Citizen Sleeper is a video game about navigating the degradation of capitalism. You play as a human consciousness that has been cloned and grafted onto a worker robot- a “sleeper”, because your body of origin is held in stasis while the robot fulfils your contract. You find yourself on a populous, yet damaged spaceship that has been abandoned by its sponsoring corporation. In its place, ragtag factions of gangs, de facto governments, communes, predatory companies, and independent freelancers all struggle to survive. In that struggle, profound questions are raised about the exploitation of labor, interdependence, and the legacy we leave for those who come after us.
I completely biffed my first playthrough. My sleeper succumbed to the entropy of sickness and death. Or they would have if I hadn’t cut and run to another save. This run was botched because I had such a poor handling on the TTRPG game mechanics (link: Wikipedia). These mechanics include three measurements: clocks, dice, and resources. Clock timers count down days (“cycles”) to fail states, successes, or things that have finished cooking. There is also the strategy of dice rolls and using your best dice for important tasks. Resource management in the form of money and how it is tied to your health. I’m not proud that I failed my first time through, but I’ll note that my failure was due to blowing all my money on opening up the world right before my cashflow came to an abrupt end with lots of bills in the pipeline to pay. This is all to say that Citizen Sleeper is not an idyllic romp- choices and budgeting resources matters deeply.
The fashion of the derelict spaceship, Erlin’s Eye (or The Eye), takes cues from techwear, a real-life style that fetishizes the function of outwear (link: Fashion Beans- “The Complete Guide to Techwear”). It’s a style that is hard to define mostly because of what it tries to be and what it narrowly escapes being. It is streetwear for people who like the look of mountain climbing gear, but only climb the stairs to the train; who are inspired by cyberpunk but are too normcore for the goth club. Techwear pieces can be sourced from brands as mainstream as Patagonia and Nike as well as more specialty brands like Acronym.
Techwear lives and dies on its brutalist details; mixing fitted and oversized pieces for unusual silhouettes, excessive pocketing details, and the overall vibe of dressing for a dystopian trail hike. For a sci-fi story about surviving the elements, it is an excellent style to riff from.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the fashion of Citizen Sleeper, starting with the three character classes.
The Machinist sleeper prominently wears bulky mustard yellow booted workpants with quilted kneepad and shinpad accents. The pants are excessively strapped, both for style and function, with a strap chest harness.
The left arm wears a red and orange prosthetic- but what is a prosthetic to a robot? Maybe it could more accurately be described as a replacement arm OR a specialty arm. We see that one hand specializes in strength while the other, stripped of any skin-like covering, specializes in technical detail work. Because these characters are disposable robots, they do not wear safety wear.
The Extractor class’ outfit is a cross between a space suit and workwear, with hardshell kneepads and boots that look more like workboots than space boots. The legs and chest panel are made of a line quilt material, supposedly for warmth. Sleepers require the same food, water, air, and warmth that humans need, so there is no doubt that the neckline connects to an airtight helmet. They carry a reciprocating saw.
The Operator class wears the only outfit that prioritizes aesthetics over functionality. This is because the character class is not a manual laborer. Instead, they work with code and machine systems.
The futuristic bomber jacket is great. It is a bulky, high-collared, oversized jacket worn off the shoulders with panache. Geometric, triangular panels on the shoulders slump and drape into a 3D texture, similar to the Epcot ball if it deflated. Other outfits make use of this texture to signify warmth, which makes me think it’s a mylar or heat-trapping material. The pants are fitted with hardshell kneepads and straps, with knit-top shoes that zip down the middle.
My absolute favorite detail is the mechanical component the Operator holds in their hand which is connected to their head and legs. The use of the component is unknown, but it looks just like a Walkman- a retro-futuristic touch that brings a cool factor to this sleeper class.
I also want to point out that this Sleeper is wearing an identifiably prosthetic leg. Through gameplay and artwork, Citizen Sleeper has a lot to say about disability. My biggest reach is that the main gameplay mechanic of limited dice rolls could be seen as a metaphor for Spoon Theory (link: Wikipedia), especially as those moves become more limited due to illness. My much less hot take is that the story weaves in a diverse range of assistive devices which blur the lines between able-bodied, disabled, and cyborg.
Dragos is the first character you meet and he has some of the richest costume details. His ship-scrapping uniform is oil-stained, ripped, and patched all over. The jumpsuit is in a teal, denim blue, and lime green colorway and patched with tape and what looks like a potholder (left leg). Typical hardshell kneepad details and straps.
What I find most exciting about Dragos are his cyborg enhancements. He has an eyesight visor, voicebox mod, and pacemaker connected to a machine on a chest harness and, possibly, his mechanical messenger bag. It is easy to assume that the sight visor is connected to the spider drone on his shoulder, allowing him to scope out tight spaces. Similarly to his patched jumpsuit, you can see that his skin is also patched with wires and bandages. He wears a yellow work glove on his left hand and, on the right, appears to be a glove or a forearm prosthesis. He has the vibe of a tired lifer- bruised, battered, and weary, but still going.
