Wow. We made it. We traveled for 3 months and 18 days, covering 100,000 light years. We made 2,069 discrete jumps before we arrived at Ceeckia UK-N c23-0, an otherwise forgettable system in the Elite galaxy. Jump number 2,070 brought us to Beagle Point, and the end of the Distant Worlds 2 Expedition for CMDR Lanids and his flock of Harpy viewers.
It’s been a long, wild ride, and I streamed most of it. Shortly after we reached the galactic core, Heather and I were playing on our own. A friend indicated she was bored. We offered to stream the game so she could watch. I’d already set up a very basic streaming system so that Heather could watch when she was traveling, as well as to record Beat Saber videos. She’d heard us talk and was interested. We flopped on the couch and shared the game screen with her while all chatting together. There were no transitions, no camera view of me, no overlays. She loved it, and suddenly, we were streaming regularly, right up to our arrival at Beagle Point. She was there, almost every step of the way, stream after stream.
While we hit all of the waypoints of the expedition, I worked to make sure that we stayed a few hundred light years off the main “path” that other commanders were likely following. As a result, something around 1,850 of the systems we touched had never been scanned before. We put our name on approximately 12,400 planets. We discovered and put our name on 12 or 13 Earth-like worlds which no human had ever seen before. We discovered and mapped hundreds of water worlds, and over a thousand worlds that could be terraformed to Earth-like status. We saw alien bark mounds and listened to space anemones breathing radiation on a scorched moon. We scanned thousands of gas giants and their moons, and flew through microbial crystal mountains growing in stellar Lagrange points.
Despite having over 3,000 hours logged in the Elite universe, I still learned a few new things about the game. I reinforced my belief that mining is a lot of fun, but when it’s the only real content available, it gets old very quickly. There were two multi-week stays during the expedition when we gathered resources, then constructed a new base in the galactic core. By the end of each of those community goals, we were all gnashing at the bit to get back into the black and clock some light years.
Explorers who stay out for a long time refer to developing varying degrees of space madness. As a player, jumping over and over, you begin to see patterns in the stars where there aren’t any. You fixate on anything different or out of the ordinary. Anything to break the monotony. I never developed a full attack of space madness, but there were times when I felt the voices of the void whispering to me like a stellar Evil Kermit. I think the fact that I was streaming for the entire second half of the journey helped keep the crazy at bay, because there was always something going on. I was never alone with my thoughts.
I had thought The Abyss (the final 10,000 light years before you get to Beagle Point, when you’ve basically left the galaxy and are cruising out through a thinner and thinner star field) would be desolate and dangerous. I thought it would be lonely and solemn. It was desolate, but everything was discovered already, so there was little exploration to do. We just jumped repeatedly and were through it in a couple of hours. Because I was streaming, I never felt that crushing solitude. It felt, in some ways, like a missed opportunity, but even if I hadn’t streamed, I don’t think it would have worked out like I thought it would. The Abyss just isn’t as dangerous anymore, especially if your ship can jump more than 40 light years. It was easy. I’m glad I streamed it, because having viewers makes everything in the game feel fresh again. Having to explain what I was doing, and why, made me appreciate the content more than I already did. It helped me realize my own skills in ways I hadn’t before.
Finally, we found ourselves touched by the memorial at Beagle Point. It was a strong reminder that the game lives on the back of human players, and the people in the game are a vibrant, salty, passionate community who undertake nearly impossible goals to make their mark. Even in a purely digital simulation, the urge to plant your flag and say “Look, all who come: I was here. I exist” is powerful and purely human.
For me, the most surprising lesson had very little to do with the game itself. Our silly experiment in streaming became a recurring interest. Recurring interest became a hobby which I’ve become surprisingly passionate about. Will it stick for the long term? I don’t know. I collect new skills and hobbies like other people collect stamps, but this one is fundamentally different, because it’s not a hobby I can do by myself. It’s social.
I’ve long prided myself on being a fundamentally asocial kind of person. I’m not antisocial as such; I function perfectly well at work and in group settings. I just don’t like to. I prefer to be with just Heather, or if she’s unavailable, alone. The idea that someone like me would not just stream, but enjoy it and attract viewers who stay for hours at a time is unexpected. By all logic, I should detest the idea of streaming for others. Instead, I find it invigorating. I was trying to explain it to some folks in chat on another streamer’s channel last night. I said:
The reason it (streaming despite being introverted or asocial) works is because, unlike in person, you can walk away here without drama. If you’re watching, you can just stop watching. If you’re chatting, you can just stop chatting. If you’re the one on camera, you can turn it off, any time. You have total control whether you’re the viewer or the presenter.Me, being wise.
At first, I thought it was just because I am a competent Elite player. I have thousands of hours of stick time, I know the mechanics of pretty much everything in the game, and I’m confident in my ability to play the game on mental autopilot. My hands know the controls and just fly without my having to think, so I can talk and interact freely. I have a broad base of scientific knowledge from my lifelong love of astronomy and astrophysics, which lets me speak in a little more detail about the things we’re seeing in game and how the simulation compares with reality. But it turns out my viewers loved watching other games too, including ones I’d never played before.
I’ve found I too easily dismiss compliments by telling myself “They’re just being nice.” When people drop in on your stream and sit there for hours chatting, they’re not just being nice. When they do it time and time again, it’s clearly serving a purpose for them as well. They’re getting something out of it. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that they must want to be there.
That’s an amazing feeling. It doesn’t matter if it’s two viewers I know in real life or 20 people I’ve never met. Someone willingly surrendering time from their life to listen and watch me play a game is a compliment of the highest order. It’s humbling and it’s powerful. I look forward to each streaming day and wonder who will show up, whether or not we’ll see new faces, and what kinds of stories I’ll get to hear and share. Maybe that’s partially because I don’t have another major social outlet now, since my Facebook account is gone. I don’t think that’s it though; this streaming business was well underway months before I finally sent the Zuck packing. I now run my own small stream and have become an active participant in the communities of several larger ones.
Somehow, flying out into the black, all alone, brought me closer to people in my life and helped me rediscover the joy that can come from social interaction. It’s a completely unexpected reward that far outweighs stamping my name on a million digital worlds.
We now embark on the long, winding journey back to Jameson Memorial. We’ll sweep around the galaxy, taking either the shorter clockwise route or the longer counterclockwise route with a stopover at Colonia for rest and resupply. We’ll figure that out on stream before we get going.
Like the journey out, the return home will be shared to anyone who wants to watch. I hope you come along whenever you feel alone, because if there’s one thing Distant Worlds 2 taught me, it’s that flying solo is best when it’s done together.
You can follow along with our return home, as well as any other games I stream, on my Twitch Channel.