I don't have a PS4, but my friend and podcast cohost, Ron, does. Here are some great thoughts and reflections from Ron about the game No Man's Sky.
Lately I've been playing a game on my PlayStation 4 called No Man's Sky. The game opens with a view of your crashed spaceship. You're told that in order to repair your ship you need to find and gather materials from the world around you. The world looked somewhat like earth in that there were rocks and trees and bushes of varying similarities to what I'd expect on earth. As I continued to explore I found different kinds of animals, some more familiar than others.
That first night I wandered around and mined various materials. Some of the materials I needed to use immediately just to keep my life support systems working on this foreign planet. Others I combined to make new materials with which I eventually repaired my ship. Once the repairs were complete I set off from the planet and continued exploring the rest of the galaxy, which has somewhere around 18 quintillion planets in it.
There are other sentient life forms that you can encounter while you explore, but they offer little besides trading opportunities and teaching you a word of their language. I'd occasionally find and visit monuments from old civilizations that give hints to the history of this galaxy I found myself in. The only trouble I had run into had been the occasional pirate and these sentinels. The sentinels were little robots that roamed each planet peacefully unless you mined some of the wrong resources or hurt an indigenous species. If you broke one of their unwritten and unspoken rules then they would try to hunt you down. Other than those tiny game mechanics, though, there was little narrative to be found. That didn't stop me from creating my own narrative, however.
I had found a great looking spaceship that I enjoyed flying around in, but I kept on hitting limitations with how much I could store in my ship. I knew I needed to trade in my ship for another, so I flew around the planet I was on for a while until I found a trading dock. Once there, I traded in the materials I had mined and waited for someone to arrive with the ship model I wanted. Once there, I ran up to the ship to see their asking price. It turned out I was a billion or two credits short, so I had to leave the deal.
I walked back over to my ship. I tried to not let the disappointment show, but I knew it was pressing on my shoulders. I leaned against my ship and pondered how much longer it would take for me to mine materials that I could sell for credits, then go back out and mine some more, and so on until I could afford a ship of that size. And how long would it be until I needed to upgrade to an even larger ship after that?
The pilot of the ship I wanted launched away from the spaceport. What I wanted launched away. Was I just going to sit there? I had seen crashed ships before. Every time I had run into a crashed ship the pilot had left or expired and I usually had the materials needed to repair it. I had repaired my own ship at the beginning of my journey, after all.
With the afterburners of my desire still in view I hopped into my ship. As soon as the windowed hood closed over me I lifted off from the trading post and pursued the ship. The pilot didn't seem to suspect anything. This was it. I fired my guns at the ship. Distressed, the pilot began evasive maneuvers. I continued to fire. He never fired back. The pilot set off a distress beacon to call for help. None would come. He veered west in a fruitless attempt to find help; instead he found his engines ablaze. The smoke rose as the ship descended.
We were over a sea now. There were islands of land peeking through the water here and there, but the ocean consumed the ship anyway. I immediately circled around and landed on the first strip of land I could find. I jumped out of my ship and scanned desperately. He had crashed somewhere around here. It hadn't taken me that long to land. I jumped into the water and began diving. I wasn't able to stay under for long, but I was determined. After a few minutes of searching my determination waned. The sun was setting and the waters were becoming more hostile. I swam back to my ship defeated.
I had murdered someone, destroyed their ship and their belongings, and I couldn't even find the remains. Is this what I was now? A pirate, ready to destroy anyone who didn't trade with me to his or her own disadvantage? I climbed back into my ship. Surely the sentinels would be looking for me. The hood closed over me and I took off. This isn't who I wanted to be, but the galaxy is big. I might have my name plastered under a wanted sign in these parts, but a whole new solar system, a whole new life, a whole new story, was only a few seconds away...
While you can find crashed ships in No Man's Sky, it turns out if you shoot one down yourself it explodes into nothing. I couldn't find the ship I wanted because it was erased from memory as soon as I depleted its hit points. As far as I can tell no one comes looking for you and your interactions aren't affected at all. The scale of No Man's Sky's universe (18 quintillion planets is larger than our galaxy!) implied a somewhat real world with consequences, but instead I found a game full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.
I do still plan on playing No Man's Sky because I enjoy the monotony of it like some people claim to enjoy the monotony of gardening, but the lack of story makes what once seemed like a grand, boundless game become much less meaningful. I can add my own story to the mechanics in place, but it isn't the same. Action and events without consequences, without story, are pointless.
Thankfully, we aren't stuck in a procedurally generated world. We're in a world that is filled with design, intention, and most of all, story. God has a story to tell through his redemptive work in the world, and most surprisingly, through us. We aren't non-playable characters wandering around aimlessly, but rather actors working for or against the story God will tell.
In some ways this story can be scary. We don't always know the parts God wants us to play in his story, but as we follow the clues he gives us in Scripture, prayer, conversations with friends, the traditions passed down to us, and the myriad of other ways God speaks to us we have the honor to join God in telling his story.
As we've discussed on the podcast (you do listen to the podcast, right?), I recently left my job because I think God may be calling me to full-time ministry. I'm only in my second day of being unemployed, but it's been tough to not feel like I've lost my way. Even though I'm following where I sensed God calling me to, where my pastors recommended I go, where my wife confirmed I should go, I still feel like I maybe made a wrong turn.
The story God wants to tell in our lives isn't always easy, but we have to trust that God isn't George R. R. Martin; God loves us and wants what is best for us. Like Jesus, we need to stiffen our necks towards our future, come what may, and trust that not only does God have a story for us to live, but that he's the best author of our lives, not us. This is God's story we're telling, not ours.
What story has God been telling in your life?