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No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey Code of Ethics

NOTE (15 August 2016): Version 0.3 of the Code is now available to read here.

Version 0.2 with contributions from Catherine Flick (@CatherineFlick), L. Meghan Dennis (@GingeryGamer), Andrew Reinhard (@adreinhard). This is a working document and will be updated as game information comes to light, beginning 9 August 2016.

Input into this code has come from the ACM Software Engineering Code of Ethics, the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) Code of Ethics, the Code and Standard of the Register of Professional Archaeologists, and the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Code of Ethics.


No Man’s Sky is a procedurally-generated artificial universe in which the No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey (“the Survey”) will take place. For the purposes of the Survey the universe (“in-universe” or “in-game universe”) is considered a simulation of a real, existing universe, and thus incursions into and exploration of this universe will raise ethical and social issues. This Code attempts to address potential ethical and social issues by presenting six Principles (“the Principles”) relating to the behaviour of those involved in the Survey within the game universe (“archaeonauts”), and in dealing with the data collected about the in-game universe.

These Principles are not intended to be followed in a dogmatic way but to guide in a thoughtful way: to allow those encountering ethical tensions guidance in reasoning through the potential impact of decisions they make. The Code provides an ethical foundation which can support decision making and to which can be appealed. Survey team members should bring any queries or complaints to the Ethics Board, which consists of the authors of this Code. Breaches of the code could result in disciplinary procedures, up to and including removal from the Survey team.

In brief, the Principles require archaeonauts to:

  1. Act consistently with the in-universe public interest, protecting worlds, human and non-human people and animals and their societies and cultures and, where possible, not interfering with the normal development of societies and cultures by introducing knowledge, strength, or technologies more advanced than their current levels.
  2. Advance the integrity and reputation of the Survey consistent with the public interest.
  3. Maintain integrity and independence in their professional judgement.
  4. Release data publicly, and publish in the public interest, in line with open access principles, unless this conflicts with Principle 5.
  5. Ensure the integrity of archaeological sites, humans and non-human people and animals, and archaeological artefacts where possible; work to ensure good stewardship of sites, peoples, and artefacts; and avoid and discourage activities that enhance the commercial value of archaeological artefacts. Interaction with artefacts in order to progress according to game mechanics is permissible; destruction or sale of artefacts for profit is not.
  6. Only act against another human or non-human person or animal in self-defence where no other option is available (including avoidance of and/or escape from potentially hostile situations, and self-terminate with respawn).


1.  The Public

Archaeonauts have a responsibility toward the worlds, people, animals, and other living beings found upon these worlds, and whose lives and cultures are studied. These obligations can supercede the goal of seeking new knowledge, and can lead to decisions not to undertake or to discontinue a research project when the primary obligation conflicts with other responsibilities, such as those owed to sponsors or clients. These ethical obligations include:

  1. To avoid harm or wrong, understanding that the development of knowledge, strength, or technologies can lead to change which may be positive or negative for the sentient beings or animals worked with or studied.
  2. To respect the well-being of human and non-human people and animals.
  3. To consult actively with the affected individuals or group(s), with the goal of establishing a working relationship that can be beneficial to all parties involved.

2.  The Survey

Archaeonauts shall advance the integrity and reputation of the Survey consistent with the public interest. In particular, archaeonauts shall, as appropriate:

  1. Help develop an organisational environment favourable to acting ethically.
  2. Promote public knowledge of the Survey.
  3. Extend Survey knowledge by appropriate participation in meetings and publications.
  4. Support, as members of the Survey, other archaeonauts striving to follow this Code.
  5. Obey all laws governing their work, unless, in exceptional circumstances, such compliance is inconsistent with the public interest.
  6. Express concerns to the archaeonauts involved when significant violations of this Code are detected unless this is impossible, counter-productive, or dangerous.
  7. Be alert to the danger of compromising ethics as a condition to engage in Survey research, yet also be alert to proper demands of good citizenship or host-guest relations.

3.  Judgement

Archaeonauts shall maintain integrity and independence in their professional judgement. In particular, archaeonauts shall, as appropriate:

  1. Temper all professional judgements by the need to support and maintain human values.
  2. Maintain professional objectivity in the evaluation of any collected data.
  3. Disclose to all concerned parties those conflicts of interest that cannot reasonably be avoided or escaped.

4.  Data

Data collected shall be released publicly where in the public interest, and not in conflict with Principle 5a. In particular, archaeonauts shall, as appropriate:

  1. Seriously consider all reasonable requests for access to their data and other research materials for purposes of research. They should also make every effort to insure preservation of their fieldwork data for use by posterity. This is enabled for the purposes of the Survey through the Open Context/NMS Archaeology database.
  2. Ensure that their data is of high quality and follows the Survey protocol.
  3. Where species encountered in the process of data collection are sentient, (if possible) whether they wish to remain anonymous or receive recognition, and make every effort to comply with those wishes. [This principle will be revised based on actual gameplay experience.]
  4. When working in conjunction with other archaeonauts, ensure all involved in the data collection activities receive appropriate levels of recognition.

5.  Artefacts and archaeological record

Archaeonauts have a responsibility to act professionally as regards the exploration, collection and documentation of archaeological sites and artefacts. Archaeonauts are expected to recall that:

  1. The archaeological record, that is, in situ archaeological material and sites, archaeological collections, records and reports, is irreplaceable. It is the responsibility of all archaeonauts to work for the long-term conservation and protection of the archaeological record by practicing and promoting stewardship of the archaeological record. Stewards are both caretakers of and advocates for the archaeological record for the benefit of all people; as they investigate and interpret the record, they should use the specialized knowledge they gain to promote public understanding and support for its long-term preservation.
  2. Trading use of or interaction with archaeological artefacts to increase the archaeonaut’s capacity is only permitted where the artefact is artificially placed by another technologically-advanced race solely in order for said capacities to be increased.

6.  Self

The archaeonaut is responsible for their own safety and security when conducting research for the Survey. It is reasonably expected for archaeonauts to:

  1. Ensure their bodily and psychological integrity where possible in the “real world”.
  2. Within the game, avoid potentially hostile situations, even if the potential for research is high.
  3. If hostile situations cannot be avoided, or cannot be escaped, self-termination and respawning is preferred. Violence in self-defence against human or non-human entities should always be a last resort when all other possibilities have been exhausted.

More Information

For more information about the No Man’s Sky Archaeological survey, follow @nmsarchaeology (Twitter), nmsarchaeology (Twitch), or email. The hashtag to use for all social media is #NMSAS. As soon as workflow and vocabularies have been streamlined by the team, these (and a best-practices/how-to) document will be published as Open Access online for anyone to use in support of this project (and any others). Preliminary and final reports and white papers will be published as Open Access on OpenContext (URL forthcoming).

-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming


    • Thanks! The team started with the Prime Directive at first, then built it out. We’ll likely need to revise once we begin to experience the game, but I think we’ll be able to remain true to the core principles.

  1. Really loved your entries. Such a fresh concept you’ve introduced in the world of blogging and i really appreciate it. You’ve altered my perspective towards gaming which i feel too glad to express. Keep blogging and introduce various newfangled ideas like these.

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