Space Adventure Laika is the story of a little dog that’s going to die.
You probably know that going in. It’s like watching the Titanic. No matter what happens in the interim, something tragic is on the horizon. Lives will be lost. Tears will be shed.
But Laika isn’t about a human tragedy. You might already be familiar with the story of Laika, the little dog that the Soviet’s sent up with Sputnik 2. She was a Moscow stray who was never going to come home. She’s been glamorized in tin, on stamps, and in statues, an image of hopeful space age optimism. Up until 2002, we didn’t even know that she lasted hours rather than days. Like Ms. Tea suggests, we forget about her: “ She’s a tool to us, something we could use and then discard when finished.”
The strength of Space Adventure Laika is that it doesn’t try to hide the horror of the situation. This is truly a horrific situation — you cannot save Laika. She is trapped inside of a space where all she can do is sit and stand. She will die there, far from any home she might have had, and years later her body will burn up on re-entry.
But in the creation of Space Adventure Laika, Ms Tea doesn’t just focus on the horror. It would be easy to, in many ways. She creates a story for the stray. The facts are cold, but they are also empty without heart. The Wikipedia page talks about Laika’s “training” to become a cosmonaut stating:
To adapt the dogs to the confines of the tiny cabin of Sputnik 2, they were kept in progressively smaller cages for periods up to 20 days. The extensive close confinement caused them to stop urinating or defecating, made them restless, and caused their general condition to deteriorate.
These are clinical notes, and they are detailed in the story. But they gain more humanity to them when reading Ms. Tea’s Space Adventure Laika. She describes a Moscow Subway Dog (it is unknown if Laika would’ve been among their number) who traveled the trains for food, who played fetch in a yard with children one warm day, who went to the park and scrounged til she had a full belly. These are simple details, framed as they are by the facts, but they have strength to them.
It would be easy to be horrified by Space Adventure Laika, but it is strong as a story and as a game because it makes you feel heartbroken as well.
(Cover art slightly adjusted from the games cover art made by Bri Mercedes)