140: Mass Effect Saves Humanity - for What?

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Mass Effect Saves Humanity - for What?

"It was Earthrise over the moon. Blue, green and white, clear against the spill of the Milky Way. Breathtaking. Seeing the Earth from the moon in Mass Effect felt like hearing an American accent when someone speaks to me in a foreign language. I felt alien, mistaken for a foreigner. That's what terrified me: For a moment, I enjoyed not being myself."

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To a certain extent, it's ironic that Mass Effect, by trying and succeeding so well at being a product of pulp sci-fi from yars of yore, managed as a consequence to leave the core thing that makes something sci-fi: A new place, a new idea, a new experience. Sci-fi is fundamentally about the unknown, or the unknowable, or the eternal mysteries (what is man? what is the purpose of life?) that are at least somewhat revealed when you throw humans into weird places.

Instead, it seems, the game turned into into a time capsule of thoughts about the future from a few decades ago.

I really enjoyed the inclusion of Heidegger's response to the photo of the Earth, and I think that Mr. Huling, as well as the rest of the science fiction community, is right for criticizing it. If Heidegger is finding terror and alienation from the though of viewing the planet as an outsider, then he is neglecting to fully analyze this emotion completely. For if he did, then he would have realized that feeling estranged from Earth actually shows how human we are, and how human we will remain, as opposed to foreshadowing our departure from its meaning to humanity.

Sorry; I haven't played Mass Effect. But I really enjoyed the sci-fi commentary.

I really don't understand what you were trying to say with this article? Was it that we're losing our humanity, or that Bioware's characterisation was sloppy, or that the youth of today are going to free us as a species?

Firstly- how does voyaging into Outer Space lose us our humanity? Exploring and settling is what we humans do best. It's an essential part of our history. America was colonised by people travelling over the Atlantic from Europe. So was Australia. Heck, so was Britain thousands of years ago. Space travel is just the next extension of something we humans do almost automatically. It's no different to when Colombus sailed to the Americas, except we'll be using spaceships rather than sea-ships. You don't have to be 'scared into saying yes', as you put it, as there is no question.

As for Bioware's characterisation. What was it you were trying to say, exactly? That the buxom blue wench was too shy and 'Canadian', but the race as a whole was too slutty? I don't get it. And I thought the sex scene actually was very progressive. How many other videogames treat gender and sex with the same maturity? Indeed, how many other games have caused such a stink at FOX because of the way they challenge what's considered normal or acceptable in sexuality?

And your argument about how the aliens are too human doesn't hold water with me. Name me a movie or game with sentient aliens (aliens that can think and talk) that haven't shown some aspect of humanity. Thinking and speaking is how we differentiate ourselves from animals. Any alien that does them is of course going to seem to have human aspects to us.

Finally- becoming our own aliens? You have an incredibly optimistic view on future technology. Even scientists can't agree on whether life extension is a good thing. Living to 300 may sound cool, but if you're spending 150 of those years suffering dementia, parkinson's or any other elderly disease, suddenly it looks a lot less fun.

I don't mean to bash you or anything like that. I just felt that the article was a lot of pointless pontification and jumbled rhetoric. Treating games as art is all well and good, but you have to make sure your critique doesn't wander down the path of Post-modern art-critic waffle.

I agree with j-e-f-f-e-r-s, it was hard to get what you are going att and neither do i agree with the points you seem to be making.

Also, Dr. Liara T'Soni is not your only possible love interest. If you are female, you can also romance Kaiden Alenko. If you are male, you can romance Ashley (not saying her last name due to being the same as Bruce Campbell's in TED).

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:
I really don't understand what you were trying to say with this article? Was it that we're losing our humanity, or that Bioware's characterisation was sloppy, or that the youth of today are going to free us as a species?

Firstly- how does voyaging into Outer Space lose us our humanity?

The idea goes something along the lines of: by realizing that you're a single member of a species that lives on a single planet in a galaxy consisting of billions of other planets that are countless trillions of years old, you are forced to confront the rather disturbing fact that you're fairly irrelevant. By traveling into outer space and becoming aware of this fact, that your existence is mathematically meaningless, you lose the very thing that makes you human. Purpose, goals, livelihood.

I'm not trying to be a buzz kill, but that's how it was explained to me. I would've quoted Stapledon but I'm a junkie for his stuff.

Never played Mass Effect, can't be sure about the rest, but it looked like his point was the ways in which Mass Effect proposes to overcome this problem with space travel.

I think the point was more that Liara was supposed to be the easier chick to romance, though neither of them are really all that tough. However, when discussing Liara, they did seem to completely ignore the existence of Ashley, who was a counter to Liara's personality. Liara was the intelligent girl that is often shy and not always full of confidence, where as Ashley is the proud and strong female who is not afraid to speak her mind.

