Everyone has their lucky charms and superstitions. Maybe you ate Chinese food the night before hearing back from a job interview, so now you eat it whenever you’re waiting on big news. Maybe there’s a stone you found alone on the beach that you hold tightly to give yourself luck or strength. Whatever the routine, it provides some sense of comfort and tangibility in something that cannot be held down or examined. This is how I feel about FTL: Faster Than Light.
I’ve been playing FTL since its release in 2012. It’s a roguelike about traveling along different sectors to reach the final area, where you fight against the main rebel ship and save the galaxy. I’ve played 288 games and have won only a handful of times, though winning is simply a bonus to an already wonderful game.
In college, FTL was a game I could play on my old computer without it overheating or causing the game to trudge. Because of its short gameplay, I was able to play between classes, and inbetween homework sessions to relax. It quickly turned ritualistic, popping into the game, playing until I died, and resuming whatever chores I needed to complete.
I don’t know when I started naming my ships after my wishes and desires. I’m not great at titles, so I usually left the ship’s names to their defaults. Eventually, I started naming each ship with S.S. and then some noun after it, like “Writing” or “Homework” (again, I'm not good at titles). Then I started to get more specific with my titles, like “English Essay,” or names for boys I had crushes on, desperate to find some sort of concrete proof that any heartache I felt was all part of some plan.
Whenever I’m nervous about something, I play FTL and label my ship that thing that bugs me. I’ve named ships after literary journals I wanted to get published in, jobs I wanted to get, events I was too nervous to attend. I know this doesn’t really work. Some of my highest scores were named after things that didn’t happen. Like fortune-telling, the game can’t tell you exactly what will happen, but what could happen. When I get a high score, it feels as though the game is on my side, even when the world is not.
A few years ago, my partner and I booked a flight from Maryland to Boston to attend Pax East. The weather was so turbulent that most flights, including ours, were cancelled. While my partner paced around on the phone to book us a new flight, I played FTL and titled my ship “Pax East.” I got the highest score I had ever earned. I showed him my score as a way of saying things would work out. He felt a little relieved (I think, he may have just been happy for me). Later that night, we were able to fly to Boston with no troubles. I know my game didn’t book our tickets, but it gave us a moment of relief. "Hey, we may not make it to Boston tonight, but at least my score is ridiculously good." That was basically my thinking, and it worked!
There are plenty of games about mysticism that could probably feed my superstitious stomach much more than a game that clearly has nothing to do with it, but I have no interest in them. FTL provides me with a sense of activity in something that is usually passive. Reading horoscopes or tea leaves feel, to me, like things that happen to you. Playing FTL, on the other hand, is something I control. The ship moves where I tell it to, and while I cannot determine which enemies I face, I can at least fight my way out of those dangerous situations.
It’s freeing to know I play a part in my own fate. So much of games (and media as a whole) revolve around what's written in the stars, or what someone is destined to do. I don't want to sit while the world revolves around me. Whatever score I get in FTL is due partially to luck, but also to my own skill and ability to traverse my ship through space as rebel ships slowly trails behind. Skill is something few superstitions rely on. There's no skill involved in eating pickled fish for the new year, no tactic in throwing salt over your shoulder (alright there might be some in that one, but not a lot!). To know I made my own score in the game means I also play a part in life. Success will always involve luck, but it can’t be all luck, can it?
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As I was writing this, I started up a game. To be honest, I hadn’t played in months. My year was bad, so bad that I didn’t believe FTL would provide me with even a smallest ounce of hope. I titled my ship “Writing Career,” because one thing I really want to do in 2018 is write more. The game was going extremely well. I had three weapons, and enough power to use all three at once. I also had five people in my ship, two more than the three you start with. Unfortunately, my computer crashed, and the save was gone. Not just my current campaign’s save, however. Everything. Everything was gone. This happened about fifteen minutes before the start of the new year.
How surreal, to have it all disappear in an instant. I didn’t watch it go; it didn’t drain slowly or softly evaporate. It vanished. I blinked, and my save disappeared, unable (unwilling?) to return.
Apparently, this is a common crash in FTL, one I’ve never experienced in my five years of playing. All the ships I had unlocked were all locked again, all my high scores, and my questions for the future, obliterated. Steam still says I’ve played over 200 hours of it, but the game doesn’t acknowledge my adventures at all.
At first, I was devastated to see it all go, but then I realized the game was telling me something. 1. Backup my save, and 2. Leave old memories in 2017. Good or bad, I don’t need those reminders anymore. Those scores were for old wishes; whether they were ever fulfilled is irrelevant now. Start again! Begin anew! This is what I take away from the crash.
I’m probably thinking too deeply into this, as I tend to do. But it’s the new year, and introspection is akin to new beginnings. For 2018, my new resolution is to let go. I will release any reservations I have, and start the year without the doubts that creep in my mind. What will be, will be, as they say. And in the meantime, I’ll keep playing FTL for comfort, and for inaccurate peaks into an uncertain future.