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Excavating an Infinite Universe: No Man’s Sky, Xeno-archaeology and the Ontological Haunting of Cycle Narratives

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paper

Publication date2018
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventGaming the Gothic - Sheffield
Duration: 13/04/2018 → …


ConferenceGaming the Gothic
Period13/04/18 → …


Archaeological ruins within video games offer a didactic paradigm to convey a narrative ‘past’ while allowing players to interface with the material world. Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky (2016) positions the player’s avatar as a form of xeno-archaeologist explorer, who is required to seek out ruins, monoliths and Atlas stations if they wish to deduce the game’s central narrative. Awakening on an unknown planet, the player assumes the role of a ‘traveller’ who is dialectically encouraged to treat the universe as a sandbox to explore. In their quest to reach the centre of the universe, each visited planet becomes a resource of objects to mine and re-fashion, offering little insight to the history of these locations. Although containing over eighteen quintillion planets, the player only encounters other NPC ‘travellers’ through their graves or holographic communication. The further reveal that each character is merely participating in another cycle of a simulated universe constructs a sense of ontological haunting as the apparent repetition manifests through system glitches. This paper will argue that No Man’s Sky incorporates xeno-archaeology and terraforming as a paradigm of object manipulation, in which the seeming absence of archaeological identity is built on a foundation of simulated Gothic spectrality.