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This horror game perfectly captures the nightmare of working retail

The true horror of working in a grocery or retail store is having to put on a smile to the revolving door of rude customers that come through each day. Night of the Consumer, a retro horror game on Itch.io, captures all of that anxiety and dread perfectly—especially as people flock to stores to panic-buy supplies amid the global coronavirus outbreak.

If you've ever worked retail, I can't recommend Night of the Consumer enough.

If you've ever had the pleasure of working one of these jobs, just do yourself a favor and buy this game without reading further. It's better if I don't spoil it. It's currently $2 on Itch.io and is probably one of my favorite gaming experiences of the last week—which is saying a lot since Doom Eternal just launched. But I love the way Night of the Consumer transforms that familiar experience of looking for someone who can help you in a store into an unsettling game of cat and mouse.

It's my first day on the job as a store clerk at a retail outlet, and my creepy and aggressive manager explains that he won't tolerate any complaints or slacking off. With just a few minutes until the store closes, it's my job to get on the floor and restock all shelves while helping customers. 

As I wander the aisles, I find boxes with labels that indicate which section of the store they belong in. Once I'm in the right place, empty shelf space has to be filled using the mouse to drag the contents of the box out onto the shelf one by one. But as I'm shelving, in real-time customers are slowly filtering into the store, ambling through aisles like the walking dead. Their ominous moans envelope me, and, like any good retail employee, I want to do everything possible to avoid them.

If a customer spots me, they'll rush towards me with alarming speed so they can ask me to help them locate some random item in the store. It's hard to communicate just how scary this moment is—a one-two punch of creepy retro graphics and oppressive sound design that makes being spotted a dreadful feeling. A grandma lunges 10 feet toward me to ask where the diarrhea pills are while her grotesque, pixelated face fills my screen as her nails-on-a-chalkboard voice says "ExCuSe Me.". Nope. Suddenly, I'm 21 again sitting behind the counter of my local EB Games trying to ignore the knot of self-loathing in my stomach.

If I'm quick, I can outrun the customer and make it to one of several "employees only" areas scattered around the store where I can wait for them to move on before resuming my stocking duties. But more often than not, I'm forced to help them find whatever they're looking for. If I take too long finding the right aisle, or I take them to the wrong place too many times, they'll angrily ask to speak to my manager. And then it's game over.

The lights go out, the store is empty, and this happens (be sure to turn the sound on).

The trick to keeping your job is to memorize the store and tread carefully. There's only so much time to restock the shelves, and helping customers find what they're looking for will waste precious minutes. But I love how perfectly all of this translates into what is fundamentally a PS1-era stealth horror game, and how it mirrors my own experiences working retail. Yes, I have one-hundred percent pretended I didn't hear a customer while beating a hasty retreat to the staff room.

If you've ever worked retail, I can't recommend Night of the Consumer enough. It's bizarre, unsettling, and hilarious all at the same time. You can grab it on Itch.io for just $2.

Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.