Once you've stumbled into the 1996 desktop of Eugene B. Hayes, you'll be there for a while.
Game developers John Watmuff and Peter Szekeres launched SEa DoPe two years ago, simulating the bored musings of a man during a dull and manageable zombie apocalypse. They make a lot of quirky stuff, but this is one of their most mind-bogglingly detailed projects.
It's a puzzle game, an online community, and a role-playing interactive web toy, but mostly it's weird as hell and darkly hilarious. Players can spend their time picking through the various tasks, correspondences, and programs that reside on the desktop, or follow the prompts to piece together clues about Eugene's primary mission at the FBI "Radio Criminals Division."
"We wanted to create a character and story that takes a look at the menial bureaucracy and silly 'professionalism' in our cubicle worlds, and still show the inevitable, weird humanness that overtakes the computers we use," they told me over email. "Like, we giggle when we see people who have Shaq quotes or advice slogans in their email signatures. These details made Eugene."
Eugene's desktop is what's left of a viral outbreak that turned the residents of fictional Pope Josephine, Maine, into the walking dead. The format allowed Watmuff and Szekeres to return to some of the early-PC nostalgia they grew up with, they said: Simple games like Minesweeper, corny desktop encyclopedias, time-wasting doodles. "To us [in the 90s], learning to navigate a PC felt like an adventure full of random programs, robotic noises, strange fonts and symbols, and sudden glitches. We didn't know what we were doing, but clicking around felt like solving a quirky puzzle."
They've written scads of text, backstory and anecdotes from multiple characters contained behind every clickable link (and most are clickable). A zombie radar tracker program blips for nearby walkers, but Eugene is more concerned about the unusual habits of squirrels. Mostly, he seems overwhelmed by the crushing ennui of it all. There's a Sports Illustrated cover collection hiding in there, behind several layers of "confidential" folders.
It's all so convincing that the actual FBI dropped them a line. "We thought we were screwed, like we broke copyright laws or committed treason or something," they said. "But the person said he happily wasted an afternoon on our site and gave us pointers to make it seem more official. That was incredible."
Part of what makes it such a delightful time-suck is the online forum for Pope Josephine, where site visitors become message board users. More than 500 people joined to talk about the goings-on in this disturbed little town by the sea. The last post in the forum was logged on April 5, 2016, titled "Re: it's over" (Warning, it is troubling, even if it is just someone playing an RPG character at the end of human civilization). Watmuff and Szekeres said that someday, SEa DoPe could be revived to become part of an augmented reality game they're currently working on.
Oh, and don't bother trying to figure out what SEa DoPe stands for. Like sitting behind a desk as the world around you devolves into undead madness, it's pretty meaningless.