Here’s what I did on my way to the alien monolith:
I bought a PlayStation 4, set it up, heard the game I wanted to play had been delayed, put it away. A year later, I set it up again, preordered the game, downloaded it overnight, and woke up early on Tuesday, August 9, to leap immediately into the cockpit of a dinky starship crashed on the surface of a poison planet, my 100 percent unique starting point in a virtual cosmos that is—the game’s makers assure us—functionally infinite. Then, I went roving on the planet’s surface—layered with deadly miasma, no big deal—to gather the minerals required to fix my ship.
In the shadow of a steep ridge dusted with gray-purple fronds, I discovered the monolith, which taught me a single word in the language of its alien makers.
I did all this in a rush on Tuesday for two reasons. First: the premise of No Man’s Sky, a game of exploration and survival played across a procedurally-generated galaxy, is, for me, too magnetic to resist. Second: over the past few years, I’ve become aware of the livestreamed video game launch as a new and fascinating kind of media moment. This time, I wanted to follow along. I wanted to be part of it.
Imagine yourself a game developer in the era of Twitch, the livestreaming platform on which hundreds of thousands of viewers at a time, sometimes millions, gather to watch other people play games. For you, the developer, it’s been two years or more of extreme effort and/or self-recrimination. Now, finally, the game is available; the streamers are live; and you are granted a rare experience.