Games of 2022: Betrayal at Club Low was the best examination of the weird world of working

Right from the beginning, Betrayal at Club Low wants me to know that things aren’t going to go my way, thanks to a spontaneous blast of sewer vapor that drenches me in hot rancid filth. It’s this hapless surrender to chaos that drives me forward – I smell and probably look like shit, but the show must go on. The show, in this case, is me turning up to my job as a pizzaiolo/covert operative, dishing out pies at Club Low while trying to help a fellow agent trapped on the inside. This isn’t just a game about work, but a game about the unbeatable universal high of getting away with shit while working.

The act of performing labor – busywork, paid work, side quests for extra coin or experience – is an essential part of many games, and more and more we’re seeing artists and developers use their work to mutilate the rigid seams of capitalism (one game I’m particularly excited about is Joel Jordan’s subversive work/life sim Time Bandit). Betrayal at Club Low takes a basic gig work premise and elevates it into a higher state of consciousness – this dice-rolling adventure is an exercise in surreal survivalism, using the familiar trappings of a popular nightclub. It’s a one-person joyride that crystallizes the essence of what I described as “slacker-hustle’ mentality in my September review; since then I haven’t stopped thinking about how its incredible moment-to-moment writing exemplifies the best and worst of work.

Betrayal at Club Low trailer.

In Club Low, the world is my oyster. It’s a microcosm of working human behavior, peeling back the layers on how people make an extra buck when no one is looking, or how they think about their bosses and employees. My role is pretty straightforward – I make tips in the game by giving out pizzas, and use different toppings to maximize my earnings. But watching others work is far more interesting, and like Cosmo D’s other games, there’s much to be said about performance and perception, especially in a setting tied to club-kid tribalism, hipster capital, the inscrutable hierarchy of popularity, and of course, the act of making money. The game’s Physique and Music checks, dancefloor scenarios, and visceral interactions with laser doors are constant reminders of my body – a vehicle for pizza, sure, but also a surprisingly resilient agent of change and revolution. I suffer bouts of embarrassment, self-consciousness, and awkwardness. I am an inscrutable pizza shepherd chained to chance, unsure of exactly how the night will end, but confident that whatever happens, I’ll get away with it.

Betrayal shines brightest when I feel caught between making a sane rational choice, and a delicious sense of recklessness. What if I lied and claimed the fancy gem-encrusted coat from the coat check girl because it would make me feel good? What if I was such a powerfully bad dancer that I could make people physically upset? What if I never had to think beyond the next thirty seconds? It’s a luxurious escape from a reality defined by economic speculations and predictions. Like so many of us, my entire existence right now revolves around work and worrying about the future. But at Club Low, there is only the present, and it’s a gift.


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