The task of seeking out a job can feel as daunting as taking on the world, with new foes appearing at every turn.
That's how Charles DeYoe feels. The 26-year-old has yet to find a job since graduating from SUNY-Buffalo last year with his master's in library science.
"Sometimes it would feel as though the world is against you, and people would say, 'Well, the reason you don't have a job is because you're lazy and it's your own fault,'" says DeYoe.
Frustrated, DeYoe decided to build something in his spare time: "Unemployment Quest," which he bills as a "non-epic role-playing game." In the computer game, a player guides a character through the trials that come with finding a job. DeYoe, who describes himself a "jack of all trades," is living up to that characterization, writing the game soundtrack in addition to building the game. Some of the challenges represent common hurdles in the job process, like an "online application" battle, and potential employers. DeYoe says he has also introduced a challenge in the form of "The One Percent," whom he says "intimidate" rather than "attack" the main character.
Still, DeYoe says, many of the game's enemies take on the shape of tougher but less tangible problems.
"Most enemies are emotional states," says DeYoe, who has given these villains names like Shame, Doubt, and Discouragement.
"Unemployment Quest" has a decidedly old-school look to it, in the style of 1980s-era games like "The Legend of Zelda." However DeYoe turned to the uber-modern medium of Kickstarter for funding. On the web fund-raising platform, Unemployment Quest has been an unqualified success. According to Kickstarter, about 44 percent of projects successfully meet their funding goals, but DeYoe's game has received over $8,000 in pledges—a remarkable sum, given its initial $1,000 goal.
That level of success has exceeded anything DeYoe ever hoped for.
"I was planning on like having to guilt-trip 100 friends into shelling out $10 until I could make CDs, but it seems that I've tapped something, and it's surprised me," he says.
A look at the comments section of the game's Kickstarter site shows enthusiastic support from two communities: fellow gamers, as well as people who empathize with DeYoe's unsuccessful job search.
"I too was unemployed for a period of a year when the Dot-com fiasco occurred ages ago. Anyone unemployed that long knows its a little slice of hell," said one commenter.
"Screw looking for a job when you can make your own work and have fun doing it. Congrats on the outstanding funding," said another.
Still, not everyone has been supportive. When one independent role-playing game site featured DeYoe's project, naysayers derided DeYoe's efforts. Some criticized his game design, saying that it is too simple to justify needing $1,000. Others got more personal.
"There was this whole barrage of people saying, 'He doesn't have a job. He shouldn't be releasing a game; he should be looking for other jobs,'" says DeYoe.
Still, he is using his extra Kickstarter money to print hundreds more discs of the game, which he will bring to this year's ConnectiCon, an annual convention that celebrates "pop culture," focusing on areas like anime and role-playing games.
DeYoe's game might stick out amid a crowded field of role-playing games that feature dragons and warlords and goblins. Despite the creatures his hero battles, DeYoe worked hard at keeping his game grounded in reality.
"It ends with the player getting called back for an interview at a large department store, but does not explicitly say if they get the job or not," he says. "The ultimate goal within the game is to realize that an uncertain future can be a good thing, even if it's scary."
Then again, job seekers may find that the game deviates from reality in one key way: it takes two to four hours to complete the game and get that interview, according to DeYoe. When the median duration of unemployment nationwide is more than 19 weeks, that may be the ultimate fantasy.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter at @titonka or via E-mail at email@example.com.