Why Playing Redshirt Isn’t “Paying Money To Be Sexually Harassed”


Mitu Khandaker’s “comedy sci-fi sim” Redshirt has you playing the role of a crew member on board a space station. All interactions in the game are managed through “Spacebook,” which is a fictional version of the popular online social networking service, Facebook. You create your character and are given many different options with a sliding bar for gender, sexuality, species, appearance tweaks, name and age, and you can even write your own “About Me” section.

There’s one species called Asrion, which are described in the character creation screen as a species that is “often mistakenly perceived to be an empowered, all female society, but actually just horrendously objectified by everyone else.”

“Redshirt is a parody of the real world we live in”

A Tumblr blogger called Elle, who blogs regularly about her “experience as a survivor of sexual abuse and rape,” decided to choose the Asrion species to play as when starting up Redshirt. She also set her character’s sexuality to being “interested in women.” After some play time, she says she was “triggered” by the number of males sending her harassment through private messages in Spacebook, with phrases like “I’d like to park my spaceship in your hanger, if you know what I mean.” She then mentions that she couldn’t block these characters from sending her messages, nor could she delete the ones that were already in her inbox.

“…when you insult these men, you actually lose points with other people,” Elle writes. “Yes, you are punished for defending yourself from sexual harassment. You are basically paying money to be sexually harassed.”

Redshirt Mitu replied to this blog post by Elle with her own entitled “A Note About Playing as ‘Asrion’ in Redshirt”. First of all, Mitu writes that she is deeply sorry to Elle for her having had a triggered experience while playing Redshirt, especially as there’s no trigger warning in the game when you choose to play as an Asrion.

Mitu then explains that Redshirt is supposed to contain social commentary, and therefore reflects aspects of our society, as I pointed out in my preview. In this case, it is bigoted males who chase down women they desire through social media that exist in the real world that also appear in Redshirt. The purpose of their being there is part of the game’s simulation. As is often found with sci-fi, Redshirt is a parody of the real world we live in, and therefore isn’t trying to provoke these kinds of reactions intentionally. It’s just that the parameters and dynamics of the game allow for these real life scenarios to happen. For that not to be the case, would be to lessen the point of the game.

“…it is possible to avoid this dynamic altogether by turning the ‘bigotry’ slider all the way down to zero”

OrionTherefore, stating your sexuality in Redshirt doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll only be approached by those your character would find sexually desirable as that’s not what happens in reality. Unfortunately, Asrions have an extra dynamic added to this as they are the green/blue skinned “male-wish-fulfillment-sci-fi-trope” often seen in sci-fi TV series and fiction. The slave-girl Orions in Star Trek are the obvious comparison here.

As such, Asrions “tend to receive unwanted attention from heterosexual male NPCs who are explicitly ‘bigoted,’ and this attention will increase their perceived relationship with that NPC (at least according to that NPC), but also lower their happiness at the same time,” explains Mitu. It is only the NPCs that have a high bigotry attribute that will start to harass the player through Spacebook if they are an Asrion.

Mitu also adds that you can completely avoid these situations in which harassment takes place through a “bigotry slider”:

“Furthermore, it is possible to avoid this dynamic altogether by turning the ‘bigotry’ slider all the way down to zero when you create a game so that there are no ‘bigoted’ NPCs aboard the station.”

To prevent anyone else from having a similar reaction to Redshirt as Elle, Mitu says that she’ll be labelling the Asrion race with warnings in the character creation screen regarding the potential of sexual harassment. She adds that she may consider working in a “Block” feature into Spacebook so that players can avoid the messages by preventing a particular character from sending them any at all.

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