Mass Effect Retrospective 45: The Temple of Duh

By Shamus
on Apr 28, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

Supply lines are cut. The military is being consumed by an implacable enemy. Resources are low. Millions have died and entire worlds have gone dark, production-wise.

And yet somehow the galaxyOr maybe just the Humans? If the other races are involved, they’re a footnote is building the Crucible, which is a massive mystery device of future technology built from ancient Prothean blueprints. This is like Great Britain building the Apollo program during The Blitz.

The Catalyst

The story never says where the Crucible is being built. I’m really curious about that, since there must be a constant influx of people and supplies to the place. It’s the most important thing in the galaxy right now. It should be very hard for the Reapers to overlook. The entire plot turns on this object, and it’s being built entirely off-screen, mostly by people we never meet, in an unknown location.

The the best scientists in the galaxy have gathered to build a device they don’t understand, they don’t know how to use, and don’t know what it will do when they turn it on. Imagine this. They literally have no idea what this does. Is it a weapon? Should we aim it at something? How? Where do we put it? Is it a super-shield to protect a planet, or a super-nuke that will blow up a star system? Do we need to stand way, way back when we turn it on? Does it need a crew? Fuel? A driver-side airbag and parking lights?

Despite that, they do know it’s not complete. They know they need one more part, but they don’t know what it is, what it’s for, or what it will do, but they’re calling it the Catalyst. Really, the list of things they do know and don’t know about this device are oddly specific.

The Asari councilor summons Shepard. She might have some information on the Catalyst. She sends him to a temple on their homeworld. When he gets there, the Reapers are attacking and everything is chaos, etc.

I know it`s petty, but I HATE how the Asari have jargon for ranks, units, weapons, formations, vehicles, and tactics that are simply a mindless copy of 20th century American (movie) military. It feels so... lazy.
I know it's petty, but I HATE how the Asari have jargon for ranks, units, weapons, formations, vehicles, and tactics that are simply a mindless copy of 20th century American (movie) military. It feels so... lazy.

Liara says this on the way to the temple:

“The coordinates the counselor gave you are for the Temple of Athame. My mother took me there once. It’s several thousand years old. And for some reason it has classified government funding.”

It’s revealed that the entire Asari religion and goddess-worship is actually a government-created conspiracy that lasted for thousands of years to cover up the fact that they had Prothean beacons, which the game implies is the source of their technology.

So the government formed a religion, and took this alien artifact – which, again, is apparently a source of a lot of their knowledge – and put it inside of a statue, and put the statue in a public temple.

I Have Questions

This entire section is a piñata of bad ideas. Every line of dialog spews out several new, unsupported, contradictory, nonsensical points that have never been foreshadowed and lead to no payoff. It’s so bad I’d suggest it was sabotage if the rest of the main story wasn’t such a mess.

Why didn’t the Asari learn about the Reapers from the beacon?

The entire point of this device is to warn the people of the next cycle about the Reapers. And yet the Asari somehow studied this thing enough to get a technological boost from it, and yet never turned it on or saw it fulfill its one and only purpose? What were they doing with it?

The Asari had this beacon on their homeworld, which they continued to keep secret (and never investigated themselves) even after the business with Saren and the Reapers and the frantic search for beacons all over the galaxy?

Why didn’t the Protheans just TELL the Asari about the Reapers?

This sequence in the temple also reveals that the Protheans uplifted the Asari. Maybe not to space, but to agricultural-level society. They knew each other personally. So that means the last Reaper invasion overlapped with the friendship between the Protheans and the Asari. So the Protheans didn’t tell the Asari about the Reapers, even during the Reaper invasion? And then the Protheans created a beacon to tell them, and it still somehow didn’t tell them, despite them studying it for centuries?

This is not another case of the writer forgetting to read the codex. Both of these concepts are introduced here, together, in the same scene. Somehow the Asari remembered all this stuff from the Protheans, but never managed to remember their godlike friends being wiped out by space demons?

Why did the Asari hide this Prothean beacon in a statue in a public place?

And why did they design it so that activating the beacon would cause the statue to EXPLODE?

And why did they design it so that activating the beacon would cause the statue to EXPLODE?

Imagine aliens crash on Earth and the US government wants to conceal the wreckage. But instead of sticking the ship in Area 51, they put it in a giant statue of the Virgin Mary, which they put in the biggest church in New York. If the artifact did anything interesting, there wouldn’t be any science people around to observe it. Moreover, if you decided to run new tests on it, you wouldn’t be able to, because it’s now sealed inside a statue. This both increases the chance of exposure and prevents you from studying it.

Governments have secure facilities for this very reason!

