The online game You Are Jeff Bezos is a text-based roleplaying game where you jump into the wretched shell of the celebrated exploiter and owner of Amazon. When the sim begins, you awaken from a set of nightmares to find yourself changed “in your bed into a monstrous vermin. You are Jeff Bezos.” In this game by Kris Ligman, you face a superficially simple yet morally complex task: how do you spend the Amazon overlord’s estimated $150 billion fortune?
Mr. Bezos, a feudal landlord of some repute, owns an impressive series of serf warehouses across God’s America. As the premiere monopolist of the digital era, Bezos began by shipping the fiction of Glenn Beck to angry uncles across literally dozens of time zones. Soon he branched out into delivering knock-off kimonos and the most elegant Duck Dynasty-themed birth control. Therefore, as an exploiter of digital commerce and real people, Bezos was a logical choice to be digitized into a clever, politically-minded adventure story.
After grappling with the Kafkaesque terror of being a Silicon Valley gargoyle, you are faced with a series of Choose Your Own Adventure prompts. As the narrative progresses, you find a way to give out all of Bezos’s filthy capital. Along the way, the game demonstrates in a real, irrefutable way just how criminal Bezos-scale wealth is.
The best thing about the game You Are Jeff Bezos is that you’re not actually Jeff Bezos, and that’s a magnificent mercy. The worst thing about You Are Jeff Bezos is that you do not, in fact, get to bankrupt Bezos after all.
All obscenely wealth men loot the profit of their employees. That’s a universal truth. But Bezos is infamous because of how merciless, inhuman, and mechanical he is in exploiting thinking, feeling human beings. Even among the one percent, Jeff is a swamp unicorn. When Bezos isn’t marketing facial recognition software to ICE, or giving tours to Mohammad bin Salman or Jimmy Mattis, he’s getting his workers to live on food stamps. In every way, Bezos is dependent on tech for his ill-gotten gains. A game like You Are Jeff Bezos is a subtle reminder of how deeply interwoven the internet is into Bezosian inequality.
For all its agitprop, You Are Jeff Bezos is uplifting. And not just because, as
>Jordan Pearson writes, the game is essentially a “teachable moment” about “how much wealth billionaires have and how it could be used to better society rather than line their pockets. For example, the player can end homelessness in the US, hire 100,000 new teachers for four years each, and fix the Flint water crisis with billions left to go. It’s a bit of wish-fulfillment as well, because for all of his billions, Bezos is infamously charity-averse.”
Here’s why the Twine-derived text fantasy is so cheering. You Are Jeff Bezos shows a future for games. It is a vision beyond the brutal realities of designer exploitation, a moral compass which denies the Mountain-Dew-tinged leprosy that is GamerGate, and all the petty poisons of that underworld.
Let me be clear: we know how toxic gamer culture can be. This is unfortunate, in the light of games’ startling possibilities for creating empathy. Like rich earth untouched by good seed, the fallow field of games mostly grows weeds. Occasionally a redwood will rise up: a Minecraft, a Braid, a Dwarf Fortress. Games which fulfill the demands of ethics, play, and imagination. Titles which inspire a devoted anti-gamer like myself to attentive reverie. But these are medicine plants in the wild stony wilderness of EA and Rockstar-related titles. Games are so, so far from what they could be. We’re all familiar with how dreary their record is.
But what if the course of gaming ran in the opposite direction? What if games fulfilled the abandoned hopes of their early days? What if games organized us against injustice? What if they built community? Instead of asking us to hate people who never did us any harm, games could direct us to champion what we ought to champion, and to loathe what we ought to loathe. Ergo, the Bezos Game.
As I mentioned above, You Are Jeff Bezos does us a necessary service. The game demonstrates, choice after choice, just how much unfair wealth this one weird rocket fancier has. It does so in the most direct, simple way. You Are Jeff Bezos shows much suffering could be alleviated, if one plutocrat had a day of humanity.
This is not a small accomplishment. Much of political activism is about clearing away obfuscation. Not just fake news, but the entire collected propaganda ecosystem of our society
Say, you know what medium is great at inspiring action out of confusion?
Games are expert at showing their players subtle paths through choppy terrain. The first task of any game is teaching the player how to play. All games must do this, no matter how open or emergent or complicated the design is. Games say, Here’s a goal. Here’s a way to get there. Here’s a practical, actionable way to move from here to there. Here are the metrics, so you know if you’ve succeeded. Would that politics were so direct!
You Are Jeff Bezos takes the gifts of games, and applies them to political education. You Are Jeff Bezos, and games like You Are Jeff Bezos, lead us to better awareness and better action. You can’t help but be appalled at the kind of power he has; to win the game, you must become deeply aware of The Problem of Jeff. You Are Jeff Bezos is a gamification of the world that improves the world, not just the player. Finally, a game that knows the score.