Ever since Mary Shelley wrote ‘‘Frankenstein; or, the modern Prometheus‘‘ in 1818, and redefined forever what would be the science fiction genre, especially in storytelling, there has been an insurmountable amount of work made around it. There have been books, comics, music, and movies that try to capture that style and narrative to tell a new story, maybe attempting (And maybe even succeeding) at trying to redefine it how Shelley once did, or use it to talk about modern issues.
But what is science fiction? What makes a piece of art belong to that specific genre, and not fantasy, or surrealism, for example? As understood after Frankenstein, is a type of story set in an alternative reality to ours, to explore and answer a philosophical question that cannot be answered in our current reality. That’s why a book like ‘’1984’’ is still science fiction even after decades of its (at the time of it being written) futuristic setting has passed. And same as that of Shelley, a lot of works like Blade Runner choose to explore the theme of existentialism under different lenses and objectives.
How did we originate, and how do we matter in an infinitely vast and ever-expanding universe in which we are no more than invisible dots? In movies or graphic novels, you can even see how the unimaginable size of the universe is purposefully the center of attention in a lot of panels to emphasize that exact theme. Since we are commonly scared of the randomness of our existence, given the unknown possibilities that come with that, choosing to create something using existentialist themes usually comes with a depressing tone, and that’s what sets No Man’s Sky apart.
I’m not a day one player. In fact, I played for the first time in 2019, already three years after its launch, and after HelloGames had added various patches and updates. Even though the game gives almost total freedom to do anything you want, the start is almost the same for everyone. Every player starts at a random star, with nearly all of them being dangerous for some reason. You may start at a frozen, heat, or radioactive planet. I’ve heard of very few people that begin on a paradise planet.
In my case, I appeared on a temperature planet, which means daily heat storms and generally a desert biome. So you wake up completely lost and disoriented, without knowing where you are, how did you get there, or even who you are. At this point, you are nobody; a newborn, if you want to put it that way. You want to find answers, and notice that the equipment of your exosuit, the spacesuit that keeps you alive in outer space and gives you tools for better survival, is broken. So you start searching for the necessary materials to repair it. You walk this barren planet that seems focused on getting rid of you, experiencing storms that kill you in a matter of minutes, while there’s not a single sign of life forms like you that can help you, or even fight against you, in order to at least make the place feel less isolated. But you also realize that you can do anything you want with what is presented; you can go to whatever you prefer on this planet, transform the land at your will, and the more you find, the more options you have. It’s a similar feeling to that of playing Minecraft for the first time.
So you find the materials and repair the most important piece of technology for this; your analysis visor. When it’s turned on, you get a signal, coming from a starship. And then you go, fighting the deathly weather by trying to go as fast as possible or maybe using caves as a refuge, whatever way you can. And when you reach the ship, you discover it needs fuel and the thrusters repaired. After you’re done with the heavy work, you can finally take off from this planet. The motors of the starship start running, and it jumps brusquely out of the ground, almost as a magnet liberating itself from the force of another magnetic body. And when you start flying, this gigantic planet, that seemed infinite when you were exploring it, becomes almost as small as you.
And the next task is reaching a space station. Until that point, I thought I was gonna be alone all of the time. There were only going to be empty planets, some nicer and more visually pleasing than others, but empty planets after all, where I could only explore, discover animals and build things. But all that changed when I reached the station. I encountered myself at the front door of this massive, spherical, otherworldly satellite, and I was absorbed inside. As my spaceship was going through the interior of this unknown building, I was in awe. It wasn’t something I could build at all, it had to be the work of something far more organized and capable than a single, wandering being like myself; what was that entity in question, I don’t know. But even more striking, were the people that I saw. Aliens of all kinds of races going through what seemed like just a normal day; some worked there, some were just stopping by, like me. This is when I knew that the planet I woke up in, was nothing. I wasn’t alone, I was in an extremely alive and breathing universe with millions of things that were just waiting for me to find them.
And I kept playing. As the months passed, I dropped out of the game to do other things or play other games, but I always came back. There was always something else to discover, especially with all the new updates that are constantly being added to the game. I’ve always looked for that game that people tend to have for themselves, that serves almost like a second world to live in. For some, that’s a game like World of Warcraft, for others something more relaxing like Stardew Valley; for me, it’s No Man’s Sky.
At first, I settled on a nice planet that I found, built my base that I planned to keep expanding until it was the most imposing, technologically advanced mansion, with every possible gadget that I could make. But I had a really evident money problem. There are three types of money in the game; units, nanites, and quicksilver. All of them are accessible without paying anything in real life, but I had near to nothing of all three. And that’s really important, if you lack a mineral to create something, you could just buy it at a space station. Or maybe you are offered a freighter that costs ten million units, and you have barely six thousand. I wasn’t very aware of the best way to get money. I saw that some people built their own industries that mined minerals to then sell them, and I considered doing that, but it just didn’t feel right for me.
That’s when I started doing the Nexus missions. The Nexus is basically a lobby where you can trade, meet other players, claim rewards and take on missions. The mission objectives can go from rescuing a stranded life-form, or fighting space pirates in your ship, to destroying sentinel bases. I started earning a fair amount of money with them, and while I was exploring, I realized that I didn’t want to settle on a planet. I was going to travel through the universe, living inside my freighter, a mothership given to me by an ex-captain after saving them from pirates, because they weren’t prepared for the responsibilities. Not only that, but I was going to save the money I’m getting as a bounty hunter to upgrade both my freighter and starship to become a space pirate myself, living my life by robbing other freighters.
And while I’m doing that, I’m still finding out things. I recently broke an egg that I thought would just give me minerals, and a mix of a pseudo-xenomorph and a scorpion came out of it and attacked me. I also discovered a giant, one-eyed worm at the bottom of the sea that almost ate me. And probably the most random encounter I had, was a metallic substance in an ancient underwater building that talked to me about some sort of prophecy. And there are still things that I know about that I never encountered, like giant-sand worms (I tend to avoid deserted planets), flying pets, and abandoned, almost haunted freighters in the middle of space. All of it serves as proof of how No Man’s Sky treats existentialism. Some people decide to view it as a hopeless concept; we are not important, we are just dust in space and nothing we’ll do will ever matter. But No Man’s Sky wants you to embrace the fact that you are an invisible dot in an ever-growing universe, so that you can do everything you want with it, and have as much fun as you want because, in the end, that’s all that matters.