Mike Philbin is the Oxford, UK-based artist/writer behind the subversive keyboard entity Hertzan Chimera, R.I.P., who terrorised the horror community for over ten years. He is the editor of the annual Chimeraworld anthology from Chimericana Books. His latest novels, the anti-corporate-horror Bukkakeworld and the angel-apocalypse Planet of the Owls, are both available from Silverthought Press (NY).
09:59 - Blood is leaking out of one eye as you think about your first fag-break of the day. You’ve never had that before. You’ve had dry eye because the sweating oaf you’re forced to sit next to uses an electric fan in an air-conditioned office. You’ve had chronic ulcers in your mouth from biting your lip in creative meetings. You’ve had a scar on your forehead where you’ve head butted the bathroom mirror as a form of stress release. But you’ve never had blood leaking out of your eye on the Tube before.
Some chick sitting across from you looks up from her ‘Hello,’ that sneer on her face. You all call them chicks in the office because you’re a gang of boy-slaves who’ve been indoctrinated into the Tart Culture by every single ‘product’ you’ve ever worked on. Girls are dental-floss wearing sluts with dual katanas / dual barettas / dual dildos. Women are pimps with a chain gun / with a rocket launcher / with a finger on the button of Global Thermonuclear suicide, and a scar over her eye. And great taste in leather trench coats.
‘Hello’-reader sneers at you because you really don’t have a chance—and we’re not just talking about a quickie in the Metro loo before work either. You’re the walking wounded of the corporation, it leaks out of every crease in your ever-aging face devoid of sunlight, devoid of artistic control, drawn of inspiration. She’s looking at you like that because you’re a spineless loser. She probably even knows which corporation you work for, you’d might as well be wearing your security badge.
And before flipping her the blood-stained finger, you ponder the on-coming slaughter of the day: four hours in front of the electronic whore, then four hours more, then three hours of unpaid overtime, staring at the flatscreen like some deer that’s just found a pair of blaring suns racing towards him on his favourite strip of artificial stomping ground. You await the impact of these suns into your shrieking soul while every atom in your body implodes.
10:07 - you all call him The Cockrel because of the way he struts about the office like he owns the place, your boss is standing there scowling at his watch as you scuttle past. Your hair’s a mess, your clothes and breath stink, but that’s okay; everybody’s hair’s a mess and everybody’s clothes and breath stinks. And it’s nothing to do with Team Pizza and cheap beer after the sensible employees have left for the night. It’s to do with adrenalin, the fight or flight instinct. Everybody in the corporation suffers from this chronic build-up of warrior energy, stress you’d call it if you were electing to become tomorrow’s burn out victim.
10:00 - meeting called, and you’re seven minutes late. You haven’t even fired up The Register or The Sun or The Escapist or any of the online staples that keep your mind from fusing in its brain casing when someone says, “Are you not in this one?” You look up and realise the Producers are herding the tail-enders into the Big Meeting Room like some scene from Auschwitz. You get up from your broken chair, your OS hasn’t even loaded yet, so bogged down with Net-centric security protocols and database management tools is it, and you creep into the meeting room on tippy toes like a Vaudevillain. This is the worst, when middle management SMILE: among themselves. Oh, yeah, the game’s industry, like the army, has LOTS of middle management and it’s worse for you, as a grunt, when they smile. You take your seat, in the corner at the back, where the morose light is more flattering to your cynicism.
10:12 - meeting ends. No sexy PowerPoint presentation. No glossing over the data for the workers. Thirty-three became twenty-one. It’s happened before on other projects in other corporations just never this severely. Eleven levels have been stripped from the game design and the remaining twenty-one need to be ‘adapted’ to work in the ‘online arena’ you’ve only just heard your game will contain, effectively doubling the number of levels to forty two. You don’t even show disdain or disbelief or anger that the last two years of your hard work won’t be going into the final product. They pay you, after all, why should you care what bits of your expertise they use? Well, isn’t it the principle? All the animation that went into the ‘windmills’...every game you will ever work on will have a windmill in it. And as games have gotten more and more ‘roundy’ or ‘shimmering with mind-blowing realism,’ as the guy in PR delivers the dream to publishers and distributors, you’ve been constraining each and every cog in that windmill AND baking out particle simulation for corn, dust and caustics. All gone now. A mote of sunlight skitters across the Parthenon floor swallowed by clouds.
