Alright, confession time: I have never finished a runthrough of FTL.
FTL is probably my favourite game. I listen to the soundtrack every day, as I work, or unwind, or try to concentrate for just a minute. But the game? I can’t finish it. In fact I’m not even getting close to finishing it, am I. The first run is just the beginning. There are all kinds of variations on your ship, that you unlock by beating that impossible final boss, that I’ve never used, or even really seen. But I don’t care. FTL is not a game I play to finish, it’s a game I play to feel at home.
For some reason, I feel incredibly calmed by the fact that space is infinitely, infinitely big and I, as a result, am infinitely, infinitely small. I know some people whose stomachs turn at the thought of that, and to be fair to them I completely understand why. It’s not comforting, at least on the surface, to be told that you’re insignificant, or that you don’t matter, or that, I don’t know, everything you’ve ever thought or said or done will be long, long forgotten soon enough, your hopes and dreams lost to time immemorial, your friends and family gone, your legacy dead, all things meaningless for infinitely longer than they ever had meaning. I do get why you wouldn’t want to be reminded of that.
At the same, man, I really need to be reminded of that now and then. When you’re infinitely small and take up an infinitely small amount of time it’s scary but it’s also a good way of telling yourself that whatever it is you’re worrying about just does not matter. And so I’ve come to realise that I treat the anxieties of life with a little dose of stargazing, now and then. When I watched fireworks as a kid I was really watching the night’s sky. Just as I was at my best mate’s house, in my teens, half asleep on a deckchair, mid-winter, out the back of this fantastically earthy cottage in the country with the most wonderful, unpolluted view of the stars. And just as I do now at my desk, curtains drawn, guiding the Kestrel through yet another impossibly awkward nebula.
FTL is unmatched, for me, as a game about calmness amid the storm. It’s so easy to get sucked in, flustered, worked up by a tricky skirmish – to forget you can just stop and literally pause, for a minute or a lifetime, to get your bearings and catch your breath. But if you can stay calm there is almost always a way out, and then when you do work your way through it you’re back, floating, alone, at peace. You can take all the time in the world to just sit there and drink it all in, to revel in the emptiness, or you can dash on to the next point on the map and throw yourself through it again.
Space in FTL is heaven. It looks perfect. It sounds perfect – god, I think it sounds better than perfect, all bings and pews and booms. It plays perfect. There’s so much texture, so much mystery, so much density, all in a game that feels like it hardly weighs a thing. I could play this game for ever and ever, and maybe that’s the reason I’ve never finished it: because I’m rubbish at it, sure – I still need the reminder to stay calm and pause a moment, when it all kicks off. And because to play FTL is to be at home amongst the stars. A place I’ve never been and never want to leave.