Children are wonderful things, full of wants and needs. I remember a few of my own wants from the early days. I wanted a robot dog, and a blaster pistol, and one of those wristband communicators from Blake’s Seven. Most of all though, I wanted to fly my own X-Wing. Oh, and a lightsaber. But mostly the X-Wing thing.

Now I’m so much older, but I never did get over these childhood desires. Thankfully we now have games that scratch some of these itches, wonderfully wish-fulfilling games like Frontier Development’s Elite : Dangerous, a new and galaxy sized space flight simulator. With a reported 100 billion star systems in game, all ready to be explored by the players, the scale of this space is truly unprecedented. The game is set 1000 years in our future, and humanity have colonised a large swathe of our galaxy, split into several political groups, and of course, gone to war. All of which provides a wonderful backdrop for the player to make their own mark, trading, exploring, or fighting their way to the top. Assuming they can remember what all the keyboard shortcuts are.

Possibly one of the strangest and most wonderful aspects of the games backdrop though, is the detail in the character, planet and station names. Since Frontier gave the opportunity to backers to get their name in game, many users began to memorialise deceased relatives.

These are from the games official forum :

(Caiburn) – My father died 2011. When Frontier offered Backers to add NPC names to the name database, I added his name. Today while exploring an anarchy system, I ran into a random Viper and scanned it. It was his name, dangerous and clean.

Dad, hope to see you again out there.

(Meths) – My brother died in 2012, he’s in the game too.
Hopefully I will meet him soon.

(Masje) – Already the game is giving people memories.
Did the same thing for our son.

Strange to think that the ship shooting at you might be someone’s dead relative. The number of in-game tributes isn’t limited to players though. On release, named objects in the game included tributes to Yuri Gargarin, Abe Lincoln, Ridley Scott, George Lucas and the Beagle 2 Lander, to name but a few from the incredibly long list. Constant updates have also seen new additions such as Leonard Nimoy Station (which orbits a planet called Vulcan, of course), added just after his death, and more recently Pratchett’s Disc, a station which offers missions from factions such as the Ankh Guards. It is an amazing level of detail, giving life to a staggeringly huge representation of our galaxy, and offering a little immortality to a great many people.

Names like Beowulf and Merlin have remained with us for centuries, and others like Skywalker and Kirk for decades.  Just as literature and film have kept names alive in our collective consciousness far beyond their own existence, now it seems games are poised to take us into the future in more ways than one. Although so far the lifespan of a game has been a finite thing, changes in the medium could lead us anywhere. As games gain more artistic credibility, who knows? Maybe one day we’ll all have our names written in the stars.

Pete Wilkinson is a wanderer in many worlds, one minute holding back the Shadow in Middle-Earth, and Piloting Starships the next. But not in Middle-Earth, of course. That would be silly.