June 21, 2016, is one of the most anticipated dates in recent gaming history: it’s the day when No Man’s Sky, a galaxy-exploration game in the works since 2013, is finally released in the US.* Raffi Khatchadourian wrote about the game’s genesis in the New Yorker last year; the game will allow players (at least those fortunate enough to be immortal) to visit no fewer than 18 quintillion planets, each with its own distinct biomes and landscapes. I haven’t touched a console in almost two decades, yet the promise of endless virtual worlds to wander around — taking flânerie to the cosmic level, as it were — sounds incredibly seductive.
In its own way, this virtual cosmos — unexplored, gorgeously designed, and effectively empty (its scope ensures you could avoid other players forever, if you so wished) — is yet another iteration of our contemporary drive to project real-world longings onto virtual spaces. Second Life, the shared, multiplayer virtual universe, has capitalized on similar desires (though with a more obvious layer of social interactivity), and shows no signs of slowing down well into its second decade.