Strange Scaffold, the studio behind An Airport for Aliens Currently Run By Dogs, has announced Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator. It’s exactly what it sounds like — buy, trade, and sell organs in a sci-fi body horror market tycoon game that mixes rad style and humor.
Everyone has organs, and everyone wants them. In Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator, you are an organ trader participating in the cutthroat organ market. There will be alien organs in addition to human ones. Flood galaxies with meat and make a profit, which isn’t all that easy. You’ll have to contend with preventing vampire-leech organs from consuming the goods inside your cargo hold and anxious innards from self-immolating in a matter of days, after all. As you work toward your goal of becoming the most profitable organ trader of all time, you’ll even get to meet other competing traders with their own unique goals and personalities.
It’s all weird — fascinatingly, disturbingly, stylishly so. I asked Xalavier Nelson Jr., the game’s director, about what inspired him to take on such a distinct concept. As the lead writer of Hypnospace Outlaw, he’s no stranger to exploring the bizarre and using it to comment on our real-world norms through games.
“I was sitting in a hospital for a check-up,” he explains. “A disheveled man walked into the room where I was sitting alone, closed the door, and asked if I wanted to ‘see my insides.’ I said yes (figuring that however it went, there’d be a good story coming out of it), and it turned out I had encountered a doctor in training! He needed more practice using the ultrasound machine.”
While this short experience was the catalyst for the ideas behind Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator, Nelson Jr. says he’s always been fascinated by body horror and “the dynamics of these meat bodies we pilot through life.” As he looked at the ultrasound machine and watched his heart beat and his kidneys pulse, it altered his perspective about the human body.
“Organs are the one thing everyone has and everyone needs, that we spend as little time as possible thinking about,” says Nelson Jr.
“I guess what I’m saying is: y’all should have seen this coming.”
The game’s Steam description states you can trade viscera with “dubious figures,” one who certainly did not escape me in the announcement trailer. It’s Chad Shakespeare, who you can see approximately 23 seconds in. Immediately upon finishing it, I had questions about Chad Shakespeare. Who is Chad Shakespeare? Why is his name Chad Shakespeare? Why is a dog named Chad Shakespeare participating in the Red market?
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“I try to fit a character named Chad Shakespeare into every game I work on these days,” tells me Nelson Jr. “This tradition stems from a deep-seated resentment of Shakespeare himself, and every time I bring a Chad Shakespeare — the sunshine to his darkness — into the world, I stab at his ghost and curse his eternity. Game development is a device to communicate vengeance, and I’m thankful to do my part.”
Despite the levity that can be found in the trailer through Chad Shakespeare and the incredibly catchy music, Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator is still ultimately a game about the Red market. It acknowledges the destructive nature of organ trafficking, described as a game that, “takes an alien economy based entirely around the harvest and sale of bodily organs” — one that “somehow manages to transform that reprehensible idea into something that isn’t completely heinous.”
The worldwide demand for organs far surpasses the supply, creating an underground market (the Red market) dedicated to organ trafficking. Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that 10 percent of all organ transplants are done with trafficked organs. Kidneys are the most traded organs in the Red market. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 10,000 kidneys are traded on the black market worldwide annually — more than one every hour.
I ask Nelson Jr. about how he defines a game that “isn’t completely heinous” within this context, and how that transformation has been achievable.
“My career is built on the desire to take absurd ideas and find ways to make them meaningful, compelling, and feasible to produce,” he says, pointing to the fact that he is currently developing a game about stock photo dogs in addition to Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator. Considering this game’s context, Nelson Jr. describes something heinous as, “any process that results in a game that revels in the human pain and devastation underlying the real-world organ trade.” With this game, he is using his interest in body horror and “the fascinating, interconnected components that comprise the human body, as a fleshy prism to examine economic forces in our daily lives.” His goal with any material he approaches is to bring nuance.
For example, in Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator, you’ll see alien traders protest the ending of war simply because it’ll drive down the price of their cargo. With situations like these, a goal of the game is to encourage you “to see similar dramas playing out in every area of our society.” As a result, it is a project Nelson Jr. feels is, “explorative instead of exploitative… which is exactly where we wanted to be.” But make no mistake: the banger music also helps.
“As soon as I attached a monetary value and mechanical use to a human soul, the way I viewed that soul changed,” Nelson Jr. reflects. “It wasn’t until I told a friend ‘Oh, the price of hearts went down today,’ that I realized how easily my perspective could be shifted, as well as the jarring implications about the economic dynamics we encounter in the real world.”
You can support Strange Scaffold and the development of Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator on Patreon, and wishlist it on Steam. It is set to launch in 2021 on PC, with plans for possible console ports to follow.