Redshirt is a Facebook game set in a Star Trek homage. Not a browser-friendly all-ages Facebook game like Farmville, Redshirt is literally a social media simulator. Relying entirely on social expectations to provide conflict, it’s one of the tensest games I’ve ever played.
Set on a fictional space station, you are one of the latest recruits to arrive onboard. With no friends on board, you are challenged to use the SpaceBook program to climb both the professional and social ladders over the course of 150 days. An endless mode can also be activated to ensure your blissful simulation of a digital social life never ends. Action consists primarily of your usual social media activities – liking statuses, organizing events with friends, and staving off the ever-present threats of unhappiness and ill health. You purchase items and experiences to increase your skills and to maintain a healthy lifestyle, all while trying to grow as much online charisma as possible. All characters within the game are assigned social rankings based on your charisma, your career level, and your ability to gain friends. Just like in real life.
Occasionally, you’ll be beamed down to the surface of some alien planet as the leader of an away team. While you’re there, it’s likely that one to all of your teammates will die. It’s usually all of them. Occasionally, you’ll even be asked to sacrifice a team member or two. If somebody you’re feuding with (yes, you get into social media feuds in this game) is on the team, you have a very direct opportunity to essentially kill off someone who is making you less popular. It should be an ethical dilemma, but by this point you should have given up on any kind of objective morality. As a satire, Redshirt is truly vicious in cutting down our digital society and our own inherent gift for abandoning morality in the pursuit of happiness.
It’s a bizarre but thoroughly enjoyable game that reflects more on life than it does on Star Trek, or Sci Fi as a genre. People’s reactions to you are measured at the end of each day, so you can watch every decision you make influence a different personality in wildly unpredictable ways. Like with real people, control is impossible here.
Say, for example, you host a dinner party. You’ll get some health, some happiness, and some valuable cooking skills. But friends you don’t invite will feel slighted and begin to resent you. If you invite somebody who dislikes you, doesn’t like eating dinner (some don’t!), or dislikes somebody else you invite, they won’t show up and you’ll suffer happiness penalties from disappointment. If your girlfriend or boyfriend thinks you invited a different love interest to dinner, you can expect a sudden un-friending. And with a limited number of action/SpaceBook points per day, resulting from the great productivity crisis of the last century, there is only so much damage control you can do. No matter how hard you try, somebody will be very unhappy with you. It’s the kind of game where you’re trying to lose as little as possible, rather than trying to win.
The career ladder is also a fast track to enmity. Getting a promotion immediately inspires waves of people to lash out against you, tagging you with insulting posts or sending borderline psychotic personal messages to your inbox. Or they begin reaching out in the hopes of sucking up to your position (good luck, that’s my game). Either way, people are fickle in this game and will turn on you in a heartbeat. You can customize the various attitude characteristics of your space base to effect this: people’s fickleness, their bigotry toward races beside their own, their willingness to try new activities they haven’t experienced. But no matter what adjustments you make, your NCP coworkers will still be largely self involved and crazy. I’ve noticed many NPCs take advantage of the “selfie” activity.
Rolling objectives are also assigned to encourage you to take particular paths, often with large happiness or training rewards. You’ll be tasked to master a certain job, enter a relationship with a particular person, or even just to receive a mention from a stranger. This leads to some obsessive cyber stalking, cataloguing people’s interests and pathetically reaching out with flattering messages. The entire game is an exercise in sycophantic behaviour and self promotion, yet you cannot look away. The competitive nature of the game is immediate, and it turns socializing into a battleground.
The humour in the game is almost entirely text based. Descriptions of products, activities, and the posts by SpaceBook users themselves are primarily space puns. If you love puns – great. This is the game for you. Though mostly harmless, the developers captured the casual sexual harassment of programs like FaceBook just a little too perfectly, and have since come out apologizing for the tendency of male SpaceBook NPCs to harass players using the “female-only” space race, the Asrion, who are the traditional green-skinned sexy aliens. While the pickup lines are fairly tame/lame innuendo (again, ugh, space themed), it is extremely uncomfortable.
If seeing the same puns over and over again bores you, well you’ll barely notice them. I felt like a manipulative skeezebag the entire time I was playing, but I was so focused on just “beating” these imaginary people that I couldn’t quit. You’re too busy trying to be the coolest guy on campus, in order to impress people you don’t really care about but whose lives you envy. Just like in real life.