Actually, it’s not like they made a Virgin Mary. It’s like they made some new figure that nobody had ever heard of, and then somehow got people to worship it. Which makes me wonder…

Why would you create a new religion?

What’s the religion for? Assuming you’re just set on this idiotic statue idea, why not invent something way easier? Why not just make a park with a big secular statue? What possible benefit would there be to invent a new religion?

But even if you had a good reason for doing that…

HOW would you create a new religion?

Liara spends the whole scene denying that the flagrantly Prothen statues look like Protheans, when that`s something a PROTHEAN ARCHAEOLOGIST like her should have noticed on her own. But then she says this line of dialog, where she switches sides in the argument. Then she goes back to denying.

Liara spends the whole scene denying that the flagrantly Prothen statues look like Protheans, when that`s something a PROTHEAN ARCHAEOLOGIST like her should have noticed on her own. But then she says this line of dialog, where she switches sides in the argument. Then she goes back to denying.

Maybe if you’re 8 years old you might imagine that you can wander out into the streets and say, “This is a new god I made up. Everyone believe in them now” and then you’ll become the Pope of a new religion.

But people with some sort of rudimentary, middle-school grasp of history will observe that religions tend to have some kind of background and culture associated with them. Laying aside arguments over a supernatural divinitySeriously. This isn’t some kind of invitation for a bunch of backhanded insults against whatever religions you find annoying., a historian can observe that religions don’t simply materialize at random. They’re the result of political changes, cultural shifts, charismatic leaders, and heroic deeds. That’s not something a group of scientists could manufacture, even if they had a reason to do so. Especially if the only point was so that they would have a container to prevent them from studying a technological artifact.

This is on top of the fact that the Asari only seem to have one religion right now. Presumably they had others before this one came along. How did this abruptly-invented government religion supplant the established ones?

And since this religion is so popularSure, Liara claims it’s in decline, but it’s still the dominant religion of a powerful species. now…

Why would the government secretly fund this religion?

EXPOSITIONAL DIALOG, HOW DOES IT WORK?

EXPOSITIONAL DIALOG, HOW DOES IT WORK?

Governments can do that in the open. Moreover, this is the dominant religion – indeed, the only religion depicted – of an entire species. If they have some sort of system of tithes, then money really shouldn’t be a problem. If they don’t, then how is the government funding a secret? Do none of these billions of worshipers ask who’s paying to keep the lights on? Do the millions of priestesses never look down to see who signed their paycheck?

While not impossible, this is a strange idea. It’s like if I tell you a story, and in the middle of the story I casually mention that half the people in a city killed themselves, but I never say why and I never say what the aftermath was. I just sort of mention it in passing. If you were the listener, you would probably stop me and demand an explanation, because details like that stand out.

This entire section is filled with these sorts of strange ideas, and Shepard doesn’t ever step in on our behalf. He doesn’t even seem to notice how ludicrous this is.

How did the government keep this gigantic conspiracy a secret for thousands of years?

Shepard you ass. You can`t POSSIBLY be that stupid.

Shepard you ass. You can`t POSSIBLY be that stupid.

Funding a religion in secret only makes it seem extremely suspicious. Which would be fine, except little Liara had apparently heard of the covert funding, which means it must have been a poorly kept secret. Which… fine. But then why is she shocked about any of this? Why isn’t this common knowledge by now?

Can you imagine as each new generation of Goddess-worshipers comes to work for the Department of Fake Religion and they have to be told that everything they’ve been taught is a lie? That’s got to be the most awkward employee orientation ever.

And then none of those shocked, disillusioned former worshipers ever went public? This suggests an abrupt new sinister dimension to the Asari that the writer doesn’t explore because they didn’t realize that running a conspiracy for thousands for years would require a level of ruthlessness, cunning, and zealotry that goes against what we’ve been shown about the Asari until now.

What technological advantage?

This is something that’s never come up before in the series. While the writer might talk them up in the codex from time to time, are the Asari really that far ahead? Their combat prowess comes from their biotics, not their zap guns. Their ships don’t seem to be anything special. In fact, in the previous shooting section we see the Asari have the same thump-thump mounted turret they have back on Earth, and the soldiers are all carrying pedestrian ground weapons.

The story has never shown us any mystery technology or seemingly-magical gizmos in the hands of the AsariYou could maybe argue that the Destiny Ascension would count, but that was the flagship of the council, not the Asari, and the story said it was BIG but didn’t really talk about its technology. In any case, I seriously doubt the Mass Effect writer is basing this idea off of that ship.. Not once has anyone ever expressed wonder at Asari technology, much less asked how they could be so far ahead. Sure, they do seem to be a little better than everyone else, but the Asari seem closer to the Turians than (say) America in 1950 compared to America in 2015.