I think what should be noted about Mass Effect is that it really does do aliens well. Not every Asari acts the same. The Krogan on your team also does not act the same as the rest of his race, an ultimate goal of trying to unite his people instead of just accept defeat. Even some of the aliens that play minor roles all show different personalities. I forget their names, but the short guys with the masks are a great example. One will condemn you and your race because they are not yet members of the council, while another looks at you becoming the first human Spectre as hope that his race could also be accepted into the council one day. Being someone that has grown up with sci-fi and lots of bad D&D players, I'm used to non-human races all acting and believing the same, and any who doesn't is an outcast. This is a completely extreme and non-realistic idea, and I'm glad in what Bioware has done.

Also, as for the Asari, I think he is also looking at their race incorrectly. One of the things you keep hearing is that people assume that Asari are sex-craved sluts because of their personality. I've known plenty of people that make this same assumption about bisexual girls, and while I've also met plenty of bisexual girls that have proven this idea to be true, I've met some conservative ones that have completely taken me back. When you get right down to it, while there are plenty of people that believe there is no such thing as a "slut" anymore due to how openly promiscuous EVERYONE is at a young age, there are also a lot of false ideas about sexuality. If a girl likes to dress in a shirt with a low cut v-neck, it does not always mean she wants someone to walk up and grab her chest. It could easily mean "it's hot out today and I just need to wear something cool", or it could even mean "I just want to feel attractive today, so I'm going to show off my assets".

Again, talked to plenty of people where this is the case. It is possible to be a sexually conservative girl in this day and age and still show your boobs off, but a lot of people don't seem to really make that connection.

There's more I can say on the article, but I've rambled enough already.

thebobmaster:
Also, Dr. Liara T'Soni is not your only possible love interest. If you are female, you can also romance Kaiden Alenko. If you are male, you can romance Ashley (not saying her last name due to being the same as Bruce Campbell's in TED).

Also, these characters are exactly the opposite to the gender roles the author complains about. Ashley is the tough action girl and Kaiden is the shy wallflower type.

L.B. Jeffries:

The idea goes something along the lines of: by realizing that you're a single member of a species that lives on a single planet in a galaxy consisting of billions of other planets that are countless trillions of years old, you are forced to confront the rather disturbing fact that you're fairly irrelevant. By traveling into outer space and becoming aware of this fact, that your existence is mathematically meaningless, you lose the very thing that makes you human. Purpose, goals, livelihood.

People have already come to that conclusion without the need of space travel. Simply looking into the night sky proves that were all specks of bacteria on a floating rock, and when we die, nothing changes. Even those that live on and remember will eventually die, so the memory of you after death will eventually fade away. It doesnt take a shot of the earth from space, or to voyage where no one has gone before to figure that out. I agree with jeffers, how would we lose our humanity by leaving earth? If it isnt accomplished by some instinctive desire to settle new "lands", surely it will eventually become a necessity. That is, if we actually live long enough as a species to be threatened by anything that needs a total "moving house" answer to it.

I actually struggled to decide whether the article was pro Mass Effect, or con. I really enjoyed Mass Effect, and despite the notion that its not the most world shattering creation ever, I never forgot this was a video game. That it still had to provide an action packed adventure for the gamer to enjoy, instead of focusing on being the most unique sci-fi story ever told. And that while the sex scene might not have been the most artistic work on sexuality ever, were still talking video games, where its main claims to sexual content are Hot Coffee, and God of War sex mini games. The Mass Effect sex scene felt no different than something pulled out of a movie, which I think is a step in the right direction for video games. Like it was said, these things have been done before in the past. But were they by video games?

Xaositect:

L.B. Jeffries:

The idea goes something along the lines of: by realizing that you're a single member of a species that lives on a single planet in a galaxy consisting of billions of other planets that are countless trillions of years old, you are forced to confront the rather disturbing fact that you're fairly irrelevant. By traveling into outer space and becoming aware of this fact, that your existence is mathematically meaningless, you lose the very thing that makes you human. Purpose, goals, livelihood.

People have already come to that conclusion without the need of space travel. Simply looking into the night sky proves that were all specks of bacteria on a floating rock, and when we die, nothing changes. Even those that live on and remember will eventually die, so the memory of you after death will eventually fade away. It doesnt take a shot of the earth from space, or to voyage where no one has gone before to figure that out. I agree with jeffers, how would we lose our humanity by leaving earth? If it isnt accomplished by some instinctive desire to settle new "lands", surely it will eventually become a necessity. That is, if we actually live long enough as a species to be threatened by anything that needs a total "moving house" answer to it.

