For those that know me, it is pretty obvious that I am a fan of science fiction. Movies, books, television, and video games...I like it all.
Most recently, my attention has been focused on BioWare's Xbox 360 role playing game, Mass Effect. Set in a not too distant future, it is a game about humanity finding its place in a larger galactic community. At its core is a varied group of alien races--everything from religious squid things to sentient AI--with which to interact. As far as science fiction in video games is concerned, Mass Effect has a sense of depth and complexity just not heard of in the medium.
Like all good works of science fiction, Mass Effect has me thinking about the future. What kind of civilizations are out there for us to find? And just how will first contact go down? I'm dying to find out...
In the universe of Mass Effect, humanity has recently emerged on the galactic stage. After finding the ruins of an ancient civilization on Mars, scientists unlock the secrets of a dark energy like substance known as 'mass effect'. Using this discovery, all manner of technologies become a possibility--from faster than light (FTL) travel to a new age of devastating military hardware. It isn't long then until human explorers venture forth into deep space, inevitably coming into contact with extraterrestrial civilizations.
So often in science fiction are aliens used as a metaphor for the various aspects of the human psyche. As such, the aliens in Mass Effect aren't that dissimilar from those presented in shows like Star Trek. In Mass Effect, first contact was made with a noble warrior race known as the Turians. With their almost reptilian appearance, they are an intimidating militaristic presence in the galaxy. Along with the Turians, galactic governance is handled by the Asari and the Salarians. The former characterized by their empathy and negotiation skills, while the latter are notorious for being logic driven beaurocrats.
I rather enjoy such archetypal depictions of alien lifeforms, but I can't help but feel we would never be so lucky as to encounter such human-like civilizations among the stars. For one thing, this one dimensional portrayal just can't do justice to the complexity of a multi-planetary society. Or maybe it does? Is it possible for a race the likes of the Klingons or the above mentioned Turians to advance to the point of interstellar travel? I think the better question is whether a more well rounded society would have the right stuff.
Let me try to explain.
As a species, humanity is all over the map in terms of focus and drive. We're a violent bunch by nature, but specific interests and goals vary drastically from person to person. Since the advent of the so called 'renaissance man', persons of privilege have split their time between a multitude of studies. With most choosing to follow the path of science, art, or spirituality, we are, if nothing else, a species of much variety. But think for a minute how we would advance if every man, woman, and child on Earth were to dedicate their lives to the advent of space travel. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, to the development of human spirituality. As we are now, humans are becoming well versed in a wide range of studies, but we aren't reaching a level of mastery in any one area as efficiently as possible. I'm not trying to say that this is necessarily a negative trait--in fact a sense of jack-of-all-trades well roundedness is often depicted as humanity's defining characteristic in many works of fiction--but I think we should be prepared to meet races with a more dedicated single-mindedness as we propagate beyond our solar system.
Which brings me to another revelation I had when playing Mass Effect: the galaxy is huge. That may sound stupid, but the game presents the Milky Way with a more easily understood sense of scale with its visual and interactive nature. Even with faster than light speed travel, movement between habitable planets would be measured in years and decades. When dealing with the universe, time and distance near almost infinite levels. As such, although there may be thousands, if not millions, of alien races out there, the odds of us being in the same relative proximity and at near equal stages in technological/spiritual evolution are staggeringly low. As the universe continues to grow older, darker, and colder, I fear a lonely death for humanity; stripped away by time and the victim of poor luck in real estate.
How would a brash, young humanity interact with another, perhaps more advanced species? Will we have shed our paranoia and warlike tendencies? Or are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past and get ourselves branded as the 3rd world savages of the Milky Way? We may never get the chance to find out, but these questions and more and can played out in Mass Effect. That's right...a video game. They're deeper than you might think.
:: Dead End ::
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Keep your eyes peeled for the next K-Files, arriving sometime next
week. Later. ~Khyron, 2007.
For the latest updates on the world of Khyron, bookmark http://www.khyron.net/. With content updated regularly, you're sure to find your fix for all things entertaining and paranormal. As always, feel free to send any questions/comments/suggestions to KFiles@khyron.net.
Keep your eyes peeled for the next K-Files, arriving sometime next week. Later.
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Discuss The K-Files @ the USofE HERE