Thursday, February 29, 2024

Bad Company

 I think I've probably played games less than 20 times in my life.  (Unless we're counting Pong, which my granny had for some reason). Despite unfamiliarity with the whole area, its idiolect and lingo, I  could understand this fascinating Vulture piece by Kieran Press-Reynolds on the outwardly mystifying appeal of the game Lethal Company. A grim, grinding parody of precarious work conditions under late capitalism, it's set in outer space, where players are peons tasked with resource extraction for a mysterious corporation. 

"Every round, the quota is raised until it’s literally impossible to succeed. There’s no Employee of the Month awards, no daily check-ins with the boss, no OSHA regulations — simply ever-escalating toil, followed by death."  

The pay-off is a cathartic displacement of the stresses and anxieties of your non-game working life:

"The faceless megacorp ejected us from the ship. We couldn’t stop giggling as we watched our bodies disappear in the ether."


  1. Here's a tangentially related piece you might find interesting: a look at the aesthetic trends of post-cyberpunk, noting the current vogue for brutalist-inspired designs and corporations undisguisedly malign. The writer dubs this stance "hard concrete". It feels like a shift that requires such a name:

    Regarding gaming, a few have explored these tropes. Indeed, gaming is especially suited to giving brutalism a shake, given that only literature can surpass gaming in terms of the vistas each medium can depict (and let's face it, brutalism isn't going to return in real life, nuh-uh). I've heard it argued that, due to graphical limitations, early 3D games like Quake and Goldeneye can be considered "accidentally brutalist", with their cuboid, angular concrete environments. More recent games employing brutalism include Control (a third-person paranormal shooter set in a brutalist, living skyscraper) and The Talos Principle 2 (a philosophical puzzle game where, in the far future, robots serving as the last vestiges of humanity have built pseudoreligious brutalist behemoths). In terms of late capitalism, to choose one game out of plenty, The Outer Worlds has space exploration controlled by trusts, with one event in the game being a family fined for damage to corporate property after the father kills himself.

  2. This might tickle you. I've been playing through The Talos Principle 2 whilst bedridden with flu, and I just found a document within the game that directly references Mark Fisher. The quote runs thus:
    "We live in a decaying system, which in turn produces ideologies of decay to justify its existence.
    "No matter what cultural signifiers they get packaged with, these ideologies come down to the same material result: a future in which for the average person there is less of everything. To paraphrase Mark Fisher, we find it easier to imagine the decline of civilization than to imagine a civilization worth living in.
    "Those of us who still believe that humanity can thrive, that there is a path forward other than wilful or accidental decay, are out of sync with the system. No matter how we phrase our arguments, they will be perceived in terms of whatever cultural signifiers the listener opposes.
    "It's a deeply frustrating, depressing, even infuriating situation. But what can we do except patiently explain, and hope conditions change? In other words, what can we do except have faith?"

    In the context of the game, that piece was written a few months before the human race became extinct.


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