Children’s game, or propaganda?

I have many fond childhood memories of being in the school’s computer lab in elementary and middle school and, if I was lucky enough to have finished my work early, hopping onto Cool Math Games for some carefree fun.

For those of you who are not familiar with Cool Math Games, the name is a bit misleading — although they do offer a number of math-related games, I cannot honestly say I was ever on the website for arithmetic practice. They had a vast array of games, which varied immensely in terms of their educational potential.

I am sure many among my general age group have similar memories, maybe of being a balloon-murdering cartoon monkey in “Bloons Tower Defense,” mastering the fundamentals of spatial logic in “Bloxorz,” racing through the galaxy as a tealish blob in “Run,” or of any other of the thousands of games that were available on the site.

One of my favorite games was “Papa’s Pizzeria,” which was part of a series of other “Papa’s” games, like “Papa’s Cupcakeria,” “Papa’s Hot Doggeria,” and so on ad infinitum. I am sure you get the gist: you play as an employee at one of Papa’s fine establishments, preparing and serving foods corresponding to whatever sort of -eria it was you had chosen.

“Papa’s Pizzeria” made severe demands on the player — you had to not only take all of the orders, but also prepare the food correctly and meet strict time requirements, or else you would face the wrath of irate customers. Failing to meet the unreasonably high demands of your customers, Papa would dock your pay. Papa was unforgiving like that.

Recently, for Papa-knows-what reason, “Papa’s Pizzeria” crossed my mind for the first time in probably something like a decade. I like to think I was a somewhat bright young lass, but my 10-year-old self had little knowledge of our world’s political and social institutions, let alone how subtly propaganda permeates many aspects of daily life. Looking back, Papa seems more cruel to me now than he did even then, and I got really invested in that sort of thing.

What sours Papa’s image in my retrospection is that he is a distillation of precisely the sort of heartless, money-hungry corruption I now condemn. Papa is, to be most blunt, a capitalist and a jerk. Why should his employees suffer from the ignorance and impatience of his idiot customers? Who gives Papa the right to lower wages in virtue of that which is entirely out of the employee’s control?

Perhaps the more confounding query at hand here is this: why did I think that submitting to Papa’s demands was a fun way to squander the spare, precious moments of my childhood? Kids have fun with the darnedest things, sure, but role-playing as a minimum-wage employee is surely a queer pastime, or at least would seem so in a society less thoroughly steeped in late-stage capitalist culture.

In reflecting on the absurdity of how I, and many others, occupied my time as a child, I came to the realization that I would have had fun interacting with a virtual simulation of just about any real-life task, no matter how menial, so long as it was presented to me as a game.

In the case of “Papa’s Pizzeria,” I feel that the subject matter is no accident or coincidence, but rather an intentional choice, made to serve the agenda of the powerful. Here, this refers to both the government and capitalist elites more broadly. When it comes to more serious matters, please know that I am deeply wary of conspiracy theories, so do take my tone to be quite tongue-in-cheek when I pose the following: what if “Papa’s Pizzeria” is a government psyops intended to brainwash children into thinking that menial labor is fun rather than oppressive?

Papa and his cronies are part of a greater scheme to push the capitalist agenda and subtly prime our nation’s youth for their own inevitable subjugation, presenting the fury and rebuke of insolent customers as merely a part of the “game” rather than the result of  a gross excess of entitlement and utter lack of basic manners. These games teach you to accept the abuse and lack of respect from angry customers as nothing more than a necessary result of your own shortcomings as a laborer.

Moreover, Papa’s harsh policy of paying you less if you do not do your job quickly enough is wage theft, by which I mean specifically the reduction of pay below what one was promised as a sanction for one’s insufficient performance.

That this is an expected penalty in Papa’s world functions to normalize wage theft in the real world, training children to not only accept wage theft in their own professional futures, but also to associate pay reduction with personal failure, rather than systemic shortcomings in the capacity of capitalism to enable business-owners to offer fair wages.

Perhaps Papa cannot hurt you, but it is still prudent to caution ourselves and our children in selecting what we regard as a good source of entertainment. The bourgeoise elite are tireless in their efforts to sway you in their favor.