ButtonMasher: The gamers who only want to explore virtual worlds

Elite: Dangerous offers the chance to boldly go where no-one has gone before (Image: Kimmo Proudfoot)

ButtonMasher is our monthly column about video games and gaming culture – from the offbeat fringes to the cutting-edge innovations behind the latest blockbusters

It took Kimmo Proudfoot days to save up for an Asp Explorer. But he had places to go, and no other ship would do. With a hyperspace jump of 35 light years, the Asp could cover vast distances in just a few hops. Even so, not many attempt the 1200-light-year trip to the Orion Nebula.

“It was a long and arduous voyage, but I eventually made it,” says Proudfoot. “As I toured the area I was filled with awe at how beautiful it was. It’s a bit like the feeling you get watching a good sunset, but orders of magnitude more mesmerising.”

With 400 billion stars to discover, exploration is a popular pastime in Elite: Dangerous. The game drops players into the cockpit of a ship and sets them loose in a 1:1 simulation of our galaxy, generated by algorithms fed with real data. Made by Frontier, a studio based in Cambridge, UK, Elite was released on PC in December 2014 and on Xbox One last month. Many players busy themselves with trade, piracy or bounty hunting. But the intrepid ones turn their backs on the action.

Since that first trip, Proudfoot has travelled to dozens of nebulae and even visited Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. But it is a small Earth-like planet with icy rings that he spotted out near Barnard’s Loop that sticks with him. “I’m sure I was the first person to see it,” he says. “It’s an image I have never forgotten.”

ButtonMasher: The gamers who only want to explore virtual worlds

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