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The philosophical genius of No Man’s Sky

“Who among us has never looked up into the heavens on a starlit night, lost in wonder at the vastness of space and the beauty of the stars?”

This quote could easily have been stated by some great thinker, or perhaps developer of No Man’s Sky Sean Murray. Instead, it was Jeb Bush, but it is a fantastic means of opening an analysis of the new game by Hello Games.

NMS has been one of the most hotly anticipated games since it was officially announced in 2014.

During this period, it was dogged by issues in development, but always the media and gamers awaited with unquenchable excitement at the prospect of this massive open-world game.

NMS is set in space – not our universe, but one of different hued sections of space and off-the-wall planet diversity – and sees your character explore it.

It is vast. There are reportedly 18 quintillion planets to be discovered in the game, if you can even grasp the scale of that figure. That means it would take someone 585 billion years to visit all of them, even if just for a second.

From the outset, one is staggered by the beauty of the game: the stunning scenery, the artificial intelligence, the combat, and its ability to tap into that insatiable curiosity humans possess.

However, after a few days of playing, two realisations are made: (a) it is a terrifyingly colossal game, which one has no chance of discovering everything in; (b) I am in a godforsaken area of space, and I do not know why I am here.

The two speak of the attitudes of modern society, and Hello Games has tapped in to two problem with modern society: our wont to having everything at our fingertips, and the need to always have a purpose.

NMS tells gamers: “There are no shortcuts. That planet, you won’t discover every corner of it. You are finite, tiny, and the universe is so vast that you cannot have everything you want immediately.”

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Photo: Hello Games

This is something gaming has not seen before. Games often include fast-travel options for discovered locations, whereas NMS offers the occasional black hole to another area and warp drive on the ship.

Even if you use these things, the chances of you finding your way back are, well, infinitesimal.

Modern technology teaches us what we want can be had at the click of a button, but the world does not work like that. You have to work for what you want, with no shortcuts.

Second: purpose.

Games always have an end objective, or guiding storyline. NMS does have that to some extent, and one can work towards finding the centre of the universe or following the Atlas, but there are numerous occasions when one is floating in space asking: “Why am I here?”

The need to always have some objective in mind is, arguably, a bad thing, and teaches us to be ruthless in achieving our goals.

Kierkegaard spoke of the evils of boredom, but the virtues of idleness, and the ability to lose oneself in the vastness of space opens the mind to a far more relaxed and creative state of mind.

NMS is just a game, and perhaps it is not such a phenomenon as I have described. However, games like NMS need to be more frequent, and allow ourselves to get lost once in a while.

This is no man’s sky, it is everyone’s.

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