Wendy’s d20 – The Game We Didn’t Need

On a good day, I don’t like commercials. I dislike targeted advertising and I detest branding. I have adblocker on all my browsers, an advertising ban on my mailbox and another on my mobile number, and when I go to the movies, I bring an e-reader so I don’t have to pay attention to the commercials. I feel a spiritual connection with Captain Kramer in Airplane!

So imagine my unbridled joy when an American fast food chain released a hundred-page ad trying to disguise itself as a role-playing game, advertising something I am not only deeply uninterested in but also unable to buy, seeing as Wendy’s doesn’t have restaurants in Europe.

I’m not linking Feast of Legends. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already run across it on your social media of choice way too many times over the past two days. I’m also not reviewing it, since it seems to operate a lot on in-jokes about Wendy’s and other fast food brands. There seems to be an obsession about their stuff never being frozen.

I’m also not reviewing it because it’s an advertisement, not an actual game. I’ve seen people on forums claim that it’s competently designed, though, which is an interesting claim since the damn thing gives every impression of being originally designed for D&D 5E and then hastily rewritten for its new system. Though it’s not D&D, knowing D&D is mandatory to actually play it since it doesn’t explain concepts like “saving throw” despite using them and you’re not told what the stats do apart from Strength. I can sorta tease out that Grace is probably supposed to give attack bonuses on ranged attacks and possibly Defense, and Arcana is probably supposed to give a bonus to spell attacks, but I have no idea what Intelligence is for. Nothing seems to actually use Intelligence, or Charm. It also uses keywords that are first not defined and then mixed up, and the equipment chapter, for some reason titled “Adventuring” is riddled with typos that even MS Word’s spellchecker should’ve caught. And of course you get buffs for eating Wendy’s (as a player, not character) and debuffs for eating stuff from other joints.

The adventure is decent, though there’s annoying wordplay-based riddles that don’t work if you play in a language other than English. The most interesting part of the whole thing is the thinly veiled references to other fast food brands, though much like Wendy’s, we’ve managed to avoid having KFC or Jack in the Box over here.

The layout looks nice, I guess. The art is sorta competent.

Initially, some people in my social media bubble were annoyed that the work credited no designers – or more accurately, credited the work to Wendy – but honestly, if I were guilty of perpetrating this thing, I wouldn’t want word to get out either. Anyway, the responsible party is an advertising agency, not a game company. The names are on Twitter for the willing digger.

And then there’s the other thing. Like, I generally find it a safe assumption that a company of a certain size, especially based in the United States, a country still suffering from national trauma over that one time they had to get rid of slavery, is going to be up to some sketchy stuff labour-wise. I accept that when I buy something made by a large American corporation, their CEO is most likely funding the GOP. Buying a senator or a share in a president is a pretty good investment, after all. Turns out that even by the modest standards of the American food industry, Wendy’s is pretty bad. Like, really bad. Quoting from an LA Times report from the Mexican tomato farms where they source their tomatoes:

One day, a mother confronted a boss. She asked for more tortillas.

Ricardo Martinez, who was standing in the soup line behind the woman, recalled the boss’ reaction.

“He told her she would only get a slap in the face,” Martinez said. “Then an older man stepped in and said, ‘Don’t hit her, hit me.’ ”

Martinez said the boss knocked the man to the ground and beat him. “She just needed more for her kids. What they gave wasn’t enough,” Martinez said.

People too ill to work were put on the no-pay list. They couldn’t get in the soup line unless they swept up around the camp.

Wendy’s had also organised a showcase game session with Critical Role, who then presumably looked at Twitter, went “oops”, and donated their sponsorship money from the week to charity, tweeting:

We’ve donated our profits from our sponsorships this week to @FarmwrkrJustice, an organization that works to improve the lives of farmworkers. If you’re able to, please consider a donation and learn more about their work: http://farmworkerjustice.org

Which was the right thing to do, of course. I’m not going after Mercer & co. here, though it would’ve been a lot better if they’d done their work and vetted the company beforehand.

The last thing that bugs me here is the corporate bullshit aspect of it. The work is credited to the company logo, like their Twitter feed. On Twitter, “Wendy” dishes out snark and presents as a person. @Wendys (whom I blocked) isn’t a soulless billion-dollar corporation exploiting cheap labour in developing countries, she’s your friend who posts funny and relatable content! And now she’s a game designer, too! And you get buffs in her game by buying food from her restaurant! Yay friendship!

The YouTuber Sarah Z covered some aspects of this a year ago:

Also, while I am flattered that a soulless billion-dollar corporation considers me as a role-playing game hobbyist a demographic specifically worth targeting, I’d rather they didn’t. There is something about the idea of role-playing a lunch menu item – which is what the classes in Feast of Legends amount to – that makes my skin crawl. There’s something I find philosophically odious about actively participating in being advertised to, about taking on the role of a commodity that’s simultaneously being sold to me. It’s like being enthusiastically complicit in being oppressed by late-stage capitalism.

And seriously, if your annual revenue is in the ten-digit range, you can afford to include an editor in your ad budget.

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