‘Outer Wilds’ Is a Captivating Sci-Fi Mystery About the End of the World

I’m glad this post was revived because I want to talk about how much I love the music in this game. the first time I booted up and got hit with that menu music, I felt such an overwhelming sense of calm it brought me to tears. this music is some of my favorite of the year, and the sound design overall is incredible

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I feel you. Even the first chord of End Times just… utterly wrecks me still. Literally half a year later. The Sun Station theme too—just overwhelmed with emotion whenever I listen to it.

@mango I think it does somewhat come down to luck—like the order that you find things in does affect the game’s pacing a bit. But generally, I think the questions “Why am I in a time loop,” “Why is the Sun blowing up,” and “Can I stop the Sun from blowing up?” are the ones the game sets you up to attempt answering (if that’s not what you meant, my apologies for misinterpreting). I remember just filling out branches on the rumor map until I had figured out a clearer path. Each planet tends to have individually cohesive sets of objectives that only really interlock at the endgame, so going planet-by-planet worked until I managed to figure it out.

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End Times is a really good track. I love how it inspires multiple emotional states throughout the game. If you are in the middle of things those chords just give you this big “No no no i still have things to do, I need more time!” feeling. And if you have gotten the things youve set out to figure out done in a particular loop it can just be like “Alright, its coming, this is fine, lets just enjoy the show”. Which as described is kinda one of the thematic thrusts of the game as illustrated by a one minute music track. Game is good folks.

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Man, now I’m thinking about the climactic version of Travelers again.

Everyone sitting around the campfire, having one final harmonious get-together, singing songs and roasting marshmallows at the dawn of a universe. It gets my heart pumping just thinking about it.

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The way the music syncs up to the opening menu is great as well, how the planet lights up at the same time the bass comes in was real neat!

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If you wait in the starting town until sunrise the banjo plucks start exactly as the sunlight touches the very top of the rooftops. It’s simply exquisite.

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Finished this. One of the most fascinating games ever made, no doubt. Really impressive from every angle, can’t imagine how you come up with this shit.

I actually did have to look up one thing. There were two question marks left for me, Ash Twin Project and The Sixth Location. I knew I wanted the warp core from there, but figuring out how to get to Ash Twin Project, I don’t think I would ever have done it. I’ve even tried standing on that thing before when the sand passed and nothing happened. I still don’t understand how I’m supposed to have known how to get there. And the Sixth Location, yeah, no clue.

Really impressive game from a technical perspective too, right? Getting all those physics to work, and all the neat visual tricks they use, and there must be something going on with the planets growing when you land on them or move around them.

Ah, good stuff.

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Just beat this game last night and damn, what a special experience.

The whole ending was so spectacular. This game left me in awe just as much as it made me feel terrified, and the Eye of the Universe sequence was no exception. I was terrified the entire time. Wandering around in the dark, with quantum trees and other things popping in and out of existence, kept me so on edge the whole time, and the angler fish ghost-thing scared me so bad. However, once that angler fish appeared, it finally clicked in my brain what the game was doing with this whole sequence.

It was forcing me to face my fears, and to realize that the universe is a terrifying and scary place to be in. Death is terrifying too, but at some point, you have to accept it. I had no idea how this game was going to conclude, but if it was working towards me stopping the sun from going supernova, I had no idea how it would accomplish that. However, I was blown away by the fact that it just… didn’t have me do that. You wander in the dark and face your fears to understand that the end of the universe is scary, but inevitable, and all that really matters in the end is chilling with your buds, playing some music, and eating marshmallows.

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Has anyone had the Quantum Moon effect after playing this game? I keep expecting the moon to disappear when I turn away from it

Hi friends! It’s me again, with another question about the game. Would you describe the Outer Wilds as a queer game? Why or why not? Thanks!

No. Why do you ask?

I’m not sure I understand the question.

Quoting myself from earlier in the thread. I ask because the nonbinary Hearthians got me thinking about Outer Wilds as a game about queerness, and Kelsey Beachum, who wrote the game, actually confirmed to me in personal communication that the game was a deliberate attempt at queer representation.

And yet, despite that, few people seem to think of Outer Wilds as a game featuring queerness in the way they might, say, Fire Emblem: Three Houses. In fact, I’ve seen very few folks even mention the game’s deployment of singular they/them pronouns, even here at Waypoint where I might more readily expect to see it. It’s interesting!

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I noticed that the Hearthians were agendered, but it didn’t really strike me as queer because that wasn’t any more aberrant or marginalised than having four eyes; different to human society, the norm for them.

To me it read as a neat world building detail rather than a stab at representation. Indicative of the creators’ views in that they even considered the idea, perhaps, but I’d probably label the game as “not not queer”.

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Great answer! Thanks Esseyem!

I seem to remember that the nomai have three genders or at least have him/her/them in common parlance. There was an interview with Kelsey Beachum on No Cartridge where she was talking about how this might not have come through clearly in the writing since in the company of male and female pronouns people will often assume they/them refers to a binary person.

My memory of the interview is a little hazy so don’t quote me on this, I might be getting a nuiance wrong.

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Maybe Kinda?

The non-gendered Hearthians not withstanding, Queer Theory wouldn’t be my immediate read of the text. Personally, I view Outer Wilds as more of an Ecofeminist or Post Colonial work, but those elements can certainly tie into a queer interpretation as well. Particularly with regard to the two societies (The Nomai & Hearthians) that inhabit the space of the game’s…err…space.

