Come on a journey through the stars and planets of No Man’s Sky. Welcome to Player 2’s Stories from the Universe.
Stories from the Universe: A Mirror for Life
I didn’t know that No Man’s Sky was going to release on the Royal Show Holiday in Brisbane. Some would argue that it was fortunate timing, but it required a journey that basically ended with me sitting in a pancake parlour at 10:30am with my copy of No Man’s Sky unwrapped and my fiancé browsing through the art book curiously.
“Do you know how to play this?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.
I shrugged. “Not a clue. I guess I’ll figure it out.”
My fiancé and I are getting married in two months. The hurdle before that was learning how to live together in a small apartment in inner-city Brisbane – sacrificing two bass guitars, several armloads of books, and half of my cupboard to his Oxford shirt and scarf collection. Before he moved in, I was living on my own in my small apartment for a little over a year. I had never lived alone before, and my after-hours were spent just wandering around the unit – exploring, trying to remind myself that this space was mine, and getting used to calling it “home”.
I can’t help but feel as if it is going to change again in the next couple of months, and I don’t have a clue how to play this.
Of course it starts with a crashed ship.
No Man’s Sky boasts eighteen quintillion frickin’ planets, but not until you fixed your crashed ship.
The task feels daunting as I start to take in my surroundings. It looks perfect for all intents and purposes. I can see the terrain in the distance – majestic hills and monoliths that frame the valley where I stand. I can’t feel the wind through my suit, but I can only imagine that a fresh spring breeze would beckon if I was able to take off my helmet. Azure flora hugs my legs and envelops my modest ship, which is still rebelling against its current condition.
Our current condition. I am trapped here and the only way that I can move on is to fix the damage.
I agree to the help provided by Atlas, who insists that its guidance will be the best path forward for me. I tell myself it is easier to accept the help and to try and make it work for me, despite its unsettling sporadic barbs. It may not be the same manipulation that I have felt in the past. Maybe I have an opportunity to be in control.
For a fleeting moment, it reminds me of the sacrifices that I have made up until now, and how there were so many moments that I felt trapped and out of control of my life’s direction. For so long, “home” was fixing things – being there for my family when times were tough, staying in Brisbane to help look after my grandmother, supporting a partner who was trying to start his career. In the end, that kind of “home” amounts to very little. People die, people break your heart, people forget who you are. But I am still here on this planet, even if I am wondering how this is supposed to feel like home.
It hurt the most when the sentinels arrive.
I finally assess where the faults are in my ship: launch thrusters and a pulse engine that need to be repaired if I want to have any options to move on from this planet. It seems straight-forward, and I catalogue the elements that I will require, rattling off their names under my breath. Iron, plutonium, heridium, zinc, carbon. Iron, plutonium, heridium, zinc, carbon. Iron.
A small rock containing the oxide hides next to a shrub a few metres away from my ship. I activate my multi-tool and destroy the rock in order to collect the precious material. Directly next to it I notice that a plant has carbon that I need and I use my multi-tool to gather the molecules. I start circling the ship, excited that all of the resources are here to help me. Hope and optimism is an amazing thing, and I start considering the possibilities of where I will be able to go next. I hear a small “hum” and assume that it is just the commotion of other fully-functional ships that obviously have themselves all sorted out and don’t do stupid things like crash in the middle of an alien planet.
But then I am nudged and I notice my shield capacity decrease. Something shot me. Another flash and my shields dip further. What is shooting me? Why is something shooting me? I turn around as the sentinel continues to fire at me. I don’t understand – wasn’t I supposed to fix my ship? Isn’t that what the game is telling me to do? Isn’t that the only way that I am going to be able to escape? The sentinel doesn’t care who I am or what I am trying to accomplish. All that it focuses on is that I am doing something wrong in this one moment that it has chosen to pay attention to.
If that sentinel had ears, I’d tell it how I have days when I just wish that people would stop paying attention to me. I remember that first moment when I felt I had potential to do something with my life, and I put my heart into utilising the limited resources that I had to keep that feeling alive. It was one of many instances where my hopes were shot down and I retreated. When I was told that my plans for my future were “unrealistic”, or told that the person that I loved never shared those feelings, it was soul-destroying and self-obliterating.
That is what anxiety is. People talk about the panic attacks and the twitching and the “fight and flight” responses, but what they don’t talk about is that inability to construct your identity because you lose any motivation to move forward and take risks after all of the hurt. What they don’t talk about is that your life often becomes a reaction to everything around you. It is so easy for people use that to their advantage, resulting in the empty shell of someone trying to figure out if they are ready to begin again.
It is happenstance that I run to the caves for safety after being chased away from my ship by a pair of sentinels. It is not what I planned to do, but it provides an opportunity to heal in the first instance. After a few moments, I look up and gasp, taking in the marvel of natural rock formations with small flickering shimmers of promise amongst the harsh terrain. While outside there were some appealing elements that gave me the sense of familiarity, the caves are beautiful. The caves feel alive, and help me to feel alive again.
For the first time, I feel the desire to explore and call this place “mine”. It gives me a purpose as I reorientate my priorities to fixing my scanner and cataloguing all of the wonderful things around me. The first amphibious animals I encounter try their best to approach me before running away out of fear, and I want to cry. Finally, something understands how it feels to be so uncertain about another being’s motivations. With all of the patience my heart can bear, I take time to feed and learn more about my fellow inhabitants. For the most part they happily accept my goodwill, and take the risk to help me too, pointing out deposits of useful resources that I will need to repair my ship.
I navigate through one of the caves to a large valley. Trying not to think about my encounters with the angered sentinels, I descend slowly and hope that I am not still on their agenda. I focus on my breathing, and replenish my life support when it is required. I then start to notice the knowledge markers that are trying to teach me a new language, a new way of communicating with worlds beyond this one.
I am home and I don’t want to leave.
Through all of this, David is sitting next to me, and laughs at that moment when I press a button to try and jetpack over a cliff.
Maybe this is what home is going to be for me – not about the space that we are going to inhabit or the plans that we are going to have to fix ourselves. Maybe it is going to be about the moments when we get to look around and realise that we got to explore something great together.
But for the first time in my life I will be able to share my world with the most special person to me, and it feels OK to figure out how to play this as we go.
When Sarah was young, her brother complained that she “got through that final level of Super Mario World on a fluke.” Refining this skill, Sarah has continued to be successful purely by accident. Follow her on Twitter at @essieteric.