How is death and respawning explained in Elite Dangerous?

January 31, 2017 :: Reading time: 4 minutes, 21 seconds

In Elite Dangerous, when you die in an SRV (vehicle you drive on a planet's surface), you get teleported to your ship and pay a fine of some 20% of the vehicle's price. When you die in a ship, you either pay 5% of the total value of your ship (so ship + all installed modules) or if you can't afford that or don't want to do it, you lose the ship you died in.

Elite explosion

If you think about it, for a realistic space simulation, that sure is forgiving and unrealistic. In fact, it bothers me so much I had to write a post about it and try to justify it to myself to keep enjoying the game.


In today's day and age, we have military drones and cars and trucks that drive themselves, and robots taking people's jobs. The plot of Elite Dangerous is taking place in the 34th century.

In space, there's a lot of empty room, very little chance of collision, and six degrees of freedom of movement. It's pretty obvious that autopilot will be the default, if not the only allowed method of piloting when such a future arrives.

So, here are my theories about why we're okay with dying in ED.


A mechanic borrowed from EVE Online, we're all clones with shared memory between active clone and original, like in Dark Matter (far from an original idea, but the most recent that comes to mind).

Cloning facility in Dark Matter

Every time we land at a station, a clone dataprint is made by re-uploading the current clone's memories to the original (who might be sitting on Earth somewhere). If we die, our conscience gets transferred into a fresh clone on the station, and the station's insurance policy offers to re-sell us our ship and gear at 5% the buy price. Upon death, active kill bounties are wiped which makes sense - the player's mind state is actively reverted back to the backed up state, so the player is no longer aware of any kills he may have scored. Hence, you lose the bounties.


We are Artificial Intelligence. We're purposely-dumb self-aware programs who rendered "bodies" for ourselves to seem more human, cheating ourselves into human existence for some reason - perhaps the perfectly robotic existence of ultimate efficiency no longer appealed to us after we killed the organics.

Female avatar in cockpit

We drive the ships as best we can, but have a built in error margin, on purpose, to introduce chaos. Why else would anyone risk polluting the space around stations with ship debris and endanger everyone passing through? The upgrades we buy are little more than DLCs - the docking computer letting us auto-dock is just a function, the longer-range FSD drive is just a software block removed.

Hal 9000 from Space Odyssey

Somehow, in our quest for perfection we realized that it doesn't get more perfect than what we already did. We began to... miss... the humans and their errors. Being created by humans, and knowing only their form, this is why we chose to make every rendered avatar almost identical, with two small differences accounting for gender. It is also why the newly detected aliens seem so puzzled when they scan us. To them, we're lifeless metal husks drifting through space.


Like in Lock In, we're little more than remote controlled robots. Our humans are at home, sitting comfily in their chairs, piloting us with their minds. We are mechanical conscience proxies.

Humanoid robot

The humans could have chosen to make it all automated, but after the Great Depression of 2542 (literally, 70% of all humans suffered from depression because they had nothing to do, being on universal basic income in a world completely operated by robots) it was decreed that the only safe space for chaos is far away from home where there is no life (at least that's what the space exploration of previous centuries had wrongly told us).

Hence, when the first commercial stations and ships were being built, autopilot was purposely left out. We let human error prevail and flourish, and we forced humans to once again try to get gradually better at something. The Great Depression was over - spirits lifted as humanity collectively took to the sky in their robotic proxies, in a competition during the era when competitions stop mattering.

Granted, the proxy and clone ones are almost identical, but I think the Proxies one is more realistic - the less organic matter in space, the easier it is to pull it all off. It's easier to put together a mechanical proxy than a new clone. Besides, given that most stations you land on are almost always in direct contact with open space (little to no barriers, too big hangars to quickly pressurize), it's easier to justify the proxy theory - drones don't need oxygen, and stations are way cheaper to maintain without life support.

Yes, there are holes in these theories, but to shorten the post I'll leave these holes up for discussion.

Which one do you agree with, if any? Are there any alternatives suggested which I failed to mention (other that we're in a simulation in a simulation)? Does death bother you at all in ED? Let me know in the comments.

If you're playing, feel free to add me - Swader


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