Many jobs will give you the idea you’re apart of a family, that the people you work with are your best friends. That you can talk about anything you want, treat your superiors as you would your siblings. To give you the idea of being comfortable, the idea you can be you, the idea they care about you as a human. In reality, in most cases, it’s to expect more of you and mentally push you into doing more tasks. Being held hostage, but as family. In reality you were never seen as a human, just a tool to fix problems.
There have been a lot of games to convey the mundane activities of the everyday life of workers. Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, Viscera Cleanup Detail and The Stillness of the Wind to name a few. They’re important games that give an insight into the world that doesn’t care for you. Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is the idea that you can escape from your life as a worker, but the system does everything in its power to prolong that dream as much as possible. They need you, but don’t respect you enough to give you an honest wage. Viscera Cleanup Detail is about the job that goes ultimately unnoticed, working for a company that will never see the hard work you do and when you ask for more they replace you. The Stillness of the Wind is that you will be forgotten for progress, when they no longer need you they will stop pretending you exist. You were only momentary for them.
If you play these games you will most likely feel similarities to your experiences in the work life. That’s what Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is to me, it is this documentary on the hell that is working under a system that doesn’t understand you or want to help you. It makes the player experience (somewhat) what it is like working your life away for nothing, for a dream that you can never achieve. The game makes you feel powerless to change your fate, because ultimately that’s how your job wants you to feel. That you’re in the inescapable position and the only forward is to continue working harder.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is a new game in the genre of performing the same activities over and over to get out of an overwhelming amount of debt and the company you work for does everything in its power to prolong that journey. Hardspace: Shipbreaker has you dismantling spaceships in to depositing their materials so you can pay off your debt. This debt is set at one (1) billion dollars and per ship you will earn an average of one (1) million dollars. The themes are predominantly clear, you learn almost instantly what the game wants to convey and is very good at it.
Along with Outer Wilds, I was completely caught off guard by Hardspace. Whilst I mentioned it’s a new game within the genre of performing what would be considered mundane tasks, it feels completely new. And extremely intoxicating. There is absolutely something so captivating to me about the concept of floating through abandoned spaceships.
I am entranced by this game and what it has to offer.
You play as a, yes, Shipbreaker. It is your job to dismantle ships and put their respective parts into separate sections. That’s how to describe the game in its simplest form, but it is much deeper than that. You are given three (3) tools to aid you in your job: a cutter, a grapple and tethers. Along with equipment such as the scanner that allows you to see what material is made from, where certain parts are and the general layout of the ship. A suit, a helmet, fuel tank and oxygen. Each tool plays a vital role in taking apart these ships. The scanner reveals the layout, and more importantly where parts are that can be cut off by the cutter. Cutting these parts off will cause for the outer sections to become detached and that will allow you to salvage their materials. You will see sections marked with an orange colour, these are the beams keeping the ship together.
As you begin each ship will feel like a mystery as to what it’s inner layout will be like; however, as you begin to work on multiple of the same ships you will start to understand their design and approach a new assignment in a better, more structured way. Before where I’d struggle on how to remove the reactor without causing the ship to explode I would be able to find the best route to disconnect it from the rest of the ship. Take it to a safe distance and remove it then. It creates this really compelling gameplay loop, nothing really becomes stagnant since you become smarter and the fundamentals of each ship you face as you play more.
Another aspect that I adore is how each ship isn’t particularly interesting. What I mean is that these ships I’m dissecting served the purpose of transpiring people, cargo, they didn’t exist to serve an extremely important person or transport something of real value. They don’t exist as reasons that other games would, they aren’t meant to be compelling, they’re factory made, they’re basic, they’re the same, they serve their purpose and to me that makes the game all the much stronger. You can reach out with both hands and climb along their surfaces, touching the seats as you climb to the other side, navigating through a tight spot, you can put your hand on a pipe and hear the fuel flowing through. These details make these ships feel more alive than so many games. Your job is meant to be hell, you aren’t here to discover a map to a hidden treasure and journey across the universe to find it, you’re here to suffer at the hands of others and the designs of the ships enforce that. These ships are worthless to the company you work for and in their eyes you’re just as worthless because it’s now your life to dismantle these worthless nanocarbon carcasses. You are nothing more than a tool required for the job, deemed worthless by people you’ve never met and it is now your life.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker feels personal to me in these aspects and as I’ve played I’ve already begun seeing similarities in how I play compared to working in retail. Looking back on my first job I don’t necessarily regret doing it, I think it was definitely eye opening in that family cannot exist under a brand. As much as people pretend to care for you, they truly do not and will lash you out as soon as you show a decline in your work ethic and productivity. It does not matter how hard you tried before, they do not care, you give them a reason to and they will replace you, but as long as they do they will pretend you have meaning in their eyes. If I never did that job I would’ve had to experience that a later stage in my life and I’m happy I could realise it before I turned 18. I learned that I was never really a person when I wore the uniform, just a tool that could put food on a shelve that resembled a human being. It’s soul crushing.
When I started my job I would do my best to go above and beyond, I’d work harder than anyone, I’d try to be the fastest and the most helpful to customers. I can’t recall why I believed this was the best thing to do, but I’m sure my reasons weren’t that deep to begin with. Perhaps I just wanted to be seen as someone that cared due to my past with school. What I do know now was that this wasn’t the way I should be working, it shown higher ups that I worked hard and thus they gave me more responsibilities with no increase in pay. To put it lightly the people above me were morons, I could do their jobs better than them and had to regularly do them as they set in their space doing nothing. This isn’t me trying to pretend I’m smarter than I really am, they were just that incompetent. It taught me never show that you care about work because you will be exploited. I would be the one to work overtime with no additional pay, did not matter if I declined or not. I would be the one to work longer on Christmas Eve despite the people that do the same job as me being allowed to leave earlier. It taught me it is more important to be efficient than caring. Where I’d thoughtfully rearrange a shelve to add new food I would add what I could and call it a day. I shouldn’t be the one to pull the weight for people who do not deserve it. And I see that reflected in Hardspace; as I progressed I would become less thoughtful and more efficient. Where I’d cut around carefully I would then slash though as I stopped caring about the materials I might destroy. As long as I could get something more substantial I wouldn’t care about the smaller things.
The company you work in Hardspace does not care for you, I’ve definitely mentioned that a lot. The way you are talked to by the voice in your helmet shows that there is no interest in your well-being. If you are running out of oxygen you are given a line about how running out of oxygen will decrease job satisfaction. How too much carbon dioxide will ruin your tools. It is never about *you*. If the company I work for doesn’t care about me, why should I spend what time I have caring for their products. Sadly in Hardspace you don’t have to buy real food or pay for real rent, the game can be turned off. You have to suffer in life however to earn anything.
This piece was never meant to be a happy one, work life rarely is in my experience. However; games that I have found to be cathartic in regards to mistreatment and exploitation are Sludge Life and Tonight We Riot. I’ve already discussed Sludge Life here; however, it is an incredible game about graffiti and documenting the world you live in thought pictures. It is joyful to show no care to the law, the tag walls in retaliation to it. That it cannot own you, it’s a powerful game when to some it might not seem like it. Tonight We Riot is about the importance of fighting back against the corrupt and demolish to broken law and how it is a fight that must be fought together. Bricking cops never felt so good and destroying capitalism is a power fantasy unlike any other.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is an incredible game, the fact it released five (5) days ago in early access makes me very excited to see how the developers will expand on the title. It shows that no matter how much we develop, whether we can go into space we will never truly move forward until we destroy outdated concepts and create new ones for the betterment of people. That even something as exciting as dismantling ships in space will reek of exploitation and mistreatment.