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So I watched my boyfriend play Space Station 13 the other night and boy is it weird. And fascinating. It reminded me of lots of things I loved about my old play-by-post RPG days.

So: once upon a time (2003), some internet person with a funny handle made a convoluted, overly-complicated online multiplayer game, using some weird game engine that made everything look like a shitty NES RPG. The internet person started slacking off with updating it / maintaining it, though, so someone stole the compiled source, someone else reverse-engineered it, and in the over a decade since then, people are still running servers and modding the shit out of the original source code, all totally community-driven.

Ostensibly the point of the game is a mafia-esque "some small subset of you are traitors, try to hunt down the traitors before you all get killed" thing, but that's somewhat akin to saying the point of life is getting your next promotion at BigCo. Turns out, when a bunch of nerds spend a decade hacking in new characters, environments, systems, etc, all willy-nilly into their unsupervised space-game, they will reimplement approximately the entire universe, opening up infinite opportunities for mischief, quixotic sidequests, and general faffing about.

Like, okay. Let's make this concrete. In the playthrough I watched, my boyfriend chose to be a chef, because it's a pretty basic/easy role to play. He wanders through the space station and asks the head-chef (another player) what to do, which turns into this whole cooking subgame—I was expecting a couple cute cooking-mama-esque interactions, but holy shit look how thorough this food and drinks guide is.

At some point he and the head chef wandered into a back room, where a little calf was standing, and they brutally slaughtered it for its meat—then the head chef turned on him, punching him to the ground and tying him up. The head chef reveals his true self at this point—he's a vampire—no, I'm not sure why there's vampires in space—and he tries to beg to be turned into a vampire, but apparently it doesn't work that way, so he just gets all the blood sucked out of him and dies. Afterwards the chef takes his body, grinds it up in the meat grinder, and starts serving it to the denizens of the space station, who remain none the wiser for quite a long time.

At this point, he then got to wander around haunting the station (you can't do much once you're a ghost, but you can knock random objects over and do other minor nuisance-y things). I got only the vaguest glimpse of the random incomprehensible shit happening around the station. There was: (1) a clown that was going around HONKing its horn at random people, and trying to get someone to build him a "H.O.N.K. mech", (2) the captain of the ship occasionally making announcements where he sounded kinda stoned & warned people to watch out for vampires, (3) some kind of space carp infestation that security was being called in to deal with. There was also a crab infestation, but no one seemed bothered by that, just let them hang out in the dining hall. (I called them "space crabs" but apparently that was incorrect; there are space-animals but also just regular animals.) There was also a portal to some beach paradise place, which is where I would wanna hang out, but seemed surprisingly unpopular. At some point someone discovered the identity of the head chef and forced him to drink holy water, which caused him to burst into flames, but at that point a "biohazard level 3" was unleashed and people started falling over coughing all over the place. Which led me to Google how the fuck biohazards in this game work, and led me to the gloriously trollish list of space diseases—to counteract a plague, folks have to band together to correctly diagnose the symptoms and make an antidote before everyone dies, just like a real-life Center for Disease Control would.

That was about an hour of play. This game is bananas.

Every single character class seems to have a related subgame / emergent system / etc that's so complex it could make up a whole game in and of itself; I think I'm most charmed by space law so far, but gosh knows there's a ton I haven't even looked at yet. The subreddit has a cute topic of "SS13 stories that sounds bizarre out of context but make perfect sense in-game."

I guess an apt comparison would be Dwarf Fortress, based on what I've heard of the game (I've never played myself), but this has the upside of being gloriously & gleefully multiplayer where DF is solo, and has simple n00b character classes to let you ease into the maddening complexity a bit.

Anyway, in my heart, I adore shitty mid-2000's RPG things; gimme a ring if you're ever on the Paradise server because that's where I'm getting started :P

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