Anatomy of a Scare – NIGHT OF THE CONSUMERS’ Retail Horror
The Anatomy of a Scare series interviews horror game developers about the most chilling scares in their titles, examining how they were created, what thoughts went into their design, and the reasons they felt these moments were so terrifying.
“The consumers, with their unrelenting thirst for customer service are still prowling the aisles and there are shelves still to be stocked up. The store needs to be kept in pristine condition, and empty shelves will not be tolerated by The Manager. Welcome to hell.”
NIGHT OF THE CONSUMERS captures the special kind of horrors only a retail worker knows. Working at a breakneck pace, berated at every turn for just trying to do your job, and constantly demeaned by a society that, as we’ve seen, would likely collapse without your service, is a harrowing experience. One only made worse by the lousy pay. It’s a mentally-exhausting experience, and one that loaned itself quite well to a horror experience in this work from developer germfood.
How? Simply put, it captures the crushing expectations most retail workers live under, immersing the player in that endless pressure to keep things looking perfect while dealing with demanding, rude customers who aim to make their lives more complicated if they aren’t placated. It’s that real-world tension and anxiety that becomes its own kind of horror, where we work everyday while drowning in fear of the troubles that await us that we have very little control over. It’s about being afraid of losing your job, and the hate and fear that builds in you over the people who will make that difficult on a whim.
NIGHT OF THE CONSUMERS puts the player under a great deal of pressure as soon as the game starts, something akin to The Endless Stairwell, but with more shelf stocking.
When asked about the most important moment in conveying fear to the player , germfood said “I’d probably say it’s when you click ‘Start’ on the menu screen and the game loads in. You are greeted with the oh-so familiar musky walls of the staff area, you can hear the overly-loud breathing of The Manager as his back is turned to you, knowing you arrived late to your job. You see all the lockers of all the tormented working souls, and then it sinks in. You’re in hell.”
It’s a situation that’s likely familiar to many players, carrying that tension of being on the job for the first time, as well as the imminent pressure that’s to come from trying to survive in a busy retail environment. This was a purposeful move on the developer’s part in creating NIGHT OF THE CONSUMERS.
“For this game, it was important to just make sure that the character design and environments looked ordinary. I wanted it to evoke a sense of familiarity and make the player question why they just bought a game to work a virtual soul-destroying minimum wage job (the ultimate horror),” said germfood.
With that familiarity of place comes, again, that familiar pressure that comes with that first day on the job. “I wanted to put a lot of pressure on the player before they stepped out onto the shop-floor for the first time,” said germfood. “When you start the game, you are first greeted by The Manager, who values his reputation over his employees’ mental wellbeing. He tells you that his store is the best in town, and that anything but perfect customer-service would be met with immediate consequences.”
I can’t imagine that there’s anyone who’s worked a job who cannot think of at least one boss who demanded perfection for pennies, expecting you to accomplish all of your tasks flawlessly despite the fact that you’re also in a business that is open to the public. The kind of person who asks why you didn’t complete setting up some kind of display when you spent all night dealing with the demands of a holiday rush. As such, NIGHT OF THE CONSUMERS emulates that fear that builds in you from knowing you’re going to get yelled at despite honestly putting in your best efforts.
germfood twists the knife a little harder, as you won’t be working with any help, either. “Then, you see a cutscene of another employee, absolutely terrified and sprinting away from customers, who bursts into the staff-only area and pukes all over the floor! He then explains to you the importance of stacking all the remaining shelves in the store (the goal of the game) as The Manager will not tolerate empty shelves. He then quits on the spot. You are now alone, and you must now somehow stack all the shelves and avoid the customers by themselves.”
“This whole intro sequence was designed to mentally degrade and overwhelm the player before the gameplay starts to happen. So, when the scares do start to happen, they won’t be ready for them,” they continued.
This kind of setup puts the player under a great deal of tension and pressure as they work through NIGHT OF THE CONSUMERS, drawing from the retail experience to get the player in a fearful mindset when dealing with customers while juggling their mandatory tasks. It might not seem to be the same as the terror you feel while being dogged by monsters in the dark, but that fear of losing what little income you have due to unfair expectations all around – this sense that your life is in someone else’s hands, and that they can totally destroy it if they’re just in a bad mood – is just as effective as any made-up creature.
Now, you have a task to do in stocking the game’s shelves, but you have to do it without getting interrupted by the relentless customers and their inane requests. If they catch sight of you, they’ll follow you endlessly until they catch you, keeping you from doing your tasks until they get what they want. Since you need to keep those shelves looking perfect (and the opening moments of the game implied the grave consequences if you don’t), it creates this tension as you wander the aisles, fear spiking if you catch a glimpse of some old lady rushing toward you. All people become cause for alarm, making for some powerful jump scares in broad daylight.
