“The simple fact is that it’s a Bethesda game,” Reddit user Gokamo tells me when I ask them why they think Starfield attracted so much in-depth speculation and information-collating from fans in the run up to its release.
“Their formula for crafting games is something that is so uniquely Bethesda and something that people love to get immersed in," they continue, “You can go where you want, be who you want, and make your own stories in a way that few other games can come close to. And their ability to be modded so easily makes their games into the ultimate sandboxes for their now three genres: fantasy, post-apocalyptic, and now sci-fi.”
According to fellow Reddit user Le_Botmes, “it boils down to reputation and expected depth of gameplay.” “I think that those who've played The Elder Scrolls and Fallout came [in] knowing mostly what to expect in terms of writing, mechanics, character building, etc, but they [were] curious how [that’d] be translated into the sci-fi genre,” they say, adding that fans of “space sims” like No Man’s Sky and Elite Dangerous “brought their own biases and desires into Starfield [discussions].”
Documenting the history of the universe
You might be familiar with Gokamo as the fan who, over the past few years, has put together “An Attempted Complete Starfield Compendium,” a document containing all of the information about the game revealed or hinted at prior to its arrival. It currently sits at a whopping 1,071 pages and over 86k words. It’s also divided up into three different sections, dubbed arcs, which split up the long journey from 2018’s announcement trailer to Todd Howard’s appearance on the Kinda Funny Xcast in June this year. You’d still struggle to get through each of these in one sitting.
“[The document has had] a lot of time poured into it, but enjoyable time which made it fly by,” Gokamo says. In terms of the process of creating it, they explain that the first arc “was mostly [about] remembering everything that had happened for the past three years,” then re-finding and compiling it. The latter two arcs, completed just after the big summer showcases of the game in 2022 and 2023, were different.
“I wouldn’t start working on the document for a week or two after, to let the showcase sink in while I rewatched it and [waited] for the community to catch the things that even I wouldn’t have noticed,” they explain. “Then I’d watch a segment through to get a skeleton for how I would want to write it, [before] basically [going] through it frame-by-frame, capturing and looking at every scene change.”
“It was a lot of work, but going through so meticulously let me catch just about everything that was even hinted at!”
Show and tell on the shoulder of Orion
While you’re less likely to have read an article about an essay-length Reddit post from Le_Botmes, which saw them speculate as to how Starfield’s cybernetics could mirror Skyrim’s magic system, it’s well worth giving a look. “I started with a list of magic effects from Skyrim, noted that cybernetics were a thing in Starfield, and then just began postulating sci-fi explanations for them,” the Redditor says of the process behind crafting their post, which was labelled by several commenters as the exact kind of thing they wanted to see on the Starfield subreddit.
“I figured that folks would want to add some of their own effects to the list, which turned out to be the case,” they add regarding the reception to it from fellow subreddit members. “There were a few people who called BS, but I could tell that those who had played [Bethesda] games before were mostly on board. I was very grateful that [the] majority of [the] input was positive.”
Each time Gokamo completed a new section of their document, they shared the updated version in a post on the subreddit, inviting their fellow fans to read through it and point out anything they might have missed. “The reaction was great, especially for the last one,” they tell me. “Lots of people with kind words made it all worth it. I had hoped to gain a bit of Bethesda’s attention, but alas.”
Biker mice from Mars
Since the start of this year I’ve been looking through that same subreddit’s top posts on an almost daily basis, in the pursuit of news coverage about the game. I’ve gotten a rather interesting impression of its just over 424k (as of writing) members. As with any large online community, it boasts a huge range of personalities and viewpoints, all of whom are united by a shared interest in one thing. I think the best way that I can convey what I’ve observed of the community, as strange as it might seem, is to outline the similarities between them and the Hell’s Angels biker gang, as depicted by Hunter S. Thompson in his book on them.
While vastly different in size and tastes, both Angels of the late 60s and the Starfield Reddit community are social groups with a strong identity based around an emotional and/or personal connection to one or two particular items. For the former, it was Harley Davidson motorcycles and Levi jeans. For the latter, it’s Bethesda’s latest RPG, with the sci-fi genre and the studio’s previous releases also serving as key touchstones. Each is populated by people of differing backgrounds, who’ve chosen to come together in a manner that’s seen them take on new names (nicknames for the Angels, usernames for Redditors) and, at least to some extent, find a potential reprieve from the identities created for them by society, via things like their day jobs and upbringings.
Despite one being very analogue and the other being mired in digital anonymity, both can exhibit an unbreakable enthusiasm for their chosen hobby, a slight distrust of perceived outsiders, especially those in the media, but also a deeply human attitude towards their fellow community members. Covering their build-ups and aftermaths, I came to view the intermittent Starfield showcases and info dumps as being a bit like the Angels’ infamous Labour Day rides. All of a sudden, the community would come alive and, via speculation, discussion, and plenty of arguments, show off what it was all about in a manner that attracted more attention than usual from journalists like myself and the wider world.
Considering the cosmic chatter
Given this, I decided to ask Gokamo and Le_Botmes what they’ve thought of their interactions with members of the Starfield Reddit community in the run up to the game’s release.
“For the most part everyone is trying to solve a mystery together, which is an environment I really enjoy,” they reply, adding: “Lately it has gotten a bit worse, but that’s to be expected with a massive influx and launch just days away, [I’m] looking forward to the post-launch discourse!” They pick out s9w’s Starfield Navigator as a creation they feel sums up the ethos of the community, saying: “They made a whole 3D map of every system we have seen, and I absolutely love looking at it!”
Le_Botmes categorises their experience as being a bit mixed. “There [are] some trolls out there who will splash cold water on just about anything you say, but they're the minority,” they assert, continuing: “there [are] also plenty of people out there who just want a polite discussion, and I appreciate them the most.”
Regarding the latter kind of community member, they reveal: “We'd have back and forths that [lasted] for days, sometimes concede points to each other, maybe clarify some misunderstanding, but always emerge either agreeing on common ground, or agreeing to disagree… There [are] also a lot of hilarious commenters, folks with an amazing sense of humour who can really land a joke,” Le_Botmes adds, “Some of the jokes I've laughed hardest at were roasts of my own posts or comments.”
One small step for more than just one man
As alluded to earlier, regardless of their attitude towards interacting with others, every member of the Starfield community has found themselves drawn to the game. The primary reasons for this vary from person to person.
For Gokamo, it was the spaceships. “I’ve always wanted a space game where you truly felt like you were captaining your own ship, and this ticks every box I want,” they explain. “Building and collecting ships with full customizability, first person flight and combat, crew that can accompany you on surface missions, docking boarding and taking ships, [Starfield] has everything!”
Le_Botmes, on the other hand, says that their “number one priority,” once they get their hands on it, will be “becoming the sneakiest assassin in the Settled Systems.”
If I’d asked a million Starfield fans the same question, I reckon I’d have gotten at least 500k different answers. That, as Gokamo alluded to at the beginning, is the beauty of Bethesda games. They attract all kinds of different people and offer them the freedom to pour as much of their own personality as they’re comfortable into the experience they end up having. They’re not about the vision of a single auteur being realised, they’re about the collective.
They’re about a diverse and dysfunctional human rabble coming together and daubing their own creative interpretations onto the same canvas. If you want proof, all you have to do is seek out and follow the tracks the Starfield community hype train has rode relentlessly since the game was announced.
And, now that the game’s out, the wild, imperfect ride is really only just getting started.