Being someone with a livelihood that’s invested in historical and cultural institutions, I was quite pleased to stumble into a museum of sorts during a recent session with Mass Effect: Andromeda. The spot is called the Cultural Exchange Center. It’s tucked away in an unnoticeable corner of the Nexus, a massive space station and central hub of the game. The center, while not vast, contains a number of interactive holographic displays of items, such as the Citadel, and races: human, Krogan, Asari, Turian, and Salarian. The room appears to be a work-in-progress, as there are a couple blank displays, as well as one that will likely hold the history of Ryder, the Pathfinder. (Though that’s only a guess.) With the species displays, players are presented with a general greeting from each hologram, and then may choose to learn more about the species’ home world or history. Being the goofy person that I am, I chose to spend some time listening to as much information as each display would give. I summarily found my jaw on the floor each time a display when over its races’ history.
Peace, love, and understanding was what was preached over and over. The humans were an awesome race of likeable and caring beings who had a tranquil past and wanted to traverse the galaxy in harmony. The Salarians are super into science and stuff, and they are super willing to help anyone out with their scientific advances. The Turians want nothing more than to spread their engineering wizardry across the galaxy in order to better all the things everywhere. The Asari are the galaxy’s most awesome brokers of commerce and information, plus, they’re super pretty! And the Krogan…well, they screwed themselves pretty good but they remain hopeful for the future and just want to be friends. In short, here were five races that were all just the best. Everything in the universe was just hunky-dory then (over 600 years ago, according to the game’s timeline), and because of that, everything’s just going to be hunky-dory now. Squee!
Last (or first) in the room, depending on how a player gets to it, is a holograph of Jien Garson, founder of the Andromeda Initiative. And she’s the real kicker. Inquiring her leads to more soundbites about peace, non-violent intention, and the reason why the Andromeda Initiative happened in the first place: to explore beyond the Milky Way.
It’s been said that history is what’s told by the survivors. And frankly, those survivors hold quite a lot of power in deciding what stories they tell…as well as in deciding what stories to hold back. Now, I understand that the world of Mass Effect: Andromeda is far removed from the world of the original Mass Effect games, a world that was full of bloodshed and heartache. And I get that the Andromeda Initiative might not really have had anything to do with any of that bloodshed and heartache back in 2185 (between the events of ME2 and ME3) when it was founded, but…I remain unconvinced. Though the game hasn’t said so (or I’ve yet to come across any such reveal), in my mind, the whole project came about because of the threat of the Reapers. So while Commander Shepard was dealing with the Reaper invasion, presumably, the arks preserving the races of the galaxy had already started (or at least were close to getting ready to start) their long journeys out of the Milky Way. While space exploration might have been one objective of the Andromeda Initiative, I’m thinking that Garson and her crew only had only thing in mind:
So here I am on the Nexus with the survivor’s stories. No mention of the Reapers or the genophage or humanity being the proverbial red-headed step-child of the universe. And I wonder…why? As I said, maybe I’m not yet far enough in the game to know, but right now, it bothers me a little. Was it a conscious choice? Spouting peace and harmony is fine in principle, so maybe it was seen as a “blank slate” chance? A chance for a set of unknown races to start over? A chance to completely erase all the bad blood that might have existed between the core races and never stir up any with new alien races? That would seem a little disingenuous. Maybe? I suppose I could argue with myself that the vast historical records of each race didn’t survive in total, and that survivors on the arks remember, but don’t really remember what happened 600+ years ago.
Consider this. 600 years ago from this year would have been, what…1417. Hmm. Can’t say that’s exactly a standout year in terms of historical events, but it was the Middle Ages. Rewind fifty plus years into the mid fourteenth century and we see the end of the Black Plague. Fast forward about fifty years, and we see the fall of Constantinople and the Roman Empire. Life expectancy for most was somewhere in the twenties. Scientific advances, at least as far as European history is concerned, didn’t hold much ground yet. Commerce remained relatively primitive. Though surely not everyone who lived during this age had terrible lives, but war, sickness, intolerance, and fear set the stage for the times. Imagine if in today’s museums we called the Middle Ages a time of “peace and harmony?” The thought is almost comical. Hearing similarly spun stories on the Nexus about how great everyone got along in the past and how wonderful it’s all going to be in the future brinks insanity. It makes me laugh in the most uncomfortable way possible.
I’ll be well on my way to dusty nothingness 600 years from now, in 2617, so I’ve no clue how we of the twenty-first century will be represented in the twenty-seventh century. Presuming that our stories survive in some manner, I rather hope that whatever beings uncover them will see our truths, our lies, and everything in between, not just our cures of cancer and congruous airs. The future deserves to know, and is disappointing think that the inhabitants of the Nexus don’t, and I guess (?), won’t ever know the truth of their collective past. Don’t they deserve better?
P.S. In Mass Effect: Andromeda, if any of this gets cleared up (or made even murkier) later in the game, please don’t spoil it! I want to relish in either contentment or disenchantment come the final credits. 🙂