Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mass Effect: Part 2


Another interesting facet of interstellar politics in Mass Effect is the existence of the organization known as Spectre. A questionable acronym derived from Special Tactics and Reconnaissance, Spectres serve as a largely covert unit deployed by the Citadel Council to 'trouble areas'. From what I've been able to tell, though their actions and motives are rather secretive, Spectres tend to act almost as a judicial branch of the Citadel Council; they go to conflict areas and act as both judges and ambassadors, empowered by the Council to make important decisions on crisis resolution.

What makes them peculiar is that they are explicitly described as being above the law. They are employed by the Council to keep the peace and maintain galactic order, no matter the cost and without regard to legal barriers. This makes analogies between Spectres and real life organizations difficult to create; it makes one think of the Gestapo, the CIA, and the British Secret Service, but yet Spectres don't have to worry at all about anything that they do. They are only removed from Spectre status if they are "in gross misconduct". The in-game encyclopedia even states that sometimes the Council doesn't even know how the Spectres complete their missions, mostly because they don't want to know.

Needless to say, this is a unique organization that really doesn't make much sense. The foundation of the Citadel Council's authority is built upon the idea of them being the executors and defenders of international law. Aside from their willingness to guard other species from conflict, their position on law is the only reason they are accepted and respected by the other aliens. The organization of Spectre completely undermines that, with agents that, while they presumably act in the Council's interests, operate however they please outside of the law. Results are what count with them; messy solutions merely cause the Council to look away. Unlike most of the galaxy in Mass Effect, the existence of the Spectres, while interesting, does not click. It makes no rational sense why they should be employed. Perhaps this is something that will be addressed in the sequel, which I'll be playing when it comes out.

Sowing the Seeds for Future Conflict

The galaxy's history in Mass Effect is an interesting one. Essentially, a member or associate species of the Citadel Council is attacked, and the Council helps to promote and arm a different species to help end the conflict. In the past history of the galaxy, the insectoid threat of the Rachni are stopped by the brutal Krogan. Then, after being given this support, the Krogan become a threat of their own. They are then put down by the Turians, who are given additional privileges and rewards for doing so. When the player is told about this sequence of events, you have the option of asking, "So are the Turians going to be the next threat?". This calls attention to the Council's habit of ending wars. It illustrates what happens when one lives by the maxim, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

This has ongoing ramifications within the game, and also is a sharp allegory to the conflicts that continue in real life to this very day. Particularly during the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union had a habit of propping up all sorts of governments and giving them military supplies. The goal was to prevent their fall to the other side. Consequently, the US in particular made a habit of looking for conflicts in the making. Examples would include rebels trying to stage a coup against a government or one nation invading another. The US would look at both sides, and side with the faction that was closest to democratic in thinking. If that was not an option, they would support the side that was, instead, the least akin to communism.

While it is unclear if this doctrine helped to end the Cold War, what is clear is the fact that the United States created sizable problems for itself down the road that continue to be important today. The most prominent of which is that of Afghanistan. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union sought to invade Afghanistan. In reaction, the United States armed and supplied the natives and warriors of Afghanistan, the mujahedin. In the end, this served to stop the Soviet Union in their tracks and force them to back out. Yet, today, we see that this process has only served to create a more resilient enemy in the future; the militias and terrorists that America now fights in Afghanistan were armed by America. This process can be seen everywhere. Venezuela, Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia... All of these countries were, at one time, funded and supported by American cash and arms. And today, most of those countries are thorns in the side of the United States. The Iraq insurgency might have proven so tenacious because of the arms given to Iraq during its war with Iran. These are lessons important to know of so that history does not repeat itself yet again, and I was pleased to see these allegories made in Mass Effect.


Take a look at these images:

John Shepard of Mass Effect
Sam Worthington of Avatar
Jason Statham of Transporter
Christian Bale of Terminator: Salvation
Denzel Washington of Book of Eli
Matthew Fox of Lost

Hmm... Less hair the better. More facial scruff the better. The current trend in action heroes.

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