He crouched behind a barricade in a war-torn, pre-dawn courtyard in Hell’s Kitchen while four heavily armed men in black tactical gear patrolled the apartment complex. The wind whistled, blowing a thick snowfall and causing his eyes to water—a near white out reduced his night visibility to a few feet. The brutal cold snuck like a thief into every crack in his clothing, stealing the warmth from beneath his parka. He waited patiently, silently, his pounding heart drowning out the nearing voices. There was going to be a firefight.
John lives in turbulent times. His post-apocalyptic America was created by a virus that swept across the country, infecting and killing most of the population. Scientists called it a pandemic, but survivors only understood the impact—a collapse of social services, lack of food and water, and eventual chaos. The end of civilization.
In the aftermath, disparate groups formed to control various parts of the country. Gangs ran the inner cities, taking over formerly bustling centers of commerce once teaming with hungry consumers in search of the latest fashion trends. Groups called Rikers, Rioters, Cleaners, and Hunters levied fear among those trapped by burned out cars and ravaged department stores. There were few places to hide.
The Last Man Battalion formed in areas where the gangs were spread too thin to control the terrain. It started as a private organization hired by the wealthy to protect assets during the initial outbreak, but quickly devolved into a self-serving, anti-government, paramilitary organization. The LMB’s patrols policed the streets with their own brand of cruelty, terrorizing struggling citizens and drafting unwilling conscripts into a fascist army.
John works between the gangs and the LMB. He’s part of The Strategic Homeland Division—the Division, for short. It’s a group of highly trained agents whose mission is to ensure continuity of government in the event of a catastrophic breakdown. Their responsibilities include collecting intelligence, liberating hostages, and assisting the Joint Task Force—a beleaguered government organization initially activated to distribute supplies during the outbreak.
You’d be forgiven for thinking John’s world is hell. In fact, he loves it. He relishes the chance to partner up with three other people—eagerly volunteering for the toughest challenges. During an average night, he’ll participate in two, three, and sometimes four operations, or Ops. Sometimes he’s teamed with close friends, but just as often he finds himself on a team of randoms—or randos—completing assignments across New York City.
Assisting the JTF with high profile incursions is John’s night job. He spends his days as an analyst, surrounded by concrete walls, breathing stale air, and watching the world through special glass designed to mitigate the effects of electronic surveillance. His pale skin absorbs what vitamin D it can from a wealth of investment in fluorescent lighting. The migraine drilling into his right temple starts a few minutes after the first login error message and abates shortly after cocktail hour.
To describe his work with the Division as a job is a bit of an overstatement. John doesn’t get paid for hunting bounties and locating downed drones. John is a gamer. A couple nights a week he logs on to a Sony Playstation to meet up with other gamers—some friends and some he’s never met—to save the world from further destruction. But it would be a mistake to think the impact of his time online is any less significant than his time at the office.
John’s day job involves researching, collecting and analyzing information, and drafting reports. On paper—pun intended—the products he writes inform policy and decision-makers, allowing them to understand threats, allocate resources, and defend democracy. But in reality, he is part of a machine that produces little value-add. His customers rarely give anything he produces more than a passing nod. He writes fodder for the metric machine.
John is not complaining. He’s had a great career and works along side people who do amazing things—people who make a difference. But John’s job falls short of teamwork and his greatest accomplishment on most days is trudging through the swamp of boredom, watching web pages load at 2 Mbps, and knowing most of what he produces serves merely to turn red boxes green on a spreadsheet. It’s an existence, just not a meaningful one.
In contrast, John’s night job provides an opportunity to work on a team and accomplish specific, meaningful goals. As his 4-person fire team waited patiently for the Rikers to enter the kill zone, they discussed over headsets the task at hand and how best to accomplish it. They hoped to take out the medic first, followed by the boss in the background. They knew once the shooting started there would be repeating waves of AI bent on their destruction—and they weren’t disappointed. In less than ten minutes they’d neutralized the threat and moved on to the next venue.
Gaming provides both a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie. People chat about life, work, and family as they navigate burned out buildings of Cleaners armed with flame throwers. Their heterogeneity—white, African American, hispanic, military, UPS drivers, and students from midwestern towns and major metros in the US, Canada, and south and Central America—is unmatched in the real world and enhances an intuitively positive experience. They complete each mission together—weapons, gear, personal fulfillment, and a sense of achievement are their rewards. Their focus is on contributions, not differences.
Organizations spend millions to break down barriers, inspire imagination, instill diversity, build effective teams, and rally employees around a single mission statement. A few hours online on a Thursday night achieves all of those goals. John ends the evening feeling like he made a difference—a sense of accomplishment, inspired creativity, and teamwork—things missing from his day job. It’s more than an existence, it’s meaningful.
After taking out a hundred AI and one particularly nasty Hunter, the team returned to the base to reload and rearm. They traded gear—a guy from Atlanta needed a Bullfrog—and talked about the next time they’d be online. Someone asked about going into the Dark Zone to hunt Rogues. Some of them never met IRL—in real life—but they were an effective team. John accepted two new friend requests, then went off to bed. He had work in the morning.
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Unless otherwise noted, I drew or took the photographs in the article—as lame as they may look. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just plain scary. Copyright can be found here for my original work.