GamesScience Fiction

Best and Brightest

Surviving Mars is fun as hell. We streamed it for hours and didn’t want to stop, managing resources, mapping power and oxygen grids, and creating redundancies so the first humans could set foot on the red planet. Twelve people came as our colony founders, the colony’s solar cells and water extractors quietly powering up as their rocket touched down. Welcome, it said, you have slipped the bonds of Earth and come to your new home.

Who is welcome?

Candidate selection for the colony doesn’t involve reviewing ten thousand resumes or anything like that. You have a pool of applicants, and filter for positive and negative traits. Select for specializations and perks. Maybe it isn’t time for a security operative yet, we need more geologists. Botanists are essential to food production. The text is always clear: it tries to select for things you want, but will exclude any candidate that has a trait you don’t. So if you thumbs down loners, they’re stripped from the pool.

The intent is pretty clear. It’s a minigame. A set of checkboxes to adjust to trim down your applicant pool to a dozen incredible people with exactly the traits you need. Perks, specializations, and as few negatives as possible. The most compatible people who find solace and sanity in the same things while also being diverse enough to run a colony. Sim game stuff. But the criteria it offers, especially in the context of building a colony on another world, don’t merely define who goes. They define who’s left behind.

Left behind

Chronic conditions are checked by default. Have an ongoing medical issue? Earth is your destiny, regardless of other qualities. There’s a temptation to succumb to brute practicality in that regard, space colonization requires a certain brand of able-bodied rugged person, etc. But it presents the all too easy opportunity to sideline someone out of convenience. Are you a geologist? Wonderful. A diabetic geologist? Your chances went from good to zero in one word. It’s probably not an uncommon feeling. Even some of the seemingly benign traits carry hidden traps. Laziness for instance, is an assessment that is notoriously biased. If you tried to screen those traits through an HR professional, they’d probably start counting down to your first lawsuit.

It opens a larger question than ability, as well. It asks who’s worthy of going to space? It defines what we think of as best and brightest, and the kind of people we are when we decide to leave people behind. It puts a lie to the barest notion of equality of opportunity. Will our first colonies be inhabited solely by able-bodied wealthy celebrity geniuses? Or by people stubborn enough to stick it out in the stars? Surviving Mars puts that in the hands of the player to decide.

Party Earth

Our decision for our first founders took a bit of time, but we chose not to segregate any negative traits. We selected for a few specialties, but otherwise took a chance on a pool of over a hundred applicants. If the solar system belongs to humanity, it must belong to all of us. If you look up and wish, there is a place for you in the stars.

Jim Tigwell

A survivor of two philosophy degrees, Jim Tigwell spends his days solving interesting problems in software. By night he can be found at poetry slams and whatever art opening has the strangest cheese selection. Host of the biweekly Concept Crucible podcast and occasional blogger, Jim is also a juggler, musician, magician, and maker of digital things. You can find his music and videos at Woot Suit Riot, a channel that doubles as a home for wayward and timid creators. Observe his antics there, or heckle directly on Twitter @ConceptCrucible. If the software and internet game doesn’t pan out, he’s determined to be a great Canadian vampire hunter.

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