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Everlasting, Neverending Game Night

stunning enough

Published about 1 month ago • 3 min read

Hi Reader,

Welcome! Please, come in. It’s raining a lot lately here—I'll take your coat. I found some white starflowers in the woods, and I put them in a vase on the table.

I love science fiction. I especially love “space opera”—that is, interstellar adventure. (No actual opera in it.)

This genre gives me a sense of possibility that I need. I don’t care how realistic it is, so long as the writers sell me on it. And I'm an easy sell.

For years, I needed to believe I could be an alien. Or a rebel princess. Or a hyperspace pilot. I still do.

But in that time, I also studied a little physics. And I learned just how impossible it is to go faster than light, or even close to it.

It’s really, really impossible.

So why does interstellar exploration appeal to me—us—so much? Why do we keep thinking of the stars as destinations?

For starters, it does what all wonder does—you know, that blessed opiate I was talking about some weeks back.

And it gives us a myth: the innocent explorer.

The original “Age of Exploration” was charted by people like Vasco da Gama, Francis Drake, and, of course, Christopher Columbus.

They sailed on government-sponsored missions to find new income streams and spread the Church. In the process, they were often unspeakably brutal. (You don’t have to click the link.) We're still living with the inequities they made possible. Maybe we always will.

Stories of “innocent exploration,” set in newer worlds, distill the myth of the Age of Exploration—a story of bravery and hope—conveniently denatured from its facts.

Then we get the Space Race of the 1960s. Hot take: just a ludicrously expensive propaganda contest. It stirred a lot of national pride in the U.S. and the Soviet Union. But it didn’t do much for their living conditions.

In 1966, it also gave us Star Trek. The final frontier of innocent exploration.

Gene Roddenberry didn’t seem to care as much about the story’s physics as the ideals. You know, bravery, hope. And this shared national dream of space.

I mean, pulp fiction's been doing this for a long time. Star Trek and Star Wars updated Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, which themselves updated famously racist Victorian adventure tales that were set in Africa and East Asia. Moving them to Mars and Mongo gave the writers more freedom and even less fact-checking.

So. Much as I love space opera, it has these Earth-bound problems.

They’re not distant, either. Enough board games follow in Columbus’s mold of exploration and resource extraction that they have a name: 4X. The four Xs are explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate.

Yeee. 😬

Role-playing games fare a bit better.

Traveller, the great-grandma of all space-adventure TTRPGs, is originally set in a feudal empire of planets full of extractable resources. But you play independents trying to eke out a life in the interstices.

The British game Warhammer 40K is unrelentingly bleak. I’m told the setting, by Rick Priestley, was originally satirical: a mad king throwing legions of fanatical holy warriors into meat grinders across the stars. It's as much Gallipoli as the Crusades.

But it also makes easy villains out of orks and chaos monsters, and it sells a lot of miniatures. I don’t think most players paint their own soldiers as the bad guys. Once a game or a genre becomes self-sustaining, it doesn't need to examine its origins. Thanks, pop culture.

Regardless, space has given countless geeks a home. We’re all marginalized from present-day society, in varying degrees, for varying reasons—including being queer. So we find each other out there.

Kurt Vonnegut famously, frustratedly said science-fiction writers are “joiners.”

I think most sci-fi readers today (and a few writers) would say:

Duh.”

Come for the stars, stay for the community.

Stay for a new way to imagine ourselves, better worlds to imagine living in, and a found family to imagine them with.

Meanwhile, in the real world—

What if—

Hear me out—

What if the stars are just there to be pretty?

Not a billionaire’s pet project. Not an escape hatch from our 4X’d planet. Just really, really pretty. Do you ever get to see the night sky away from the city lights? It’s stunning.

If anyone's living around one of those stars, we’ll never know them. But, generously, their light studs our dome anyway.

Let’s call it a gift.

The stars are stunning. That’s enough.

Cheers,
Chris

P.S. That goes for you too.

P.P.S. Honest, I love science fiction. I wrote a whole game supplement for Robin Laws's Ashen Stars, called Rogues’ Galaxy. Who doesn't want to play a four-armed locust guy who eats anything? Or a giant armadillo? Especially if they do crimes!

P.P.P.S. Speaking of stunning—did you see the northern lights last night? They made it all the way down to Florida. And we might see them tonight, too! Thank the strongest solar storm in 20 years. Glowing ions, lighting up our planet's magnetic field lines. Wow.

Everlasting, Neverending Game Night

by Chris Sellers, they/them

🌈🚀 Reliable wonder engine. I make narrative role-playing games that imagine a weirder, queerer, more connected world.

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