I haven’t beaten Out There. There are shining blips of different coloured lights waiting at the edge of the in-game map, taunting me with their tantalizing colours and promise of resolutions and neat narrative wrap-ups. I have friends who have reached these endings. I’ve heard, “Kait, you have to beat it. It’s mindblowing,” more times than my indignation will allow me to acknowledge with good humor and a smile. I know. But I can’t. For whatever reason, I just cannot beat Out There.
Out There is a game about being lost in space and trying to survive. You are a space traveler, unsure if you will ever find your home again. Your only hope of survival is chasing after radio signals. It is a game that forces you to manage your resources carefully and invites the possibility of becoming stranded at the edge of a black hole, with no gas and no resources left to burn for fuel.
You jump from planet to planet, star to star, sometimes drilling on vibrant and foreign worlds that are rich in oxygen. You might encounter new life forms on these planets, and if you choose to do so, you can begin to pick up a new language by the process of trial and error. These lifeforms you encounter will often ask questions of you. Questions you cannot, through a refusal on the game’s part to translate, fully comprehend. You guess. The alien may scoff, or it may offer a thanks. Either way, you learn. You pick up words and begin to build a vocabulary for your next encounter with a new life form.
But what you learn does not aid you in beating in this game. Sure, you can learn bits and pieces of a new alien language, which could, but rarely do, help you attain the resources you need to keep your spaceship chugging. Other than acquiring fuel and oxygen, the other resources you gain throughout your travels are not entirely necessary. They help round off your experience and provide you with the tools to maybe reach the end quicker, but they in no way guarantee your safe exploration or successful playthrough. Trust me. I’ve played this game no less than 50 times. Failure is more of a guarantee than your success is.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?
What is the point in a journey if what you learn on it doesn’t propel you to greater success or fulfillment at the end of it? The sentiment that “the journey matters more than the final destination” is commonplace, because it’s about what we learn and accumulate during the journey that furthers our growth as individuals.
But what if it doesn’t? What if each step forward accomplishes nothing more than to further your isolation? What good is the journey then, other than to remind you of your failures? My journey in Out There is personally futile; it yields no physical rewards or achievements for me to help ensure my progression toward the ending.
Upon first writing this, I wanted to argue for why this kind of narrative futility (an inability to achieve a coherent story) was purposeful in its very lack of purpose. How can we find meaning in a game that resists cohesion? That was when my life was secure and stable. I had a full-time job at a publishing house I respected. There was an end goal: security.
Now, I am in a wildly different place. Laid off with no bearings on my next paycheck or career move. I don’t have a roadmap; I have a lot of heart-pounding excitement, with, for only the second time in my life, no clear bead on what my Next Move will be. And I have a lot of anxiety. What if I can’t sustain myself to the next point? What if I fail? What if what if what if what if?
I have: a small, miniscule amount of savings to get me through rent, groceries, bills, and student loans; a sturdy pair of shoes; a support network.
In Out There, I have: a finite amount of resources to burn (through which I am burning quickly); a spaceship that I can salvage for parts when need be; a shaky, unclear, potentially devastating idea of where I should be ending up.
Instead of being narratively rewarding, failing in Out There teaches patience. It forces you to take deep breaths, steady yourself, and take an uncertain leap to the next planet, base, or star system. It promises nothing. Each playthrough, you might see only the same screens and stories you saw on your previous attempt to navigate the stars. It can become redundant. It is frustrating. It is annoying. And you may just be continually retracing your same steps, over and over again, with no hopes of this cycle ever ending. It’s not strictly futile, but if feels hopeless, at times.
What is the point of continually playing this game if I will only ever see the same things, read the same stories, and learn the same alien words, over and over? What is the point in continuing to fail?
Out There begs you to replay, to linger in its world a little while longer, not to claim an ownership over the systems that govern them, but rather to explore these systems. Learn their nooks and crannies. Find their secrets, weave your own myth through the subtly shifting and transient landmarks and existing scenarios. Out There is designed around failure. Its very structure and depth hinges on the fact that you will fail repeatedly and replay it multiple times.
So, I take a deep breath and a gulp of coffee, and I start a new game.
I am no longer trying to beat Out There. Sure, I would like to have the guarantee of an ending and the knowledge that I’ve learned this game’s story and systems inside and out. But that’s not the only path to enjoyment for me—not anymore. I’m learning how to fail and how to be OK with failure.
And who knows? Maybe I’ll like my life on this unnamed, unknown planet, in a galaxy I’ve never heard of before.
I have: enough oxygen for the foreseeable future. And right now, that’s the only guarantee I need.
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