A Curious Journey: The Story of Outer Wilds’ Dedicated Online Community

It’s just after 7pm on a Wednesday night when I get a Discord notification that AefirThrift has gone live. He’s on his 9th stream of his Outer Wilds playthrough, and there’s still no way to know how close he is to finishing the game. I hop into his Twitch chat as it steadily begins to populate with all the usual suspects, his adorable little animated ghost emote waving an excited “hello” with each entrance. I drift over to my second monitor with Discord up, and click into the Interloper server. When I see his channel name in bold, I know the party in the spoiler chat has already started without me. 

Can someone give me the TLDR? What’s he found?

I still can’t believe he figured that out on his first try.

Did someone clip that moment when he crashed into the sun?

OW Aefir
Members of the Interloper, a massive online community that watches Twitch streamers play Outer Wilds, celebrates in chat as streamer AefirThrift completes the game.

The spoiler chat is alight and bustling with excitement. Aefir’s run has been a sight to behold, having solved some of the trickier puzzles quicker than I’ve seen in a while, but he’s taken pause on a particular clue on the rumor board that’s got him hung up. The last couple of streams trying to solve for this clue have been a lot of trial and error, a lot of red herring chases and a lot of unintended crash landings. He muses some hypothesis to himself: “I wonder if I time it this way instead of that way, it’ll work.”

In the spoiler chat, we are screaming and hollering and cheering at the brilliance of his thought process. In his Twitch chat, we are silent. And the moment he figures it out, and his face lights up with that textbook “I KNEW IT!” look, those of us who know, send only one message.

::) 

This is just one of many hundreds of nights for members of The Interloper, a Discord server of dedicated Outer Wilds fans who enjoy watching video game streamers play through Mobius Digital’s 2019 puzzler for the first time. And though it is the same game, and the puzzles within require the same series of events to be completed (mostly), no two playthroughs are alike. No two discoveries the same. No two reactions even remotely identical. This is the nature of Outer Wilds, a puzzle exploration game with a massive cult following, a community that wanders the expanses of the Internet in search of the next gamer popping into the game for the very first time. 

It’s hard to describe Outer Wilds or its influence without spoiling the game. So much of the work that goes into convincing people to play really ends up sounding a lot like “Trust me, bro.” In as non-spoilery terms as I can muster, Outer Wilds is a story about exploration, about the wonders of space and our solar system, about the fire in our bellies fueled by curiosity, and a little bit about love. It’s the kind of game that will make you scratch your head and wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into, and it’s the kind of game you will mourn when it’s over, because it’s the kind of game you can never play for the first time again.

outer wilds ember
You spend much of Outer Wilds in your trusty space ship navigating to not so distant planets packed with mysteries.

This is how Nterruptus, one of the founders of the Interloper, felt when he’d finished the game 3 years ago. As a generally curious human who loves a good puzzle and solving problems (he is a programmer as part of his day job), he describes himself as feeling “disappointed when I finished the game that it didn’t have anymore mysteries for me to discover.” 

Seeking to relive the experience and the joy of discovery, he began to seek out playthroughs on YouTube, and when those were exhausted, he found his way to Twitch. This was the game changer; what had once been a solitary experience, seeking that “fix” in previously recorded playthroughs, became a live experience that could be re-lived as long as there were people streaming the game every day (and there certainly are). 

ToonWolf, one of the early members of the Interloper and now an admin, shares a similar path which led him to Nterruptus. 

“I got an incredible second-hand emotional experience watching people play through the game,” Toon reflects. After stumbling upon one particular streamer called Jen_theHuman, who had a strict no-spoiler policy in her Twitch chat but had a spoiler chat open in her Discord server, he met Nterruptus. The idea of having a space where fans of the game could chat freely without spoiling anything for the streamer was novel, and together, along with Jen, they set out to establish a permanent community.

“I started to daydream about the possibility of creating some kind of space where these ‘stream nomads’ could get to know each other and share which streams we were watching,” muses Nterruptus. “That way we could all move from one stream to the next together in a sort of flash mob, rather than just bumping into one another randomly.”

Hornfels Bot
Nterruptus created a Bot to create, organize, and categorize streams for the Interloper, Hornfels, named after one of the characters in the game.

And so that’s exactly what he did. With some help from Jen, the duo configured a Discord server, created some initial categories, and set up the first streamer channels. As it began to take flight, Nterruptus invited Toon aboard as a moderator and eventual admin to help keep the channel organized. And, using his extensive programming knowledge, Nterruptus even created a bot that handled most of the major channel creation and organizational work. With a couple keystrokes, any member can add a brand new channel to the server for a streamer kicking off their playthrough for the first time. 

The Interloper has done more than just provide a hub for spoiler chats and reflecting on some favorite in-game moments. It has allowed a community of passionate gamers to flourish, provided a home for people who were once “nomadic,” wandering from one stream to the next without any real structure, and without the stability of fellow enthusiasts. It has allowed fans of the game to congregate every day, connect on their love of the game, and make new friends as, one by one, players inevitably roll the credits and find themselves with an invitation to join the Interloper and begin the cycle anew. 

Since 2021, the Interloper has grown to over 1000 members with over 850 streamers watched. The growth of the channel has been entirely through word of mouth; it’s never promoted across socials or really anywhere other than person to person. And that’s what makes the Interloper so special; it exists as its own entity, sustained by an intense and freeing love for each other and for the fire of curiosity, and the subsequent joy of discovery. 

OW Completion
The emotional moment the author of this feature completed Outer Wilds. The majority of the Pokémon avatars at the bottom of the screen represent members of the Interloper present for the completion of the game.

When I finished Outer Wilds in 2022, I was so nervous to finally be admitted into the Interloper and read my spoiler chat for the first time. I wondered if folks laughed at me for how long it took me to solve certain puzzles, or were disappointed in me not reacting a certain way to some discovery. But what I found was a beautifully encouraging, enthusiastic, and passionate group of people cheering me on from the sidelines. Outer Wilds is not a race, it’s a marathon. It’s not about how fast you finish, it’s about finishing at your pace, on your terms. And no one knows that better than the Nomads of the Interloper; they are not a jury, they are an impassioned band of cheerleaders who desperately want to make you a part of the club. 

“It is endlessly fascinating to me seeing how different people react to the different story beats, how their curiosity drives where they explore next, how the information they have seen impacts the ideas they come up with in the face of the puzzles” says ToonWolf. It is the true fuel that keeps the community running, the endless stream of curiosity that finds its way into each channel and nests there. And with the impending release of Outer Wilds on the Nintendo Switch on December 7th, that fuel isn’t going away anytime soon. 

For Nterruptus, the impact of Outer Wilds and the Interloper cannot be overstated. The game brought him some of his closest friends, and helped bring him out of his shell in a way he couldn’t have anticipated. “This game has completely transformed my life, and almost all of that transformation has occurred after I finished it, thanks to the community of lovely people it has brought together,” he says. He had never even used Discord before playing Outer Wilds, but thanks to the overwhelming support from fellow Nomads, and a knack for coding, the Interloper has blossomed into something that nobody really expected: a home amongst the stars (if the stars are a metaphor for the Internet). 

So the next time you find yourself on Twitch and hanging out in a stream where someone is playing Outer Wilds, say hello to the Nomads. You will undoubtedly find them there, huddled around the proverbial campfire, laughing, singing songs, and offering you a marshmallow. So, have a seat and stay a while. There’s no better place to sit and watch the stars.

Outer Wilds veterans who would like to join the community can do so here.

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2n
2n
2 months ago

::)