While “Escape from Spiderhead” covers numerous themes, the one I want to focus on is the somewhat forceful use of drugs in order to control people (especially emotionally). This idea is reminiscent of a videogame I’ve played called We Happy Few. The game is set in city in a 1960’s dystopian version of Britain where there was a traumatic event, called the “Very Bad Thing”, that occurred from a German invasion and occupation in WW2. In order to prevent citizens from feeling guilt and depression, the government invents a drug called Joy that suppresses all unhappy memories and leaves its user in a chemically-induced euphoria. The citizens are also required to wear white masks that form their faces into permanent smiles. As the Joy depletes, the citizens see the city as it really is after the war: trashed, poor, and ruled by a police state. The police state forces the citizens to take the Joy in order manipulate the population and keep the city in order. Those who don’t take it are either killed, banished, or force-fed the drug. Although “Escape from Spiderhead” is set in a much smaller scale, lab vs city, the implications of their uses are very similar. The Joy from We Happy Few is almost identical to ED556 by putting their users in a euphoric, entranced state.
Towards the end of George Saunders’ Escape from Spiderhead, Jeff goes on a long rant during his trip on the Darkenfloxx. In it he references how the world has screwed the prisoners over because of predetermination of their fate as prisoners. Jeff explains that all of the prisoners in Spiderhead had been “charged by God with the responsibility of growing into total fuck ups”. However, Jeff also includes that the surroundings of each individual had a part in waking up these violent moments. At the end of his rant he claims “and yet their crooked destinies had laid dormant within them, seeds awaiting water and light to bring forth the most violent, life-poisoning flowers”. While I don’t agree with the notion of predetermination of destiny at birth, it is important to notice that he mentions the negative surroundings as the “water and light” that cause the “seeds” to grow into harsh reality.