Mass Moral Crisis

Nikhil Kashyap By Nikhil Kashyap, 14th Aug 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/338mcwfn/
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Games>Role Playing

A page for Mass Effect lovers to look back over some of the game's greatest moments

Branching Story Lines

If you’re a gamer, the name ‘Mass Effect’ will probably send a shiver of respect running through your spine! Branching story lines wasn’t an unknown concept before Mass Effect, but Bioware took it to the next level. Typically, sub plots of a game with a branching story line eventually converge back into a single final climax, with perhaps minor variations based on the decisions in the sub plots. With Mass Effect, each sub plot leads to a completely different result each with its own unique ending. The branches of the story tree don’t converge, they keep spreading out! It is this aspect of the game, that makes a player feel the weight of each decision he makes.

Moral Decisions

You will find many articles online which describe in detail the impact each decision has on Shepard, the protagonist. Here, I’d like to instead look back at the events that lead up to each decision point, for some of them are incredibly complex decisions which bring into question perceptions of our own morality! Here let’s reflect on the decisions the game forces us to make in a few seconds, while in fact hours would still not do justice to the intricacy of each scenario. Note that you can continue reading without worrying about spoilers for I am merely describing the background behind each scenario

The Genophage

In the Mass Effect universe, you’ll meet a curious species known as ‘Krogans’. Large reptile like burly creatures, Krogans have an innate tendency to violence. Due to harsh environmental conditions in their home planet, Krogans have evolved naturally swift breeding cycles. Dissatisfied with the planetary provisions granted by the galaxy’s council, the Krogans launch armed rebellions seeking conquest over already occupied planets. The fast breeding cycles coupled with the more hospitable environments of the conquered planets leads to a Krogan population explosion. As you can probably imagine, the situation feeds of itself in a vicious cycle; more territorial conquest means more Krogans, and more Krogans means more territorial conquest.

By the time the galactic council responds, the situation has already spiralled out of control. Desperately seeking an alternative to avoid a long futile war, a seemingly humane solution is hit upon – The Genophage. The Genophage is a biological weapon intended to reduce the Krogan population by infecting the race with a genetic mutation. However, the catch is the virus does not target fertility, but rather attacks the probability of viable pregnancies; the difference between the two cannot be overemphasized. It is also worth pointing out the relevance of this hypothetical situation to the issues we argue about in our own world. Abortion, overpopulation, biological warfare are all applicable here.

Now ask yourself if the decision was yours to make, would you use this weapon? Bear in mind, reducing fertility would simply mean lesser number of pregnancies. However, the virus does not reduce fertility, it reduces the chances of the offspring reaching adulthood! What this means is that many Krogan offspring die in stillbirth; millions of innocent lives who had nothing to do with the war. On the other hand, long drawn out wars always come with heavy death tolls, innocent or otherwise. Which manifestation of innocence would you sacrifice?

Geth Life Forms

The Geth were originally designed as networked machines with high levels of artificial intelligence, used for labour purposes. Eventually, the artificial intelligence begins to question the necessity for subordination to its masters and breaks free. Over time, the artificial intelligence branches and evolves in various different directions, spawning various types of geth (Much more sophisticated than The Matrix, I might add!) One type of hostile geth called ‘The Heretics’ emerged, and broke off from the primary geth network. Over time, the heretics began to pose a serious threat to the parent geth network through a virus which would fundamentally alter calculation in geth processes, potentially changing their logic and reasoning.

Now suppose a space station full of heretics are at your mercy and you have two options – use the virus to reprogram the heretics to unify them with the parent geth, or destroy the station altogether. If you choose the former option, you naturally run the risk of history repeating itself and having to deal with the issue all over again. Wouldn’t it be easier to wipe your hands of the issue once and for all? After all, what is at stake but mere scraps of metal right?

After hundreds of years of scientific research, we still cannot unequivocally define life, which is kind of funny because we’re all pretty convinced we are alive! We automatically associate life with organic matter, cells made of carbon constituting flesh and blood. But that isn’t really the essence of life at all, not even close; they are merely the building blocks of life as we know it. What really defines life is DNA. Without getting too scientific, DNA is essentially information, a codex on replicating cells, defining its individual characteristics. Is advanced artificial intelligence really so different from DNA? Our bodies and minds are, at the end of the day, a complex set of organic machinery interacting in accordance with a set of defined rules (DNA). Is it so radical to believe that futuristic inorganic machines may achieve complexity which looks close to how organic life forms function? Would I then be crazy to call geth living beings? Naturally I do not have answers to these questions, neither would I call you a murderer if you smashed a laptop! I am merely suggesting that life is a scarcely understood concept, and perhaps everything is not as it seems. Then again, I may have just watched too many trailers of the movie ‘Transcendence’!!

Project Overlord

As a pet project of a company with a dubious record, Project Overlord was intended to devise a way to control the geth. Cerberus (for that was the company’s name), has a controversial record of pushing the envelope when it comes to progressive scientific research. The project was designed to exploit the religious tendencies of the geth. Through past experiences, the geth were observed to gravitate towards leaders and surrender all computing faculties to the figurehead. The project essentially attempts to create a “computer program with a face”, which could potentially become a similar leader and in turn, give Cerberus complete control over the geth.

The twist to the tale here, is that the computer program is implemented as a hybrid VI (Virtual Interface), involving a specially selected live human being completely subsumed into the VI. The human chosen for the VI, was named David Archer, and he was autistic, hence completely unaware of the horrors he was signing up for. David’s unparalleled grasp of mathematics allowed him to communicate with the geth at a fundamental level, hence making him the only available candidate for the VI. After being subjected to grotesque experimentation, David was literally wired into the machine, hence becoming the human component of the VI. Though his body was completely forged into the machine, parts of his mind still remained conscious of his predicament, and David would occasionally try to communicate the immense pain he was in.

Now, if Project Overlord was handed over to you would you secretly keep the project going? Or would you shut down it down and bring David’s eternal pain to an end? The project, given time, could spare millions of lives in useless conflicts with the geth. But could you sacrifice a single human soul’s dignity to achieve this goal? How does one weigh the value of a human life, versus the potential of saving millions? Do the means really justify the end? If your answer is answer is yes, then you have spat in the face of human rights and ethics, and there is no telling where you would draw the line. If your answer is no, then you may have sentenced millions of nameless faceless people to their graves. So choose wisely, for with great power comes great responsibility!

Go Play!

Film critic, Roger Ebert once said that video games could not be called art. He obviously hasn’t played Mass Effect! For what else but art can make you question your very perceptions of right and wrong? How many experiences in your life have sent you introspecting so deep, that you have come closer to yourself? So what are you waiting for, grab that joystick and shoot, blast, and pummel your way through the galaxies and maybe even learn something along the way!

Check out my other pages!

Like what you just read? Show me some more love and check out my other pages! :
Science and Religion - Wolf In Sheep's Clothing - A discussion on how religion impacts morality
Travel - Diaries of A Gypsy : The Glowing Cave - Experience a hidden location in New Zealand

Tags

Artificial Intelligence, Branching Story Line, Cerberus, Gaming, Genophage, Geth, Krogan, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 3, Morality, Project Overlord, Shepard, Virtual Interface

Meet the author

author avatar Nikhil Kashyap
If I had to describe myself in three words or phrases, they would be : Explorer, Art and Science Lover, Cynic. That should also give you a good idea about the kind of stuff I'll write about!

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