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Have You Played... Kerbal Space Program?

Giant Leap, Enormous Pratfall

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Most films and books about actual human space exploration are about triumph. There are challenges and accidents along the way, but they’re stories of humans overcoming incredible odds in the noble pursuit of knowledge and exploration. Kerbal Space Program [official site] is different because it’s a game about the failures along the way, rather than the success that comes at the end.

KSP has you clicking together rocket parts like Lego bricks and then piloting those rockets towards your own expanding goals: first, to get into orbit, then to land on the Mun, then to get home again, and so on. Depending on the mode you choose to play, this progress might be directed via missions or structured according to the financial expansion of your NASA-like space research center. But the core joy of it always remains the creativity in designing your own spaceships, the physics model which makes escaping atmospheres and gravitational pulls tricky, and the freedom to crash, explode, break apart through your own dumb mistakes.

The latter will happen a lot. Your first rocket will lift five feet off the ground and then collapse back on to the launch pad with a shuddering explosion. Your second will simply fall over without lifting off the ground at all. Your third might end up in the sea, while the next dozen crash into a each of the Kerbal homeworld’s continents. Even success will come as a kind of failure: you’ll reach orbit, but then what? As your grinning Kerbal astronauts drift around the globe, you’ll realise that you’ve no fuel to bring them back down. Kerbal Space Program will communicate to you the scale of the universe and the majesty of human endeavor by depicting progress as a series of embarrassing failures. That’s what makes it fun, and what makes it inspiring.

As I’ve grown a little older, I’ve abandoned a lot of my dreams of greatness. Instead my ambitions are more meager, and somehow therefore easier to pursue. For example, I no longer imagine that I might one day be an expert coder, but I’ve come to realise that I can muddle through, with a lot of patience and Googling, to accomplish what I want. “Muddle through” is kind of my motto: it pushes me to do things even when I know I won’t be good at them, when I’m afraid of being bad at them.

Kerbal Space Program is a game about muddling through. You might not be able to get those stranded Kerbals home from the Mun yet, but that’s a small price to pay for going to the Mun.

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Graham Smith

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