Sabine’s is unrecognizable as a doctor. Their workwear looks closer to a flight suit than a uniform for practicing medicine. I believe the only clue to their employment is a surprisingly traditional doctor bag. The yellow rain slicker is patched, as if it were a recycled textile. To me, it looks like a high fashion version of a Medieval plague cape. And you know what- sometimes a slay doesn’t have to make sense.
Emphis is an absolute hunk of a chef who carries his entire kitchen on his back. He wears a pair of yellowish bib overalls with with a prominent front chest pocket. A lot of the pants are obscured by kitchen tools and a clear tray of ingredients, but the pants are padded and blue at the top, with yellow line quilt details from the knee to a tapered ankle, connecting to a boot. The pants have a wide, accordion-like waistband with a large snap button. There also appears to be a gas mask underneath his left armpit. He wears a foam-front trucker hat with a bandana to soak up sweat which just screams “line cook”.
Though his time in game is more limited, his story is a standout. Like you, Emphis is also a corporate refugee. The tattoo-like markings on his skin are old connection points to a type of mech he piloted that had disastrous effects on the bodies of his co-workers- a fate that he narrowly escaped. He is a character that is trying to rebuild his life after being subjected to immense cruelty- his softness is an oasis.
I want to note how incredible the name “Heavenage” is- I would absolutely wear Feng’s coat for that alone. Feng is an engineer and hacker whose sense of justice shortly puts him into hiding. He wears, a quilted bib overall with kneepad patches (a popular style) with bright, safety yellow straps. The Carhartt work beige coat is somehow strapped to his hip. He wears a white sweater that looks like it was stolen off the Nebuchadnezzar in the Matrix. In hiding, he wears a very inconspicuous knee-length poncho with sporty hi-viz stripes, a chest pocket, and a utility graphic on the right shoulder- all while holding a glowing device. He hasn’t bothered to change his pants. It’s kind of like in movies when a character puts on glasses as a disguise and is suddenly invisible to the enemy. Totally.
Ethan wears a cranberry red and white floral print shirt with an open top button and big, 70s collars and jauntily rolled up sleeves. It gives the effect of Tyler Durden in Fight Club– the friendly attire only highlighting his psychopathy. Over the shirt is a strappy gun harness. Breaking with the regular art direction, the pants are fitted and un-exaggerated, but with typical knee patches and an angular front pocket trim in a contrast color. I’m not sure if this is the effect the writer and illustrator were going for, but the whole outfit reminds of of lederhosen. He wears simple, almost dressy boots compared to the rest of the ship. His coat is an earthy, military green that is oversized with shoulder quilting details that must be fashionable in this time. In the beginning, he wears it slung over his shoulder- tough shit. After he gets roughed up and humbled, he wears it in a way that unconsciously communicates wanting to hide or burrow into the safety of his coat.
In a story where the villains are often big, faceless organizations, Ethan is an interesting look into how dirty work is done and through whom. He is a character that is supposedly trapped in the system, but is clever enough and has enough agency to escape if he truly wanted to. Yet he remains a chaotic psychopath and his dress mirrors that. Even though Ethan gave me a huge amount of stress on my first two playthroughs, I find his character to be one of my favorites for how disruptive he is. As much as he is a running cog in the system, he’s also a grain of sand gunking it up and making gameplay unpredictable.
Maywick is the second bounty hunter assigned to capture Sleeper. One of the more understated plot twists is that Maywick himself is a sleeper- you can see it in his eye and mechanical seam facial details. Otherwise, he wears a fairly unremarkable outfit- A black turtleneck under a digital camo jumpsuit that looks very similar to elite military dress.
Lem is a construction worker on a ship that plans to leave The Eye for a new colony. Lem wears three outfits throughout his time, all hinging on a pair of overalls that are a bone white (yellowish in certain lighting), with orange box x padded kneepads. On the overalls is insignia we can assume is for Celis, although he wears it before he becomes crew. Notably in the middle photos, Mina is wearing a blanket with the same geometric pattern as the Operator class’ coat. On the right is Lem and Mina with bags packed, ready to leave The Eye. Their dress is homey and humble, which supports their role as the emotional heart of the story.
Ankhita’s design feels like a clear reference to Samus Aran from the Metroid series (link: Metroid Wiki). She wears thigh-high armored boots with spacesuit detailing over a black and grey paneled jumpsuit with red shoulders and beige armor on the shoulders and chest. Slung on her hip is a very involved looking flight helmet. She wears a red handkerchief with what looks to be a woodgrain pattern in white. She is badass and imposing. In microgravity, on the right, she is stripped of armor and weapons, having rethought her line of work.
