The recently released No Man’s Sky is kind of a big deal. Not only is it getting a lot of attention, but it’s also massive. In fact, that’s sort of a terrible way to describe it because it’s almost infinite.
Technically it can’t really be infinite, but it’s definitely so huge that you’re never going to be able to explore every single planet. In No Man’s Sky, you’re exploring this huge universe with no real linear plot. You’re basically just exploring, collecting, fighting and chilling – which poses an interesting question: If we visit the universe of No Man’s Sky in a VR headset, is it, on a functional level, like visiting an alternate universe?
Well – yes and no.
The purpose of VR is to transport us, right? Through immersive video and gameplay in a headset designed to make our eyeballs fool our brains into thinking that the reality we see is the one that exists around us. Sure, we’re not going anywhere, but in the wise words of Professor Dumbledore, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on Earth should that mean it is not real?”
So, to what degree is playing No Mans Sky like visiting an alternate universe?
Let’s extend the idea of No Man’s Sky’s universe to actual multiverse theory.
The concept changes a bit depending on the theory you subscribe to, but for the purposes of this hypothetical exercise, let’s talk about two of the theories that best serve us: quilted multiverse theory and ultimate multiverse theory.
Quilted multiverse theory says anything that’s physically possible is so. Meaning that every permutation of the universe that can exist by the laws of physics, does exist. That’s a gross oversimplification, but you get the idea, and it brings us to the big question: Could an alternate universe like the one in No Man’s Sky actually exist?
The physically possible parts of the universe? Totally. Remember: If it can exist, it must exist. So a universe in which the ships look like the ones in No Man’s Sky and fly to planets with trees and rocks and vegetation that look like the ones we see in No Man’s Sky is plausible.
That said, there are definitely parts of No Man’s Sky that are physically impossible. Those elements of the alternate universe are out, which is a bummer because that kind of trashes our thesis about an alternate universe in No Man’s Sky. By the quilted multiverse theory, the AU is sort of possible, but not really.
But with the ultimate multiverse theory, things start to get really interesting, as it extends beyond quilted multiverse theory, stating that if something is logically possible, it must exist.
You can see how that opens some doors for us. It’s like the “if you can dream it (and math it), you can do it” of multiverse theories. By ultimate multiverse theory, an alternate universe like the one in No Man’s Sky becomes more possible because it’s dictated by mathematic possibilities, rather than physical possibilities, which frees us from a whole slew of constraints.
Purple trees? Sure. Giant Loch-ness monster-y things? Sure. Bizarre-looking creatures? Sure. As long as there’s no mathematic contradiction, it’s a go for ultimate multiverse theory. In fact, theoretically, you might look at the existence of No Man’s Sky as evidence an alternate universe like it exists somewhere (as long as ultimate multiverse theory holds true).
The “Us” Factor
Step back for a moment and acknowledge that ultimate multiverse theory is pretty damn extreme. It’s sort of the best case scenario where the hypothetical alternate universe is concerned, but it’s worth noting that the existence of the No Man’s Sky universe becomes interesting because of how we perceive and imagine it.
The monkey wrench in the theory is us: Human beings are the ones who conceived the No Mans Sky world, which means it has an inherent influence from our universe.
Let’s step back and look at the influence of science fiction on very real science (the influence of Star Trek’s communicators on cell phones, our propensity for creating real-world things that look like elements from the fiction that’s inspired nerds for centuries). Then, there’s a possibility that if No Man’s Sky became influential enough to inspire certain people to create things – like, say, ships designed like those in No Mans Sky – in the far distant future, when it’s considered a quaint throwback to the days before warp drives, then we start to see interesting things happen.
At that point, the influence of No Man’s Sky has given rise to real-world elements that once only existed in the game. Is it the same as an NMS alternate universe? Nope, but all of a sudden, as we make decisions and things change, by the Many Worlds Theory of quantum mechanics (decisions giving rise to alternate universes), alternate universes with elements of No Man’s Sky come into existence.
While there’s almost definitely no alternate universe exactly like the one in No Man’s Sky, it’s not totally impossible. The fact that VR allows you to get about as close as humanly possible to visiting an alternate universe? Yeah, that’s pretty damn cool.