True, but it's very easy to forget those facts in the day-to-day grind of life and not be extremely depressed by them. Sitting in the ship (particularly in a realistic multiple year voyage) and not being grounded on the planet would result in a massive psychological disconnect. Even NASA is scratching their heads at how to keep the astronauts on a Mars voyage from going bonkers once they lose sight of Earth.

I'm not saying space travel is impossible or that we shouldn't do it. But yeah, I'd say traveling in space causes people to experience severe emotional trauma at the loss of their humanity. Looking at a picture of Earth from the Moon kinda encapsulates that emotion of being meaningless.

L.B. Jeffries:

True, but it's very easy to forget those facts in the day-to-day grind of life and not be extremely depressed by them. Sitting in the ship (particularly in a realistic multiple year voyage) and not being grounded on the planet would result in a massive psychological disconnect. Even NASA is scratching their heads at how to keep the astronauts on a Mars voyage from going bonkers once they lose sight of Earth.

I'm not saying space travel is impossible or that we shouldn't do it. But yeah, I'd say traveling in space causes people to experience severe emotional trauma at the loss of their humanity. Looking at a picture of Earth from the Moon kinda encapsulates that emotion of being meaningless.

Thats a good point, but you dont suppose the dangers of space have anything else to do with the psychological impact of it all do you? That they would be travelling in something that if any complications arise means they are dead. That being surrounded by a lifeless vacuum grates on your sanity more than the thought of being away from earth, and apparently your own humanity does?

Xaositect:

Thats a good point, but you dont suppose the dangers of space have anything else to do with the psychological impact of it all do you? That they would be travelling in something that if any complications arise means they are dead. That being surrounded by a lifeless vacuum grates on your sanity more than the thought of being away from earth, and apparently your own humanity does?

Hell, you couldn't get me on board anything smaller than a Death Star. And even THAT isn't full proof.

L.B. Jeffries:

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:
I really don't understand what you were trying to say with this article? Was it that we're losing our humanity, or that Bioware's characterisation was sloppy, or that the youth of today are going to free us as a species?

Firstly- how does voyaging into Outer Space lose us our humanity?

The idea goes something along the lines of: by realizing that you're a single member of a species that lives on a single planet in a galaxy consisting of billions of other planets that are countless trillions of years old, you are forced to confront the rather disturbing fact that you're fairly irrelevant. By traveling into outer space and becoming aware of this fact, that your existence is mathematically meaningless, you lose the very thing that makes you human. Purpose, goals, livelihood.

I'm not trying to be a buzz kill, but that's how it was explained to me. I would've quoted Stapledon but I'm a junkie for his stuff.

Never played Mass Effect, can't be sure about the rest, but it looked like his point was the ways in which Mass Effect proposes to overcome this problem with space travel.

As Xoasiect already pointed out, you don't need to travel to outer space to feel insignificant. Looking up at the sky at night, living in a mega-metropolis like New York, etc, can all produce the same feeling of being ant-like.

As for the planet-psychological-disconnection thing. When Colombus and the like were voyaging around the world, lots of crew members got cabin fever after being stuck on a ship for weeks without seeing land. Did they automatically lose their humanity when they caught the fever? Heck no.

This 'loss of humanity' that Heidegger talks about seems to me to just be a form of 'Cabin Fever in space'. It's not the fact that the astronaughts are away from Mother Earth that sends them bonkers, it's the fact that they're stuck in a tincan with not a lot to do. Plonk them down on a far-away planet with stuff to do ('Bases to build, terrain to study, and so on') and I believe you'd find they're as human as you or me.

I'm still a little unclear what we're talking about when we say "humanity." From a biological perspective, as long as we can still mate with each other and produce fertile offspring, our humanity remains intact. Are we talking about sanity? compassion? language? religion?

I view our humanity as our ability to adapt to our changing environment, be that technological or biological. Evolution of life changed our planet dramatically, and as the planet changed, life evolved to change with it. When space travel becomes available to us, I see no reason we cannot adapt and change along with it.

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

As Xoasiect already pointed out, you don't need to travel to outer space to feel insignificant. Looking up at the sky at night, living in a mega-metropolis like New York, etc, can all produce the same feeling of being ant-like.

As for the planet-psychological-disconnection thing. When Colombus and the like were voyaging around the world, lots of crew members got cabin fever after being stuck on a ship for weeks without seeing land. Did they automatically lose their humanity when they caught the fever? Heck no.

This 'loss of humanity' that Heidegger talks about seems to me to just be a form of 'Cabin Fever in space'. It's not the fact that the astronaughts are away from Mother Earth that sends them bonkers, it's the fact that they're stuck in a tincan with not a lot to do. Plonk them down on a far-away planet with stuff to do ('Bases to build, terrain to study, and so on') and I believe you'd find they're as human as you or me.

