There’s More Than Just Mars Up Here

Probably the most immediate response I got from people when I told them I was going to live for a year in isolation on sim-Mars was “That sounds like it’d be so lonely/claustrophobic/difficult!”. And while there were people who said they’d love to come along, most seem to think that it’s quite hard to be up here. You are far from almost everyone you know, you experience no weather, and short of changes you make to the habitat yourself, your environment is always and forever static.

And they’re right of course, every bit of that is true. We’re in a dome, not Disney.

The thing is, you can pick how you respond to your environment. There at home, or here, or anywhere else. You’ve all seen those people in shows or hopefully even real life who are just hard to get down. They try to see the bright side, take a new angle on things, or at least view something as a good character building experience. After all, if you’re going to have something happen to you, it only makes sense to try and make the best of it right? Find a way to put a little good in things.

That’s where some of the stuff we’ve got up here comes in handy, such as the VR gear, or our movie library, or boardgames. I brought a bunch of paper to doodle on too. But what I want to talk about this time is one of my favorite little escapes, the works of thatgamecompany.

If you don’t know who they are, these people make games that are based around experiences, sharing things with others, creating worlds that exist to tell a story or maybe just because. But there is no fighting, points, words, or almost anything else you might find in a more traditional game. It’s an experience and solely that, you play them to leave your world for awhile and enter theirs. Not to become another person or win a war or save the world, but to share in something. That has been something that has enormously helped me stay sane during architecture school, and will be playing a grand role in my sanity here as well. When homework wears me down or the dome is the same as it was yesterday, again, I can always leave. And I don’t even have to ask mission control for permission.

Flower is a game where you’re a breeze rushing around the fields playing in…well, flowers. It’s amazing for just relaxing you, the visuals are organic and colorful, and the music is just so sensual. It changes as you play as well, which you can see below, working your sounds into the music of the game. And the whole time you’re just swooping around and growing things and being a sort of…breath of life rolling around in the grass. For a guy that’s in a little hut surrounded by lots of very sharp rocks, that is one of the most fantastic things ever.

 Flower, leave it on while you’re studying!

My absolute most favorite thing they’ve ever done is Journey. This was their most recent game, and the musical score that Austin Wintory put together is just…oh man, it’s like you’re listening to the secret sounds of the world you wish you could hear if you’d only strain your ears a little more. I actually have the art book for this one (inspiration!) and seeing how they put everything together and refined the story is incredible. The world is exquisite, so refined and emotional, and watching a full run through a game is genuine catharsis. You’re simply trying to get to the top of the mountain, and you can share that experience with others. I remember reading that during the making of the game, they actually went to a desert to get inspiration for the art and game development, how amazing is that?! It’s wonderfully done, and the video below is a sort of musical introduction for the game, check it out!

 Journey, a desert full of riches!

Their first game was actually flOw, which is super meditative and plays just through your own intuition. Do whatever and go where you like, grow into a larger amoeba thing or don’t, swim around…it’s up to you. The music for this one is very under-the-sea, and like all these games you can play it again and again and it’s just a new experience. If you ever wanted to be a deep sea creature and just float around, nom things or not, and chill in the great big blue, this is something you’ll love.

 Flow, I glow in the dark and look awesome!

I like games, I’ve got several others that I’ll likely talk about as time goes by, but in general I’m picky. I like a good story, a good experience, wonderful worlds and just a product that a lot of people obviously poured themselves into out of a sort of shared passion. Because they leave some of themselves in there and I can hang out with them whenever I want. The dome isn’t so small when you can go wander under the sea or travel to that mountain in the distance, you can really leave any time you want. These are great experiences in just daily life, but are part of my ‘library of other worlds’ when I’m stuck on another planet, so to speak. Makes a big difference.

I’m also likely to go on about books in the future, bad segue but fair warning.

I like being able to go to some other world whenever I want, I’m sure you all have your escapes too, and I just wanted to share a few of my favorites, in case you ever find yourself struck by endless monotony and want a change of pace as well. If you’ve got a favorite you’d love to let me know, I’ll enjoy all the help I can over the next year, be it a book or movie or music or game or just…whatever. Where do you go when you decide not to be here anymore?

Our world is made out of so many more little worlds, and the best part about them is you can take them with you. So in the end, it’s really not all that claustrophobic in here, I can go anywhere I want.

Try getting out there, or journey inwards, there’s so many places you can go that a lifetime isn’t near enough. Happy travels!

Level 2 of Journey, sometimes you even find a friend.
Level 2 of Journey, sometimes you even find a friend.

One thought on “There’s More Than Just Mars Up Here

  1. That’s about the same reason I brought Minecraft along. I can build enormous castles, go adventuring into caves and across deserts and swamps…or I can just chill out and feed my cows. NASA is trying the whole immersive-world thing with us, but I don’t think they realized we brought some of our own with us too!


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