12:59 - you realise you’ve been asleep for...three hours. Well, not actually asleep. You’ve not had a copy of the Muybridge files over your snoring face. But you have been in a rapid-eye-movement dream-like state that’s composed of one repetitive act, vertex welding. I know, I know, it’s 2009 and you’re still optimising meshes, welding vertices together by hand. The algorithms are a total waste of time, you’d might as well be repainting the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling by embedding match sticks of different tip colour into the dull grey foam of Classical Flower Arranging. “Too many polygons for online.” was this morning’s proclamation with, of course, the leering caveat that, “The addition of this new online mode will greatly blah blah blah bland corporate spiel. Class dismissed.” You looked around, at the meeting, at your co-workers and it was like sitting in a wax museum. You even wondered if there remained any life behind their occluded eyes; any joie de vie, any spunk, any moxy.
13:10 - never drink beer in the lunch hour. You’re not a liver-hardened journalist whose sole purpose in life is to drink clients under the table in the hope that they’ll spill their guts about the latest take-over or merger. It’s the worst thing you can do. Even if you’re invited to do so by people whose eyes you’d rather gouge out but who you need to soft-soap in order to make the corporate day less painful. The social side of the corporation; yes, it does exist. They even have a five-a-side team but don’t be conned into that mistake as it’ll be used against you in your six-monthly appraisal based on how much possession-of-the-ball and how many attempts-at-goal. Seriously, anything you do in the corporation will be held against you in a court of no consequence, anything to keep you working longer and longer for less and less money each year.
13:11 - by the coffee percolator, smelling of beer and cigs, “Where’s Dave?” you ask someone who knows everything. “Dave? Where’ve you been the last few weeks? Dave’s moved on to a better place. Passed over. Into Te.Le.Vi.Sion.” And you both have a good belly laugh at the irony of that. The Cockrel materialises and tells some joke about L.A. and everybody, even you, finds it the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. Later on, you will remember this moment and wish you’d smashed him over the head with the mug of percolator coffee you’d just poured yourself to help you sober up for the long trawl through the evening’s erroneous pixels and excessive vertices and sliding camera cuts. You never used to be a coffee drinker. You never used to be a cigarette smoker. But you learned, you adapted to your environment. Now, you have all the tools you’ll need to survive in this rich and varied creative industry, this time-waster’s paradise.
17:56 - the Producer’s usually here by now—it’s what Producer’s do when they’re not spitting the word “deadline” in your face. The Pizza Sheet. You’d have thought they’d have automated this thing by now, designed some clever little database jam-packed with high-class eateries for the high-class stars of the game’s industry to squabble about for far too long while the curve on the bug list graph soars exponentially. You look around but there’s nobody in the middle management area, you notice there are meetings taking place, groups of corporate strangers being herded around the office, day in, day out.
18:48 - a memo goes round titled ‘Chinese food order’—a change is as good as a rest. And you choose your regular chicken fried rice and curry sauce, how sad is that? A memo goes round about the state of the smoking area. Is this really the best way to greet one’s employees tomorrow morning? Three minutes later another memo goes round about project meetings with your new Outsourcing Manager set for 10 a.m., a woman named Sonia Hardcastle. What? You’re an outsourcing group? And you thought you were in-house, right? You day-dream aimlessly, “I can work from home. Go back to the village of my birth. Live cheaper, happier, easier.”
20:09 - fuelled with cheap Chinese beer, the middle managers start Nerf gunning each other. With three major tasks still to tidy up before thinking of heading home, you type “Trade Union” into a search engine and suddenly The Cockrel is standing behind you. You don’t know how long he’s been standing there, “I’d like to have a word with you, tomorrow, about your time keeping? Is 9 a.m. ‘cool’ with you, do you think?”
Yeah, it gets no better than this.