The Technium


It’s become accepted among some academics that movies and even long TV series are the high art of this era — the literature of our time. Video games are still considered low art, not quite the great masterpieces of our times. But I believe the best of them will be seen as masterpieces with a decade. This long and rough essay argues that the epic role playing action game Mass Effects (1,2, and 3) is one such cultural masterpiece.

What I found interesting is not its claim that ME is the greatest of all sci-fi stories, but its claim (which I agree with) that embedded in its vast sprawling creation, are some key post-modern ideas. In other words centuries from now, academics will go back to Mass Effects and “read” it, not by what it says, but by what it assumes. This essay tries to unravel some of the assumptions in the huge alternative universe of Mass Effects. The author claims its key assumption is “Cosmicism.” He says:

“Cosmicism is not merely the idea that there is no meaning in the universe. It’s far worse. Instead, the argument is that there is meaning, but it is so far above and beyond human understanding that we can never attain meaningful existence.”


He says, “Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity.” In the game Sovereign (a god-like eternal entity) declares: “Organic life is nothing but a genetic mutation, an accident. Your lives are measured in years and decades. You wither and die. We are eternal. We are the pinnacle of evolution and existence.”

Warning, there is dense insider-jargon that is both off-putting, near non-sensical, but also attractive for its deep revelation of concerns, such as the following paragraph:

Further, the fear associated with biological destiny translates to transcending the biological in both body and mind. Citadel Space is dominated by the same law as Dune’s planetary empire: a ban on artificial intelligence. The quarian war with the geth is not merely the victory of the cylons but also an allusion to the Bulterian Jihad. As a result even the friendly EDI, who never actually does anything to indicate she is a hyper-rational decision machine (i.e. HAL 9000), is viscerally feared by the Illusive Man, Joker, and Shepard herself. Legion’s playful mocking of biological limitations contains implications of organic obsolescence.

There’s a lot going on. I don’t think this essay is the last word on any of it, but in it I got a glimpse of a nascent cultural barometer.


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