SPOILERS

For instance, the Nomai could be classified as a colonizing society. Not in the sense that they’re malevolently occupying and/or oppressing a pre-established social order, but because they were a people who sought to fully utilize their new environment and its resources as a means to locate and travel to the Eye of the Universe. They’re not a cruel or necessarily disrespectful society, but they are one which – on some level – operates on a level of hubris that clouds their moral judgement in a number of ways (e.g. going inside the Interloper and unleashing a reaction that wipes out their species; using the power of a super nova to locate the Eye as a failsafe, in spite of the fact that it’ll wipe out anything and everything within its sphere of influence). The Nomai are also, unlike the Hearthians, a people who employ a gender binary. That may seem like a total non-correlation, but this combined with my previous description does remind me of an article by Raewyn Connell (Connell, R.W. “Masculinities and Globalization”. 1999.) where she makes the theoretical case that colonizing societies are a macro-level actor reproducing the ideologies and actions of a masculine hegemony. Or, as it pertains to Outer Wilds, the Nomai are a gendered society made up of individuals who believe (as a result of religious and scientism ideologies) that their pursuit of progress and self-righteousness allow them to exploit their environment to pursue an end that was ultimately their demise. This masculine ideology is what tells the Nomai that their worlds are “beneath them” – that their possible successes are more important than sustaining their own environments.

The Hearthians, in comparison, are a non-binary, cohabiting species, relatively speaking. They have their settlement on Timber Hearth, but they live there because that is where they have always lived. The structures they erected didn’t (apparently) come at any great ecological cost to their world, as they are predominately made of freely available and renewable wood. Furthermore, this same settlement is the only one of its kind throughout the entirety of the solar system, even on Timber Hearth itself. Whereas the Nomai used three of the “4X’s” (i.e. Explore, Expand, Exploit – ‘Exterminate’ was largely unintentional), the Hearthians are only explicitly interested in the act of exploration. Even the other space travelers you meet only take up as much room as what’s necessary to accommodate a hammock, a campfire, and marshmallow storage. And rarely, if ever, do their actions ever rely on an exploitative cost to the immediate environment. If you take the same Connell interpretation as before: the Nomai ultimately acted in a masculine manner w/r/t how they treated their environment. The Hearthians, however, are decidedly non-masculine (perhaps feminine, perhaps wholly ungendered in their behaviors altogether). Whereas the Nomai ultimately exploited their environment to the point that became extinct and set up a mechanism for all other life to become extinct 800,000 years later, the Hearthians (especially the player character) seek to simply coexist, learn from, and preserve all that’s around them. They have the capacity for space travel, yet they don’t feel any need to establish mining operations or underwater research stations, or use all of the Sun’s power to grant 20 minutes of time travel. They’re there – in the context of the game itself – to right the past wrongs of the previous inhabitants by learning of and remedying their mistakes.

At least, that’s my read. You could also make the case for it being a notably queer game in how the player interacts in the game space. ( [Austin Voice:] Its verbs could be “discover,” “read,” “learn,” “listen,” “avoid conflict,” “try again,” “do better” – very non-masculine actions.) Additionally, there’s the act of emotional expression through music with which many aspects of the game communicate some of its more subtextual messaging (e.g. the travelers connecting with each other in harmony and counterpoint through the song they all play; the ambiguity of the world’s metaphysics expressed in dissonant, electronic drones). Or even, going back to my Connell argument, how the ending contextualizes the universe’s inhabitants as unambiguously small within the greater context of an incomprehensible power, and any claim to the contrary (by way of self-perceived dominance, regardless of how benign it is) is ultimately secondary at best to the awesome forces that determine the fate of all existence. Or, in other words, how any preconceived essentialism on the part of this solar system’s various societies is nullified when an explicit, incomprehensible truth is finally revealed to show how little even the most intellectual among these inhabitants actually understood.

But that’s all just my own deep read into it. I hope I didn’t stretch the whole societal performativity thing too far! Your question is really interesting though, and I’d love to read someone more familiar with the field delve into how Outer Wilds could be viewed as a queer text.

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Yes, ligeti, this is wonderful! In fact, one section of my paper parallels part of your post, talking about the structural differences of the societies of the gendered Nomai and genderless Hearthians. I think you’re absolutely right that there’s a distinct difference in colonizing impulse (or lack thereof) between the two groups. I really like the ecofeminist reading, too!

It’s been really neat to see just how much of the game parallels important concepts in queer theory. My favorite current example is the queer conception of the “archive,” a sort of collective memorialization of queer lives that works to prevent them from becoming the subject of neoliberal normalizing or marginalizing examination, which is arguably echoed to an extent by the Ash Twin project.

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“the Archive”

I’m not entirely familiar with the concept, but from the sound of it, you could possibly also make the same comparison the to the museum on Timber Hearth. While some real life counter parts can exist as the product of colonialism and serve to extol the virtues of a neoliberal ideology, the exhibits there don’t display what is “known,” but rather what they are aware of yet don’t fully understand (e.g. the quantum crystals, the fish skeleton). In addition, the travelers are also memorialized here, but aren’t really treated as the “exceptional heroes” we might portray Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin as. Instead, they’re respected as role models for the pursuit of exploration and discovery divorced from expansionism, even serving as figures for the player character – an explorer from a generation later – to learn from and emulate.

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I just finished this last night, which means I can finally let myself read this article and read this entire goddamn thread.

See you in a bit, all. B)

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