Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Mass Effect Saves Humanity - for What?

Ray Huling | 11 Mar 2008 12:44
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Others are transhumanist. They agree with Heidegger without necessarily siding with him. They tell us we cannot go out into space and remain human. The stars are too many and the void between them too dark. But that's OK. We don't need to be human. Heidegger was right about humanity's limits but wrong about the implications of exceeding them. The most important question of our time may be "Should we lose our humanity?" Mass Effect scares me by making me want to say "yes."

There Is No Fat Lady
"Mass Effect is a space opera," says Joel Gourdin of X-Play in the opening of "Sci vs. Fi: Mass Effect," a half-hour slobberfest over the game, presented by the SciFi channel back in November. The program featured BioWare staff and Mass Effect voice actors, as well as game journalists and random D-List celebrities. Gourdin contributed shameless saliva to the production, but he did classify the game correctly.

Space opera is essentially Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers: serial adventure with galactic-scale civilizations. The core conflict of a space opera occurs between larger-than-life heroes and villains, with the fate of humanity at stake. Though long derided for bad science and cartoonish characters, the genre has been respectable since Star Trek.

From the beginning, space opera has always been allegorical. They reflected the great conflicts of the 20th century. The humanoids populating the galaxy represent either Earth cultures or exaggerations of the human condition. Thus, Klingons represent both the imperialism of the Soviet Union and the dangers of unrestrained aggression. The reason for using this formula is to address concerns of the day. It was no accident that the first interracial kiss on American television occurred on Star Trek.

Mass Effect applies the Star Trek formula - exactly that formula. Aliens represent what it means to be human, and BioWare hopes to show us a startling kiss. Unfortunately, the moment for such old-timey sci-fi may have passed.

Sex And Death!
Everyone involved in "Sci vs. Fi: Mass Effect" praised the game to the skies, including Mass Effect's head writer, Drew Karpyshyn. He said this:

"I think we're entering an age when people are more open-minded. ... People are saying traditional sexual roles don't necessarily have to be the way to go. And Mass Effect lets you maybe explore things a little differently, because, let's be honest, alien chicks are hot."

There's no geek obliviousness here. Karpyshyn is not talking about how you can play as a woman commander in Mass Effect. He's talking about the game's human-on-alien lesbian sex scene.

Amazingly, Karpyshyn considers these scenes progressive or daring. Yes, in 1992, people protested Basic Instinct over its lesbian content, but the 16-year-olds born in that year and who are now playing Mass Effect enjoyed a pubescence blessed with "Girls Making Out" videos. Mass Effect's understanding of traditional sexual roles may not be up-to-date.

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