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Why Citizen Sleeper’s cast of interstellar nobodies matter

No more heroes

A Citizen Sleeper character collage of The Sleeper, Sabine and Emphis
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Fellow Traveller

One of my absolute favourite elements of Citizen Sleeper is how you essentially play as a nobody. When we first meet the Sleeper they've had their memories completely erased; the last thing they remember is stuffing themselves into a cargo container and shooting off into the depths of space - a last resort in wanting to escape the clutches of a scary corporation. They now find themselves on a dishevelled space station called Erlin's Eye, desperate and alone. They're essentially an empty shell, and one which you can etch your own story onto.

But it’s not their lack of personal identity that makes the Sleeper a nobody (after all, you essentially forge an identity for them as you make decisions throughout the game). It’s the realisation that, in this vast universe that developer Gareth Damian Martin has written, you’re no one. A single grain of sand in a vast desert. No one knows who you are, no one cares about you, and you’re stuck on a lawless space station, helpless, scared, and dying.

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It's a bleak beginning for our Sleeper friend, but things do get better, and not through some lofty sci-fi adventure, but quite the opposite. The Eye is an unruly backwater station on the edges of a complex solar system. It's the kind of place where folks who have nowhere else to go get washed up. Life is tough on The Eye and survival requires you to pick up gig work - whatever work you can find - to make ends meet. Money is money.

It’s a shitty situation but even in this seemingly hopeless place, you'll find kindness. You first meet an old salvager who sees you're in a sorry state and gives you a place to stay and a temporary job in the scrapyards. A tattooed, burly food vendor gives you a free meal before you both become fast friends. A back-alley doctor offers to help you get the right stabilisers for your body, which are incredibly difficult to get since the corporation you're running from are the sole producers.

No one is obliged to help you, but there’s a shared sense of kinship and mutual struggle between the characters. Everyone dances around the topic, but there's an understanding that anyone who has found themselves in Erlin’s Eye must be in a tight spot (aka life has dealt you a shit hand). Survival on The Eye is rooted in community: accepting help, and then, once stable, helping others. It’s how Citizen Sleeper cleverly grounds its hyper-capitalist future in the present. These are real issues that people face today.

A man and a robot enjoy stir-fried mushrooms with a cat in Citizen Sleeper
Image credit: Fellow Traveller

And they’re nobodies too! Scrap metal workers, bartenders, street food vendors, engineers - they're just average people trying to make the most out of a shitty situation. Getting to know each character’s story always reveals a fascinating corner of Citizen Sleeper’s wider world - it’s essentially an anthology of human drama in the form of short stories.

I love that I get to chat about this for RPS Game Club, because it’s honestly something I think games should do more. I'm tired of save-the-world, defeat-the-big-bad, shooty-shooty sci-fi, I want whatever Citizen Sleeper is doing. I wanna play as a grizzled interstellar truck driver, dropping off deliveries as I toot around pretty alien planets poking my nose into the lives of smaller folks. Like no more heroes, you know?

It’s something that many of my favourite games share with each other - Kentucky Route Zero’s ghostly drifters, Where The Water Tastes Like Wine’s ragged nomads, and Norco’s Louisiana wierdos - they’re all about folks trying to live their lives. It’s also the same reason I liked Andor over anything else the Star Wars machine has churned out in recent years. I want more slow-burn stories from the forgotten corners of these worlds, the everyday reality of normal people trying to survive. More of that please and thank you.

Wanna chat all things Citizen Sleeper with some RPS treehouse pals? Join us for the next RPS Game Club liveblog on Friday - that is, Friday the 2nd - at 4pm BST / 8am PDT.

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