Excitement is building about the upcoming computer game No Man’s Sky, which promises to allow players to explore a near infinite galaxy containing 18 quintillion unique planets. While there is a general game play goal (to get to the centre of the virtual galaxy and uncover a mystery), it isn’t compulsory, and the game’s architect Sean Murray anticipates that many players will prefer to sidestep it and immerse themselves in the wonder of open-ended adventure and discovery instead.
The game has been designed to facilitate this, and as the game universe is not only vast but also richly detailed with alien landscapes and life-forms, there is plenty to explore and interact with, most of it unknown even to the game’s creators as complex algorithms are used to generate much of it. Planets are said to be planet-sized, and the first visitors to each will have the privilege of naming them, in a nod to the Elizabethan age of exploration.
Signal spotted by Joy Green
Image credit: Hello Games
While a few other open-ended games have been designed before, No Man’s Sky is considered by many in the games industry to signal the birth of a new paradigm due to its unprecedented size and complexity. The appeal of virtual tourism within this fantastical universe lies in the ability to visit and explore places that would be unreachable any other way.
While virtual tourism to a copy of a real Earth-based location will probably always feel second-best to the real thing, detailed imaginary universes and worlds may feel different and exciting enough to make a compelling case for virtual tourism for its own sake in the near future, especially as immersive headsets such as Oculus Rift become more common. The question then may be – what might be the effects on our relationship with the real natural environment in the long run?
The Guardian (2015, 12th July), "No Man's Sky: the game where you can explore 18 quintillion planets"