Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain’t comin’ back
- The Ballad of Serenity
It finally clicked for me in Elite Dangerous. I finally figured out why I was out here in the black. What the point of all this jumping between stars was about. Who I was scanning all these planets for. And calculating the when between each milestone along my particular stretch of galactic highway. Do I have a boat in real life? No. Do I book three-day fishing trips and Carnival Cruise Line vacations in the Caribbean? No. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a latent wanderlust for travel. Wasn’t sure what my attraction to Elite Dangerous was until I looked at my lineage.
Must be that self-ascribed wayfaring blood in my veins. From my mom’s Filipina side, I come from a long line of oceangoing peoples. I’ve seen Moana. I know how it works. Plus, my dad was a mechanic on board an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean. He floated on the water for months at a time. Even when boarding a liberty boat headed for shore, he’d follow a hiking trail headed toward a water source. I’ve got trucker blood in me, too. Got it from my grandpa. He drove back and forth on the U.S. Interstate system for 60 years. Could’ve circumnavigated the globe 300 times. Never stopped driving until he had a heart attack one day. He slowly pulled his semi onto the shoulder of the road, clutching his chest.
So, do I pilot a banca boat between the islands of Indonesia? No. Am I on a military vessel traversing the world’s shipping lanes? No. Am I in the driver’s seat of an 18-wheeler 70 hours a week? No.
It’s because I’m not doing those things. That’s why I’m attracted to those virtual sea lanes in the sky. That’s why I’m logging into Elite Dangerous every night. My daily commute is a sedate 15 minutes along a back road to an office nestled up to BLM property. The last time I stepped off dry land was five years ago on a seasick-inducing fishing charter. And the longest distance I drove last year was a 1,300-mile round trip from Southern Oregon to Eastern Washington for the holidays. That one’s admittedly impressive, at least to me. But folks do that kind of thing on the West Coast all the time. These are big states. That’s how we roll.
All of this feeds into my (personal) male power fantasy: setting myself apart from everybody, setting my mind on things above, and setting my waypoint for distant destinations. Bonus points if I accomplish it with a modicum of skill and ability. I can’t wait to buy my first driverless car. But until then, I want to be a good traveler.
When it comes to Elite Dangerous, you’d think the expression “being out in the black” would make outerspace a very dark place. But space isn’t dark. Often you’re awash in color and light, no matter which direction you turn on the spherical compass. There’s the blinding white disk of the Milky Way. The earthy brown space dust spreading out from its arms. The red and blue tufts of blood making up a hundred different nebulae. The oven-like heat of jumping face first into a neighboring sun. Usually, the only black to be found is in the shadowy corners of my cockpit. You almost have to drive to specific “dark sectors” of the galaxy to see any black. No no, don’t get me wrong. Elite Dangerous takes place in the Milky Way. Realism, to a degree, is the game’s calling card. This isn’t Everspace. This isn’t No Man’s Sky. Graphical engine shortcomings notwithstanding, the art of Elite Dangerous, when put up against these other fantastical video game universes, is rather subdued. Quite black.
Still, in some ways, the colors make it less lonely out in the black. Or at least less desolate looking. Sometimes I see shapes in the clouds of light. The exact same way my seven-year-old sees shapes in the clouds on Earth. The clouds of light out here in the black, though, are more like the amorphous globs that come from dropping creamer into a cup of coffee. They fog up in the middle. They curdle at the edges. While I say it isn’t lonely, that doesn’t mean I don’t miss Earth, and relating my galactic experiences with Earth-like imagery.
Now I head for the dark belly of the galaxy. Where space dust becomes my literal “old dusty trail.” Where the brightness of the upper and lower Milky Way is obscured by the browns of of its beltline. I’m coursing through that beltline now. Through the Doldrums. Where I hope to see more individual stars shine. Where I can make up my own constellations. Where the light pollution of a star-filled galaxy dies away, and I’m so far out in the woods that the light can’t reach the forest floor, so to speak. I’m not just heading out into space. I’m heading out into the black. No no, I’ll be back. You can tell them I’m definitely coming back. But I’ll have seen so much, and have been gone so long, that when I do come back, I won’t recognize home anymore.