The dream starts small. It feels big, but in the grander scheme of life and business, it is small. You have a convenience store, and a small one at that—just a few shelves and one part-time helper. But maybe—just maybe—it can be something more. If you work hard, if you make the right choices, and if everything goes your way. If, if, if.
This is both the promise of small-time entrepreneurship and of Conveni Dream, a new game for Nintendo 3DS that turns the challenges of starting a small business into a colorful joyride. Sure, there are stakes—some will build a big business and others will fail—but gone is the pathos. In its place, you will find colors and swiping motions as you choose what to display prominently in the hope of maximizing sales. This is commerce at its most transactional—more transactional than in real life.
There is, of course, the small matter of your employee. Maybe one day you’ll be able to afford a second, but for now it’s just one. Anyhow, that employee—maybe they have a name and personality—is a dot you swipe across the screen. A slightly larger dot than other dots, but a dot nonetheless. This is a relatively old tradition in videogames. In the early 2000s, you could buy a hot dog shop management game from Scholastic (yes, the book people) and Conveni Dream is basically the same thing. You watch these people from above, moving them around. Theirs is not the agency that matters here.
A convenience store is not exactly the ideal place for staging the great labor battle of our time, but Conveni Dream formalizes a cultural idea that’s been in the works for a while. Most nights on Food Network, if you stay up late enough and survive the onslaught of Guy Fieri, you can see one show or another where someone comes in with a series of hidden cameras to tell a boss that their restaurant/shop/bar/hotel’s employees are schmucks. And, to be fair, the employees are often schmucks.
Theft, in case it needed to be said, is bad. But whereas the earlier genre of undercover boss shows humanized everyone, this brand of cultural product offers minimal agency to the employees; it is just corporate surveillance as a form of entertainment. Conveni Dream exists on a smaller scale where everyone is a striver and the discordance is less noticeable, but it’s still hard to escape who gets agency in business simulations and who doesn’t. You are the boss and the employees are dots; you work your way up to a larger business and they… well, that’s a whole other story.
You can purchase Conveni Dream for $5 on the 3DS eShop.