On NASA, the video game developer

On NASA, the video game developer

From the austere Newtonian universe of Spacewar! to the lush galactic disc of Mass Effect, video games have been taking us beyond Earth’s atmosphere for decades, but in the eyes of Dr Jeff Norris of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, few have done the spirit and practicalities of space travel justice. Speaking at this February’s DICE summit in Las Vegas (video below), Norris threw down something of a gauntlet. “If you’d like games to be recognised as a great form of art, I’m afraid that some of you, not all of you, are going to need to step it up. You see, great art, doesn’t just move us as individuals, it can move entire societies.” For Norris, art has worth when it’s bringing about “riot and revolution”, when it furthers some broader cultural or political enterprise – an enterprise such as NASA itself, which has long relied upon dreamers of all kinds to relay its values and significance to the world at large.

As an example of such inspirational artistry, Norris took his audience through the work of Chesley Bonestell – the science-fiction illustrator whose opulent yet plausible renderings of rocketships and distant planetscapes helped make the case for the creation of NASA in the late 1950s. His paintings, many published in a Colliers’ Magazine article series entitled “Man Will Conquer Space Soon!”, are the result of meticulous research and discussion with pivotal scientists such as the former Nazi engineer Wernher von Braun, who would design the rockets that propelled NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts into orbit. Having surrendered to the US army in 1945, von Braun spent much of his post-War career battling apathy toward the idea (or at least, the expense) of space exploration while developing the USA’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles. He glimpsed in Bonestell’s concept illustrations an opportunity to swing popular opinion and thus, Congress behind his visions of orbital installations and expeditions to the Moon, a tactic NASA would return to in the decades to come.

Norris wants video games to pick up the baton from Bonestell. He’s eager to play titles that treat interplanetary travel not as an entertaining fantasy, but “something we could reach, something we could do, and should do – something that was almost our birthright, something whose time had come”. To that end, he and NASA have collaborated with Blackbird Interactive, developer of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, to construct a simulation of a hypothetical 22nd century Martian colony in the Gale Crater, near the landing site of the Mars Curiosity rover. Titled Project Eagle in a nod to the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, this far-flung interactive diorama is a work of creeping hyperreality – that’s to say, it troubles the distinction between reality and representation.

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Original Post By – Eurogamer 

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