If you haven’t played Spaceteam yet, I highly recommend it. In fact, go download it right now, find three other people with iOS devices, and spend an hour yelling at each other—first cooperatively and then angrily. You’ve probably heard about Artemis, the game that’s all about simulating what it’s like to command and operate on a spaceship bridge. Well, Spaceteam pretty much just takes the “hey do this” part of Artemis, Star Trek, and Star Wars where you’re yelling at fellow crewmates to do their job and puts it in your hands.
There’s a thin premise to it all: you’re on a spaceship trying to escape an exploding star. Repeatedly. It seems as though each time you escape death, you only windup in its grasp again moments later but with progressively more dangerous supernovas. Each player is presented with a new set of controls with each level. At the top is a piece of text that gives that person an instruction to flip a switch, set a dial, press a button, or something. The only problem is that it may or may not be for that player, so yelling the instruction out into the ether for the correct player to grab onto will become necessary.
Wormholes and asteroids will come into play, as will falling control panels and vision-obscuring smoke, all of which serve to complicate matters and further occupy your mind so you will miss each vital, time-sensitive instruction. But the interesting part is the yelling.
When I played with my friends, it’s amazing how quickly we got into a groove. On our first time through, we made it to sector 12. We fell into a natural rhythm that helped us do things and help get things done. But then one of my friends got the bright idea to make the process systematic.
He proposed that we go in a clockwise circle where you would only say your instruction if it was your turn. Otherwise, let that MFer burn. That is unless it was an asteroid or wormhole warning; then yell as loud as your lungs and current environment would allow. We tried this twice and both times failed to get past sector seven. The question, of course, was why.
The obvious answer would be to say that we simply failed to understand the direction of clockwise, as was the case with one of my crewmates, but that is a negligible factor. If anything, that helped us get another instruction out there faster since the correct next person and the wrong next person would both throw something out there to be done. No, it had to do with the fact that the cycle introduced unnecessary cognitive overhead. When an asteroid or wormhole struck, we all would have to reconcile with whose turn was next. Did we get that last instruction? Is it the next person’s turn or do we need to go back? Oh no, the timer ran out, so whose turn is it now? The critical thinking power dedicated to completing an instruction while being aware that it’s your turn and the entire rotation hinges on your ability to flip a switch while reattaching a panel as you say your piece is, suffice it to say, severely missed.
This well-intentioned but ultimately broken idea highlighted one thing: you can’t beat intuition. When playing Spaceteam, it’s important to be aware, but only just so. You need to be receptive with your ears most of all, able to discard instructions that don’t pertain to you, but also with your peripheral vision, a second sight that can feed into your feel of a situation more than your direct vision can. There’s a reason why it’s often talked about with sports because peripheral vision guides your instincts and reactions much better than your central vision.
You can see and feel when your crewmates are busy and less likely to speak, thus opening the floor to you to say something. You can catch yourself about to speak as someone else is about to talk, holding back so your words don’t run together into gibberish. This means that rather than dedicating a discrete bit of thought processing to tracking turns, you can instead allow an always-on subsystem of peripheral intuition to guide your actions.
I think that is where Spaceteam succeeds the most. Sure it’s fun to yell and to see the insanity build on itself as you progress, but it excels at simply taking the primal factor of real world environmental intuition and peripheral tracking and applying it to a video game. Playing something like Call of Duty forces you to attend to multiple factors that lay both directly in front of you and offscreen so you have to track visible and intuited elements in a non-visible (and nonexistent) space. Playing Spaceteam with all the things you need directly at your fingertips and within arm’s reach reappropriates the carnal feel of real life into a spaceship bridge pseudo-simulator.
From moving about in your daily life to playing sports, things that exist outside of your central vision don’t need to be tracked mentally as they do with traditional video games like Call of Duty and Battlefield. Instead, they are tracked by a much more active, if less accurate, peripheral vision and feeds into your intuition, a thought process that incurs little to no cognitive overhead. I’m not saying there isn’t any intuition involved in playing video games, but it’s a very different kind of intuition from interacting with the real world. You can feel movement without making contact and you can sense impending action without seeing it. Spaceteam just happens to take this and shoves it into a game about yelling and supernovas.