Making but mostly breaking in No Man’s Sky

Mining beam

I’ve started playing No Man’s Sky and this is a very early, very knee-jerk post about my feelings so far. For reference if you’ve played the game, I’ve started, flailed around, been murdered by flying robot eyes for reasons I couldn’t entirely discern (at first? see postscript…), and gone cross-country to mine some fun-named rock to make stuff for my little spaceship. Oh, and died because I changed over to the olympics and just left the game running and I suppose something killed me or I died of radiation or whatever.

The major emotion I’ve felt so far while playing is a kind of dislike for the de facto position I seem to be meant to take toward the planet and its inhabitants, which is so far: “this is all made of stuff I need/might need and I will take it now with my laser thanks bye”. Like, any time you point at something it’s identified in terms of its name (which is nice, though I’m unclear on where that information is coming from within the narrative) and the stuff I will get if I destroy it with my laser thing. And this is true of rocks and plants and (I assume, I haven’t had the heart) moving things and it’s the only apparent interaction with anything and it’s depressing.

It’s not even “colonial” really, it feels even more impersonally individualistic. I don’t have a culture backing me up as far as I can tell, just the basic decision that my needs are more important than anything else. That somehow feels sort of at odds with the idea of these beautiful(?) procedural worlds that stretch out around me. Unlike Minecraft, say, the aesthetics of the game really make this kind of cynical using of everything around me feel very dickish. Yes there’s crafting on the other side of this process, so there’s a “creativity” – but it’s menu management that feels like nothing at all emotionally, it’s the destroying of things (even rocks, oddly) that has emotional content for me, and it’s negative.

And actually, now that I think about it, the fact I can even teleport stuff I “steal” from the planet back to my ship is somehow even worse? It feels a bit like the most disturbing elements of silicon valley culture (instant gratification, easy transport, augmented reality) in space.

So currently I’m very much missing out on much of a narrative flow to contextualise my character and his/her actions. It’s just “go get this element” and “go get that element” and don’t mind about destroying the local geology, flora, and fauna. And mind the robots.

(Postscript: I’m currently assuming the murdery eye robots that killed me did so because I was messing with the planet lasering it up all over the place? If so, I’m quite pleased with that, though the fact remains that the game basically sets me up as someone who turns up and ruins things. I’m with the robots. Kill me.)

(Also a postscript: Maybe this game is all about generating this negative feeling of being an asshole in space? I mean, I doubt that a bit, but if so, it’s working. It’s making it hard to want to continue, too, but it’s working.)

18 August 2016
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