MDA & 8 Kinds of Fun – Duskers

Duskers is a horror exploration game in which the player gives text-based commands to a set of drones via a terminal window as they explore derelict and only sometimes empty ships.

Mechanically, each level is a set of rooms that you explore by directing your drones around a top-down map, unlocking areas and avoiding enemies. Each level is populated with some unknown number of obstacles, and you type commands such as “navigate 1 r2; scan; gather all” to direct drones around.

and this leads the player to cautiously explore each new location while searching for resources, typing commands at first after careful consideration, and eventually more frantically when something goes wrong and the time pressure of a real-time game takes effect.

While the premise might lead to the aesthetic goal of discovery (each level is exploring a new location and you uncover scraps of lore that converge to an overall narrative), Duskers has other core aesthetic. You are, on a mechanistic standpoint, exploring, but each location you explore is essentially a variation on the same level, only with slightly different risks and rewards, so discovery isn’t really a fulfilled aesthetic goal.

Each level of dusters has narrative drama, in discovering whether your drones will survive as new dangers are revealed, and challenge, in successfully navigating them through the level. To me, the uniquely powerful aesthetic of Duskers is in the sensation, and the unique way in which the player percieves the level. The player, not actually exploring the ship themselves, is instead looking at a computer screen with controls for their drones. They can, as they play, choose different viewpoints to see the exploration, which combined with the retro computerized aesthetic is really enjoyable. The feeling of fear is also a sense-pleasure, adding to the effect.

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