Too human: Mass Effect’s anthropocentrism
Jorge Albor of the Experience Points blog has a series of three posts exploring the ways in which Mass Effect‘s universe was inspired by real-world politics and events. It’s compelling stuff and the numerous parallels he draws between in-game fiction and real-world tragedies and atrocities makes the connections very palpable.
His are convincing words and I do not intend to argue. However, I feel an urge to say that I wish those parallels did not exist.
I liked Mass Effect very much. In fact, it was the best game I played in 2010 (out of 51). But it had shortcomings and one of the biggest ones was that it was way too anthropocentric.
I mean — it’s the space age and we’ve met those fascinating alien cultures and are vying for influence with them. So far so cool. It’s just that… well, they’re not very alien, are they? Almost all of their cultures can be traced back to things that exist on Earth.
It doesn’t help that they are all monolithic, quasi-national societies and that humanity is also presented as being one. The people behind Mass Effect‘s lore have sought to use these cultural generalisations to delineate the differences between us and them (unlike humans, quarians do this and that, and so on) but have achieved the exact opposite effect, which is to blur the distinctions and mask all aliens as a representation of some, often eccentric, subset of humanity (traders, warriors, exiles, etc).
Instead of trivialising space to some version of Earth, I’d love to see games depicting it as the vast and mindbogglingly diverse thing it is, Robert Sheckley-style.