Staring into the abyss
The other day I spent a couple of hours at work reading about sailboats. Like a ten-year-old with a new fascination after discovering Treasure Island or some other seafaring fantasy, I was obsessing over famous ships from the past, and the prospect of buying one of my own when we move away from here, out of this big unfriendly city, and try to settle down in an island town next year to reform our lives.
I went home that evening and turned on Elite Dangerous. A game I have been playing since summer of last year. A game I gave high praise to here at Destructoid when I reviewed the PS4 version a couple of months ago. I hear all kinds of negativity tossed in this game’s direction. It is boring, it doesn’t feel complete, it’s a “space truck simulator,” you just deliver stuff from one place to the next ad infinitum.
They are all right, and yet so wrong at the same time.
Boring is such a subjective thing. I can understand the intimidation of having to fly 200,000 light years within a system to get somewhere, sitting and staring at a screen for twenty minutes with naught else to do but peruse a starmap or check your cargo manifest or rankings. To most people that is like watching paint dry. But I’ll illuminate something here to try and make more sense as to why I actually find that appealing.
I get up every day at 6AM. At one point in my life it used to be much earlier, but it’s around 6 now and I can’t often get up much later. I am a troubled sleeper for whatever reason. Typically I go through emails, check the news, the weather, and then start to get ready. At 7, my kids get up, so I get them dressed, feed them breakfast, help clean them up, brush my daughter’s hair, get lunch made, pack their bags, sign off on homework, and then get their gear on to go to school.
On my day off, I typically drive my wife to work, then my daughter to school, then my son to preschool. He is away for an hour and a half, so I clean the house in that time generally. My wife is pregnant and her pregnancies are very tough on her. She has some medical issues where we run a higher risk for miscarriage among other things, and by the end of the day, she is so tired she can barely move. But she still decides to work a couple of days a week because she loves her job. That being said, she needs help around the house so I do that.
When my son gets home, it’s play time, and lunch time. I spend the rest of the day with him typically playing until my daughter gets home. Then the three of us play, and read, and do activities. Then we clean together (their room is ceaselessly untidy). I then prepare dinner and we go and pick up my wife. We eat, and if we have any errands (which we usually do) we go and get those done.
The days I work, the rest of the week, are usually far tighter. I try to do as much of the aforementioned activities as possible without sacrifice, but work it in around eight hours of work. My job is either extremely quiet or busy, and seldom in between. When it’s quiet I do a lot of reading. I don’t have time to write; I tried to when I first started with Destructoid, but it was hard to stay focused when I was constantly being interrupted.
After our errands and dinner, it’s either bath time, clean-up time, story time, pajama time, or some combination thereof. We try to have the kids in bed by 9. After that, we usually sit and talk about our days, and about life in general. My wife has a tough time falling asleep due to her discomfort, so I’ll then typically lay with her and read to her. TV just seems to keep her awake, and she can’t stand silence. Luckily this usually doesn’t take too long. My voice is droll, monotone, and nasal. This is why you’ll never see me in a video or hear me in a podcast. But miraculously it provides somebody some comfort, I guess.
By 10PM, I am finally alone. But I don’t have the energy for a frantic game of PUBG, or the concentration to sit and master an old NES classic all the time. Often I don’t even game at all. But my favorite, favorite thing to do is to pick up Elite Dangerous, and fly around the stars.
Sometimes I bounty hunt, if I’m looking for a little excitement. More often I haul goods from star to star, carefully plotting my own routes, trying to keep within a certain cluster to build up reputation with certain factions. Sometimes I just find an unknown system and fly around it, individually exploring each new discovery to add to my roster. And all of this typically involves staring at a screen, usually for minutes at a time, and listening to the sci-fi ambience as I watch numbers countdown to my destination.
It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. It’s my little solitude to end the day.
When we went on vacation to Vancouver Island, which is where I grew up as a kid, it was probably the most relaxed all of us had ever been. I don’t remember ever seeing my wife so content or happy. And the moment I realized that’s what I wanted more of, and that it might be good for all of us, was sitting in a kayak. I had been fighting tough waves all day, pushing further and further out of the bay, turning back around swiftly to let it fire me back toward the shore as the spit rolled over me and damn near tipped me several times. But when the wind subsided and I found my arms were too tired to push, I just sat there. It was probably no more than fifteen minutes but it felt like an eternity, just sat there listening to the water slowly churn around the boat, with everything else completely silent.
The world of Elite is very much treated like you are a ship captain on the high seas. There is a vastness to it that would not be as effective if you could just fast travel to where you needed in an instant. Of course your frame shift drive allows you to jump quickly to different systems, but sometimes you need to cruise through vast distances within those systems, often at one hundred times light speed in order to get to any major astrological body. I can understand this being very frustrating for folks who just want to get on with it. But in the suburb where I live, when it’s too cold or dark to sit outside and enjoy it while cars are zipping down the road in front, it’s the one place I get to go where time just seems to stop for a minute, where I’m not distracted by a million sounds, where I can literally stare off into space and wind down, occasionally treated to a beautiful earth-world, gas giant, or nebula.
When we move, and we will move come hell or high water because every ounce of my time right now is spent planning, organizing, and saving money, it will be a big change for all of us. There are no guarantees it will work out, and we will have to sacrifice, I’m sure, in order to make it happen. But when we do, I want a sailboat. I’m not picky; a ten footer would be fine at first, something to learn on. What little free time I’ll undoubtedly also have there, I can take it out, and just sit in the water.
But for now, I have Elite Dangerous. My escape. Not as much a game for me as it is a micro-vacation, the same way a cigarette is for some, golf for others. It’s my sanctuary and my respite from the insanity of living.