Things soured after my girlfriend was slaughtered on the surface of an alien world.
Up until then I’d been a contented flunky on your typical space station: working the ol’ 9-to-5, hanging out in the holodeck, eating poorly replicated food-matter—that sort of thing. Sure, it hadn’t been long since my last relationship ended in a spectacular breakup (‘course that was the first person I dated after assignment, so it doesn’t really count), but my new beau was an XX’th’xx and I’d never gone inter-species before. Pretty, I think. But the station deleted her account when the away mission went south, so I don’t have any pictures on hand. What was her name again?
Anyway. After that, I was different. Working more, sucking up more, spending less time with friends. Felt I had to get up. Up and away from all the rank-and-file cannon fodder, up near command. Away from this station. And, most importantly, away from Spacebook.
Such is the life of a living TV trope in Redshirt, a management sim/social media satire from Tiniest Shark and Positech Games. Put simply, it’s a Facebook game. Not a Farmville or Candy Crush, but literally a game that approximates the experience of using social media. You play as the latest addition to a far-off space outpost in the vein of Star Trek’s Deep Space Nine. As the newbie on board, nobody gives a Tribble’s ass about you or your problems, which is where your shameless self-promotion and the station’s built-in (presumably mandatory) networking platform come in. Excel at Spacebook—which, you may have noticed, is curiously similar in name to Facebook—and you’ll soon be racking up the prestige that comes with the “likes” and friend requests of people you barely know.
And let’s not leave any ambiguity here: the actual Spacebook component of Redshirt is identical to The Facebook. You like those posts, send those friend requests, arrange events, and always, always keep one bloodshot eye on your news feed to see what your relations are up to—and those relations do the same. The actual play of the game doesn’t lie solely in a spot-on simulation of social media drudgery, but the drastic way your digital (technically twice-digital) interactions believably affect those around you, and the inadvertent consequences of, say, turning down an invite or relationship request.
Because, after all, why’s it so important for you to make all these friends? Other than the fact that having a strong social network is the easiest way to earn promotions. And the fact that rumblings around the crew suggest that something bad is going to happen on-station in a few months time. Oh, and the fact that all vacation leave has been canceled for low-ranking ensigns. And, also, every now and then low-ranking crew are sent on away missions, which damn near always have some casualties as the result of poisonous gas or sentient rocks.
Yes, in Redshirt increasing and maintaining your social standing really is a matter of life and death. And if the above wasn’t stressful enough, the game also expects you to keep your emotional state and general health appropriately high. Engage in romantic relationships and eat healthy, and you’ll do better at work and stay out of sick bay. Do the opposite, and you’ll be a sub-par maintenance tube wrangler or teleporter accident clean-up staffer, and a frequent flyer in Doc Bones’ office—the latter being a surefire way to convince command to send you on one of their “special” (read “completely suicidal”) away missions, the punishment for players who fail to keep up with appearances. Such was the fate of my own next generation Millenial, driven sick by his own endless social climbing.
Then again, one has to wonder if there’s any alternative for the feckless galactic twenty-something other than going mad with status updates, in spite of Redshirt’s many clever possibilities. For example: rank up enough and you’ll be able to buy an exclusive pass to the station’s hottest bar, where you’ll have a chance to run into ambassadors, command staff, and other top-ranked quasi-celebrities. End up in a relationship with the hiring manager for the next promotion you’re eyeing and, well, let’s just say you won’t need to meet every single itty-bitty requirement for the gig.
If you want to play things by the book (and not by the Spacebook), you can forgo the extreme managerial brown-nosing and actually engage in activities which will increase your professional skills–Redshirts’ rudimentary take on RPG-leveling. A night in alone, playing solitaire, will increase your tedious paperwork stat, only… at the expense of your happiness. Skills also increase daily, based on your current job, or if you complete certain goals (“aspirations”), but players shooting for the top slot of commander’s assistant–yes, the “best” job you can land–will likely need to engage in some extracurriculars. Now, if you can also parlay your training into more networking…
This all makes perfect sense. And Redshirt makes it fairly easy for the player to navigate social circles and grok who they need to chat up and what activities they need to be doing. Nice, but also the main potential sticking point for those (quite rightly) on the fence about investing serious time in a game which aims to simulate Earth’s greatest time-waster. The big gags of Redshirt hammer the satire home well-enough–again, social networking is your salvation, and your greatest goal is to be the guy who hands the commander his pens–but most of the play here feels too much like actually being on Facebook to work as a criticism. I wasn’t thinking about the ridiculousness of the situation while sucking up to a Klingon for a promotion to an equally crap job so I maybe wouldn’t die in a month–I was just earnestly invested in tricking someone and being a media saturated twerp. Ineffective satire, or super effective? Hmmm.
Point is, there’s not much of a skill curve in Redshirt. Once you understand the handful of things you’re supposed to be doing, you’re going to do them, and probably do them well (especially since you’re likely already doing them, in some capacity, for real). In terms of challenge, I can’t see repeat visits being all that different. Sure, you can muddle with the station generation sliders and create a particularly racist or emotionally unstable environment to network in, but you’re not going to face a challenge that requires you to drastically rethink how you’re handling your online profile. Just, you know, like some more statuses or whatever.
That’s a pretty big knock against, but I swear now I’ll be returning to Redshirt at least a few times more. Here’s why: these are some highlights I jotted down during my lengthy first run at Spacebook stardom.
- Had to gently turn down the affections of a sentient, amorphous gel with a sickeningly bubbly demeanor
- Hiring manager for my next promotion is a speciesist and won’t hire me, but he kind of wants to f**k me?
- Asked the real-life GF if repeatedly liking this gothic alien girl’s posts was a good tactic to get in her pants. Was very… patient with me…
- Spying on an ex in a video game even though there’s no tangible benefit to doing so WHATS GOING ON
- Got job I didn’t deserve because I was involved with the boss–immediately dumped her once hired
So, yeah, it’s a recommendation then. For sure. Redshirt is excellent role-playing and good satire, with occasional bouts of tedium more than made up for with sci-fi savvy charm. Make it so.