian off the leaderboard.
In true “sore loser” fashion, this defeated Russian competitor pulled some strings from his criminal underground connections, found Igor’s address, took a train from Yekaterinburg to Irkutsk, kicked Igor’s front door in, navigated his way to the bathroom without too much difficulty, and smashed Igor’s face in with a hammer.
While many news outlets still managed to make a tongue-in-cheek, SMACK-BANG-related headline out of this story, the vast majority of media attention was negative.
Around the same time, there was another story about a single mother in Manila who dropped her phone down a staircase.
Once she saw that her own phone was smashed to bits, she attacked her daughter in order to get her hands on someone else’s phone and sign into her SMACK-BANG account. In her own words, she “couldn’t risk failing to make the day’s rankings due to a low score”.
As the increasingly extreme stories flooded in faster and faster, anyone who wasn’t already completely and utterly immersed in SMACK-BANG turned on Blake and his only notable creation.
Within 12 months of SMACK-BANG exploding onto the scene, the World Health Organization reported a severe drop in global birth-rates.
I know what you’re thinking, and no… SMACK-BANG wasn’t making people infertile. It was simply so addictive that people weren’t having sex anymore.
At first, wives and girlfriends were scolding their partners for catching them covertly playing SMACK-BANG under the sheets while performing cunnilingus.
And then, once they started to see what all the SMACK-BANG fuss was about, the wives and girlfriends joined in too. It wasn’t long before most couples around the world were opting for SMACK-BANG over sex.
Blake and his pals at the software development company, of which he was now a board member, tried in earnest to remedy this situation by introducing some “raunchy” segments into the game that were designed to get players riled up and reproducing again.
It worked in the sense that people started having babies again, but it didn’t work in the sense that said-people weren’t exactly paying much attention to said-babies. Blake and his posse even came up with a solution for that, too – they created a special “kids” edition of SMACK-BANG to keep the little ones occupied.
It was initially called SMACK-CHILD, but after poor feedback, they revised the title. First they changed it to CHILD-BANG (even worse feedback) and then to SMACK-BANG for Kids.
Despite his best efforts, Blake started to sink into a debt of lawsuits that he couldn’t quite keep up with. And then suddenly, Blake had his next revolutionary idea.
LEVEL 5 | ECONOMIC WARFARE
PLAYER STATUS | SEASONED PROFESSIONAL
SMACK-BANG was a mobile gaming app, and despite the $2.99 price tag, players unfortunately still needed to put up with in-app advertising.
Blake and his marketing cronies had done their best to keep the ads to a minimum for the sake of a cohesive and uninterrupted SMACK-BANG experience, but then Blake had one of those “snap wide awake in the middle of the night” epiphanies.
At this point, SMACK-BANG had 1.83 billion active players. The $2.99 download cost alone yielded 5.5 billion bucks, of which a significant amount had gone straight into Blake’s pocket.
From a claustrophobic desk smack-bang in the middle of a dreary cubicle farm in Birmingham, to a spacious private island smack-bang in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Blake had reached the pinnacle of success.
That old saying of “what goes up, must come down” didn’t apply to Blake, because he had an ace in the hole... in-app purchases.
Blake updated the game so that users could spend their own, real-life, hard-earned money on enhancing their fake, virtual, SMACK-BANG experience.
Overnight, he introduced the world to a whole new era of SMACK-BANG; an era where SMACK-BANG skills weren’t as important as SMACK-BANG cash. If you couldn’t acquire a particular prize within the game, you could simply buy it. If you couldn’t pass a level despite your best efforts, you could pay to override it and ascend to the next level.
Just as he’d unwittingly changed things for the worse when he deliberately shat his pants in front of a crowd of his peers in school, Blake once again unwittingly changed things for the worse when he introduced in-app purchases to SMACK-BANG.
And this time, the reaction came even faster than before.
LEVEL 6 | KNEE-JERKING AND COFFIN-NAILING
PLAYER STATUS | HOUSEHOLD NAME CELEBRITY
The profits were instantaneous, and inexplicably ridiculous.
If Blake had spent Christmas Eve travelling around the world on a reindeer-powered sleigh, climbing down every chimney and taking every household’s entire savings for himself like some bizarre anti-Santa Clause, he couldn’t have collected profits the way that SMACK-BANG’s in-app purchases did.
Players didn’t even hesitate to pour their life savings into SMACK-BANG. The global economy was already in bad shape, because so many people had simply stopped going to work.
Unfortunately, those with the least amount of money seemed to be the most vulnerable to SMACK-BANG’s alluring spell. After emptying their own wallets into in-app purchases, they went looking for SMACK-BANG cash in other people’s wallets.
