Alienated Fun

Back In The Day I worked on mods in my spare time with some internet pals. We never actually released anything, the best thing you could say about the experience is that it provided exposure to the process of making a game and a few specific skills (C++ and Unrealscript for me, modeling and texturing and level design for the rest of the crew).

Another positive aspect of the experience was that it introduced us to design. Maybe everyone else wanted to actually get something done, but for me talking about designing a game was more fun than actually figuring out how to make one (on top of Source, with a strong OO background, losing my mind when I found the zoom-in code for the crossbow in a place other than where I expected it to be). We kicked around a ton of ideas while we were supposed to be working, one of the most promising was one that was codenamed "Super SpaceShip Repair Team." In the game you would travel through a series of derelict ships trying to get them running again, presumably for a salvage company or for yourself. The main draw for me was the levels, how they would have to be somewhat coherent so that the 'puzzle' of getting the ship to move could be solved. You couldn't do the regular serpentine set-piece sequence design if you were supposed to be on a real spaceship that you could float around and enter into and exit from at any point. It would have to be somewhat real, like a warehouse level from Deus Ex: they actually look like people punch in and move pallets around in them. That was the appeal for me. My partner was attracted to the ability to transfer his real-life job, as a welder, into a game. He wanted to model consumables and power sources and beads and everything. The game would have been cool if it had ever been made.

I was thinking about Super Spaceship Repair Team recently, and because I'm lazy and think backwards I was imagining the proper soundtrack and what the player models would look like. My partner's designs from our other projects were pretty gritty and cool (see above), and I was thinking that if we had actually gone through with the game it would have had a blue-collar-in-the-23rd-century vibe, with blue space-overalls and helmets with stickers on them like "Spaceshipbreakers Local 112."

But I realized that that would not really be accurate, at least in the sense that a working-class vibe wouldn't really communicate what the game was about. The player in the game would be off on his own (theoretically working for a company but on the levels by himself) gathering and prudently employing resources, not conforming to assembly-line discipline but making the kinds of decisions that someone running a small business would make. And I realized that, as appealing as space overalls are, more proper would be space collared shirts and slacks.

So fun in a game where the process resembles coercion to a privatized labor process (loss of control, separation of what should be unified) is a contradiction just like alienated labor is. That doesn't mean that all player-characters in all games must be capitalists, but that the rules of fun we've set down for ourselves don't allow us to simulate or talk about what most people do their entire lives.