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Indie Rock: Surgeon Simulator 2013 is Gaming’s Slapstick
- Updated: January 30, 2013
I’m neither a doctor nor an athlete. I opted for a career path where I do more good for the world and cultivate a clearly more attractive physical appearance. You don’t just play video games and write about them all day out of passion for the medium and hatred for doing an honest day’s work, you do it because the world needs you. You do it because of civic pride. You do it because you’re selfless.
As an unexpected bonus, being someone who types things about games and shovels biscuits into your big stupid mouth means that occasionally you’re able to live vicariously as someone in any other profession anyway. This week I’ve been abusing a prescribed dosage of Surgeon Simulator 2013, a game that proves that it’s good I never entertained the thought of medical school.
It’s a quickly made romp produced for the Global Game Jam by a few members of Bossa Studios, most known for employing Thomas Was Alone‘s Mike Bithell, least known for any of the games they’ve produced during work hours (I’m sure they’ll never win a BAFTA over anything they put together). It’s a take on the Weirdly Specific Niche Job Simulator franchise that inexplicably dominates the Steam best sellers list and generally receives review scores too good to ignore outright despite the initial perception of total ridiculousness.
Within it you play an inexperienced surgeon accompanied solely by a radio throwing out the theme tune to BBC’s Casualty. Your task is to adeptly perform a heart transplant. Unfortunately your interactions are limited by the game’s control scheme which maps grasping motions to one hand and precise control of rotation and depth to your mouse. In the vein of Bennett Foddy’s QWOP, it makes performing an already difficult activity that much harder. It replaces your understanding of how movement should work and adjusts it to rules arbitrarily defined by the game.
You should be able to pick things up. You’ve picked things up before. You need that electric saw so you can remove his ribs. Just gotta rotate your hand slightly, lower it, swoop in and grasp. Oh. You knocked it over. No worry, it’ll be easier to pick up now it’s laid down…
…And now there’s broken glass everywhere and scalpels in his chest. Whoopsy. Guess the only option left is to hit the guy’s lungs with a hammer.
Nothing in Surgeon Simulator 2013 is precise. More often than carefully parting the patient’s sternum you’ll accidentally create a mess of detached organs and utensils and panic. Yet still, providing you can sever some arteries and chuck a fresh heart in, you can get an incredible score grading. It’s silly. It’s a masterpiece. It’s a weird comparison to make, but what it reminds me of is the movie Baseketball or really any comedy that relies on someone doing something very technical that they absolutely aren’t prepared for and messing it up completely. This game is the closest we’ve to proper slapstick in our medium.
Physical comedy that relies on people befalling harm doesn’t really convey well. Gaming couldn’t present scenes like where you interacted without fault and yet when everything goes wrong expect it to work comically. It’d be frustrating to screw something up through no fault of your own.
Surgeon Simulator 2013 is a comedy that works entirely due to your limitation. It’s the same with the aforementioned QWOP or with Octodad. Those games are funny because they control terribly while you do something that you’d otherwise be able to do. They’re funny because you accidentally do something you didn’t intend that doesn’t help at all. Taking away our abilities momentarily and attempting to perform a task makes it hilarious.
What I’d like to see from here is a mass of new titles trying to take advantage of this mode of design. Let’s fill out a new genre, one that tries to prevent what the player can do as much as possible and paint such a weird scenario that it’s super funny when they mess everything up.
I want to be bad at every profession and I want to enjoy the heck out of it.