Crime rates around the world rapidly increased, along with unemployment rates, loan defaults, bankruptcy and desperation. Not since COVID-19 had society taken such a harsh beating.
Governments unanimously pointed the finger of blame directly at Blake and his employer.
The law suits came back with a vengeance. Blake wound up losing all his money at the same speed in which everyone else lost theirs – however, because he had so much more of it, Blake found it particularly heartbreaking to see his empire swiftly crumble around him.
And then, as if throwing gasoline into the fire thinking it was water, governments forced Blake & Co. to do the unthinkable… shut SMACK-BANG down.
Taking the game offline was the final nail in the coffin. Within hours of losing access to SMACK-BANG, the world descended into complete and utter chaos.
People everywhere literally lost their minds. Imagine that over a third of the world’s population was heavily addicted to heroin, and you managed to entirely eradicate everyone’s stash in a single night.
Throughout all these catastrophic turns of events, there was Blake – smack-bang in the middle of it all.
Needless to say, Blake lost his job. Or at least, he assumed he had the next time he ventured from his private island to Birmingham, only to find the company headquarters burnt to the ground with the CEO’s corpse nailed to a stake out the front… right on the patch of grass where Blake used to spend his lunchbreak eating ham sandwiches and Oreo’s.
As he watched smoke curl away from the burnt carcass of his former CEO, Blake figured that maybe he should just go back to his private island and ride this whole thing out.
After all, Blake was now a household name in most parts of the world, and this was no longer working in his favour.
LEVEL 7 | SMACK-BANG 3D: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
PLAYER STATUS | VEXED VETERAN
You know, I never actually got around to telling you what the game is about.
SMACK-BANG, in a nutshell, is about addiction. The central character, for whom everyone embodies when they play the game, is a slave to many vices.
His addictions include alcohol, illicit drugs, sex, cigarettes, gambling, fast food, shopping, plastic surgery, and a growing number of other activities. He’s a kleptomaniac, insomniac and pyromaniac. He’s also a compulsive liar, he hoards, and he religiously collects rather bizarre objects like bicycle seats and unattended traffic cones.
The game’s levels are made up of various obstacles that players must overcome. These include:
- successfully carrying out numerous tasks while under the influence (i.e. bowling a perfect game, stumbling up a set of stairs without falling back down, performing in the bedroom)
- navigating your way through a maze of rubbish and hoarded items that reach all the way to the ceiling
- hiding as many empty whiskey bottles as possible in various spots around the house within the 90-second timeframe between your wife parking the car and opening the front door
- making it from your office bathroom (where you just smoked an impressive amount of crack) back to your cubicle without running into your boss, who is currently strolling around the office
- successfully stealing as many items as possible from a shop without being caught by CCTV or the security guard
Players also have an “addiction meter” that they need to constantly monitor and control, the same way that Tamagotchi pets need to be fed. With every new addiction you acquire, the game gets harder.
Things inevitably spiral out of control further into gameplay, when players struggle to keep their avatar’s appetites satisfied. As your character succumbs to his vices, the money runs out, the job is lost and he turns to a life of crime.
In a way, SMACK-BANG is a sort of weird and unorthodox hybrid between The Sims and Grand Theft Auto.
As Blake stood by the window of his parents’ house, looking out at the fiery skyline of a Birmingham in ruins, he saw the irony of his actions.
Once players delved deeper and deeper into gameplay, the fictional world of SMACK-BANG had jumped from smartphone screens to the real world, like a virus jumping from its animal host to humans.
The game had come to life.
LEVEL 8 | WHIPLASH III: RETURN OF THE SHIT-ENCRUSTED PANTS
PLAYER STATUS | TIRED & RETIRED
Blake’s last visit to Birmingham came just as western society finally toppled. With no way of getting back to his private island, Blake was forced to seek refuge at his parents’ house.
His parents would visit the local grocery store once a week to pick up their government-allocated rations, and Blake would watch anxiously from just behind the curtains the way dogs wait for their owners.
Without fail, his mum would always murmur the same thing as she walked back through the front door: “Jeez son, all this fuss around your SMACK-BANG game has caused quite the stir!”
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years. Blake stayed hidden away in his childhood bedroom, growing increasingly distraught as he waited for things to change.
He stopped speaking, he stopped showering… he even stopped going to the bathroom. Blake had decided to revisit his first ever pep talk; the one about making everything better by shitting his pants.
As Blake sat there in his shit-encrusted pants day after day, ageing rapidly and ungracefully, he realised something – his old cosy spot smack-bang in the middle of the cubicle farm really hadn’t been so bad after all.Add a comment