Yeah, but you were asking why a Nazi philosopher in 1966 found a photo of the moon depressing enough that he felt like he'd lost his humanity and that space travel did the same. That's why. Sure, there are tons of other things on Earth that can also make you feel like you've lost your humanity. Being a Nazi comes to mind as an example.

I just dunno if I can believe people could sit in a rocket ship for potentially decades, land on a planet, and just start merrily performing science like it meant anything after that. How would the extremely disturbing notion of, "What's the point of all this?" not pop into their heads at least once?

I don't have any trouble understanding why a (former?) Nazi would feel that pictures refuting his "mastery" would threaten his concept of humanity. Indeed, I tend to wonder how Heidegger would react upon reading Lovecraft...

The issue comes down to how you define humanity. If you define humanity by pointing to some "chosen place in the cosmos" ideal, then discovering that the bulk of the cosmos can't possibly perceive humanity is going to make you lose that ideal, and therefor lose that concept of humanity. That does not equate to losing one's humanity, only that the concept must either bend to or break from the force of The Awful Truth.

Me? I have hope that humanity will bend instead of breaking and leave our cradle of believing we're the centre of the universe. It's probably unjustified, but it's more productive than denial or nihilism.

-- Steve

Anton P. Nym:

Me? I have hope that humanity will bend instead of breaking and leave our cradle of believing we're the centre of the universe. It's probably unjustified, but it's more productive than denial or nihilism.

-- Steve

Unless Nihilism turns out to be correct, and its not more productive, just more noisy and active, but no less futile.

Honestly what really saddens me aside from the fact that we haven't yet left the nest (thanks cold war and death of JFK thanks) What bothers me is that we still in most media have to imagine aliens as bipedal and similar to us, look out there how many different "things" do you think are out there. Do you really think we would be able to mate with them let alone communicate with them, cmon that is daydreaming and is almost the same as believing that we are alone amongst all this debris wandering through space.

L.B. Jeffries:
[I just dunno if I can believe people could sit in a rocket ship for potentially decades, land on a planet, and just start merrily performing science like it meant anything after that. How would the extremely disturbing notion of, "What's the point of all this?" not pop into their heads at least once?

This is actually a good point, and one often looked over since faster than light travel is pretty much constant in most sci-fi. Consider what lives these people are leaving behind? You talk about "living your job" when someone basically works more than the standard 40 hour week voluntarily, but this means you are spending decades of your life on a ship, doing the same day to day tasks, nothing new, no variation, no...well, no exploration. After all, people explore new hobbies and activities all the time, and when you're stuck on a ship, there's really not much to be exploring.

There's also the matter of friends and family. Let's say you leave when your kid is seven. Hell, you may never see them again, as a trip to a planet and then back could take more than a lifetime. Even if you get cryostasis to keep the pilots from aging, you come back home and all of a sudden your kid is 67, or even dead.

I certainly want to start terraforming a planet like Venus (incredibly possible and easier than it would be to terraform Mars), and it has the convenience of being pretty close, but the steps required to be taken to reach the Star Trek or Mass Effect point, IF we ever do, is at the cost of people's personal lives, which could be considered their humanity as their purpose is nothing more than that of the machines they are piloting.

ccesarano:

L.B. Jeffries:
[I just dunno if I can believe people could sit in a rocket ship for potentially decades, land on a planet, and just start merrily performing science like it meant anything after that. How would the extremely disturbing notion of, "What's the point of all this?" not pop into their heads at least once?

This is actually a good point, and one often looked over since faster than light travel is pretty much constant in most sci-fi. Consider what lives these people are leaving behind? You talk about "living your job" when someone basically works more than the standard 40 hour week voluntarily, but this means you are spending decades of your life on a ship, doing the same day to day tasks, nothing new, no variation, no...well, no exploration. After all, people explore new hobbies and activities all the time, and when you're stuck on a ship, there's really not much to be exploring.

There's also the matter of friends and family. Let's say you leave when your kid is seven. Hell, you may never see them again, as a trip to a planet and then back could take more than a lifetime. Even if you get cryostasis to keep the pilots from aging, you come back home and all of a sudden your kid is 67, or even dead.

I certainly want to start terraforming a planet like Venus (incredibly possible and easier than it would be to terraform Mars), and it has the convenience of being pretty close, but the steps required to be taken to reach the Star Trek or Mass Effect point, IF we ever do, is at the cost of people's personal lives, which could be considered their humanity as their purpose is nothing more than that of the machines they are piloting.

I dont agree, their personal lives just get altered. In centuries past it sea-travel would take up years at a time, people adapted to life onboard. When (if) interplanetary travel is possible people who commit to it will probably commit their entire lives to it, i hope they pack a few books.

