anagers who grumble about
ungrateful employees and seek solace in the loyalty of their dogs
might take a shine to a new hire this week: cyberhumans implanted
with the genes for canine obedience.
Players of a new online game called Metapet (www.metapet.net),
which is scheduled to make its debut today, assume the role of corporate
managers at one of three fictional biotechnology companies in the
Metapet players are given "employee pets" and the task of making
the transgenic humans as productive as possible at the least cost
with incentives that range from vacations to pills and plastic surgery.
Metapet satirizes corporate life and the biotech industry, but
its co-creators say it has a heart, too. "We think of this as a
training manual to help managers do their job better," said Natalie
Bookchin, one of the creators of Metapet and a faculty member at
the California Institute of the Arts, a college in Valencia, Calif.
Ms. Bookchin and Jin Lee, an artist in Chicago, created Metapet
as a nonprofit project with financing from two arts groups, Creative
Time and Hamaca.
A manager's console in Metapet puts an employer's full range of
incentives and punishments at a player's fingertips, as well as
gauges indicating a worker-pet's health, morale, energy and discipline.
Managers compete against each other, with continual rankings based
on profits tied to worker productivity and employee retention. A
manager is given only one worker-pet at a time, but it can be fired
and replaced, or even worked to death. Slave-driving managers, however,
will find that "even a Metapet might quit, join a commune, found
a start-up or form a union," Ms. Bookchin said.
Being too lavish is not wise either, because incentives cost money
within the game. While a manager who thinks an employee might be
happier and more productive if he or she lost a few pounds can spring
for liposuction, players should be wary of a backlash from fiddling
too much with the "visual standards" tools.
Paul Muchinsky, an industrial psychologist at the University of
North Carolina at Greensboro, said the game was a wry commentary
on the tendency of corporate life to erase workers' humanity. "The
corker to this idea," he added, "is that people are going to be
playing the game at the work site." нн