The exotic yet tantalising alien babe that humanity fetishises is a well-known sci-fi trope — surely, you've come across it before. Typically, games like Mass Effect let us seduce these characters. But in Redshirt, you can play as that sexy blue alien — and you can see first-hand why this fantasy that is sometimes peddled by sci-fi can suck.
Redshirt is a simulation game where players are crew members of a spaceship that is obsessed with Spacebook — this game's futuristic version of Facebook. You can play as one of five different species, one of which includes the "Asrion" race, pictured above.
Thing is, if you play as that race, something curious can happen. While the game lets you list your sexuality, whether or not characters actually respect that is up to them — much like in real life.
Male non-playable characters can sometimes be bigoted, and bigoted characters will give the player attention even if their Spacebook profile says they're not interested in men. This won't happen with other species — it'll only happen with the Asrion. You can, however, turn this feature off when you start a new game.
"It is a species meant to satirise the awful sexist trope of blue/green-skinned alien space babe, of course, which exists throughout various sci-fi media, from TV to games," Mitu Khandaker, the developer behind Redshirt, explained to me today in an email.
"It is a dynamic which intends to call out a few different aspects of sexism, from fetishisation and othering in general (someone, after I blogged about the Asrion, reminded me of http://creepywhiteguys.tumblr.com/ which is incredibly apt!) to awful people who don't respect women's sexual agency, and define it only in terms of their own. These are things which exist in both sci-fi, and the worst bits of social media culture in general, both things which Redshirt is lampooning," she continued.
Her intention was to make the player uncomfortable, sure — but hopefully, in doing so, also get the player to think about the problematic trope. It hasn't always worked out that way — recently a note on Tumblr criticised the game because it seemed as if the player paid for the "privilege" of being harassed. Thankfully Khandaker was sympathetic to this complaint, and promised to make this mechanic more apparent to players who want to play as Asrions. The necessity of doing so is apparent when you consider that harassment toward women is kind of normalised and expected, both from players and game developers alike.
"What I definitely did *not* want was for the player to experience any actual distress they did not expect, and so as soon as it was brought to my attention that this had happened, I realised what I'd done wrong, which is not to properly frame the experience for any player who might have the potential to be triggered by the dynamic, and allow them to opt-in to it," Khandaker said.
It's worth noting that the Asrions aren't the only commentary Khandaker makes in the game — really, the entire thing is a commentary about the way we use Facebook today. When I played a preview build a few months ago, I found myself gaming relationships and grinding out abilities to meet the right people and get the right jobs.
"The entire game is kind of a darkly tongue-in-cheek look at a possible dystopian future, so I guess the whole thing is intended to critique the ways in which social networking mechanics can, in part, make us treat others as resources or currency; the whole way the game forces you to play can be kind of cynical in itself," Khandaker explained.
You can buy Redshirt from Steam here.
Top image: Indie Statik. Note that the description for the Asrion reads, "Often mistakently perceived to be an empowered, all-female society, but actually just horrendously objectified by everyone else." Clever.