Yatagan is essentially a mob that operates in the Lowend, a part of the ship which Rabiah patrols as an officer. Austere and imposing, her jumpsuit gives the effect of a futuristic cop. Covered in Yatagan insignia, her simple black jumpsuit is harnessed and holstered in fuchsia and white. She carries some pink device on her hip and a baton in her left hand, which is part of a prosthetic mechanical arm. The arm is covered in a pinkish translucent material that matches the geometric detailing of Mina’s blanket and the Operator’s coat. This covering is attached to her shoulder with a very cool upper chest harness that fits over the shoulder and under the right armpit. The jewels of the head covering match the jewels she wears under her eyes.
Yannick is one of the most surprising characters in the game. Eschewing spacewear, he is smartly dressed in a suit of dusty rose pink, the jacket worn off the shoulder with a somewhat matching pocket square and belt sash combo. He wears a presumably short sleeve yellow printed button-up shirt over a greyish burgundy long-sleeve (check the wrists) button up shirt. He wears mirrored sunglasses and a machine on top of his ear that gives the effect of a cochlear implant, but is most likely a different kind of neurologically linked machine, considering his story. He wears dark animal scale shoes. Inspired by Congolese La Sapa (link: Avaunt Magazine), Yannick’s dress tells a story of an old order and a timeless cool.
Castor’s outfit is what Feng thinks his disguise is. He is a Lowend intelligence merchant who works with opposing factions and therefore dresses for the shadows. He wears an olive beige jumpsuit under a beigey yellow cardigan (the knitting being rendered as crosshatching). All of this is under a beige and grey coat with big pockets and an interesting orange quilt lining which is highly unusual and could symbolize him keeping the best parts hidden. A cross-body bag is worn across his chest and he regularly carries a stash of laptop computers. Castor’s power is in his stealth and ability to be useful at all the right times.
Bliss is a bit of a mechanic pixie dream girl who serves as a way to clock the player out of mid-to-late-ish game cashflow. She wears a fitted jumpsuit (worth noting because the style is usually baggy) with a bib that goes all the way around her upper torso. Since she works in microgravity, she has all of her tools attached to her. She wears a harness that connects her waist accessories to her kneepads to boot stirrups. A gruff, cuffed dark t-shirt is underneath. She seems to wear a shoulder pad on her right shoulder which sells the idea of bumping around on stuff in microgravity. Stickers and patches liberally adorn her outfit for quirk-factor.
Moritz said drip or fucking drown. He definitely hangs out on r/streetwear (derogatory). But I can’t be too hateful because regardless of it’s simplicity, is one of the best outfits. Or maybe this outfit is just the closest to existing in 2023. He wears a tapered pair of pants with kneepad and pocket patches in a darker grey over simple boots. A simple off-white (almost pink-ish) kangaroo pocket pullover hoodie with shoestring tassels under a red, bulky puffer jacket with black quilted shoulder and elbow panels. Like Bliss, his jacket is adorned with various patches. He gets away with less technical clothing since his job is less technical. In microgravity, he holds what could be a boombox or a piece of mechanic equipment. Similar to the Operator’s Walkman, it’s a piece of retro imagery to express a futuristic cool.
Eshe wears pants made of a rigid white material with a padded yellow quilted portion at the knees for flexibility (an unbelievably cool and ultra functional detail). These images give a great view of the enclosure on the pants- an exposed zip fly and an internal center button buckle. The pants are lined with the yellow quilted fabric, which is a clue that the bulky pants in the game are all quilt-lined. Under the pants, she wears a matching set of athleisure bottoms and a princess seam sports bra topped with a very cool white upper-chest harness (similar to Rabiah’s). She carries a red bag and a jacket with quilted panels in light blue. Although she wears heavily branded XPR gear, she is a refugee of the company. The wear and tear on her garments suggest a rough and tumble escape.
For as rugged as Eshe is, Peake is a streamlined and clean ex-XPR spacer whose talents lie more in political manipulation and working from the shadows. They wear a whole-body jumpsuit branded with XPR. Sleek white and grey-blue shoes seemingly un-attached. The jumpsuit features hexagonal kneepads and a white colorblock panel that starts upward from the chest, with light blue accents. They wear a cross body chest bag attached to a handheld device.
Hardin and Helene are both minor characters whose affiliation with Heavenage does little for the organization’s reputation. They both wear a greyish blue jumpsuit with cargo pockets on the lower hips/thights with a slight contrast paneling on the sides for a nipped-in waist. The top chest and torso is in the darkest blue with a relaxed lime green/yellow HA (Heavenage) logo and sporty double stripes like Thom Browne suits if they slayed a little less. This is exactly what you’d expect spacewear to be, which grants them a sense of authority and order, but also hints at their lack of imagination and rigid adherence to decrepit hierarchies.
