Splatoon 2's Horde Mode Mirrors the Reality of Exploited Young Workers

Splatoon 2's Horde Mode Mirrors the Reality of Exploited Young Workers

Never did I think a game about splatting paint on the ground would remind me of my first jobs.

Early in your career, especially in a writing oriented one, you're likely to be taken advantage of. It feels like just part of the business after you hear so many stories of it, whether from peers or strangers, or even yourself. Then you learn, you move on, you're more cautious going forward, and most of all, you're stronger for it.

I was once an eager workaholic with no sense of limits or restraint. I was naive, in other words. Effectively, I was exploited during my first "full-time" job at a very small company. It was full-time in name alone; I worked a whole lot, but I wasn't paid for my first two months of employment. (Something something, payroll woes, the usual excuses.) I was elated back when I accepted the job. It was my opportunity to break out of freelancing and being a barista—other penny pinching lines of work—and pave my own path comfortably. But the opportunity ended up being a bad one, one that was trying emotionally, physically, mentally for months on end.

Then I left, no longer feeling like I had to swear loyalty to a company that didn't respect me. (I landed happily here at USgamer after the fact, fancy that.) I eventually got paid for those months I did work after lots and lots of nagging, and I'm thankful that my sparse savings account allowed me to coast by as long as I could. It wasn't even the only terrible, exploitative work experience I had (thank you, years in retail and the food industry, working overtime for no bonus pay). And of all the games to remind me of these experiences, I never expected Splatoon 2 to be the one to harken back to it.

But it does. In Splatoon 2's horde PvE mode called Salmon Run, the player is plucked from their ultra-colorful world and placed into a situation unlike their own. It's not only new to Splatoon 2, but it's unlike anything else in the series. Bright colors are swapped for brown; colorful Octoling foes or fellow squid kids are replaced by radioactive, monster-like salmon. They ooze a gross green paint, and nothing else. Meanwhile you're not the inkling you've always been. All your gear is replaced with workmanlike wear. My cool frames are swapped for a trucker hat. My sneakers for mud-repellant boots. I looked emphatically uncool in this new work environment. But I was guilted into pushing through the sludge regardless. (Because loot, I guess.)

In Salmon Run, there's no cute cat serving up match results, nor a stylin' Marie aiding you on your quest. Instead, you have an unsavory, nonvisible boss named Mr. Grizz who offers you tough work for little reward—work that he isn't doing, but that you and other inklings are. You're not being compensated fairly. Your boss knows it, deep down you know it. Heck, even the game's conscious knows it, because after clicking through to Grizzco (the hub for Salmon Runs) and hearing Mr. Grizz's opening spiel, a pop up interrupts you that reads "Uh… are you sure about this? (This job seems pretty sketch.)"

It is pretty sketch. Mr. Grizz is the worst type of boss. He's demanding, rude, exploiting the young workers underneath him. He's a frightening presence, even when he's seemingly only a grizzly bear statue. Mr. Grizz has no qualms insulting my inkling when we did poorly (which happened a couple times when matchmaking would launch me into a horde mode by myself because there weren't enough players online). He enthusiastically praised me when we did well. It all felt grimy and made me feel uneasy, and it honestly reminded me of my former boss. Yikes.

It's fitting that the Salmon Run eventually turns into a monotonous grind after a few rounds. The boss salmon become familiar sights, and are easier to defeat. With a full squad, the three waves in the mode are easy to get through (though they grow in intensity the better you get). The Salmon Run is a tedious, expected grind, one that I hope gets better and more varied with updates but also feels true for the climate it's trying to emit. The climate that young people are exploited in the workforce every damn day; and a lot of times in the face of amassing student loans, bills, and more, they sadly just put up with it. I know I once did.

A reflective part of Salmon Run to our own society is that Mr. Grizz seemingly gets the highest cut, where your pay grade is the lowest of the low. The more successful you are in wiping out waves of nuclear-touched salmon, the higher your pay grade rises. But it's too slow, and hardly steady. You begin as a wee little "intern"—justification in exploiting little inklings at first blush—before moving onward. Currently I'm an "apprentice," but I'm slowly inching closer to the next tier of employment.

When you Google anything close to "young workers," or the dreaded phrase "millennial" near "employment," you're likely to get a page full of organizations dedicated to helping the groups. Whether their goals are unionization, occupational safety, or anything else, the organizations exist in so wide of a scope, that it's staggering. Young workers are time and time again taken advantage of, exploited for their enthusiasm and undying work ethics in the workforce both full-time and part-time. And in Splatoon 2's idyllic world, even their young workforce is no exception.

It's a screwed up world the inklings live in, but so is ours, I guess. It's the Mollusc Era, a post-apocalyptic world overrun by hybrid squid kids and octopus kids. It's a world where the youth rule everything. They define what's cool, what they do in their spare time (squirt ink places), what's fashionable, and more. The Salmon Run is an example of the struggles they face even then. That older individuals still refuse to take people younger than them seriously, so they punish them for it by playing upon their naivety. It's a fucked up cycle, honestly. I hope the final tier of employment sees the inklings rising up, and being the boss once and for all, ushering Mr. Grizz out of his skeezy place of predatory power.

Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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