Indoctrination: reviewing last week

[This blog post is a few days out of date as the stories have lost their freshness, however that’s a testament to my own lack of time than anything else. ]

“Tell me what to think, I can’t make up my own ideas!”, On Kony 2012

As most people with a facebook account last week may have observed, the video from charity ‘Invisible Children’, ‘Kony 2012’ was spread like, well, a virus. Even the memes and picture boards referenced the awareness campaign integrating it with other memes, such as Third World Success. I thought it was an interesting blending of activism plus cynical meme humour. How much more fun would it be, then, when a story came up of bizarre behaviour on the part of Invisible Children’s CEO.

There was an interesting televisual piece by Charlie Brooker on the phenomenon (which was notably, a few days before Jason Russell’s ‘incident’. I shall link to it here:

This phenomenon was an experiment in crowd mentality. Exactly what we can learn from it time will tell. However, it does show that as a message is propagated to a large group, nuance can become lost, even polarised responses are galvanised as blunt opponents. The response of criticism to the Kony 2012 film is on a variety of fronts, such as the lack of context in contemporary Uganda in which the message is portrayed.

The mass mentality shown through the whole Kony 2012 affair is almost Adornian. I found another amusing take on the issue from Nostalgia Critic.

On Mass Effect 3 (SPOILERS AHEAD)

Moving from one indoctrination to another. Like the Kony 2012 issue, I’ve been meaning to write about the latest Mass Effect game, but as more news came my opinion completely changed and I had to revise what I was going to say. I want to firstly say: I LOVE MASS EFFECT. The series is unlike anything I’ve played, and perhaps the comparable great RPG game before it would have to be Baldurs’ Gate.

Lots of things have been said about the innovations about having a character that stays through each of the two sequels, as well as the decisions you make. The great feeling of playing the Mass Effect series is feeling that you have a part in the game, and that your reactions and responses mean something to the story. There are lots of elements concerning common science fiction tropes, such as FTL travel and humanoid races, but the story has interesting elements, some of which are tried and tested sci-fi fare, while others form a social critique or an interesting imagining of the future based on current knowledge and reasonable speculation (using quantum entanglement to send messages, anyone?).

I really liked that I could keep my relationship option from Mass Effect 2, even though my romance option (Tali) had to die. There was a weird glitch where Tali appeared later on in the game in a romance scene, even though she was dead. That was really weird. I thought it was great that my male Commander Shepherd had the oppurtunity to delve in other potential relationships, one of which with a man! The presence of a male homosexual in the story was very welcome to me, especially because it was presented in an incredibly normal and almost boring way. I suppose when the galaxy is about to be destroyed, other issues don’t really come as high in one’s priorities.
Even though many games don’t do well in terms of social diversity, as well as addressing real world issues, I considered ME3 to have touched on a few interesting human (excuse my speciesism) concerns, such as grief, post traumatic stress, the loss of a limb, genocide and even Nietzsche’s notion of the eternal return. Compared to ME2, however, there wasn’t much depth, but this is mainly because the last chapter of the series is essentially an endgame tying up loose plot ends, which to a large extent it does.

As I completed the game, my response to the whole series and what I originally intended to fanboy pour over about the game changed. There has been a large response of disappointment to the effect of saying that a game that was successful at giving a worthwhile and meaningful choice to the outcome of a story that was essentially your own outcome, had the same ending for everyone. I have to admit this is a convincing ground for disappointment. What I observe about this response is much similar to the Kony 2012 internet populism of polarising opinions.

One might say there are two proposed poles of response to the ending. One pole is so disappointed in the game that they propose that Bioware alter the ending of Mass Effect 3, they have even raised a good amount of money in an online campaign. Another pole critiques the former group, calling them out for a false sense of entitlement over a game that they do not deserve to claim as the franchise were their own intellectual property. Oddly enough, there is even a Mass Effect conspiracy theory, which I myself find convincing, that the ending of the game was part of a wider theme of the trilogy, about the Reaper race of artificial life taking over the minds of organic life and Shepherd’s ‘non-decision’ was essentially part of the Reaper’s indoctrination, making sense of several odd dream sequences and giving more prominence to the symbolism of the dead child who is present at the start of ME3.

If the conspiracy theory is to be believed, Bioware has not only anticipated angry responses, but have also cemented a legacy of duping its own gaming consumer audience through a very, very dark ending for a story that millions love and enjoy. If the conspiracy theory is true, then I can say that the ending was not disappointing.

I think there is a general lesson to be learned from these two events of the week: Don’t rely on your first response to any issue, take a pause and think less about your knee jerk reaction, and take a more calm, collected response. In the age of populism and reactionary politics, we could do with a little bit more stoicism. I could also do with knowing if the indoctrination conspiracy theory is true!!1

Michael

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