No Man’s Sky Might Be the Loneliest Multiplayer Game Ever Made

No Man's SkyWhen you think of multiplayer games, you typically don’t think about loneliness. But No Man’s Sky might change that.

See, in the game, you’ll be exploring the same universe as your friends, but the universe is so large that chances are you may never see them. In fact, you may not see any other players at all.

In an interview with Game Informer, Hello Games’ managing director, Sean Murray, claimed:

People keep asking us about multiplayer and I think when people see this they are going to fully realize what it means to be that far away from somebody else who’s playing. And I know that that’s a bit weird for people, but it’s what’s different about our game. And we want to embrace that. We don’t want people just scouting off beside their friends. I actually want people to boot up the game and just think, “Isn’t the universe huge? Who are we? What are we all doing here?”

It’s been said that No Man’s Sky contains so many planets that, were you to spend a single minute exploring every planet, you’d be in the game for over 5 billion years. Good luck trying to find your friends, then.

Over in Kotaku’s “Talk Among Yourselves” blog, Steve Bowling reacted to this news by saying:

We won’t be flying together, discovering the universe as we go. We don’t get to work together to take down our foes, or discover new species. Reading that isn’t the direction the game is going made me feel… a sadness that’s difficult to describe.

See, Bowling was excited to bond with his stepfather inside of the world of No Man’s Sky, and it sounds like Hello Games has worked to make this incredibly difficult.

No Man's SkyBut isn’t sadness just a little piece of what space should make us feel? Space is cold, silent, unfathomably gigantic, and, for the most part, empty. More science fiction writers than I can count have used its vastness as a metaphor for loneliness or isolation.

Video games, on the other hand, have almost exclusively presented outer space as this place in the sky that’s just filled to the brim with stuff to see and ships to blow up. In fact, the only counterexample I can think of off the top of my head is the Rinoa and Squall space scene in Final Fantasy VIII.

Actually, now that I think of it, Portal 2 sort of played with this idea, but it was done with a heaping side of comic relief. Oh, and from what I know about the game, Eve Online might do space correctly, though Eve is definitely not without its massive space battles.

My point is that we’re far more likely to see space presented in video games as this place where awesome spaceship battles happen, not an overwhelmingly humongous place that feels isolated. And, as someone who spends far too much time reading science fiction, I’m curious to see how Hello pulls off the latter.

When I was a kid, I would sometimes lie on my back and stare at the night sky, feeling overwhelmed by its vastness. I once imagined myself falling upward into its black expanse, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt smaller than I did at that moment. My tiny, young mind was suddenly filled with questions that were far too big for my grade-school vocabulary.

No Man's SkyI want outer space to be a place where I float about silently and ponder life’s big questions. I want to feel overwhelmed by it, consumed by it. I want a tiny sliver of the feeling I had as a child when I stared at the stars on the particular night that I mentioned above.

In a post for the PlayStation Blog, Murray mentioned an experience he had while attempting to take some screenshots from the game:

I was flying around the universe, trying to take some screenshots. I neared the surface of a planet and suddenly it started to rain. As I was touching down I scared some deer who broke through the woods, dodging in and out of trees. Now this was jaw-dropping to me, because I’ve never seen any of these systems before, but also it felt like this was a real place I’d discovered. No one had been there before, and I didn’t know whether to shout excitedly, or just keep it to myself.

There’s this strange thrill I’ve seen described in a lot of the science fiction I’ve read: the feeling of being alone — of being completely and almost hopelessly isolated — and looking at something no man has ever seen before. I’m not sure this is a thrill that can be shared with a friend without losing something essential. And, when contrasted with the isolation of space, planetary exploration becomes something far more incredible.

If No Man’s Sky is the game that offers this exact thrill — and it’s sounding like it very well could be — it has the potential to do something incredibly profound that very few games have attempted before.

I hope Steve Bowling and his stepfather can still bond over No Man’s Sky. Maybe it won’t happen inside the game, but perhaps the game’s isolated portrayal of its universe could be a launching point for some deep, philosophical discussions. And that’s bound to lead to a much deeper experience than just blowing stuff up together would. Probably.

  • James Fitzgerald

    Interesting as Ive seen no foes or fighting mechanics to speak of Im worried this game will be another let down as all ive seen is fly to point A explorer, fly to point B explorer if its just flying around planet to planet “explorering” thats going to get boring fast.

    • Josh Wirtanen

      Sean Murray talked about combat and how dangerous extraterrestrial life could be in this Guardian interview:

      I also read something somewhere about how there are some sort of sentient robot guardians that attack you if you run around trying to kill and destroy everything, but I can’t remember where I read that.

      There’s also space combat and some sort of resource trading.

      This is not a game without combat. It’s just that, for me, combat is one of the less exciting things about this game. I’ve done space combat 100+ times in other games. What No Man’s Sky is doing feels fresh and exciting to me.