I read a very interesting novel a couple of years ago (I think it was called The Halls Of Heorot), which dealt with humans colonising other planets. The way the crew dealt with spending years in space (I think they spent decades crossing the galaxy) was to go into cryo-stasis. This certainly made more sense than spending 20 years awake in a tin-can, slowly going crazy. The trouble was that several of the crew members woke up with brain damage. :S

To drag this point on topic, there's a number of ways that we as humans can cope with spending years in a flying dustbin, travelling through the great void. We don't know what sort of technological advances will have taken place by the time we're ready to go cross-galaxy. We may have mastered the science of cryo-sleep, we may have developed near-perfect VR with which to entertain the crew. We may even have created inter-planetary gates a la Cowboy Bebop. To assume that we'll automatically go stir-crazy when crossing space, without considering the possible advances we may have made is awfully short-sighted in my opinion. After all, if Colombus and his crew had had iPods, I'm sure Cabin Fever would never have even been heard of.

Isn't the subject here that rather than 'going bonkers' the moment we go into space we actually become something different the moment we do? Every chance changes what we find important... the Romans found every-one who was not a Roman a barbarian and these days we find small animals incredibly important not to suffer any form of suffering at all.

One point that I liked was the question of what makes us human to be important in modern Sci-Fi. The new Battlestar Galactica is a nice example of that question. Mass Effect is just a small rock thrown in a puddle of '80s "this race represents... and we'll pull through together." I didn't like it. The same-sex sex scene was terrible as well. "By the gods, commander." Ptsh.

It's hard to demand maturity from games, I suppose, Sci-Fi already is a genre that is suffers from an abundance of cheap moments that say: "but can robots be human?"
I used to be really offended, but these days when people ask me "aren't games for kids?" I just answer "yes, most are," sometimes adding "but I hope to help make them be something more" when I'm feeling adventurous and when I'm certain it does not diminish my chances in flirtation.

Humans thinking about whether they are still human or not because they travel through space is as useless as a sailor thinking about whether he will still be a sailor when he reaches shore. The only thing humans will think about is how to survive and create. Even if you stopped being human, the knowledge of that wouldn't do you any good. That is why I am surprised at Heidegger's comments. Even for an existentialist like him, I find his comments about space boring, lame, and a waste of time even mentioning.

Sci-Fi is great because you get to philosophize all you want while being entertained by what would really happen if humans traveled through space. Even the instances of humans turning into monsters or ultra humans are touched upon from a human perspective.

Mass Effect doesn't need a unique viewpoint because humans can't understand being non-human in space. If you want to be more or less then human, go right ahead but you wouldn't be conscious of human affairs. I don't know about you, but even if I could attain the knowledge of being non-human, I wouldn't want it. Becoming some type of alien or A.I. intelligence is probably a crap shoot. Odds are against the knowledge being fun or useful in some way.

So in other words, someone needs to make a game out of either the Hitchhiker Guide books, or Odyssey: 2001

Darkpen:
So in other words, someone needs to make a game out of either the Hitchhiker Guide books, or Odyssey: 2001

Hmmm, playing HHGTTG as a roving reporter... Kind of like Pokemon Snap but with more Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters. I could dig that.

Mass Effect's space opera homages show up all over the place -- I just ran across a reference to Forbidden Planet (for my money the first great space opera) in a planet description. "Monsters from the Id!" And of course it isn't limited to space opera -- the Mass Effect folks pulled from all sorts of movies. The biotic commune quest is fairly explicitly pulled from Apocalypse Now, for instance.

I always like it when a game that borrows from other games, films, etc. doesn't disrespect players by trying to conceal those influences -- no matter how hard you try to file off those serial numbers, people will notice. Keep the homages out in the open and fans will love it. That's one of the big pitfalls of heavily-treaded ground like space opera and it's something Mass Effect does gracefully.

Of course we'll eventually lose our humanity. If we do end up amongst the stars groovin' with the alien, then - give or take a few million years, of course - we'll look completely different. This is not the worst thing that can happen. If simple change is all that we need to do to progress, I'm all for it.

ccesarano:

L.B. Jeffries:
[I just dunno if I can believe people could sit in a rocket ship for potentially decades, land on a planet, and just start merrily performing science like it meant anything after that. How would the extremely disturbing notion of, "What's the point of all this?" not pop into their heads at least once?

This is actually a good point, and one often looked over since faster than light travel is pretty much constant in most sci-fi. Consider what lives these people are leaving behind? You talk about "living your job" when someone basically works more than the standard 40 hour week voluntarily, but this means you are spending decades of your life on a ship, doing the same day to day tasks, nothing new, no variation, no...well, no exploration. After all, people explore new hobbies and activities all the time, and when you're stuck on a ship, there's really not much to be exploring.

