An 8-Bit Guide to Outer Space

 I used to think. I used to enjoy thinking. Nowadays my every waking thought is filled with thins such as “oh shit how am I gonna make our mortgage payment”, but when I was younger I used to partake in recreational thinking, during which I came up with a few theories here and there. Some were based on convictions, others just a vague nonsensical idea fostered by my penchant for storytelling but never really given any true credence. Some I well and truly believed, but eventually dropped as my ideas evolved. I call these old ideas my ‘Retired Theories’, and I call this one...


Space is scary. It’s cold, averaging about -454 F (or -270 C if you’re a socialist like me). It smells like burning metal (apparently). It’s vast. It’s a complete vacuum, where not an ounce of air could possibly exist, and with the oxygen sucked from your blood you would pass out in seconds, which would be a blessing as you would be spared the pain and onset of death as your lungs ruptured. Not to mention the fact that to even get into outer space you have pass through the upper atmosphere, which would make short work of you given that it can burn up sizeable meteorites. Outer space is the most inhospitable environment in all existence (that we know of) and it accounts for 99.99999999% of all said known existence. You kind of get the idea that it wasn’t made with us in mind. It actually seems kind of half-assed, in terms of design flaws. Be it by some divine providence or a major underestimation by the profound mathematical calculation that is the purpose of all matter….someone or something didn’t want us leaving our Earthly bubble. Yet despite all odds, we did. And as fascinating as it is out there, it friggin’ sucks.


I was playing Super Mario Brothers once when a though occurred to me.


Mario lives in his pre-ordained little world where cause and effect are very much limited and laid out in straight linear patterns, where the comings and goings of his existence are bound to a chosen set of rules and events. At the end of every level, after enduring the mundane trials of his spritely existence, he has to jump on a flag pole in order to complete his test. You know the drill. The higher up you get, the more points you earn.




There isn’t a single one of us out there that didn’t try to jump over the flag pole. Despite the odds, despite the impossibility of it all, we tried anyway. Why? Because we were burdened by our immense curiosity. Why be content with what we were TOLD was the end? Why accept the preordainment of our limitations? We wanted to see what was back there beyond that tiny little 8-bit castle, yet try as we may, we could not. We endured. We persisted. We failed. Repeatedly.





Ah Game Genie, you magnificent bastard. What more could a 13 year old gamer want, when living in an age where video games actually offered a challenge? You could just pop the triumph of technology in, punch in a few codes, and you could make your video game character do things the programmers simply never intended them to do. Things like never run out of ammo, walk through walls, and, oh….say….jump twice as high!



Yup, I did it. And you did too. That moment of exhilaration, akin to the awe of ground control when the lunar module touched down. The widening of the eyes, the swelling of the heart…what a wondrous step for boy-kind. And what did we find? An instant link into world 1-2? A whole new world? A huge reward for the inventive spirit of man?




We saw this;



Lots and lots of this;



Nothing. Just the endless repetition of perpetual background scenery. It would just scroll relentlessly as your timer wore down, until…



…time ran out. There was no turning back. There was nothing to be gained by going forward. You were doomed. Even if you did have enough time left on your finite timer you would eventually see the terrain transition into odd colours – clouds would be pink, grass would be orange. Why was this happening? Because the complexity of the technologically advanced central processor of the Nintendo Entertainment System was confused. This wasn’t meant to happen. You were NOT supposed to jump over that pole. You were not meant to be here. And yet it happened, and it didn’t’ know what to do about it, so it just threw the same old thing at you. Trees. Clouds. Whatever. You were violating its very core understanding of itself, so it spazzed out and fought back with random junk until you ran out of time and died.


Mario died in an inhospitable environment that probably wouldn’t have existed if he hadn’t ventured into the void in the first place.


Not with me? Let’s update that a bit. Look at a game like Skyrim or Oblivion. It’s a huge sandbox landmass that is free to explore, yet despite its immensity it has its limits. Programmers have to take a day off at some point, so the world in which you explore has to have a limit, even if it is made to look limitless. That’s why you occasionally run into those invisible walls with that ominous message stating “You cannot go this way, turn back!”



Your path is finite, but they wanted to give the illusion that there was more, so they showed you more trees and landscape, with the promise of further lands, further population, further life beyond the place in which you stand. But what happens when you find a way to exploit the game and break past that invisible barrier, be it through cheat codes or persistent prodding to find a seam in the textures?

Just an endless expanse of trees and rock.



The further you went, the worse it got. Nothing but bland…boring….rock….



And you realized it was a lie. It didn’t really exist. The illusion was just there to make you think there was more. Yet when you managed to break past your limitations, you found the truth to be less than exciting. It looked like more promise of exploration. But it was just empty formless rock.



So there’s nothing there. Does that daunt us? No. Well…not me, anyway. We still jump over that flagpole. We still break through those invisible barriers. We still find ways to break past the limits we were given, even when the spoils were not worth the effort. Even though there’s nothing to be gained. Why? Because we’re not supposed to. And isn’t that the primary driver of mankind’s determination?


Perhaps an alternate moral to this story would be…if you wanna get something done, tell a geek he can’t do it and then stand back.

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