Here is a list of strategic thoughts I actually had while playing Redshirt:
- We get along perfectly, but I don’t want to get romantically involved and ruin our friendship.
- I have nothing in common with this person, but I can fake interest so they’ll hire me for a job I want (and am in no way qualified for).
- Some jerk who doesn’t like me just sent me a mean private message — reading it will only make things worse, so I might as well delete it.
- I’d hang out with my girlfriend, but every moment I spend around her gets me further from my career goals. I should probably break things off.
- Yes! Some asshole who didn’t like me died in an away mission!
- Dammit! My asshole ex-boyfriend didn’t die in an away mission!
- Shit! If I’d known this gelatinous cube was going to be in charge of hiring for the most illustrious job on the space station, I probably wouldn’t have dated him just for shits and then dumped him without reason. Now I’ll have to butter him up and send a bunch of private messages to get back on his good side.
- Gosh, I got this really great job but every single day I work drops me to zero happiness. I wonder if I should have just focused on hanging out with my friends and working a less stressful job.
- I bet I can turn this guy gay.
- Now that I’ve slept my way to the top of the corporation and don’t have to bother training for any promotions, I sure do have a lot of time for naps
Much like Papers, Please, Redshirt has a fantastic unity of theme and gameplay. The game is a tongue-in-cheek satire of how social networking turns people into natural resources and popularity into a soulless game, and so, in order to succeed, you need to treat people like natural resources and popularity into a soulless game. Sure, there’s a happiness meter, but who gives a fuck about happiness when there’s money and “friends” to be made? The systems encourage you to behave like a greedy sociopath, which results in the wonderful sorts of strategic thinking I’ve listed above.
Satire is a tricky thing, especially in games. That Redshirt manages to nail its satire so perfectly while also being just plain engaging in its own right is pretty impressive. Much like in a dating sim, you have a limited number of actions per day that can modify certain statistics or relationships. Since the days go by really fast, it’s easy to fall into a Firaxis-esque “just one more turn” flow where you’re looking forward to getting a few more points in your “Pandering to Authority” skill so you can apply for a job whose hiring manager also happens to be your girlfriend, but then you know you’ve got to dump her and start flirting with the next hiring manager up the ladder, and so on and so forth.