For the last year or so many of the gaming nerds I know have been salivating over No Man’s Sky, the video game that creates a procedurally generated universe of some 18 quintillion star systems for players to explore, a number so large that it virtually guarantees that the answer to the question "Am I alone in the universe?" is, "Yup, pretty much." On the other hand, who wouldn’t want an entire universe to explore? I want that! But I'm also currently on a deadline for a novel, so I reluctantly decided that universal exploration would have to take a back seat to, you know, working.
Then someone on Twitter informed me that when they died in No Man's Sky, a quote from me briefly appeared on their computer before they were resurrected. Well, this was news to me – the folks at Hello Games, who made No Man's Sky, never contacted me for permission to use a quote. This was an opportunity to become a raging trashfire of a human being and smack the game makers with a DMCA notice just for shits and giggles, but instead, I used it as an excuse to play the game – with the specific goal of dying over and over again until the game popped up whichever quote of mine it was using to usher players off into the virtual beyond.
I bought the game on Steam and fired it up (and the problems my massively tricked-out game rig had playing the game is a column for another time, except to say that there's no way in hell 6fps should have been happening, Hello Games), and immediately found myself on a random planet with a wrecked starship and no real tutorial. So before I could efficiently kill myself, I had to learn how to play the game. That took a couple of hours, and then I was off to happily suicide as many times as necessary.
Which is how I learned this about No Man's Sky: It's really kind of difficult to kill yourself while you're exploring planets. I tried jumping from great heights, with and without the assistance of jump rockets. That results in damage, but is survivable. I tried attacking the local fauna, but with the exception of a venomous crab with a mildly irritating, non-fatal sting, I never pissed off any of it enough for it to charge and attack me; it all just ran away. On a planet I landed on with vast oceans, I tried drowning myself, and that did work (rewarding me with a quote from Terry Pratchett for my pains), but it took longer for me to drown in the game than it would in real life. I had to keep pushing my character back down into the water because it wanted to bobble back up to the surface, which felt mean.
"If you want a quality death – I mean one that's actually fun – get in your starship and take to the skies."
Fortunately for those with death wishes, after a few hours, I discovered the way to die: annoy some droids. Shooting the floating sentinel drones that exist on every planet you visit will get them shooting back quickly enough, and as long as you stand your ground and refuse to run away, they’ll eventually murder you. I did that four times, and was treated to departing quotes by Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, H.P. Lovecraft and Pittacus Lore (AKA whichever miserable MFA grad James Frey has grinding out YA novels in his basement).
But if you want a quality death – I mean one that’s actually fun – get in your starship and take to the skies. You’ll find other ships out there floating about, and if you attack them, then all hell breaks loose and you get to dogfight your way into a photon-filled demise. In no time at all I racked up multiple deaths and commensurate word nuggets from Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Neal Asher, Alan Dean Foster, James Smyth and HG Wells (Note to Hello Games: women write quotable science fiction, too! Just an FYI).
Finally, several hours in and on my 14th death, as I was blasted to bits in the space above the planet of Oucandji Ingile, I saw the quote from me, John Scalzi: "There's a difference between the fact that the universe is inherently unfair on a cosmic level, and the fact life is unfair because people are actively making it so."
And yes! I did write that. The game attributes that quote to my science fiction novel Old Man's War, which is (sorry) incorrect; it's actually from a blog entry. Nevertheless it fits the game, and I'm pleased it's in there.
That said, I'm not sure I recommend that anyone else play the game with the specific intent of murdering themselves over and over again. There's enough going on. Like, 18 quintillion star systems. That's something to live for, I'd say.
John Scalzi is the author of Old Man's War and the Hugo-winning novel Redshirts.
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