For most major videogame developers, graphics are a key selling point for games, as companies try to one-up each other in terms of realism. But when your development platform is a spreadsheet application used primarily for business and educational purposes, realism takes a backseat to functionality.

So when Canadian MBA Candidate Cary Walkin got the idea to make a game inside Microsoft Excel, he no doubt knew the graphical limitations; instead choosing to push the platform in other ways.

“I was taking a course for my MBA in advanced spreadsheet modelling,” he told VentureBeat. “Making a game seemed like a much better use of my time than option pricing valuation models.”

His efforts resulted in Arena.Xlsm, a turn-based RPG game fit neatly into a 1MB Excel file.

Arena.Xlsm puts you in control of a warrior who has been trapped by an evil emperor and forced to battle creatures as a gladiator. The story is played out through letters from your character’s wife. You are presented with these letters, which detail the story and explain new abilities, as you level up by gaining experience points from defeating enemies.

In-game, your character is represented by a smiley face emoticon and enemies are represented by a strangely sinister bracket-parenthesis combination. Using icons linked to macros, character actions are a simple click on the spreadsheet.

As the game progresses, magical abilities are unlocked and strategy is required to defeat difficult enemies, including bosses.

It’s an ingenious use of an otherwise purely professional application and appears to have already struck a cord with office workers. In a Q&A on Reddit, one user actually asked Walkin to tone down the graphics so it doesn’t appear “gamey” to his passing boss.

Arena.Xlsm is available to download free from Walkin’s blog. It is compatible with the 2007, 2010, and 2013 versions of Excel for Windows. Unfortunately, the game will not function on Mac versions of Excel.

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