How “No Man’s Sky” Procedurally Generates the Meaning of Life

life, video games, finding meaning

August 13, 2016 • Latest • Views: 1227

A game can be like life. Take this new game that everyone is playing. “No Man’s Sky”. You’re an explorer in a procedurally generated universe. You can try to get to the center of the universe. You can try to hunt for Kevin Costner on a procedurally generated water world (pretty sure he doesn’t exist in the game just yet). You can try to unearth the mysteries of the universe. You can say fuck it and just go spelunking through procedurally generated caves.

You can do all of this or none of it at all. And there’s no guaranteeing that any of this will even be satisfying. Is that the point of the game? I don’t know. But it has me thinking of how we live our day to day lives.

How many of us are born with one goal – getting to the center of the galaxy – and are both driven AND disinterested enough in anything else (let’s call them obstacles) to reach that goal as an A+ student? I feel like I’ve woken up everyday of my life wishing I was that person.

Up by 6am. By 9am I’ve written ten beautifully crafted pages of fiction. I eat breakfast and go to the gym. After the gym I make lunch and submit to editors and agents and book publishers. I write a post for this here website. I post to instagram. I take a bath. I go to work. After work when my friends want to get drinks I say no and instead go home and brew a cup of tea and curl up with a book and pass out by midnight.

This could happen. This HAS happened on occasion.

But most often something else happens entirely. What happens to me probably happens to you too.

I wake up at 6am and say “no thanks” and instead sleep in till 9. By 10 I’ve climbed out of bed and begun breakfast, telling myself I should write ten pages. Maybe I do. Or maybe I write fives pages, muttering to myself the entire time, “you’re shit you’re shit you’re shit.” The girl I love messages me and maybe we facetime. I take sandpaper to a piece of basswood that I want to turn into a canoe (practice for chess pieces I want to make down the line). I cut pieces of wood for said chessboard. I practice a song on guitar, which I’ve only just begun playing. I grab a burger with a friend. I stare at my plants and tell myself I should water them, but I never do. Or I sit on the couch and nothing happens at all. Maybe I cry. Maybe I pretend to care about politics. Maybe I look up how much houses cost and wonder if I can afford them. Maybe I have a panic attack and freak out about what I’m doing with my life. Maybe I’m pissed off. Maybe I’m ecstatic. Maybe I’m motivated. Maybe I’m bored. Maybe nobody loves me. Maybe too many love me at once. Maybe none of it. Maybe all of it. Maybe just a little at a time.

That’s how I’ve played “No Man’s Sky” so far. Sure, I’d love to get to the center of the universe. But I also want to find a water world filled with fish and Kevin Costner. I want to find a dinosaur that knows how to open doors. Or maybe I don’t want any of that. Maybe the game is boring and I should go for a walk, or watch HBO, or jump into my car and just drive drive drive and find that the center of the universe has been inside me all along.

No. That’s too cheesy to even type out. But maybe, just maybe, it’s okay to be pulled in every direction. It’s okay to taste the rainbow. To want a home and to travel. To love and not be tied down. To exercise and still eat cake. The center of the galaxy will always be there. There’s endless ways to reach it.

© 2016 Christopher Dart  // facebook // instagram


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