No Man’s Sky has had a hell of a year. The space-exploration video game transcended niche coverage for big appearances in the New Yorker and late-night shows, capturing worldwide imagination for its seemingly infinite possibilities, before it turned out to be just, you know, a video game. Nowhere was that disappointment more apparent than on the game’s subreddit. Before its release, this fan forum was full of breathless star-children, obsessing over every utterance by the game’s creator, Sean Murray. They’d commend each other with the phrase “You’re doing Sean’s work,” a slightly joking equivocation of the game creator with God that nevertheless emerged time and again, both in their conversations and in the game’s larger media coverage. One thread poring over his appearance on the Late Show was titled “Sean Murray May Have Replaced Morgan Freeman As God”; another quoted an article, “If God created the universe, who is Sean Murray?”
Here they are recreating the Old Testament with “Sean” at the center:
And here they are, Christ, doing it again:
Here’s a whole thread of people just discussing the repercussions their anticipation for the game has had on their lives. Sample quote:
While the game’s mathematical improbabilities produced this sort of hyperbole, fans really believed in it, and grew increasingly fervent. So it was perhaps inevitable that that very same subreddit, after so much breathless anticipation of a game of seemingly unparalleled depth, exploded in fury when its release was delayed—even taking it out on a journalist who reported on that delay by sending him death threats.
After the game was released to muted reception, however, the subreddit truly went supernova. Last month, its own moderator shut it down for being “a hate-filled wastehole” (an extremely solid phrase), and while it’s since been reopened by a new moderator, the whole thing remains an example of how toxic modern gaming communities can get. All the outrage may have even changed the way video games are marketed: The organizers of one huge annual video game event are now looking at ways to reduce advance hyperbole, in hopes that any crestfallen fans of future games won’t end up falling into such vituperative backbiting or, y’know, sending out any death threats.
Murray, for his part, has remained quiet throughout all of this, but he’s become a focal point for the disappointment, just as he was for the hype. And now the subreddit demands answers. Yesterday, in commemoration of 90 days without communication, apology, or further promises from Murray, the subreddit announced a fundraiser for Cancer Research UK so as to recapture Murray’s attention, rallying around a good cause rather than more toxicity—and in that sense, good for them. But even in the letter posted to GoFundMe, moderator “Barky” manages to get a few digs in, criticizing Murray for “the excessive deception,” and saying he “straight up lied about a lot of stuff.” It also warns that if, in 20 days, Murray does not heed the subreddit’s good deeds and reopen lines of communication with them, Barky will turn the subreddit into “a parody of Sean Murray, or something.”
Or something, indeed! One of video games’ most volatile communities seems to have two possible futures: one of continuing, earnest despair, and the other of self-aware jocularity. Both sides can be seen on display on a heartbreaking missive entitled, “The Last Time Someone Disappeared Without Communicating This Long Was 1977. Congratulations, Sean. You’re Just Like My Dad,” the full text of which does not once mention the author’s dad, but which does castigate Murray with shocking sincerity. (The comments on that post are sardonic. As one commenter adds, “Upvoted to help him find his dad.”)
There is even now a piece of elaborate alternate-history fan-fiction called “Sean Murray Is From the Future,” as well as a surprisingly detailed recreation of the Eminem song “Stan” called “Sean”:
This has in turn inspired several other full Eminem raps rewritten to be about the plight of spurned No Man’s Sky fans—which sort of ruins the joke, since “Stan” is about obsessive fandom, but whatever. The subreddit’s always had some sense of humor about itself, for all its wild-eyed intensity, and it’s good to see that continue, even in these dark times. Hope is dwindling for any major update that would miraculously fix the many shortcomings of No Man’s Sky itself. It’s much more likely that, in 20 days, Father Murray will still be absentee, and his foundlings will have to forge on, hopefully with a sense of humor about it all.