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Redshirt dev apologizes about not warning of game's harassment mechanic

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

The developer behind the indie role-playing game Redshirt apologized today to gamers who were upset by the particular nature of a "male-wish-fulfillment-sci-fi-trope" race found in the game and the unwanted advances that race sometimes receives.

Redshirt, which was released last week on Steam, is a send-up of space-based entertainment such as Star Trek. Players create a character aboard the space station Megalodon-9 and interact with other characters through an in-game social network known as Spacebook.

According to Mitu Khandaker, the sole member of developer The Tiniest Shark, Redshirt includes elements meant as social commentary, including a playable race named Asrion. Those who choose to play as an Asrion — the classic sexy green alien race — will often receive lewd Spacebook comments from sleazy men, even if they've listed their sexual preference as being interested only in women.

A player named Elle decried that part of Redshirt on her Tumblr blog, From One Survivor to Another. Elle noted that in her experience, there was no way to avoid the messages: If she replied with insults, the men would return the next day and continue harassing her, and Spacebook doesn't allow Redshirt players to block in-game characters on the social network.

"I wanted to like this game, and the concept of the game, but wow. It's supremely fucked up and I still feel kind of triggered and tense after trying it out last night," said Elle, who describes herself as a "survivor of sexual abuse and rape."

Asrions receive unwanted attention from heterosexual male characters

"I am deeply sorry that there was no clearly stated warning that this would happen when playing as an Asrion," said Khandaker. She went on to explain the development philosophy behind that element of Redshirt.

"The way that Redshirt deals with sexuality is such: While our profiles define how we choose to present ourselves to others, whether or not other characters respect this is up to them," said Khandaker.

"The game aims towards slightly different dynamics (and therefore, an additional layer of intended social commentary) for when you play as an Asrion. They will 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," she added.

Khandaker pointed out that there is a way players can prevent the harassment from ever occurring: They can go into Redshirt's options when creating a game and turn the "bigotry" slider down to zero. In addition, said Khandaker, a future update to the game will add "appropriate labels" to the character creation screen in order to clearly signal the consequences of playing as an Asrion. She is also investigating the possibility of adding a block function to Spacebook.

"Again, I'm really, genuinely sorry to Elle, and anyone else who has been triggered by the existence of this particular dynamic," said Khandaker.