There's also the matter of friends and family. Let's say you leave when your kid is seven. Hell, you may never see them again, as a trip to a planet and then back could take more than a lifetime. Even if you get cryostasis to keep the pilots from aging, you come back home and all of a sudden your kid is 67, or even dead.

I certainly want to start terraforming a planet like Venus (incredibly possible and easier than it would be to terraform Mars), and it has the convenience of being pretty close, but the steps required to be taken to reach the Star Trek or Mass Effect point, IF we ever do, is at the cost of people's personal lives, which could be considered their humanity as their purpose is nothing more than that of the machines they are piloting.

The Mass Effect book deals with this a bit at the beginning. The character John Grissom talks about how humans romanticize space exploration and compares it to the cold "reality."

I think someone already touched on it but it's all about how we percieve our "humanity." A lot of people see losing their humanity as a loss of compassion or control over themselves. Sentences like:

Anton P. Nym:
I have hope that humanity will bend instead of breaking and leave our cradle of believing we're the centre of the universe.

still conjure up mystical feelings inside about the universe having a hidden purpose for all life. But we really are the centre of our own universe and I think we can still bend while being selfish. If you read about Satanism (Anton LaVey) you can see that to be selfish isn't necessarily about being a bad person but doing things that bring gratification. I think to really lose your humanity is to try to be completely selfless, as it isn't natural human desire.

I'd say the problem with space travel is homesickness and that the rest of the emotional problems are caused by that. The fear of the unknown is one of the worst feelings. I'm sure they could think of training regimes to help combat that but it depends on the person's psychological strength.

Heidegger had a reaction different from mine. "I was certainly shocked when I recently saw photographs of the Earth taken from the moon," he said. He fears estrangement; I fear liking it. For Heidegger, if you want to destroy humanity, you don't need nuclear weapons or a giant asteroid or pollution or disease, you just need to convince people that they live on a planet rather than on the ground. The image of the Earth from space is something we cannot accept without becoming inhuman. I pretty much live for ideas like that.

Even if I haven't experienced any out of earth adventure, just to appreciate how much I cherish this dustball, I know my place in space, that is, as a frakin microbe that lives on the surface of a big apple in a miraculously thin, special, exclusive and extremely fragile atmosphere.
Everyday I step outside, I know that above the sky, there's just nothing, safe more void, silence and big, cold lumps of rock and metal.

One of the entertaining answers to the blue hot canadian chick problem is Hyperion, and pretty any decent work of cyberpunk.

I am waiting eagerly for the posthuman future. I want to download the latest patches for my genetic code from the Datasphere. I want to live on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. I want gaze across the abyss without this pesky atmosphere clouding my view.

I too am terrified of the eternal silence of the endless void, but I've always been drawn to things that terrify me.

In my opinion Mass Effect was more than a bit corny and could have gone much further with the setting. This is the case with most science fiction. The classics, like Solaris, are classics for a good reason.

The "Bring Down the Sky" Addendum

Hi all,

Thanks for taking the time to comment and for developing such an interesting discussion. I'd like to respond to your thoughts by talking about the recently released downloadable content for Mass Effect.

"Bring Down the Sky" consists of a brief adventure involving a species mentioned in the core game but previously unrevealed: the Batarians. Bad blood exists between Batarians and Humans, because the Galactic Council made a judgment favoring Humans over Batarians in regard to colonization rights over a sector of space. The Batarians cut off diplomatic relations with the council and went to war with Humans. The game refers to Batarians as a "rogue state". In the DLC, a group of even more radical Batarians, labeled "terrorists" in-game, has set an asteroid on a collision course with a Human colony. The hero's job is to re-direct the asteroid.

I found a great encapsulation of how "Bring Down the Sky" disappoints on the gamefaqs Mass Effect message board. This run-on sentence by catsimboy illustrates some of the issues I was talking about in the article:

"...the introduction of a new alien race isn't that big of a deal since they fight like every other humanoid, if they made it so you could recruit one to your team that would rock but it ain't happening because the Batarians are jerks."

They are jerks! The problem is: they're only jerks. You see, by placing itself within the space opera tradition, Mass Effect raises the expectation that its characterizations of aliens will have some meaning. The terms "rogue state" and "terrorist" certainly have relevance in today's world. What, then, are the implications of a four-eyed species that has gone rogue and terrorist in the future established by Mass Effect?

There are no implications.

Just as it doesn't mean anything for the Asari to be an all-female species or for the Krogan to be super-masculine and on the verge of extinction.