Yes, you could make the case that they have lots of advanced technology that we’re never shownMaybe their big advantages are non-military, and we don’t encounter them because Shepard spends most of his time in combat situations.. But that’s my point: This is an explanation to a mystery that’s never portrayed.

But even if we accept the premise that the Asari really are significantly ahead of the other races…

Why would the Asari need an explanation for their technological advantage?

Right. Which is why the Salarians had their genophage research lab disguised as a coffee shop in a major city. You idiot.

Right. Which is why the Salarians had their genophage research lab disguised as a coffee shop in a major city. You idiot.

The Asari are supposedly hiding this beacon from the rest of the galaxy so that nobody will know where they got their technology. Except, doesn’t everyone get their technology from the mass effect relays and the Citadel? In the first game it was made clear that the relay network was kind of a trap invented by the Reapers. It was designed to funnel technological progress along certain lines, and make organics dependent on the relays.

Ignoring that, the Asari were the first ones in space in this cycle. Of course they should be ahead of the other species in terms of technology! Moreover, they live for 1,000 years. That is an amazingly long time. Imagine if every great thinker since 1100AD was still alive and working today, and they had spent all of the intervening years continuing the study we know them for.

Imagine that right now, in Cambridge, you could find Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Sir Edward Victor Appleton, and Niels Bohr hanging out with Stephen Hawking. And all of these guys are busy doing research, writing papers, and commenting on one another’s work. Imagine if we still had Da Vinci, Charls Darwin, Galileo Galilei, Marie Curie, Johannes Kepler, Nikola Tesla, Nicolaus Copernicus, Rosalind Franklin, Erwin Schrödinger, Richard Feynman, and Carl Friedrich Gauss. Even better: Most of these people are still in their prime. None of them has entered the last century of their lifeNot that this seems to slow down the Asari very much.. Galileo is pretty busy, but if you corner him at a party he’ll tell you all about hanging out with Al-Khwarizmi before his death in the 1700’s. And if you get a few drinks into him, he’ll wax nostalgic about the teachers of his youth, most of whom studied under Plato, Archimedes, and Pythagoras.

A thousand years is a really long time!

I`d love to roleplay Shepard as a sane person who has the basic decency to PUT HIS GUN AWAY when entering a temple, but apparently that clashes with the writer`s vision of Shepard being the Chris Redfield of space: Always pointing his gun at shit and never willing to pull the trigger on dangerous bad guys.

I`d love to roleplay Shepard as a sane person who has the basic decency to PUT HIS GUN AWAY when entering a temple, but apparently that clashes with the writer`s vision of Shepard being the Chris Redfield of space: Always pointing his gun at shit and never willing to pull the trigger on dangerous bad guys.

That’s the problem with us humans. It takes a good 30 years to get the knowledge into your head so you can contribute, and then you’ve got maybe another 30 left before you start to fall apart. For the Asari, this “useful” phase is apparently about 900 years long. The Asari might live 10 times longer than us, but they have something like 30 human lifetimes of productivity.

It would be strange if the Asari weren’t the most advanced race in the galaxy. I’d expect them to be centuries – perhaps millennia – ahead of the other races. But instead the game shows them only slightly ahead. Fine. I always assumed the relatively even technological match between the various races was due to general Asari openness.

The Asari should be far, far ahead, but the game shows us they aren’t. And yet the writer claims that they are, but they shouldn’t be. This is double backwards. And no that doesn’t mean the stupidity cancels out. It’s just twice as dumb.

Fine. Whatever. Let’s just go with it. But even ignoring all of that…

Why would the Asari councilor think this artifact would help us?

She hears that we need help building the Crucible, and her first thought is to send us to a religious temple so we can smash open an ancient and presumably revered statue because the Prothean beacon inside might have more information for us? This requires her to know that the religion is fakeWhich I guess is reasonable for a political leader to know, assuming you’re willing to swallow the premise of a pointless conspiracy that lasted for thousands of years. Which I’m not., that the beacon exists, and that it will have something new to tell us, when you might assume the Asari had squeezed out all of its secrets thousands of years ago. And she also knows that it will reveal stuff somehow related to the Crucible, when the plans for that were found on Mars. And while we’re at it, why wasn’t this stuff about the Catalyst stored with the rest of the Crucible plans?

Once again, this is a mountain of strange ideas that are casually glossed over.

But the worst part of these reveals is that they’re all for nothing. I mean…

Why did the writer do ANY of this?

So Cerberus arrived here ahead of us to get the beacon. I guess TIM has been reading the script again? They slit the throats of the SCIENTISTS who work at this TEMPLE. Then Cerberus withdrew without attempting to get the beacon, and put up the high-security barrier on their way out.
So Cerberus arrived here ahead of us to get the beacon. I guess TIM has been reading the script again? They slit the throats of the SCIENTISTS who work at this TEMPLE. Then Cerberus withdrew without attempting to get the beacon, and put up the high-security barrier on their way out.

