No Man’s Sky, the computer game, has pirates. These clichés fly starships attacking other starships, including the player’s ship. In game terms, people, usually those pirates, get killed: piracy is risky.

In NMS, one can land a starship on a planet, gather rocks, and sell them. This is extremely safe, so long as one picks a spacesuit–compatible planet, and avoids predators—both pretty easy. It’s much safer to gather rocks than attack other ships.

Thus pirates are not committing crime for financial gain.

So why do they do so? Well, criminality often arises because people, when given the choice between obeying the law or feeding their children, tend to decide to feed their children. That’s obviously not the case for pirates in NMS: pirates in financial stress could simply and safely gather and sell those rocks.

image: la nuit de la culture

Another reason for criminality is lack of faith in ‘the system’, or belief that said system is corrupt and persecutory. Normally, this is the preserve of reality–disconnected fantasists such as mass conspiracy theorists, but too often systems can become so corrupt that corruption is a daily reality and mass persecution is genuine. In those situations, criminality is normalised, can become highly organised, and can get mass support. In NMS, the existance of pirates is pretty much proof that ‘the system’ is indeed corrupt.

Organised criminality ranges from gangs, to crime lords, to warlords. Gangsters do not have sophisticated organisation, but crime lords do. Crime lords do not have a military, but warlords do. The pirates in NMS have organised fleets of starships, thus there are warlords.

The warlords challenge the existing system, but we know nothing about that system: its structures, its politics, its leaders, beyond the snippets of ‘history’, and that order is breaking down, as shown by the very existance of warlords.

When the game is played, presuming the player isn’t completely hopeless, s/he gets extremely game rich. Thus we also know that we, the players, benefit from this corrupt system.

Worse than the corrupt system, the NMS social order is morally bankrupt. For example, I sent a frigate off on a mission. The captain carried out some actions that resulted in the death of crew members. That captain showed no remorse whatsoever for those deaths, suggesting that it was normal in the course of thing. No remorse over death in a society with magnificent wealth and fantastically powerful technology is proof of a morally corrupt system.

The morally broken nature of the existing social and political order, the existence of warlords and piracy, the lack of value in life, shows there is no force of good among the game’s factions—just the usual grey.

That’s why I’ve concluded that taking a side in the game would be morally corrupt, because it means siding with a force of evil. What a player can do, instead, is play for their own gain: work with the authorities, with pirates, with anyone, avoiding anything that is blatently wrong such as killing, by avoiding, or running away from, conflict.

And here I have to give the game designers some extra kudos. With exceptions, one can always run away from fights. In space, for example, one can simply fly away at speed, or nip into a space station, or call up the Anomoly.

(The main exception is annoying bug when flying near the surface of a planet, at least on the X–Box: the landing control fails. This prevents a player from landing to use a local teleporter to avoid the voilence. I don’t know whether this is a design or implementation bug, but it is most certainly a bug.)

All this is why I play the game to leave the violent wankers to their violent wanking. I prefer to enjoy the created worlds. Mind you, given no choice, if I am cornered, I’m a in–game murderous bugger (which suggests, to be honest, that the game mechanics are balanced to the players skills, or lack of them).