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RimWorld’s new BioTech DLC turned me into a child labor-exploiting monster

Biotech added children, but it doesn’t pull any punches

A player’s nursery, with an adult taking care of smaller colonists, in Rimworld Image: Ludeon Studios
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Sometimes, people in my life do something they think is kind: They look at me, smile beatifically, and say, “You know, Cass, you’d be a wonderful mother.” To which I always reply, “Based on what?” I can’t even keep an Animal Crossing village free of weeds; I can’t imagine being tasked with keeping a tiny human being functional. The person always politely objects, but I know the truth. The new RimWorld expansion, Biotech, just confirms my suspicions. I absolutely cannot be trusted with the welfare of a child, especially not in the middle of a sci-fi colony on fire.

At a glance, RimWorld looks like a Stardew Valley-type colony simulator. My pawns plant crops, make statues, and create a humble little town after a crash landing on a mysterious planet. The twist comes from the relentless danger and threats that assail the colony: wild animals, raiders, infection, insect monsters, robot soldiers, and malevolent AI. And the Biotech expansion, which launched on Oct. 21, adds genetic manipulation, robot mind control, and children. It takes a long time to find the right colonists or research the right tech for two of those additions, but children show up right away.

RimWorld - a collection of terrifying mechanoids attacks a colony, which is threatened by flames.
RimWorld is a ruthless game with periodic robot invasions.
Image: Ludeon Studios

You can play as a charitable colony leader, accepting people into your colony and building a strong community based on admirable values. Such players would welcome children into their colonies with the intent to purely nurture and protect them. There are no skulls on spikes around these guys’ colonies, just lovely carpets and carefully crafted monuments.

The way that I am playing the game is by cultivating a witch cult in the deep mines of a mountain. I’m not a monster by any means; when children started to trickle into the colony, I initially tended to them and took care of their needs. The “comfort and care” part of that formula happened in a roundabout way, where the kids have miserable childhoods but emerge into adulthood with great mining stats. Which, when you really think about it, isn’t my fault. I’m not alone, either — other players are reporting incidents like a gang of kids showing up to ask for beer (to use in a daring prison break) or having a baby with a revolver kill their attacker.

RimWorld is known for throwing random encounters at the player. Sometimes that’s a raider attack or a cluster of mechanoids falling from the sky, and other times someone calls and beseeches you for aid. Biotech adds children into the mix in terrifying ways, only adding to the general chaos of the game. It’s always a little sad when pawns call you for help and the game explains they’re in mortal peril due to being chased by seven manhunting tortoises (or another randomly generated threat), but it’s really bad when that pawn is 7 years old. A wave of raiders may be scary, but when you see that they have a 10-year-old clasping a club, you know that they’re really bad dudes.

At this point, my colony is half made up of children, all of whom I’ve saved from terrible fates. Some people would say this makes me a hero. Other people might ask something like what, exactly, the children in my colony do during their day-to-day. The answer to that is simple: The children love labor.

RimWorld - Players can create elaborate nurseries for their young colonists, as seen in this screenshot. Image: Ludeon Studios

If you’re a wise colony leader with everything under control, you can build a school for children, where they can learn in peace. Or, if you’re struggling, you can simply… put the kids to work. They have very few skills, but their eager little hands can be invaluable for picking a crop and evading starvation. As kids age up, you can spend points on skills and passions for them. If you’ve done a good job, you get a wider array of opportunities. If you’ve done a bad job, you can find yourself staring down a choice like, Hmm, should I make this child “neurotic” and a “wimp,” or simply let him be a “cannibal”?

Kids are also subject to the same penalties and punishments as colonists. At one point, a 10-year-old in my colony named Lindsey threw a temper tantrum. Pretty normal, right? Especially because Lindsey worked in the mines. As a result, she decided that she would destroy an extremely valuable item that allowed me to instantly research any one subject in the game, no matter how daunting. So I had to arrest Lindsey.

It wasn’t pleasant; the preteen threw tantrums in prison because she wanted to “learn” and be around her “friends.” When her 13th birthday hit, the game gave me a summary of her upbringing. “She hopes that things improve in the future. Lindsey wishes to spend more time drawing pictures of mischievous mechanoids on the floor but is too busy worrying about inhaling tox gas.” …Oops.

Whereas most games compulsively protect children from harm and ensure the player can’t visit violence upon them, RimWorld goes in the opposite direction. It’s compelling and unique, but I also feel like this might just be proof I’m kind of a bad person. Either way, I’m having fun, and so are my minors who are also miners.

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