Spoilers for the first 20 minutes of objects in space.
If you haven’t played Objects in Space—Flat Earth Games’ space game of trade and stealth—you should try it. I’m going to spoil the premise of the game here (which you find out about 20 minutes in), because it’s relevant to my point, but it’s worth saving the surprise if you play it!
Objects in Space is a great little game about hope, disappointment, the freelance life, galactic travel… and drudgery. It plays on big, grand, blue sky notions about space travel and the final frontier, then faces you with boring everyday realities. It is not a depressing game, but it did have me thinking about depression, and it is hopeful, albeit in a smaller way than most grand titles playing on space themes. Maybe a more realistic way.
You begin the game as a pilot on the Cassandra mission—a massive space exploration/colonization effort to go to the Apollo sector, seek out new life and new civilizations, really, to boldly go where no one has gone before. Via text (in the game’s wonderful, low-fi interface), you speak with an excited compatriot about how you’ll all go to these new worlds, put down roots and explore. You’ll put up an earth gate and be among the first galactic explorers of the human race! It’s bold, it’s exciting, and it’s a whole lot to take in.
After making some preparations on your ship (tutorializing the interface and teaching you to navigate in space), you make the jump!
Ok, spoilers for real here…
…And wake up 45 years later, thanks to some gnarly space-time phenomenon. A friendly freelance pilot named Leslie intercepts you and helps you out, gently breaking the news that, sorry buddy, all your friends and family are gone, and things didn’t exactly go as planned on the new colonies.
For starters, the planets themselves weren’t as earth-like as everyone expected—there are some places you can go out in for a few minutes with a breathing apparatus, but you’ll be poisoned if you stay out too long. The earth gate never got built. You know, government projects, delay after delay, it just didn’t happen. And those alien civilizations? Well, they found some cool microbes but uh, nothing too exciting. So much for new life and new civilizations.
Your buddy is quick to point out that it’s not all bad. The nebula is beautiful! And he seems happy enough freelancing for one of the major corporations that run the show out here. It allows for some freedom, after all, and he likes to fly.
Given my own feelings on freelancing—specifically how much real-life companies completely fuck over freelance laborers aside—there was something really resonant about this turn of events. Life here in 2019 America is awful for pretty much everyone, but there’s hope, maybe in trying our damndest to pull together and make life as bearable as possible for one another. At least, this is what I read in the subtext.
I don’t know what you thought the future would be like when you were young. I was a comfortably middle-class depressed and closeted queer kid who wanted to be an astronaut. I grew up on various iterations of Star Trek, wanting so desperately to believe in the possibility of the equality and freedom and promise of that future. A world free of money, where we all work together to make life better for everyone, where we explore and spread our wonderful ideals around the galaxy.
We suuuuuuure fucking didn’t end up with that, did we?
I should be clear, I didn’t actually think I could grow up in the Star Trek universe, but I did want to be the next best thing: a NASA astronaut. And I still wouldn’t say no if they came knocking at my door. But I digress.
Regarding Star Trek and it’s hopeful ilk: there is a lot of value in that kind of aspirational fiction, to be certain. In showing what a truly utopian society could be, one day, if our better angels prevailed and a major miracle or seven occurred. But the sort of world Objects in Space (And other works of less-idealized sci-fi, like The Expanse) purports—a flawed, fucked up world where there are decent folks doing their best—finds a stronger foothold.
You may be, affectionately or not, a space trucker, rather than an illustrious Captain Kirk or a Picard.
I’ve been in the middle of one of the most severe and longest-lasting depressive periods of my life. It’s not been awesome, but one thing I have been working on a great deal lately is finding those good people—and good things—to seek hope in. In the game, as a freelance hauler of gasses and minerals and other goods, you may not be having the kinds of heady space adventures you dreamed of as a kid. You may be beholden to cruel and impersonal corporate overlords. You may be, affectionately or not, a space trucker, rather than an illustrious Captain Kirk or a Picard.
But, like Leslie says, the views are stunning. And people are making their way. Day by day, contract by contract. Maybe you can even save up for better parts and better ships. You can fly in space and see wondrous things, even if there are no Vulcans to verbally spar with or Klingons to physically spar with. You can make it out here.