Why Does the Idea of Playing in Space Fascinate us So?

I Wanna Fly Around in This!

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. :)

Author: Brian Rubin

10 thoughts on “Why Does the Idea of Playing in Space Fascinate us So?

  1. That’s spooky SGJ! We’ve been revising the pitch for Dominion over the past few days to draw on exploring – as it was the most popular element of the original pitch according to the survey we held from the Kickstarter pitch. We’ve got some darn cool ideas on the burn which should tick a fair few of the boxes you’ve got there! As soon as our re-pitch is ready, I’ll gladly share a link for some feedback.

    For me – it’s the idea of picking a star, and flying to it – seeing what’s in-system, and (eventually) to land on a previously untouched planet surface (inhabited or barren, I don’t care!) – knowing I’m the first to see the view… that’s the kind of experience I want to bring to (virtual) reality for others to see :)

    1. Hey man, welcome to the blog, and I’d be thrilled to give feedback on your next KS pitch. :) And yeah, the idea of flying to a star and just checking it out is awesome. One program (I hesitate to call it a game) that did that well was Noctis. I just wish it had more in the way of stuff to do, you know?

  2. I would like the freedom of space. The neverending frontier where anyone with any kind of training or lack of it can be an explorer or a “scientist”, like it was possible centuries ago on Earth. Anyone smart and motivated enough could do something important to benefit him and everyone.

  3. I can totally relate to this entry.
    I constantly think I was born on the wrong era, would love to be a privateer, pirate, mercenary or any other where I could be on a cockpit n.n
    What attracts me most of this genre is that odd and peaceful sensation that you can get from the stars, the silence (or the background music from X3, on the boron sectors especifically) and the vastness of the universe. And also from the close and distant battles that can so seemlesly interrupt the flow bringing awesome fireworks to your view.

    P.S.: anyone ever tried this f2p that’s on beta, Starconflict? If not check it out, outstanding graphics, gameplay, sounds, etc. PvP only tho.

  4. Hey, great analysis of your id, my Western friend :)
    Seriously :)
    Now let me tell you how we did it in Soviet U… err Russian Federation.
    It’s going to be rather long, I’m sorry.

    I’m probably from the last soviet generation raised on dreams of stars. My childhood was in 80’s and though it wasn’t that “good ole Soviet” system anymore (perestroika slowly erroded people minds against our style of life) but still the propaganda machine was working and we were receiving the “proper” Soviet paradigm of thinking. And in fact it wasn’t all that bad. American movies usually picture soviets as brainwashed drones serving some kind of alien hive mother called The Party, but you can understand it was far from truth. I believe we had some great psychologists who created awesome techincs for the young ones to become real “people of the future”.

    Basically they made every boy to dream of becoming a cosmonaut. Of becoming a hero exploring the ultimate frontier.

    You see, space exploration was probably the only achievement the Soviet system could be proud of without any back thoughts. And it could be used to make soviet people proud of themselves. Yes, we don’t have TVs in our homes, but we DID send a man to space first. We don’t have a lot of personal cars, but we DID make a real space station. And I, being a young boy, WAS proud. I strongly believed that from 50 years from now we would have bases on Mars, growing real trees there under some super technological orchard see-through bubbles.

    We didn’t have comics with superheroes fighting villains (I still think american superheroes culture is kinda silly, sorry), we had books about explorers fighting extreme weather conditions on Venus. We had all kinds of rocket souvenirs in shops. We had some cartoons about a young minds building space rockets and going to the Moon.

    It was like a cult of space.

    Me and some other boys could find some old refrigerator on a junk pile, get inside it and think of it as a space module flying to the stars. We saw films about space and acted as their main characters, thinking of new situations and playing them out.

    And believe it or not, we didn’t think of stars as something miliatrized. Whole Soviet propaganda worked in a way “we come in peace” – since we had a huge amount of veterans who saw World War 2 and knew how ugly war is, we were taught that war was the last and the least tool (a whole load of war novels and films taught us how to hate our enemies but ONLY if they were really cruel like nazis). And of course we behind the Iron Curtain hadn’t seen Star Wars, Star Trek and such, so we thought of space as something more scientific, rather than battleground. Even alien races were usualy friendly and clumsy, letiing us to help them evolve.
    I remember I was first struck by the idea of war in space when I saw Enemy Mine (yes, I cried and not ashamed of it :)).

    I saw Elite in 1991 when western computers finally started to invade the newborn Russian Federation. Along with Wing Commander and a bunch of other games. And as you can understand it was love from the first sight. By that time I realized that my country was no more and all the expectations of Mars bases and ultimate frontires were dead with it. But you can’t kill a dream that easy. So I dived into computer generated space worlds and since then try to play most of them.
    And I still enjoy mostly the games were you expand, colonize and build rather than shoot down billions of faceless enemies. Talk about Soviet propaganda being a bad thing, eh?

    And I’m not the only one having this space nostalgia in Russia nowadays. You probably noticed a lot of russian teams trying to create some space adventures: Space Rangers, Star Wolves, Parkan and a bunch of others – now you know why they still pop up from time to time. Those guys over thirty+smething, they also piloted those interplanetary refrigerator modules, just like me.

    1. Wow! That was a fascinating story. As a kid who grew up in the 80’s here watching those very pro-American movies, it’s great to hear what was happening on the other side. I also knew those movies were propaganda in their own way.

      That’s cool to see how Russian’s viewed space. I actually admire that way to look at it. Thanks for sharing that.

  5. @Brian: I couldn’t agree more! I think you’ve captured the essence of why many of us play games that let us believe we’re exploring space.

    @frptunz: That was interesting and even beautiful! Thanks for the perspective from the “other side of the iron curtain.” I’m a little young to have seen all the propaganda regarding the Soviet Union, and I never believed all the stereotypes about it , but it’s cool to hear from someone, another space fan, who grew up there and shares the same dreams.

  6. “I would love, LOVE to live on a spaceship, whether it’d be as a mercenary, a hauler or whatever else…”

    Here’s some interesting food for thought. Does this mean you want to live in that purely romanticized version of space or the real thing? Because real space travel, from we know, won’t be much like our games and sci fi movies at all.

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