Working Hero mobile game captures Hong Kong office worker fantasy to fight the powers that be
Kung fu street battles, ex-leader Leung Chun-ying and tycoon Li Ka-shing await gamers in a unique showcase of local culture that its designers say is the start of a dream
It’s 6pm in a typical Hong Kong office – time to knock off, theoretically. Inside their cubicles, staff look on edge as each waits for someone brave enough to stand up and leave first.
At that moment, a message pops up on an employee’s mobile phone: “Do you want to work overtime pretending you are busy, or be the first one to take off, like a hero?”
The second option seems tempting, but in real life many workers are reluctant to take it.
However, this scenario is not reality, but a mobile video game.
Working Hero simulates the overwhelmingly depressing office environment experienced by so many in Hong Kong. Players get to “make a different choice that they dare not consider in reality”, said game designer Li Kwan.
In taking on the role of an office worker, gamers gain “experience points” from their hard work and use them to buy new skills, which come in handy after hours when they venture onto the streets of Hong Kong.
After work, all sorts of challenges await, from battling kung fu masters to bumping into personalities based on famous local politicians and celebrities, such as movie star Stephen Chow Sing-chi, former leader Leung Chun-ying and tycoon Li Ka-shing (all presented with a tint of humour and irony).
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“I often find office culture in Hong Kong ridiculous,” said Wong Yue-fai, 33, a programmer on Working Hero. “And it seems like Hong Kong people never think about changing it.”
The city has the longest working hours in the world, at more than 50 a week on average, according to a 2016 survey by investment bank UBS.
A government census report in the same year showed one in 10 Hong Kong workers put in at least 60 hours a week. The result excluded foreign domestic helpers.
Launched nine months ago, Working Hero has been downloaded 119,000 times, and not only in Hong Kong but also mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore. It has proved popular despite the game using traditional Chinese characters and carrying a great deal of Cantonese slang.
Li, 28, said the game had found favour with overseas gamers through its use of Hong Kong’s world-renowned cultural talking points such as kung fu movies.
“We also try to imply sarcasm related to local politics,” Li said. “Complicated political relationships are representative of Hong Kong society. We reflect this in the game, although not always necessarily with the city’s bright side.
“For example, we introduce Leung Chun-ying as the boss of a ‘looming evil power’ attempting to ‘suppress the freedom [to practise] kung fu’.”
Wong said the game designers did not want to shy away from political or social issues, despite running the risk of driving away potential new players as the game travelled overseas.
“Right now we don’t see any need for self-censorship,” he said.
It was exactly the game’s resemblance to real life, both personal and societal, that fans found appealing, Wong added.
Li said he hoped the game would make Hongkongers stop and think about their lives.
“I hope people can empathise with the scenes, and think about this: are chasing your dreams and surviving in reality absolutely contradictory?”
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The kung fu element symbolised a dream deep inside every overwhelmed office worker, including Li, to break the mould, he said.
The pair spent a year developing the game with three other part-time cartoonists, after receiving funding from the government in 2016 worth HK$150,000 (US$19,100). They still earn a living through other jobs, since they currently only receive about HK$10,000 a month from Working Hero.
“Of course, most people still consider us loafers – so-called ‘trash youth’,” Li said. “But I consider myself on the way to my dream.”
The young designer wants to make more games to promote Hong Kong’s unique culture.
“I love Hong Kong so much, and am proud of the diversity of its culture,” Li said. “Working Hero is the starting point for my dream.”