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Station Ideation: | Sweathead Summer Camp (In Spaaaaace!)

Sweathead Summer Camp: Day 8.5

Strategist's Log - 2.07.21

Location: Sumadurey Station, Flittle Low-Orbit | (Sumadurey System)

Weather: Mega Mall-esque

Atmospherics: 63 °F | 0.0013 Rad | 0 Tox

B.L.U.F. "Strategy is ideas. Words make ideas. So strategy is words." -Mark Polland


Up to a certain point, every system you could visit in No Man's Sky was "claimed" by one of the game's three main alien species (Gek, Vy'keen, and the, uh, RoboBots). So, even though you, the player, eventually began to branch out from your starting planet and discovered new systems, you were discovering what someone else had already discovered. They even parked a giant space station in each of these systems to make sure you knew it, too.

Now, after a recent large update, some systems you come across are "uninhabited." You can be the first to discover them. Aside from alien animals (and a lot of rocks), there's nobody there. And can you really discover something if there's no one around to know you did?

This question was bumming me out for a bit. Especially since I put some time against this game in an attempt to unwind a bit and feel a bit less of having-been-in-a-pandemic-for-over-a-year. But I had a good 3AM epiphany last night. And now I feel much better.

At some point, I'd started to view discovery and exploration as the same thing. But they are very different words. They are very different ideas.

Discovery involves encountering a surprise or running into something unexpected mid-journey. It can also, sometimes, mean you're the very first to do so. A small but important point here is that no discovery can be the inspiration to the journey that leads to it. It comes, again, as a surprise.

On the other hand, exploration is the intentional act of traveling through something unfamiliar. There is intent here, as the goal of exploration is to learn. There's an intentional, ongoing searching/probing/investigative/witnessing element at play here, which cuts quite differently than the accidental, shackled to the finite, moment-of-its-own birth-nature of discoveries.

Their difference (and the different intent of the speaker) becomes even clearer when put to work side-by-side:

"I want to discover a whole new world."


"I want to explore a whole new world."

This is all pretty clear now. So, how did I fall off the pig here?

Or, hey. Let's do something we practice in Sweathead.

Why didn't I fall off the pig sooner?" (i.e., asking the opposite)

There's a shiny lie buried in the idea of discovery. While not always a positive thing, any discovery you hear about carries with it some value or significance. Having to buy the off-brand Grape Nuts because the store was out of grape nut Grape Nuts but discovering they taste just as good? Yeah, technically a discovery. But it's not one I can build much of a TED Talk around. (I think?)

Despite the surprise element, discovery is about the having of one. Saying, "I was the first one to discover a planet where one of the primary lifeforms are cute, giant, floaty bubbles,*" implies a funky, tacit ownership of sorts.

Not of the planet. Or of the Bubblonians. But of the FACT we now know they exist. That's kinda...weird, right?

(I sense an odd parallel with something related to Patent Law hovering about me, but I'm batting that away for now. For you. The Reader.)

And the accumulation of facts I know things exist in the game is not why I play it. But for a while when I started, I was discovering the game. EVERYTHING was a surprise. But if nothing else, we humans are incredibly adaptive.

So much so that, somehow, after 100 hours of zooming around in space trucks running into acid typhoons, and flying feather worms, and chairs you can't sit in and can only spin them about*, you're hooked on being surprised. You begin looking for more surprises for the sake of discovering more that's surprising. And even a game this vast and varied can't sate that appetite forever.

And it's helped me realize I lost the lesson. This isn't about finding new pigs to ride. It's about enjoying the ride, on the pig, which in this case is my spaceship. (I think?)

I'll find other bubbles on other planets. Surely I will. But those bubbles on those planets will be different in ways worth exploring, time and time again.

Because you can't own exploration. You can only add to it.

*These things are all actual things in the game.

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