Instead of establishing backgrounds for these species and then following them to interesting conclusions, BioWare creates aliens to fill standard roles that appear in all of its RPGs. You need aliens to fight and aliens to fuck. In other words, there's no reason for the Batarians to be Batarians. They're just jerks; they could be any species with any history. Really, there's no reason for Mass effect to take place in a science fiction setting. None of its conflicts occur as a result of any thinking about what human life in space might mean.

BioWare just likes Star Wars and made their own version of it.

Now, the point of bringing in Heidegger has to do with time. I'm going to guess that every single person who commented here was born after 1966. None of you is human.

We all grew up thinking of Earth as a planet. We all saw pictures of Earth from the moon in our childhood. In Heidegger's view, our experience of the world cuts us off from the whole mass of humanity who lived before us.

That includes George Lucas. He didn't write Star Wars for us; he wrote it for his peers, for his generation.

Let's talk then about humanity and space travel. Jeffers, R.O., and sammyfreak all analogize space exploration with naval exploration. There's a fine tradition of this analogy, but it is very likely inadequate. A while back, I heard Peter Ward, an astrobiologist, on bloggingheads, an on-line discussion show. He speculated that, to accomplish space travel, we'll have to engineer ourselves into creatures about half our size and hardened against radiation.

It's not just the boredom, in other words.

Nor nihilism. As L.B. Jeffries suggests, loss of meaning is a danger, but the issue isn't really about people becoming depressed or even suicidal. The idea is that new societies will develop that have no essential connection to the human society we know.

As Xaositect points out, you don't need space travel for this. Or, as Jeroen Stout says, space travel could have this effect immediately. Both true, I think. We only need a change in our perspective to scare Heidegger (and, yes, it's important to explore ideas that scare Nazis).

But we also have before us today actual technological changes that may accelerate us toward post-humanity. Someone out there is almost certainly cloning people right now. That's not merely a shift in perspective. It's a physical change.

A whole bunch of science fiction writers have been exploring these themes for, well, more than twenty years now. Arbre recommends Dan Simmons. I do, too. I'd also point people toward Vernor Vinge, Richard Morgan, Chris Moriarty, and, my favorite, Alastair Reynolds.

I'd especially recommend Alastair Reynolds for those who have played Mass Effect. If you want to see "genocidal alien machine race" done right, check out his Revelation Space Trilogy.

Whew!

Thanks again for reading, everyone, and thanks more for commenting.

Best regards,

Ray.

Ray Huling:

Instead of establishing backgrounds for these species and then following them to interesting conclusions, BioWare creates aliens to fill standard roles that appear in all of its RPGs. You need aliens to fight and aliens to fuck. In other words, there's no reason for the Batarians to be Batarians. They're just jerks; they could be any species with any history. Really, there's no reason for Mass effect to take place in a science fiction setting. None of its conflicts occur as a result of any thinking about what human life in space might mean.

Bear in mind that Bioware didn't have as long as they pleased to develop the game. Developers have deadlines, and trying to head into new territory depicting aliens would most likely have seriously gone over those deadlines. And I say again, show me a sentient alien that didn't have an element of humanity.

BioWare just likes Star Wars and made their own version of it.

You know, Mass Effect isn't that much like Star Wars. There are some similarities, sure, but all sci-fi's have common threads running through them. Star Wars is set 'a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away'. Mass Effect looks at humans of this galaxy in the not too distant future. If you stopped trying to spot things the same, I'm sure you'd notice a plethora of things that are different.

Now, the point of bringing in Heidegger has to do with time. I'm going to guess that every single person who commented here was born after 1966. None of you is human.

Are human. And so, because I was born in the 80's, I'm no longer human? Say what?

We all grew up thinking of Earth as a planet. We all saw pictures of Earth from the moon in our childhood. In Heidegger's view, our experience of the world cuts us off from the whole mass of humanity who lived before us.

What about electricity? Has that cut us off from all humanity that came before us? Or rock music? Or McDonalds? People 200 years ago couldn't go to McDonalds. Now everyone on Earth can.

I think you place too much stock in this idea that 'real' humans see Earth as a home, not a planet. I know that Earth is a great big rock floating in the vast nothingness of space. I look out onto the horizon and I can see the curve of the globe. But you know what? It's still my home. Knowing that I live in a tiny corner of the galaxy hasn't turned me into an apathetic bum, nor made me go out and kick a beggar.

Let's talk then about humanity and space travel. Jeffers, R.O., and sammyfreak all analogize space exploration with naval exploration. There's a fine tradition of this analogy, but it is very likely inadequate. A while back, I heard Peter Ward, an astrobiologist, on bloggingheads, an on-line discussion show. He speculated that, to accomplish space travel, we'll have to engineer ourselves into creatures about half our size and hardened against radiation.

