The Office: Games in Real Life

NBC’s The Office
“The Coup”
Episode 3002 | Season 3 | 10/05/2006

Synopsis: Michael had made it a point to have Movie Monday every week. He called the office into the conference room to watch a 30-minute installment of Varsity Blues, but Jan made an unexpected visit and did not like what she saw. Angela had Dwight thinking that he could run the office if Michael was fired.

Dwight thought about it and decided to meet up with Jan. He lied to Michael and then told Jan to come to an outlet center where they could meet privately. Jan informed Michael that Dwight was trying to take control of the office. She warned Michael to get better control of his staff. Michael couldn’t believe Dwight’s nerve to go behind his back.

Jim’s branch, in Stamford, CT, became obsessed with playing the computer game Call of Duty II while at work. His boss was infuriated when he found out that Jim was the reason why their branch was losing the game. Jim is beginning to like his co-worker Karen, but is also feeling very out of place in such a video-game-obsessed office.

Michael fooled Dwight into believing that he was going to take over the office. Michael told the office that Dwight was taking over, who immediately began implementing his leadership strategies. But when Dwight refused to take the keys to Michael’s Sebring, insulting it as beneath him, Michael told Dwight he’d found out about his betrayal through Jan, and that the whole promotion game was a test. Dwight pleaded with Michael to trust him again. The office watched as Dwight got on his knees and begged Michael not to fire him. He offered to do Michael’s laundry for a year, and Michael accepted.

Back in Stamford, Jim is putting on his jacket to leave and turns at the door to face Karen, still sitting at her desk. He makes a motion as if pulling out a hand-grenade, pulling the pin, and tossing it towards Karen, who grabs a handful of paper clips and tosses them into the air in a mock explosion. Jim smiles happily for the first time all day, and heads home.

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This is easily one of my favorite episodes, mostly because it sends a message about the difference between virtual reality and old-fashioned reality, and how hard we’ve fallen into the former, at the expense of the latter.

Jim loves to play games. Pranks, tricks, hoaxes, jokes, all of it. Life is a game to him. Even his job as a paper salesman can occasionally bring him fulfillment when it allows him to stretch his imagination and add some competition, strategy or intrigue to the daily interactions of life.

But when he gets promoted, and transferred away from Scranton–away from his favorite partner-in-crime Pam, and his favorite nemesis Dwight–Jim loses much of what made his occupation worthwhile. Make no mistake… there’s no lack of competitiveness at the Stamford branch, it’s just just that they express it in a computer game instead of real life. Naturally, Jim is out of his league in the virtual world of gaming, and starts to feel homesick.

Meanwhile back at the Scranton Branch, Michael is playing head games with Dwight… testing his loyalty by fooling him into thinking he’s going to take over management of the branch. It’s a tense and intriguing interplay as the lies slowly take shape, culminating in a humiliating endgame for Dwight.

Although Jim is starting to worry about not fitting in at Stamford, there’s a glimpse of hope right at the end, when he plays a little miming game with Karen, and she takes the bait.

As dysfunctional as the Scranton office is, we’re given a dose of perspective by Jim’s experience at Stamford. Pranks and games may not be good for productivity at Scranton, but at least they’re real. At least they’re relational. Stamford, by contrast, is trapped inside someone else’s imagination… in a highly-polished, fabricated world of World War 2 violence.

Most people’s lives, anymore, are like the Stamford branch. Our realities exist largely on flickering rectangles: TVs, Computers, Cell Phones, iPods, GPS screens, and all our myriad products endowed with LCD displays.

Have we really forgotten how to play a game in three dimensions? How to chat in a room with actual walls? How to see a show live, that isn’t broadcast live?

And of course, the more I type this blog, the more hypocritical I get. Swing by the Front Porch tonight, and you can hear me ramble on and on in real life.

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3 thoughts on “The Office: Games in Real Life

  1. Thanks, Susan! I used to be a lot more consistent in my blogging. I just recently came off a little month-long blogcation, but I hope I can start to be more committed again now.

    But I’m glad you’ve been enjoying it!

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