The Trials of Wilsted Kerman

By Gaines

Wilsted Kerman is the hero of Kerbin.  Wilsted Kerman was a victim of a youthful, exuberant, and careless Kerbin space program, the Kerbin National Aeronautics and Space Administration (KNASA), which having finally discovered the combination of fuel, lift, and stages necessary to launch a rocket from Kerbin to the Mun, launched Wilsted’s hapless ass to the Mun.

Wilsted landed safely on the moon.  Only the second Kerbal to ever be launched to the Mun, Wilsted surprisingly survived a “controlled” crash landing, only to discover he had been marooned by an experimental lander that lacked the fuel to return—who would launch an experimental lander all the way to the Mun?—a lander designed by the greatest mind KNASA’s ever had—Me.

Wilsted Kerman spent a year waiting, waiting patiently in his capsule for KNASA—me—to rescue him.  First, an unmanned rescue mission arrived, landed on the opposite side of Mun, and again failed to have enough fuel.  Months later, two more unmanned rescue missions crashed into the Mun, miles upon miles away from Wilsted. Finally, 18 months after he arrived, an unmanned rescue mission landed a mere 42km away from Wilsted.  Wilsted Kerman marched for 8 straight real-hours (real-hours being a unit of time used by KNASA to measure time on a grand, out-of-game scale) to cross the surface of the Mun to reach the rescue mission.

After eight pain-staking real-hours of watching Wilsted walk—a process that KNASA made automatic using a piece of Nicorette under a hammer, wedged between SuperFreakonomics and How to Change the World on one side and Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero on the other.  KNASA loved the irony, but it was lost on Wilsted.

KNASA's automated walking.

KNASA’s automated walking.

Bruised and bloodied from attempting to climb into the capsule, which lacked ladders—a design flaw KNASA reluctantly leaked to the press—forcing Wilsted to hone his rocket pack skills, training learned over a year ago when his muscles hadn’t atrophied in the Mun’s low gravity, Wilsted was aboard a fueled ship. In his haste to be free of Mun, Wilsted forgot to plant a flag. Unbeknownst to him as he blasted away from the surface of the Mun, I, KNASA, had only included enough fuel to achieve Mun orbit.  This time the irony was not lost on Wilsted.

Another year passed, the asshole in charge of KNASA apparently thought it was more important to get the flag planted than rescue the greatest space survivalist ever and hero of Kerbin. All of Kerbin had forgiven Wilsted for forgetting to plant the flag, all of Kerbin except KNASA. Thus, a manned mission killed another astronaut on the Mun, after KNASA calculated the landing speed incorrectly, forcing the poor soul to suffer three full real-minutes in a cartwheeling, out-of-control lander as it bounced across a range of Mun hills with KNASA mission control muttering “I got this” over and over, before obliterating the lander, capsule first, on the side of a Mun hill.

Wilsted may have been forgotten in his woefully under-powered ion engined rescue ship.  You see, the idiot in charge of KNASA fucked up again, leaving just enough battery power for the engine to remind Wilsted of hope—not enough to return him home.

Wilsted waited.

KNASA moved on, focusing on the new Consternellation program, launching a space station, a docking add-on, then a series of fuel carriers.  KNASA planned to use the Consternellation program to launch more unsuspecting Kerbal astronauts at other, more distant planets.

Consternellation Station

Consternellation Station

Wilsted waited.

Suddenly, KNASA space center was a flurry of activity.  The colossal moron in charge of KNASA finally realized, after 4 successful docking missions, that KNASA now had the know-how to send another rescue—a rescue of the rescue—for Wilsted Kerman.

3 days later, KNASA launched a modified version of the rescue ship Wilsted currently occupied, which Wilsted had unilaterally renamed 6 months ago “Tantalus Fuck-trap” while on the verge of insanity and forsaking the need to speak in Gravity-esque astronaut lingo since no one was listening.  The new rescue ship, officially named “Mun Rescue of the Rescue” (MROTR) because KNASA’s lead engineer is as unoriginal as he is stupid, arrived in Mun orbit in a mere 3 days.  Surprisingly, the ship had more than enough fuel to rescue and return, leading many Kerbals to believe that leaving Wilsted to rot on Mun may have been unnecessary in the first place, but first, it would need to pick up Wilsted.

In a daring maneuver, MROTR moved to a mere 30m from the “Tantalus Fuck-trap,” and since KNASA’s arrogance knows no bounds, asked Mr. Kerman to EVA from one capsule to another.  Thankfully, this was the most recent skill Wilsted had trained, having spent 20 minutes thrashing his face against the side of the “Tantalus” 18 months ago.  Wilsted made the space jump, unfortunately proving that KNASA’s plan was utterly brilliant despite saving his life.  And returned to Kerbin with fuel to spare 2 days later, even managing to run a test run of the new ion engine design—“just for fun,” KNASA called it—on the way back.

Wilsted Kerman is home; he makes more than ten million kerlars per speaking engagement.

KNASA continues to threaten to send him to the Consternellation space station to be the first Kerbal to land safely on another planet.

Wilsted Kerman waited 5 hours to be staged for this photo before KNASA would retrieve him.

Wilsted Kerman waited 5 hours to be staged for this photo before KNASA would retrieve him.

So, I wrote this a month ago and shared it with some friends and some of my fellow editors at the Journal of Games Criticism.  At that time, it was me telling a funny story about a game I played, and I wrote it to try out writing like Jacob Siegel’s Journal of an Accidental Mayor.

But, now that I return to it, it reminds me of an argument I made at the Popular Culture Association conference in Boston a year ago.  I argued that Marie-Laure Ryan’s corrections to the myth of the aleph, which is a less-than-generous way of characterizing the idea that every possible path tells a different story, was too limiting for games.  And, back then, I made that argument using Ernst Cassirer’s thoughts on language and myth.  It went something like, Cassirer says language and myth happen together, so Ryan’s analytical divisions of where narrative happens miss the point that they happen much deeper down in the semantics of language.  Magic: The Gathering, the video game and the CCG, were the examples. Blah blah, and I had some Kenneth Burke citations in there too although I’m not sure why.

But now, I wonder whether Cassirer wasn’t as much of the problem I thought I saw as Ryan was. What if this ludology/narratology stuff isn’t dead? I mean, Janet Murray called it a phantom. Mark Filipowich seems to agree.  But, ludology/narratology sticks around because we keep reviving it just so we can pull the plug on it: It’s homeostatic.

Yet, I’m a rhetorician, so there’s some cognitive dissonance where I want my medium specificity—non-homeostatic games criticism for and from games—and have my rhetoric in my games too—great rhetorical theory for games like Jason Hawreliak’s modal rhetoric.

The response that got from my friends was approval of KNASA’s effort to save Wilsted Kerman, but also stories of their own Kerbal Space Programs’ successes and hilariously on-going failures.  And, thus began an exchange of stories that looked surprisingly like a space race told through Gmail instead of news media.

I think failure is one of my favorite parts of Kerbal Space Program.  There’s something delightful about the comedy of errors that Kerbal lets you play through.  It’s like Gravity with more banana peels.

But, it also works well as an example of this ludology/narratology business.  There’s not much “story” there, but I found a lot of “story” there.

About Gaines Hubbell

Gaines Hubbell is an assistant professor of English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. His dissertation tracks the history of topoi and loci of invention in twentieth-century rhetorical theory, pedagogy, and criticism. His research focuses on the historical and contemporary development of rhetorical theory and its adaptation for newer media environments.
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