In the future, social networking is still a big deal. It’s mandatory, in fact. Your account on Spacebook, the proprietary social network of space station Megalodon-9, doesn’t just let you share your life; it dictates it. The food you eat, the activities you take part in, the people you befriend, the dates you go on–it’s all dictated by buttons on a screen. Everything is a few clicks away.
It would all be very sad if it wasn’t also quite funny. Redshirt is a sci-fi life simulation that puts you in the role of a titular redshirt–you know, one of the guys in sci-fi shows that is always sent to die first. You’re a bit player in this space opera, not a member of the main cast, so there’s no guarantee that you will survive any tragedy that might strike. And rest assured, tragedy is coming.
So what else do you have to do other than be on Spacebook all day?
Unlike the real Facebook’s UI, Spacebook’s UI never changes. You’ll stare at this screen a lot.
The entire game is played through this fake social network. Each day you are allotted a certain number of action points to put toward your daily activities, which can have varying effects on your stats, your interests, your health (both physical and mental), and your relationships. The most obvious benefits are in the types of jobs you can apply for. Getting a better job means more money and a higher rank among the space station’s residents. However, better-paying jobs can also have a negative effect on your health, which in turn means you need to spend time relaxing with friends (or alone) rather than working yourself to death. It’s a time management balancing act.
You don’t get those kinds of dynamic relationships in many other games.
Everything can come down to your relationships with others to the extent that Redshirt is almost more dating sim than anything else. Don’t get too attached, though, because plenty of your acquaintances die before the end (you’re all redshirts, after all), but if the right people like you, you can schmooze your way into jobs you aren’t otherwise eligible for or relationships with very important people. In addition to “normal” activities, your action points can be spent on seemingly mundane tasks such as “liking” a friend’s Spacebook status. It might seem like a waste of time (especially considering how little free time you have on the game’s weekdays), but Spacebook interactions can be critical to making new friends and fostering important relationships.
Using relationships for personal gain can backfire, however. In one instance, the hiring manager of a job I wanted (but was not quite qualified for) showed a romantic interest in me. I didn’t feel the same way, but Redshirt had already taught me that being a despicable person can sometimes pay off. In fact, I was able to sleep my way to another job earlier, so why not use the same tactic again? So I went out with the guy. The next day, I applied for the job, which the game told me I was a shoo-in for based on how the hiring manager felt about me.
I quickly found myself with a denied promotion request, a loss of much happiness, and an angry ex-boyfriend who promised to “end me.”
Choosing whom to invite to events is one of the most important decisions you’ll make every day.
And that’s awesome. You don’t get those kinds of dynamic relationships in many other games. Even if you choose not to be a horrible excuse for life and try to treat everyone you meet with respect, there is a lot to consider when making choices about whom to interact with. You don’t get much in the way of dialogue choices, but your time can be precious to a lot of people other than yourself. Friends often get jealous if you stop inviting them to events, though this is occasionally frustrating when they say they want to hang out yet always seem to be busy. I guess that can be true of real life, but it’s often an annoyance here.
The bummer is that managing all this becomes repetitive after a few hours, before you’ve found even one of several ways off the doomed space station. This isn’t simply because you start to see the same text, the same statuses, and even the same goals over and over again (though that’s unfortunately true); it’s also because the actions you perform grow tiresome. Like the social network it skewers, Spacebook can be a wonderful tool for interaction that quickly devolves into the mindless act of clicking on friends’ activities simply because it’s the thing to do. After the first couple of times you go through a serious breakup or your friend dies on a mission, you become desensitized to the experience.
Like the social network it lambastes, Spacebook can be a wonderful tool for interaction that quickly devolves into the mindless act of clicking on friends’ activities simply because it’s the thing to do.
It may be fitting to the theme, but the more I was able to see the station’s inhabitants as a means to an end, the more I found myself getting bored with the formula. Fortunately, I was pulled back into the “just one more turn” mentality as the end neared and I had a solid plan for escaping certain death, but too much of the middle felt like a slog. And then there’s the ending: a picture with text that basically reads, “Yay! You win!” Unless any of the other ending paths are somehow less anticlimactic (I saw two of them), it’s a disappointing conclusion to many hours of play.
Redshirt is most effective as a parody. Its skewering of social networking is often of the “it’s funny because it’s true” variety. Comments and status updates from Spacebook friends can be appropriately groan-inducing in ways that should feel familiar to most Facebook users. You may recognize, for instance, the incredibly cheesy public declarations of love from couples or the use of random song lyrics as a status. You realize that despite your best intentions, you somehow always end up Spacebook friends with people who are horribly racist, sexist, or otherwise terrible beings.
Being randomly selected for an away mission means one thing: people are going to die.
While that may sound like it hits too close to home to be entertaining, Redshirt does manage to successfully poke fun at a lot of social media’s worst aspects, and it can be good for some genuine chuckles. It does lean a little heavily on pop culture references, some more timeless than others (the song titles “Hail Me Maybe” and “Since U Been Gorn” may soon lose their effectiveness), but much of the humor is appropriately clever.
The space station where Redshirt takes place is filled with people who are depressed–something it informs you of when you interact with them. It could be because their jobs suck and their deaths are probably around the corner, but it doesn’t help that they spend all their time letting a computer screen dictate everything about their lives. Doing so can be harmless and enjoyable for short periods, but prolonged exposure can suck all the fun out of the experience. Kind of like Redshirt itself.