Wouldn’t it have been easier to tell Mylan CEO Heather Bresch—whose main claim to fame involves jacking up the price of Epipens in the US—to delete her account? Is The GOP Arcade’s latest release, Epipen Tycoon, a game with which we must reckon simply because Bresch does not currently have a Twitter account to be memed into submission? What a waste.
Fair warning: I’m going to spoil the end to Epipen Tycoon in this paragraph because there’s so little to the game that it cannot be discussed otherwise. You play as Bresch. “Your shareholders want results,” the game informs you. “Your customers want not to die of anaphylactic shock.” You have the power to alter the price of Epipens, angering either customers or shareholders. Equilibrium can’t really be achieved here. You can raise prices more slowly or make drastic cuts when people get annoyed, but in the end someone will get angry and you’ll lose the job. People will die or the board will freak out. You’ll get ousted. The end.
And then what? The game’s over, that’s what. Epipen Tycoon amounts to a giant rhetorical shrug. The system will keep going whatever you do, a point that could count as scabrous critique in more deft hands. But, here, condescending ire is also reserved for the Twitter horde that bullies Bresch out of her job after price hikes. “You set the prices too high and couldn’t handle the nonstop Twitter abuse and constant thought pieces about how evil you are on Medium,” the game announces. “It’s time for you to resign and probably take another CEO job at a different drug company.”
As with The GOP Arcade’s previous release, Thoughts and Prayers, a certain amount of this derision for hashtag activism is fair, but its fatalism ultimately comes across as derision against well-meaning people. In the absence of an alternate model for social change, this sort of posturing comes off as little more than world-weary cynicism masquerading as political insight. The GOP Arcade is that guy in your intro Poli Sci course.
In its desire to rain disdain on everyone in sight, Epipen Tycoon somehow manages to let most of the offending parties in l’affaire Mylan off the hook. The surge in Epipen prices is a peculiarly American story. The change in prices is not immediately borne by the consumer. Mylan has taken to handing out coupons as a form of damage control, which means the added cost is not coming straight out of the pockets of concerned parents. Rather, Epipen hikes are a way of bilking insurers, the effects of which are then indirectly passed back to parents who worry about their kids’ allergies as part of their premiums. This is a game plenty of drug makers play, but Mylan played it badly, delaying its various rebate efforts and otherwise being clumsy. (Come to think of it, that is a more compelling game than Epipen Tycoon, but I can only review what is in front of me.)
The precise nature of the system that makes this whole sorry mess possible is entirely missing from the game, which is both strangely exculpatory and a way of making Heather Bresch look like just another cog. If the implicit logic of Epipen Tycoon is that none of this would happen under single-payer healthcare, the argument is only apparent if you had already come to that conclusion, in which case the game serves no persuasive purpose.
What bothers me about Epipen Tycoon, and The GOP Arcade’s output in general, is that there are brief moments of promise in all of these games. It’s true that people who tweet about thoughts and prayers aren’t going to change laws just as it’s true that CEOs have incentives to raise drug prices, but the developers don’t seem to know what to do with these pieces of intuition. Instead of using game mechanics to illuminate how structures work or build a compelling critique that would not work in another medium, play is being used as a delivery mechanism for smarm. Epipen Tycoon’s resemblance to a game is purely aesthetic—a justification for the “tycoon” in its name. What a waste.
You can play Epipen Tycoon in your browser.