August 21st

Whew! There was a LOT of great writing on No Man’s Sky to get through this weekend. Pretty soon the number of pieces of writing on that game will rival the number of planets it contains. Nobody can explore them all, so I’m here to point you to the ones that are particularly resourceful. To make the vast expanse of the blogosphere easier to navigate, I’ll also try to bring out some themes that the No Man’s Sky discussions share in common with other games on people’s minds this week.

No Devilman’s Sky

Appropriately during the week of the Hugo awards, genre and intertextuality come up around No Man’s Sky and also around the topic of game franchises.

“Video game sequels are a different beast than sequels in other mediums. In video games, a sequel is typically expected to improve upon its predecessor because video games are intensely technical. Since a game is thought of at least partly as a feat of software engineering, sequels are approached as a honing, refining and improvement of the original as much as they are a thematic and aesthetic continuation of them.”

No Man’s Die

While No Man’s Sky is discussed as a crushingly large frontier, others are thinking about desolation and loneliness in Kentucky Route Zero’s portrayal of the landscape of America.

“A scenery of abandoned roadside stops, creeping corporate control, and a slow but inevitable march of debts and anxiety is the most American thing I can think of. It’s a quiet sort of resignation to a shiny future, mired in the landscape of an industrial past.”

No Man’s Society

Colonialist relationships to the land are being highlighted in relation to No Man’s Sky, in contrast to a sense of simply observing the universe as a tourist.

“We learn to swim, to accompany large fish, how to kick our feet in just such a way that our leisurely pace turns into a boost. Eventually, we go long periods without even thinking about the surface. But play-acting as a fish-man can only go so far. The reality is that we never really feel as if we are one of the many life-forms we discover in Abzû. We are interlopers, participants in rituals that ultimately have nothing to do with us. “

No Man’s Biosphere

No Man’s Sky and Abzu are both inspiring writing on games as simulated environments, a discussion that works well I think alongside broader conversations about how subtle or explicit, subjective or quantifiable, a playable system may be.

“In games, it’s difficult to create magic that’s about anything less immediate and obvious than a deus ex machina carrying a submachine gun or a panacea. Just as with war games, we’re constrained by the quantifiability of our systems, by the fact that in the end we need to turn everything into a set of instructions and numbers to be interpreted by a machine.”

No Man’s Fire

A major thread of the discussion around No Man’s Sky is the question of how it should be experienced, with many critics finding value in rejecting a forward-driven narrative in favor of ambiguity and reflection. Interestingly, this sense of ambiguity also comes up with regard to a game that exists primarily to tell a story — games truly do not need to be all about that sense of completion.

“Between pushing environmental stories through found objects and walks through corridors that emphasize hone in distance in geography, the player is constantly getting one clear message: time and space matter”

No Man’s Kyriarchy

Back on earth, we have been critiquing gender and bodies as they are portrayed and catered to across games culture.

“In all of these games, reality is given a way of sneaking up on you, breaking your expectations and potentially spoiling your fun. These twists give the impression of bringing back in the hard truths, negative consequences and cultural baggage that games normally leave at the door. In truth, it’s a little more complicated than that. As a rhetorical device, setting up these reveals requires choosing to exclude other aspects of reality first.”


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