And when Colombus and his fellows set out to map the world, his contemparies probably told him he'd need fins and gills to survive out on the seven seas. As I said, we don't know what technology will be available to us when mankind is finally able to make the jump across the galaxy. I mentioned cryo-stasis as one possibility. There's countless others. Let's not start prophesising grim visions of genetically modified space dwarves just yet.

And as a side, would the fact that we'd be 'half our size' and immune to radiation make us less human? What about the girl I saw on TV a couple of weeks ago who was born with 8 limbs? Or the boy whose body had aged to 40 by the time he was about 8? Are they any less human?

The point is, 'humanity' isn't defined by having 2 eyes, four limbs and standing over 5 foot tall. If someone describes someone else as 'inhuman', they're talking about their personality qualities. That's the real loss of humanity- commiting cruel, immoral, even psycopathic acts of depravation for no reason. Space dwarves don't figure in that.

Nor nihilism. As L.B. Jeffries suggests, loss of meaning is a danger, but the issue isn't really about people becoming depressed or even suicidal. The idea is that new societies will develop that have no essential connection to the human society we know.

There is no one human society. Look at how different the Mayan and the Egyptian societies were back in the day. Look at how different Eastern and Western societies are now for goodness sake. Human culture is built on diversity. If settlers on Mars choose to build pyramids out of marble, that only adds to the diversity of our race, it doesn't separate them from it.

But we also have before us today actual technological changes that may accelerate us toward post-humanity. Someone out there is almost certainly cloning people right now. That's not merely a shift in perspective. It's a physical change.

'Post humanity'? That's just ridiculous. As I've said, humanity isn't necessarily based on the physical. A cloned human is still human. They can still grow up, learn, make friends, enter relationships, even have kids. Why are they classed as 'non-human'?

If you want to see "genocidal alien machine race" done right, check out his Revelation Space Trilogy.

Mass Effect didn't necessarily do it wrong. It just wasn't up to your high standards.

I appreciate you writing such a lengthy, in-depth reply, but it doesn't change my belief that a lot of this was art-babble and pseudo-psychological-waffle.

I don't think its very fair for you to shoot down his article or response because of "art-babble" and "pseudo-psychological-waffle" when all of your counter-arguments are based on your moral ethics and opinions. At least he made a thought-out point, don't criticize something just because you don't understand it.

You say that real humans don't have to see Earth as a home and they shouldn't connect their identity to it. Why not? Every single cell, code of DNA, and idea banging around in your head was founded on Earth. It has spent hundreds to millions of years developing here. Everything you know, practice, and even fantasize about facilitates one function: live on Earth.

You say humanity is based on moral precepts: cruelty, value of life, etc. But all of those are still products of living on this planet and establishing co-existence. Going with Hulings Space Dwarf analogy, how would you feel if, by necessity, they would kill themselves off to control the population? If they did this on the ship, like there wasn't enough food? Are they no longer moral? Does the fact that they have a variation of human DNA make them still human? Everything you do is about survival, and that concept comes from Earth. The moment you stop living here, whether it's someone like us or a genetic variation, they are now operating under different survival parameters. Morality is just one of those.

Post-Humanity would be the growing acknowledgment that humans as an animal are changing. The same survival skills are no longer needed, different ones help while old ones no longer work. I highly doubt someone from a 100 years ago would consider many of us moral or proper. I highly doubt if you met someone from a 100 years in the future you'd think they were very cool either.

Still never played 'Mass Effect', but since the vast majority of science fiction is just escapist nonsense I don't expect it to try to be any different. I still think the article made a good point: it'd be nice if sci-fi bothered to challenge us occasionally.

L.B. Jeffries:
Still never played 'Mass Effect', but since the vast majority of science fiction is just escapist nonsense I don't expect it to try to be any different. I still think the article made a good point: it'd be nice if sci-fi bothered to challenge us occasionally.

The vast majority of everything is "just escapist nonsense", including the 6 o'clock news. I wouldn't write off the Internet or TV for that any more than I'd write off SF for the same. Indeed, it was SF writer Theodore Sturgeon who wrote, "Ninety percent of science fiction is crud, but that's because ninety percent of everything is crud."

If you want SF that challenges the concept of humanity, go look to Blish's Seedling Stars series of stories where genetic engineering is the least of many techniques used to adapt colonists to alien environments, or Clifford Simak's City for a different take on that, or Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream" when the same is inflicted as punishment, or pretty much anything by Philip K. Dick (whose work has been adapted, with greater or lesser succcess, many times in Hollywood; Blade Runner, for instance) because he explored the split between perception and reality, or... well, alas I'm out of time.

Still, "keep looking and you'll find the good stuff" applies here as it does elsewhere. To do differently is to condemn all North American cooking after one trip to a McDonalds.

-- Steve

Edited to fix some misspelt names and to linkify some references.

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