Sol is the first leader you meet from the flotilla in episode 2. Each leader tells the story of the three moons of Ember and their political strife. Notably, his teal blue metal pieces are rusted, which tells the story of a long journey and hard times. The suit is a full body jumpsuit with very typical padded grey details. Sol wears a mechanical suit which allows him to stand, since he can’t on his own. Also to assist him with agricultural duties is a an extra mechanical arm. He balances on a surprisingly old-world wooden standing cane.
Aki is a refugee from the Step which produces stepsilk, a plant that grows in sand and is turned into a fiber. This abundance of fiber cultivation and the arid environment of the Step has lead to her extravagant dress. Underneath her layers, she wears a dark, high neck jumpsuit (similar to a UV suit) and a dust mask with a chest harness. On her head is a scarf worn in the style most similar to an Afghan lungee to shield from sun, wind, and sand. The voluminous layers are richly batik (wax-resist) printed or woven into stripes and mountains, all in a neutral-to-warm colorway of yellows, beiges, and oranges with a pop of robin’s egg blue for contrast. These details instantly endear me to Aki and the Step because they clearly lay out a rich visual culture and history centered around textiles. Her rich layers do not offer a sense of regalness, though. There is a definite down-to-earth nature to her dress. This comes from her more functional underlayers- It shows that although she comes from a place with rich history, they also understand the necessity of adaptation- one foot in the past and the other in the present.
Petr is the leader of the proudly separatist Ember’s Song, a moon whose natural resources and labor were abused by extractive capitalism. Because his previous work involved hard vacuum and high temperatures, I believe the jumpsuit is made of a rubber or heat-proof material. A dark teal bibbed jumpsuit with bright yellow safety details, gloves, and hardshell knee and shoulder pads. It’s a grim and somber outfit meant to keep the world at bay.
The use of techwear lends a hard edge to the characters without it verging into bleakness and astronaut suits. While reviewing the clothing, I couldn’t help but feel the fashion was drawing on a deeper tradition of depicting spacewear in the language of military flight suits, bomber jackets, working class boiler suits and safety gear. The alternative being flashy, futuristic and streamlined luxury space age chic like The Jetsons and Star Trek.
From my research, this tradition of occupying outer space with blue collar workwear can be traced back to Alien (1979) which was costumed by John Mollo (link: Art of the Costume- “Costuming Alien: The Perfect Nightmare”) with a bit of help from legendary French sci-fi illustrator Moebius (link: Strange Shapes- “Dressing The Future”). I also want to point towards Gavia Baker-Whitelaw’s excellent series “Behind The Seams” whose analysis reveals how the aesthetic choices of Alien are now so commonly copied that they feel like a default choice. Space was no longer occupied solely by wealthy explorers on a moon safari, but recognizably blue collar workers making the ship run. Perhaps inspired by the 1970s recession, political turmoil, or the hope fading from the space race years, this film created a look and feeling that was a tidal shift in how we picture the future in space. Those historical reverberations are felt today. In the current age of manufacturing consent to take the brunt of a global pandemic instead of letting the market slip on the capitalist class to a tech revolution that has done more to normalize spyware than to solve real world issues, we are collectively learning that current economic and government leadership and unabashed techno-fetishism won’t save us.
This is all to say that Citizen Sleeper’s fashion and costuming does not exist in a vacuum- nor should it. The game’s art and story uses these constructs and references to bend and break it into something more hopeful and human. Although hopepunk is an oft-derided subgenre, I believe it is an excellent tool for understanding just how deep we are into fascist creep. Sure, its associations with #resist liberalism and toxic optimism are damning, especially if used to suggest that real world issues can be solved with the power of friendship and love. But there is also a toxicity to reactionary nihilism.
Because of these associations, I won’t attach the hopepunk label to Citizen Sleeper, but it similarly finds ways to resist soul-crushing cynicism (albeit also circumventing unearned optimism). Sleeper, who is essentially a gig worker, panic-works their way into integrating with the machine instead of becoming the machinist that retools it. It is a story that is littered with examples of stubborn thrival and finding happiness in the niches of what a broken system has to offer. Each outfit from Citizen Sleeper tells the distinct story of the wearer’s relationship to the grind. Because instead of the abandoned station coming to a halt, these ruins of capitalism act as an accelerant for its culture.
Illustrations by Guillaume Singelin.
Written and developed by Gareth Damian Martin / Jump Over the Age.
Distributed by Fellow Traveller.
The Art of Citizen Sleeper (PDF) is available via itch.io, GOG, Steam, and Epic Games.
Game available for PC on GOG, Steam, Epic Games, and Humble.
Console: Xbox and Game Pass, and Nintendo Switch.
Special thanks to everyone who put time into CitizenSleeper.Fandom.com which made it easy to compile images and check facts.