It sounds silly, in a sense, but again, when you have a high pressure task to do, and running into an interruption can result in big trouble, up to being fired, it creates its own kind of terror. You want to avoid these interruptions, which happen to be the glaring, demanding customers rushing through the building. And those intense, rushing faces are kind of chilling on their own despite their humanity, right?
In NIGHT OF THE CONSUMERS, you have a few tools to work with in order to get your tasks done. You can sneak into staff-only rooms if it feels like someone is about to find you. You have free reign to move around the shop, so you can take whatever route you think will help you lose your tail. It’s not a lot, but in a retail setting, it’s all you’d really be able to do. It’s just enough freedom to do your job while also trying to dodge interruptions.
If you get caught, you lose even these limited abilities. “A big thing for this game was removing a lot of the freedom the player had before the scare occurred. Before you are caught by a customer, you can run around the shop floor freely, hide from customers in the staff-only rooms, and stack the remaining shelves (as free as a retail employee can be). But as soon as you’re caught, the customer stalks your every move until you deal with their request. You can’t stack shelves, your screen is obscured by the customer’s dialogue, the staff-only safe-haven rooms are now locked off, and the anxiety-inducing music gets faster and faster. If you fail to deal with the customer’s request, you are met with the words ‘I WANT TO SPEAK TO A MANAGER’ and then only god can help you,” said germfood.
This creates an additional way to get in trouble with The Manager, causing more anxiety in the player as they work through NIGHT OF THE CONSUMERS. It’s bad enough that you’ll be berated for not getting the shelves stocked by the end of the night, but because you spent some time helping the rude, aggressive customers who frequent the place, things might get worse for you.
It also amplifies fear through continually dialing up the tension with the customer interaction. You don’t want to run into these people because they’ll take away your ability to move, which creates a tense game of stealth as you try your best to work around them. You’re not just trying to avoid them, either, as you have to complete time-consuming tasks in the area as these customers wander, adding further anxiety as you struggle to complete your duties, always looking over your shoulder at what might be coming for you.
And when one of them catches you, it’s a terrifying chase to stay away from them, hopefully losing them somewhere. They’re incredibly persistent, though, so expect to get caught often, then find yourself forced to deal with their requests quickly so you don’t get in trouble with the The Manager.
So, in NIGHT OF THE CONSUMERS, you have a game that creates several stages of scares, where it keeps the player anxious about their fate due to how well they can complete their task of stocking shelves, and a further fear of getting caught by a customer and being interrupted in that task. These two fears feed into one another, with the fear of failing at stocking shelves making the appearance of a customer into something that drives terror into your heart, and then your time wasted with the customer reminds you of the initial fear you have of getting in trouble, getting shouted at, and losing your job.
It creates a cycle of anxiety and terror that is perhaps too familiar, and possibly a little bit too real, for anyone’s that’s worked with the public. One germfood knows all too well from their own experiences. “I currently work in retail, so my experiences not only inspired the concept of this game, but also came in handy when emulating the anxiety and stress of customer service. I get jumpscared everyday in real life by middle-aged women asking me if we sell bars of soap! Just thinking about it gives me the shakes!”
NIGHT OF THE CONSUMERS offers a limited reprieve from your fears when you finally ditch a customer and can get back to your work. You feel you might be able to complete your task this time, but how long will it be before another customer comes creeping around the aisle again?
“Every single scare in this game is pretty short, because it’s inevitable that you’ll get caught by the customers unless you’re really good at the game. So, making the player feel some sort of relief after being trapped in the clutches of customer-service was important. The relief is that you can now go back and slack off in the staff-only rooms which are previously locked off when you are caught by a customer. But the relief is fleeting because, sooner or later, you will have to return to the shop-floor and finish your tasks,” said germfood.
Relief is fleeting, and the pressure is unrelenting, throughout NIGHT OF THE CONSUMERS’s stunning recreation of retail life. While it is a stylized look at it, it draws from the real pressures and fears of many retail workers in a way that should (hopefully) make it eye-opening for customers who are used to being pandered to despite their incessant demands, but perhaps a little too real for anyone who’s got to work in retail for themselves right now.
Being afraid of customer requests might not seem like something that would make for good horror, but when your rent and grocery bills count on you doing your job to perfection and staying out of trouble, any interruption can make for a frightening threat. As such, it makes for a game that skews uncomfortably close to reality, capturing scares that will give players a frightening glimpse of retail reality.