There is a specific sense of calm that comes with completing a good day’s work. Even in video games, a medium designed for relaxation and escapism, players gravitate towards digital recreations of chores and manual labor. This has led to the massive success of games like Stardew Valley and PowerWash Simulator. But the act of breaking down ships for scrap in Hardspace: Shipbreaker is one of the most meditative gameplay loops, and a worthwhile game to pick up now that it is coming to consoles. In fact, as of September 20, it’s available as part of Xbox Game Pass on Xbox consoles.
Terms and conditions — In a world facing climate change, civil unrest, and food shortages, the player seeks to make a better life for themselves by signing a contract with Lynx Corporation to become a “Shipbreaker.”
Turns out reading the fine print might have been a good idea, as the contract makes you the property of the Lynx Corporation, and you must work to pay off a $1.2 billion debt you accrued in receiving the equipment needed to do the job. Not a great first day on the job.
The only way to work off the debt is to do your job as a Shipbreaker, dismantling ships for their scrap so that Lynx can repurpose them — which is easier said than done. Ships are complex machines, pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. They contain metal, coolant, electrical wiring, reactors, and even furniture. You must chop ships into their building blocks through the use of your laser cutter, which operates like Dead Space’s plasma cutter if it was used for its original purpose and not dismembering space zombies.
Your laser is a simple but effective tool. Used correctly it can chop up just about anything into manageable pieces. Used incorrectly, it can slice a coolant pipe and blow up the entire ship and everything in it ... including you. Trial and error is the quickest way to learn what methods are best to dismantle ships in the quickest but safest way possible, you don't want to risk blowing the ship or failing to beat the clock and losing precious credit on your debt.
Once you get the hang of it, even the risk of making a wrong move fades away into a methodic loop of satisfaction at completing a good day’s work.
A hard day’s night — Despite everything about how stressful the job should be and how shitty the corporation you are doing this for is, there is still a satisfaction inherent to doing good work.
Games like Stardew Valley give the player the ability to live in their idealized fantasy of a cottage core lifestyle, farming the land and providing for themselves and the community while also being able to kiss anybody they want. Painting the Amazon-like corporation as inherently bad in an indictment of traditional capitalism is an equally escapist fantasy of the game.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker admits to the unavoidable tendrils of capitalism that wrap themselves around every aspect of life, especially labor. Yet it is equally radical in its belief that there can still be the possibility of individual freedom in good labor, even within the confines of massive heartless corporations.
As Vice producer Renata Price put in her June 2022 piece on the game, “The joy of shipbreaking isn’t just satisfying gameplay, but an essential part of the game’s core belief in the possibility of a good world in spite of capitalism.”
So why do we keep being pulled in by these games that effectively ask us to roleplay taking on a full-time job? Because they are equally as escapist as any Final Fantasy game. The difference in fantasy is that job sims imagine an idealistic vision of labor. Of course, this idealism shouldn’t stop anybody from actively trying to unionize their workforce, especially if they are in the job of breaking apart massive spaceships with volatile components.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker is available on Xbox Series consoles, Game Pass, PS5, and PC.
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