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.
- Why I’m Loving No Man’s Sky
Evan Narcisse argues that the joy of No Man’s Sky comes in its surprising treatment of science fiction genre conventions.
- The line-end formula, smoking gun of play-mechanics in oral epic | Play The Past
Roger Travis looks at genre convention in a classical historical context.
- The Curious Case of Sequels: Revisiting ‘Chrono Cross’ – FemHype
Dakota considers the ambiguity of how different games in the same franchise relate to each other in their storytelling and play structures.
- Hyrule Haeresis 2 | Eruditorum Press
Josh Marsfelder also addresses the problem of game sequels, analysing how this was addressed in the Legend of Zelda series.
“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.
- Chuck Wendig: ‘No Man’s Sky’ Game Is Boring, But That’s Not Bad – Rolling Stone
Science fiction author Chuck Wendig praises the “utopian serenity” of No Man’s Sky.
- Kentucky Route Zero, reviewed: a perfect depiction of quiet economic desperation. (Spoilers for Kentucky Route Zero)
Laura Hudson reflects on histories of poverty and abandoned places.
- Walking Debt | deorbital.media (Spoilers for Kentucky Route Zero)
Dante Douglas makes a similar argument about the contemporary American condition reflected in Kentucky Route Zero’s desolate landscape.
“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.
- The Origin of Imagination: On the Colonial Legacy of No Man’s Sky — Medium
Brian Crimmins gives a good overview of the argument that No Man’s Sky is rooted in the colonialist imaginary.
- In space, no one can… – Technoculture, Art and Games
Bart Simon also develops an argument about the colonialism of No Man’s Sky, highlighting the mechanics that read to him as acquisitive and imperialist.
- Notes on No Man’s Sky | Brendan Keogh
Brendan Keogh offers another way of seeing the same mechanics, arguing that they work against the colonialist impulse.
- Bored in Church: ‘Abzû’ | Gamechurch.com
Richard Clark describes in Abzu some of the same dynamics that Keogh sees in No Man’s Sky, while also highlighting the subject position of outsider that I think can be seen in all of these readings on colonialism or tourism.
“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.
- No Man’s Sky Evokes Wonder Through Math :: Games :: Reviews :: Paste
Don Saas argues that No Man’s Sky reveals the beauty of life’s numerical structures.
- Abzû is an Underwater Parade of Beautiful Things :: Games :: Reviews :: Abzu :: Paste
Jack de Quidt talks about play and discovery in lush ecosystems.
- The Comeback of the Immersive Sim | Game Maker’s Toolkit – YouTube (video, subtitled)
Mark Brown gives an overview of the history of games that are built around the idea of systemic worlds and personal expression.
- Small Magic | Problem Machine
Problem Machine argues for magic to be incorporated into world systems in a subtler way that is not solely driven by the demands of quantification.
“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.
- No Man’s Sky Proves Games Don’t Have To Be About Winning
Heather Alexandra argues that the strength of the exploration-discovery games is in their resistance to a desire for victory.
- No Man’s Sky: The Kotaku Review
Kirk Hamilton finds that No Man’s Sky is best played when ignoring the signposts that prompt you always onto the next star system.
- Errant Signal – Firewatch (Spoilers!) – YouTube (video, auto-captions)
A similar focus on presence and ambiguity over clear narrative resolution comes out in the latest Errant Signal video, on Firewatch.
“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.
- Critiquing Witcher 3’s Wonky, Sexist Fashion | The Mary Sue
Megan Patterson argues that fashion is an essential part of world building and character building, deserving of care and research.
- Female Protagonist Videogame Masterpost. | I Need Diverse Games.
This living document listing games with female protagonists as the default option could be a useful resource for many readers here.
- Visual disabilities and sound in media: how sonic technologies can improve everyone’s life
Wilfried Nass compares the role of audio narration in movies to games, exploring the hints of possibility for audio-oriented gameplay.
- Bodies that Matter: an interview with Robert Yang | ZAM – The Largest Collection of Online Gaming Information
Finally, this interview on representation and the political economy of sexuality is very thought provoking.
“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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