Why Does the Idea of Playing in Space Fascinate us So?
At the very beginning of the amazing Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book, it includes a short set of instructions on how to leave Earth. When I read that, a part of my brain wanted to follow every detail so I could leave this small, confining planet as quickly as possible.
See, I’ve wanted to leave Earth ever since I was four years old and saw the Enterprise for the first time (the “Star Trek” one, of course). It just feels so…SMALL to me. So confining. This is why, ever since then, I’ve dived into any piece of science fiction I could get my grubby paws on. It gave me a window into new worlds that I could only visit in my imagination, and one of the best windows has been video games that take place in space. While I was playing around with some space game or another the other day, I began to wonder what it was about space that was so fascinating, and why I was so very drawn to any game that took place in its vast expanses.
The first and most obvious answer, which goes along with the smallness I mentioned, is space’s expanseness, it’s vastness. It’s just so huge that, with the right game (i.e. Starflight, Frontier: Elite II, etc.) one could simply get lost for hours and hours just flying around solar systems, exploring planets and whatever else. The idea of being able to roam about in space, to actually LEAVE one planet and go to any multitude of others, to me is insanely enticing. Being stuck merely on ONE planet (even one as awesome as ours) just seems so limiting. I would love to be able to have the choice to escape the confines of this world and roam the emptiness, and whatever lies in-between.
There aren’t a ton of games that give us a feeling of just how huge and expansive space can be, and this is fair. Space is freaking HUGE, and programming that kind of vastness would be a significant programming challenge. Thankfully some games like Limit Theory and Rodina are trying to live up to the challenge of huge, explorable universes. Other vast games can be big in scope, like Freelancer or the X games, but they’re also limited in the amount of space they encompass, which is fair though since space has to have interesting stuff in it while still feeling expansive enough. Thankfully while few games capture the true vastness of space, many others succeed well-enough, I think, to get away with it.
The next reason that the idea of playing in space is fun and fascinating, I think, is the thrill of the unknown. This is one reason why science fiction is so dang popular, as we can conjure up stories of alien empires both friendly and otherwise, space phenomena that could do all sorts of wacky things to a person (look how many problems subspace anomalies caused on the various “Star Trek” shows, for example), wonderful spaceship designs that carry us into that unknown and so much more. I mean sure, there’s plenty of stuff left to discover here on Earth, but it’s still all so…terrestrial. There’s something exciting about the idea of meeting a new alien race, finding a new planet to explore, discovering a new spacial phenomenon and so on that only science fiction can provide, and thankfully many space games offer this feeling of discovering the unknown. I still remember, for example, the first time seeing the Shivans in Descent: Freespace’s intro, and then encountering them myself for the first time. STILL sends chills down my spine. I feel this is only something space games can fully capture.
Finally — and this one is close to my heart — playing space games will be the closest I get to ever living in space. One of the reasons I love the show “Firefly” so much is that, more than any other movie or show I can think of, it was the best to visually capture what it would feel like to make a ship in space one’s home. Serenity felt like a home to me, and still does whenever I see her. Sure, lots of shows and movies have people living on space stations and ships, but nothing has come closer to getting it right, I think. I would love, LOVE to live on a spaceship, whether it’d be as a mercenary, a hauler or whatever else, and many space games help me capture that feeling. While space combat games aren’t as good in this regard, more open games like Parkan II, EVE Online, the Battlecruiser games (hey, I liked ’em :P) and Wing Commander: Privateer really gave me the feeling that this was home. This is where I belonged. Ports and planets were just small homes away from homes, mere stopping points. I always feel better when I’m on the move, and like Mal Reynolds said in “Firefly,” “we never stop moving.” That’s what I want, and that’s what space games, in a small way, help provide.
While I love a lot of different types of games for the worlds they put me in and the characters they let me become, none come as close to gaming nirvana as those games set in the vastness of space. Until I can have a spaceship of my very own, space games will fill the gap between the achievable and the impossible, at least in my mind. They’ll give me (and you guys) a window into the possible, the unknown, and the incredible, and I’ll always love them for that.
So what about you guys? What is it about space, the idea of being in space, or space games that interests you? I’d love to talk more about this. :)
Thanks for reading, and have an awesome weekend. :)