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Why I'm Still So Into Viscera Cleanup Detail

A clean sweep

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I don’t know if this is a news or a feature or what, but I wanted to talk about first-person space janitor clean-em-up Viscera Cleanup Detail [official site] again because I’m still playing it.

Alice and I wrote about it back in January 2015 after playing a bunch of the levels co-operatively. You and any fellow players are tasked with cleaning up in the aftermath of some terrible atrocity – mutant plant attacks, perhaps, or killer robot rampages. You’re armed with a mop, buckets of water, waste disposal bins and other cleaning paraphernalia and must eliminate all traces of the incident. That means scrubbing away at bloody footprints, incinerating body parts and replenishing vanished supplies.

It was still a bit rough around the edges when we had our chat and bits of people’s guts were prone to glitching out on the floor, wiggling wildly until the host player came over and dealt with the object. Nowadays it’s a lot less prone to freaking out (although sometimes a leg will start twitching all on its own and upend one of the waste disposal bins, spilling bullet casings EVERYWHERE.

I still periodically boot it up and don my trusty space marigolds. I’ve never played a game like it. It ties the process of trying to 100% something in the game sense to the pleasing sensation I get from tidying and sorting. It’s a game where I actually love completing a level rather than just finishing it. You get to transform a space and there’s so much pleasure in that. I keep it as an occasional treat though, so I’ve still got a lot of maps I’ve never even touched. Last night I played the botanical level for the first time and it was wonderful.

My favourite moment is probably doing a final lap of the room holding your gore sensor out and dealing with the final smears of blood or closing all the restocked first aid kits. You’re almost finished and the place looks amazing, you’re just putting the finishing touches on the room before clocking out.

I never play it solo, though. Part of the love of Viscera Cleanup Detail is in working with other people. Using the tasks as a backdrop for conversation, or experiencing other people’s personalities through how they approach the cleaning. One friend is super-methodical, scrubbing footprints away and gradually working from room to room. Another sets fire to whole rooms while using the plasma welder to fill in bullet holes and we then need to cart hundreds of buckets over to the area to clear up all the soot.

In that way I think it’s actually a really good game for keeping in touch with friends or loved ones who are far away, letting conversations play out as you work together (sometimes comically clumsily) towards a goal.

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Philippa Warr

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