When I was a kid, my favourite thing to do when I was alone in my room was play “crashed spaceship”. I would build a ship out of LEGO, crash it on my bed, have my minifig find a way to fix it, then head to the next room — er — planet. Now there’s a version of that I can play as an adult: No Man’s Sky. For me, the experience is nothing short of therapeutic.
Oh hey, there it is.
While my ship is capable of warp speed, the gameplay of No Man’s Sky is very slow and methodical. Walking somewhere could take hours, and even flying to the other side of a planet could take upwards of 20 minutes if you stay within the planet’s atmosphere. Some games make my heart race, some games make me think critically, but No Man’s Sky makes me calm and gives me time to think. The soft hum of your spaceship, the low whistle of radioactive winds and the sound of your own breathing in your life support suit make for one of the most peaceful backdrops in gaming. Not to mention some alien landscapes are visually breathtaking. I once sat in my spaceship for 10 minutes, looking out the window, watching a bizarre herd of one-eyed llama creatures graze through a field of purple grass as acid rain cascaded onto the roof of my spaceship. No Man’s Sky is like playing an interactive ambient noise machine while dreaming, especially if you have a great pair of headphones. The fantastic sci-fi soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.
This nasty shark-like creature stranded me on a desert island in freezing rain. Jerk…
However, doing any of those things entirely depends on whether you have the resources to do it. I’ve talked to a few people who say the resource gathering and inventory management bogs them down (a fair complaint), but for me it’s a zen-like process that’s become second nature. Those restrictions work well with the sometimes-overwhelming openness of space exploration. It’s the perfect balance of “I need” versus “I want.” You want to go to that place over there? You can, but you need these things first. It’s a stark reminder for me that the real world is just as interesting and explorable, but I have to do the work first. Even the simplest tasks in life still require resources and effort. No matter what you want to do, or where you want to go, you have to fuel your “ship” first.
No Man’s Sky also makes me feel alone — which is a good thing. We may be social creatures, but we need time alone: Time to think, time to reflect and time to process our past, present and future. And as I play, I’m not worried about scores, winning or what another player is up to. Every experience I have is mine and mine alone; something to cherish. Nobody will ever see what I see, hear what I hear or do exactly what I did. No Man’s Sky shows you that, in an age of always being connected, you don’t need someone else to have a good time. All you need is a willingness to go it alone and explore.
My friends Smargolofax and Jerry. They’re cool.
Best of all, I gain a little perspective every session. I tend to overstress about the minor problems in my real life, but when I play, I’m reminded how small we all are in the universe. Even if I’ve made some mountains out of molehills, those mountains are still barely visible from orbit. Maybe things aren’t as bad as I’m making them out to be. Maybe there are bigger fish to fry. Maybe things will be better on the next planet. Perhaps the game resonates with me so much because it’s comfortable, and in a way feels like a metaphor for the way I view my life. I drift from planet to planet, making the best of each one, learning something when I can and leaving when I’ve had my fill. I meet a wide variety of intelligent beings and have positive interactions with some, and negative, more educational interactions with others. I feed a few animals to make them happy because it makes me happy. No matter what, though, I know that it’s still just me and my ship. Sure, there are others like me out there — I know that. But I may never meet them, and that’s OK. As long as I have my ship and the knowledge I need to keep exploring, I will.