Pip has been playing Viscera Cleanup Detail – a game about being a space janitor – to avoid having to clean her room. She’s even streamed it from her room and other people have watched her doing her fake cleaning. She and Alice investigate what’s so enjoyable about mopping…
Pip: ALICE. My life now revolves around cleaning all the things.
Alice: Should I be concerned? Tell me about your plans for flying boats.
Pip: WHAT? Is that a euphemism or a code or something?
Alice: I was imagining you as Howard Hughes in a hermetically sealed frog onesie. Tell me Pip, what are you cleaning?
Pip: Well, it started off as being my room but then that was boring because I can clean that stuff anytime so I downloaded Viscera Cleanup Detail. Now I pretend I’m a janitor cleaning up after horrific battles. I take my mop and my rubber gloves and my gore sensor and I scrub my way around strange space stations and labs and undersea research facilities.
Alice: By some astonishing coincidence or mutual friend, I also recently downloaded Viscera Cleanup Detail. For me it’s slightly more mundane. Guts and gore? I can clean that stuff anytime. But it’s a weird invitation: “Do you… do you want to come clean an imaginary corridor with me? You can do the mopping.”
Pip: So you were drawn in by the more… I’m not sure how exactly to phrase this but… walking sim-adjacentness?
Alice: I think I really like seeing environmental decals being placed and removed. Spreading and clearing up bloody footprints is endlessly entertaining to me. It’s really minor yet massively exciting environmental interaction, a ’90s dream come true. We now have the technology to let people ruin my nice clean corridor, and I’m secretly glad when they do because then I can magic those decals away.
Pip: I like that you mention about the messes other people make because I think it’s their input which makes playing it so enjoyable. I like that you can mess around a bit or try and strategise together. I like seeing how people’s different personality types play out. Which person comes up with a proper plan and which person just bumbles about knocking over buckets of sludge or traipsing dirt all over the place.
Alice: One could virtually audition potential flatmates. Me, I claim a corner and clean that fiercely, leaving everyone else to do whatever with their own mess. And in the game.
Pip: What, you think there should be a level with a sink and you just watch what your auditionees do about the dishes?
Alice: A sink full of guts. And in the game. What role do you take up, then? Or what are you most proud of cleaning?
Pip: I think I tend to be somewhere between bumbler and organiser. I like having my own bit to work on because then I can pile things up how I like them and strategise my own way, but I like being part of a team within that and being able to dip in and help with other people’s tasks. I’ll ask if anyone needs clean water or I’ll wander round their section with the little sensor out, helping them do some frantic mopping when it beeps because you missed some blood.
I like listening to everyone else as I work too. There are lots of ideas for how best to approach the cleaning and I’m trying to work out the optimal one from the suggestions. My own theory is that you should go to the edge of a level and then clean from the outside in. Like my approach to hot cherry pies.
Alice: Like my approach to hot cherry pies, I polish off my bit then go around peering at other people’s crumbs. I use the sensor in a very “You missed a spot” way. Except rather than pick at their crust crumbs, I’ll jab at a vent they left some guts in. Talking about this, I’m realising how insufferable I must be.
Pip: No more so than in real life :D
What do you do at the end though? When you’re going round with the sensor out checking for the last traces of blood and guts and there’s beeping but you can’t see what’s setting it off? It makes me really tense. Yesterday we had to take about 40 boxes out of a storage area because we’d missed *something* and couldn’t find it. It was a bullet hole in the back corner. I wonder if some people would have thought “fuck it” and punched out?
Alice: Jab wildly with the mop and it’ll either dislodge mystery garbage or sop up an unseen stain. And you get to whack everything and everyone with a mop.
I assume most flatmates are happy with a certain amount of mess. Players. Most players.
Pip: I don’t want to live with those players. Who doesn’t want to 100% a living room?
Alice: I say this as if I haven’t left a double bed and a desk cluttering up a corner of our lounge for months. But it is so satisfying to get everything perfectly clean! Not a trace of blood or guts anywhere! Look, whip out a machine and it’ll prove we’re perfect! When 100%ing involves making something really clean, that’s a lot more satisfying to me than e.g. making sure I’ve slaughtered ten of each local wildlife species. I do feel a real satisfaction when actually mopping of knowing I’ve planned a perfect route to clean every corner and leave myself a route out.
Pip: In real life?
Alice: I could probably declare this a ‘lifehack’ and sell a book about it. My second book will be about always rinsing dishes when doing the washing-up. (ALWAYS RINSE!)
I’d really like a follow-up game about redecorating space stations once the Viscera Cleanup Detail have been through. To really shake out the bad memories, they need a makeover. Imagine the satisfaction of stripping walls down, carefully steaming off wallpaper and scraping little leftovers out the corners. Take the level down to grey box then doing it back up. Imagine you and a co-op pal trying to perfectly line up a strip of wallpaper.
Pip: That sounds awesome. When we’ve been playing it we’ve been trying to come up with things the devs could add to the current version. My idea from last night is that you know how some of the notes scattered about tell you more about what happened?
Alice: I don’t read them. I’m only there to clean. That’s none of my business.
Pip: Well then, you might like this or you might hate it but my idea was that in addition to cleaning the area you need to get rid of any evidence of wrongdoing by a particular party. I guess that would politicise the janitors in some way but mostly I was trying to think of reasons to have an awesome shredder.
In terms of cleaning products I was thinking about a steam cleaner, or maybe something like windowlene or floor polish.
Alice: I would go wild for Brasso. All that rusty metal everywhere! Sand it down to a clean base then buff it up.
A paper shredder would be amazing too. Imagine someone trailing those strips all over the place.
Pip: Amazing. Although they would probably get stuck in the floor like the viscera do at the moment. It often seems to have trouble showing you what’s really happening server-side. Usually the person hosting has to come over and move a body part or pick up a box to stop it from continually glitching or waggling. It also freaks out if there’s too much mess because it can’t render it all, I think. That’s what’s stopping me from trying out my cherry pie strategy – it needs you to clean up as you go a lot so it can carry on running properly.
Alice: When someone over-fills a bin with guts then tries to run while carrying it and the physics glitch out and shower everything through the sides of the bin…
Pip: And sometimes you’ll get a leg or a bit of glass that won’t stop bouncing so all you can hear is this awful clattering from inside a box in the corner of the room.
Alice: I like to think it’s a ghost. The Tell-Tale Heart. A phantom limb. A mouse has got into the bins.
Pip: The problem with all this, though, is that I still need to throw out a bunch of stuff from my actual room in my actual house. Do you think Graham would let me expense a furnace?
Alice: Pip, three words: Will It Blend?
Pip: TO THE KITCHEN.
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