"In space, no one can hear you scream." Thanks to 1979's hit Alien, that maxim's been part of the popular consciousness for a while now, but there's countless films and movies that just don't seem to get it.

Mass Effect, Star Wars, Halo and plenty more play fast and loose with science so often that you probably have some warped ideas about what a battle in space might actually look like.

One of my favorite YouTube Channels, It's Okay To Be Smart's latest videos has a simple breakdown of a few of the most common problems. Corniness of the set aside, the video is worth a watch. Here's a summary of the main points:

  • Ships are often depicted with their engines flaring, and that's completely unrealistic. Without air to cause drag, most of the time using your engines would be a huge waste of cash.
  • A lot of the complex maneuvers we see in movies and games are based on World War 2 dogfights. And while space battles are pretty complex in other ways, dogfighters would, if anything, have a bit more maneuverability than we give them credit for. Turns that would rip the wings of a standard plane could be commonplace, and space ships could easily do a 180 degree turn to face an attacker without a problem.
  • Most explosive weapons like bombs and missiles would be completely useless without the accompanying shockwave. Instead nuclear or radiological weapons can kill the crew while bypassing basically all armor.
  • Lasers are potentially even better, but they would be hard to focus at large distances and require huge amounts of energy. Sorry Star Wars fans, not only is the Death Star's main weapon impossible, even if you could make it work you'd probably cook the crew and melt a good chunk of it in the process.
  • The huge distances involved in space mean that you'd almost certainly be firing your weapons on a delay. In the video, the host makes a comparison to classic naval battles that sometimes took place weeks after the war had ended. The time it takes to talk to anyone, or for your weapons to reach their target would be so massive, that you might not even live long enough to know if you hit your mark.


You can watch the full video below, though I will warn you some of the effects look they are from a 90s educational film.

You're reading Numbers, a blog on Kotaku that examines games and culture through the lens of math and statistics. To contact the author of this post, write to dancstarkey@gmail.com or find him on Twitter @dcstarkey.