I took a driving lesson or two once upon a time, a long long time ago. I didn’t like it. Too much stuff to remember, too many levers, buttons, pedals, rules, regulations, too much responsibility. I can barely trust myself to walk down the street in a straight line without knocking six grannies over (only four of which are deliberate) and tripping over a dog (not kicking it, honest). I’d be terrible in one of those car things.
I like roads. I like the monotonous chug down a motorway. More so at night but during the day is fine. I don’t mind being stuck in traffic, I like the time to stare into the distance, to see what little things are happening outside the window. I like the bits where your ears pop as you head across the moors, heading from Manchester further oop north. I like being late because it’s more time to think. I like busses, I like trains, I like taxis, I like sitting in the passenger seat as someone else drives the car.
I like to get to other places. I like home, I’m generally happy home but I like to go and be somewhere else occasionally. I rarely get chance to do anything close to a holiday proper but I like to hop on trains, get daytickets on busses and be somewhere else. Just because it’s somewhere else. I walk different routes often because well, I’ve never been this way before so why not. I walk in the fields, across the hills, through the farmlands, through the villages and through the towns because there’s always something different to see.
As the sun sets wherever I may be, sometimes I find myself looking up to the sky. I look at the moon lighting up the night sky, I look at the stars, the clouds, the blinking lights of planes. I look up to the sky and think “fuck, I hate what Elite did for videogames”
I hate it because in videogames, as in real life, I like being a tourist. I like taking in the sights around me. These days, I screenshot heavily. They’re sort of like photos, memorabilia of impossible places, dreamscapes, places I could never get to on the bus, yeah?
And I hate that there Elite, I hate Elite’s place in the videogame pantheon because instead of making space a wonderous place to explore, instead of visualising a myriad of breathtaking things, it made space a job. It made you a courier in a vast nothing. Sometimes it let you shoot lasers but lasers in videogames are abundant things. Wonder, I fear, not so much. It made space small because work is work is work. I never wanted to work in space. Truth be told, I never really wanted to work at all but needs must and all that.
It’s a game about being the driver, it’s Euro Truck Simulator 30 years earlier but in space and docking is every bit as awkward in a truck as it is in a spaceship. And it’s the template that space videogames drew on ever after. Except when they were being Star Wars but always one or the other or both at the same time. Sometimes fuck it, let’s just turn it into a spreadsheet and space can be like a desk job too.
In the name of all things Sagan, what were we thinking?
Imagine a universe where Mercenary took its place. Where free roaming mattered, where places mattered more. An alternative time line where instead of videogames as jobs, albeit jobs in space, we got videogames as tourism. As places to go and be within. Where we didn’t have to wait 30 years for No Man’s Sky to pick up the baton. Where someone took a look at Explorer and went “yeah, that’s a bit shit but maybe there’s something in that we can fix and maybe get a not shit game out of?”
Where wonder took the forefront instead of work.
And sure Elite didn’t steal that future, maybe it’s a universe that wouldn’t have come to pass no matter what. Maybe we wouldn’t ever get to wonder before work if Elite hadn’t inspired so many people. Fuck knows.
I still hate it. I hate that it wanted me to learn to drive a car instead of being able to hop onto a space bus and see new places. I hate that so many space games afterwards focused on management, work and pretending you were piloting a real spacecraft and all that entails. I hate it for the docking and how much work that was for so little reward. And for the lenslok too, obviously.
Man, I really hated the lenslok. Fuck the lenslok. Fuck that the leg snapped off it as well. Gah.
But mostly, fuck that when given the choice of what to put in a videogame, more often than not we choose work over dreams, over new places, experiences and thoughts. But I guess the precedent for that isn’t really Elite, yeah?