If you had the chance to leave Earth and explore any part of the Milky Way Galaxy, where would you go? What would would you do during your travels? What would you bring with you? My short answer is: I would go back to Earth. For the long answer, keep reading.
These are just some of the questions and thoughts that run through my mind as I reflect upon my 51 hours of Elite: Dangerous gameplay. Elite: Dangerous is a first-person, space/sci-fi sandbox game taking place in the near future in a 1:1: ratio of the Milky Way Galaxy. The first-person, space/sci-fi aspects are pretty straight forward: you are the pilot of a space ship that has access to an array of high-tech weaponry and gadgets and the ability to travel many, many light years in a short period of time. The game can also be played as a massively multiplayer online experience, with your friends, or solo. The sandbox aspect of the game allows the players the freedom to pursue any career path or quests that they want. Some of these options include being a bounty hunter, trader, pirate, miner, and explorer. There are no storylines, just quests and all of the Milky Way Galaxy at your disposal.
ALL of the Milky Way Galaxy! This is where the existential crisis starts to kick in. Elite: Dangerous‘ most impressive feature is that it contains a 1:1 ratio of our own galaxy, complete with all types celestial bodies like different types of stars, planets, moons, asteroid belts, and black holes.
Here’s a progression of the star system I am currently in and what the galaxy looks like as I zoom out.
I am currently docked in the Kube-McDowell Enterprise station in the Kakas system. As you can see, the Kakas system is a ternary solar system, a white star with two red dwarf stars, with various planets and their moons.
Here is Kakas and its immediate and other neighboring systems. Each dot is a system that has at least one star, each possibly containing at least one planet, each possibly containing at least one moon. Lines represent interstellar superhighways connecting one system to another. Jumping from one system to the next requires a frame shift drive that enables the ship to travel distances of several light years or more depending on your ship. The red ship icon labeled STHA 181 is a different system where I have left my starter space ship.
Here you can see Sol, our solar system where Earth is located, relative to my current system, Kakas. I am about 105 light years away from Sol. This distance can be deceiving because jumps between systems are not always straight. Also, since my ship can only jump a maximum distance of 13 light years, some routes are not available to me until I upgrade my ship. Through some research, I learned that traveling to the Sol system also requires a special permit. Like before, each bright dot is a different system that is open for exploration.
Zooming out a little bit shows that Kakas and Sol aren’t that far after all relative to the distances of all the other systems around them.
As I zoom out, solar systems of stars and planets clump up into dust clouds. Large nebulae clouds (I think) are visible.
As I zoom out further, the Milky Way Galaxy starts to take its familiar shape. It turns out I am pretty far from the center of the galaxy, but not so far from Sol after all. Some bright dots are barely visible, but most of the stars and systems have come together to be blobs of clouds. Each cloud contains within it a vast array of stars, planets, moons, asteroid belts, and more.
Each jump to a different system is another adventure and a new discovery. But for me, the biggest journey was the 3 seconds it took to zoom out from my location to the expanded galaxy map. I still can’t wrap my mind around the idea of how vast our single galaxy is.
Just how large is it? Reddit user and Elite: Dangerous Commander ligerzero459 did the math. According to Commander ligerzero459, “If you had 100,000 pilots making 30 second jumps it would take 23 years to explore the entire galaxy.”
I am naturally curious and love exploration. I love things related to space and science. I have briefly studied the history of rocketry and the space race during the Cold War. I have built my own International Space Station in Kerbal Space Program and surveyed various points of Mars in Take on Mars. I am excited to hear about things like the Mars One and SpaceX programs. I’ll even admit I’ve watched more than one episode of Ancient Aliens.
So why is it now that in this sandbox game, with all the possibilities of exploration and discovery, with more game time that I can possibly exhaust, the one thing I have vowed to do is to find my way back to Earth? I’ve outfitted my ship with gears and gadgets to amass more credits to acquire a ship more powerful and more capable of reaching Earth.
Why? I still don’t have an answer to why. I just know that I want to, or need to. And when I finally get there, what am I going to do? I don’t know.
What would you do and why?
In a near-future post, I will be showcasing my personal projects in Kerbal Space Program and discussing my career choices in Elite: Dangerous.