The stakes don’t get much larger than Outer Wilds.
You play as a plucky young adventurer, starting your first exploration as a spaceship pilot for Outer Wilds Ventures. Born on the blue-green planet Timber Hearth, where you and your fellow Hearthians live in a cozy village with a thriving space program, you soon lift off to explore each satellite and find the ruins and remains of an ancient, alien species—the Nomai—who built most of the advanced technology that exists in this solar system. A solar system that, by the way, turns out to be dying. After 22 minutes of exploration, no matter what you’ve done, the sun supernovas, destroying every planet and creature, and you ricochet backwards in time to the moment you woke up that morning. So, you try again. It’s a huge, optimistic adventure about exploring a universe that seems to be ending. And it’s also a tiny, intimate tale about finding fellow explorers playing instruments alone around far-flung campfires on different planets, space-Western-style.
Videogames are great at being enormous and intense, and they’re great at being intimate and cozy. When we are very lucky, we find a game like Outer Wilds, which is both at once. This is also what excellent space opera tends to be—asking huge questions, but couching them in tiny, human-to-human connections. Philosophically vast, but snarky and personal. Intimate community plus vast, empty space.