What to do if you're shut down? Make a game of it.

A few fun, free and maybe even useful things to do if the government closes shop

It looks increasingly likely that most federal employees will soon face a compulsory unpaid vacation, also known as a government shutdown. Like those mandatory meetings you are “invited” to attend by your boss, it seems like this is going to be one of those times where you would almost certainly rather be somewhere -- anywhere -- else.

But perhaps there is a silver lining in this dark cloud. Traditionally, feds are paid for lost wages once things start moving again. And although this is no certainty, especially given the radical nature of the newly elected House freshmen, there’s a good chance that your lost pay will eventually catch up with you.

So we can look at this as chance to have a little fun, though it's a good idea to do it cheaply since there might not be any money coming in for a while.

There is one thing I’ve learned over the past decade covering feds: Most of them are patriots. They come to work every day, do the best that they can without complaint, and move this country forward in both small and large ways. My father worked for the National Institute of Standards and Technology his entire working life, almost up to his death, and he was that type of fed.

The prospect of taking a vacation for people like that is actually a tough sell. So here are a few ways you can make good -- or at least fun -- use of your time way from the job.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency needs your help in developing technology to track enemy submarines. The agency has created a game with a serious mission behind it: to test out an anti-submarine vessel it's building.

DARPA needs to see how different configurations of the vehicle will work at sea in a detailed simulation in which you track down an enemy sub trying to escape your pursuit. When you are finished playing, you can upload your score and techniques to DARPA for analysis. Who knows, perhaps if you are good enough, you might even get recruited for a little anti-submarine work while you wait to go back to your old job. The leader boards for the game are a little thin right now, so it’s anyone’s game, literally.

If government leaders have left you out of work, and you think you could have done better, why not take over a government yourself? We in the GCN Lab have fallen in love lately with a little free war simulation called WarFlow. It puts you in charge of a small kingdom in ancient China. You have to manage your government and your people, fight wars and generally increase the honor and power of your nation. See if you can avoid a government shutdown!

As a bonus, the persistent world game runs in a little Flash window without sound. So when you do get back to work, you can probably peek in to see how your kingdom is doing from time to time without getting in trouble.

And if a shutdown lasts a long time, even beating the current record of 21 days from back in December 1995, you are going to need a serious time-waster. My favorite online game of all time, "Lord of the Rings Online," became free to play earlier this year.

You can spend months and months playing this game and not see all there is within its world. Given that it’s based on the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, this should not be a surprise. I’m part of a small guild on the Meneldor server called Keepers of the Red Book. We would be more than happy to accept displaced feds as honored temporary guests, or as longtime friends. Just send an in-game letter to my hobbit, Circee, and we’ll be happy to show you around. You might be out of work, but you can still be a hero online with us.

Of course, we’re having a little fun with the Impressions column today, pointing out some fun things to do if the government shuts down, but we realize this is serious business. We hope that if a shutdown does take place, that everyone can get back to work as soon as possible. But if you aren’t allowed to work, we figure you might as well enjoy yourself as best you can in the meantime.

If you have any suggestions for what you plan to do during the shutdown, let us know. Your ideas might even help a fellow fed unwind in this stressful time.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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