In games set in space, you don’t really expect to find anything Old Norse-related. The world-building blocks of space games just aren’t the same as in, say, a fantasy RPG.For this reason, I was a bit sad that I wouldn’t be able to write about No Man’s Sky, which I have been enjoying bumbling around in (but it really is the cilantro of games). I thought about forcing a mention that the symbol for your starship looks like an R rune.
But I should have known that my runedar is strong. I came across an alien monolith (or well, technically I’m the alien in this game) and was given the choice of reading either a series of precise dots, more normal lettering, and roughly scratched runes. You don’t get to see the runes, but of course I chose to read them. They turned out to belong to the grumpy square-jawed Vy’Keen who seem to be the warrior types of the NMS universe. I even think I learned the word warrior from the runes (if it wasn’t something like nasal or spittle; it’s been known to happen). So runes in this game are used to indicate something harsh and aggressive, perhaps a bit primal. It’s not an uncommon use, but I’m happy to find them.
In my last post, I mentioned the solar system in the Mass Effect games that contains the planets Hagalaz, Isa, Ansuz, Kenaz, Thurisaz and Uruz . These are all reconstructed names of runes, based on medieval and post-medieval manuscripts listing, sometimes in the form of a poem, the futhark with a word for each rune. The f rune stands for fé ‘cattle, wealth’, the a rune stands for áss ‘god’ and so on. Probably, the names, or more accurately labels, are a kind of mnemonic device that helps you remember in which order the runes come in the futhark. A bit like singing an alphabet song, just with words. (The planet names above translate as ‘hail’, ‘ice’, ‘god’, ‘torch’, ‘giant’ and ‘aurochs’, by the way. )
There is some evidence that at least some of these rune names were used by rune carvers. Some inscriptions use one rune to stand for an entire word, such as the older futhark d in the otherwise younger futhark inscription Ög 43 (first rune on the second row) The name for d in the manuscripts is dagr ‘day’, and in this inscription it may well be the name of the carver. The f rune can also be found repeated several times on an inscription, and it’s not too far a stretch to connect that to a wish for fé ‘cattle, wealth’. When I say that the names used for planets in Mass Effect are reconstructed, it’s because they’re a reconstruction of what the names found in the medieval manuscripts would have been up to a thousand years earlier. They’re not attested anywhere (except in space). If you google “runes”, you’re sure to come across these reconstructed rune names presented as fact, or magic, or factual magic. The normal warnings about trusting facts on the internet apply, doubly so for runes and magic.