None of this is used later. This isn’t part of a build-up to the finale. These concepts don’t exist to support the theme of the game, or the ending, or help us understand the motivations of anyone in the story.

Heck, in Mass Effect 1 you could’ve used any one of these ideas a central plot for a particular quest or colony location. This reveal in Mass Effect 3 is like Vader stopping in the middle of his fight with Luke and saying, “By the way, I’m your father and I built C-3P0.” And then they go back to dueling and the topic never comes up again in the entire trilogy.

The only reason to do any of this – and this might be the most damning thing I can say – is that the writer thought this was cool.

World Un-building

So the Asari studied an artifact without ever learning the one thing it was specifically designed to teach them, but which gave them a technological boost that isn’t depicted. Then they decided to hide the artifact by making up a religion they didn’t need, and which people had no reason to believe in, so that they could put the artifact where it couldn’t be further studied. Then they formed a secret conspiracy to give the religion money it shouldn’t need, in order to conceal the source of technology they didn’t have, from people who weren’t looking for it.

This writer isn’t just bad at worldbuilding, they hate it. They have contempt for the very concept of creating fictional universes. Dialog is so vague and perfunctory, yet it’s still bristling with these goofy, awkward, ill-fitting ideas. Nothing works together. Nothing is ever set up beforehand. Nothing is supported by anything else. Nothing leads to a payoff. The writer just lives in the moment, lashing snippets of cliche dialog together to bridge the gap to the next shooting section. Never look back. Never plan ahead. Just pound out the requisite two minutes of exposition for the nerds and get back to making action set-pieces, which are the only thing that matters.

Any one of these ideas is a big reveal that needs to be given proper attention and weight. But this writer apparently attended the M. Night Shyamalan “anything unexpected qualifies as a plot twist” school of storytelling.

Hey, Listen!

How do thousands of species collaborate across space and time to build a machine that none of them understand? How do the plans keep surviving when basically nothing else does? Why do people keep building it when it`s never worked? This entire concept is just as complex in its stupidity as the fake religion idea I just tore apart. And in about six seconds, Kai Leng is going to show up. The insanity is just so overwhelmingly DENSE here.
How do thousands of species collaborate across space and time to build a machine that none of them understand? How do the plans keep surviving when basically nothing else does? Why do people keep building it when it's never worked? This entire concept is just as complex in its stupidity as the fake religion idea I just tore apart. And in about six seconds, Kai Leng is going to show up. The insanity is just so overwhelmingly DENSE here.

Shepard does the lamest puzzle in the world, the statue of Athame shatters, and a Prothean beacon is revealed. Although instead of working like a proper beacon that gives a vision that only Shepard can understand, this one spits out a little VI buddy. But this VI isn’t anything like Vigil from Mass Effect 1 in terms of lore, outlook, personality, goals, appearance, or even voice acting.

Did the Asari ever find this VI? Did the Asari ever TALK TO this VI? If not, why not?

And no, I’m not asking for some fanboy to jump in here with a, “Well maybe the writer was suggesting X?” fanfiction patch. I’m not asking the reader to write me a story. I’m saying the writer of Mass Effect 3 should have written a story.

The answer to all of these questions I’ve been asking is apparently, “Shut up, nerd.” Because the only thing this writer hates more than worldbuilding is not shooting things. And boy is it ever time to shoot something.

If you thought I hated this last part, just WAIT until next week.

If you thought I hated this last part, just WAIT until next week.

Guess who we’re talking about next week?

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] Or maybe just the Humans? If the other races are involved, they’re a footnote

[2] Seriously. This isn’t some kind of invitation for a bunch of backhanded insults against whatever religions you find annoying.

[3] Sure, Liara claims it’s in decline, but it’s still the dominant religion of a powerful species.

[4] You could maybe argue that the Destiny Ascension would count, but that was the flagship of the council, not the Asari, and the story said it was BIG but didn’t really talk about its technology. In any case, I seriously doubt the Mass Effect writer is basing this idea off of that ship.

[5] Maybe their big advantages are non-military, and we don’t encounter them because Shepard spends most of his time in combat situations.

[6] Not that this seems to slow down the Asari very much.

[7] Which I guess is reasonable for a political leader to know, assuming you’re willing to swallow the premise of a pointless conspiracy that lasted for thousands of years. Which I’m not.



A Hundred!A Hundred!202020202There are more than 281 comments. But less than 283

From the Archives:

  1. Ira says:

    I thought Liara explained that the Athame religion (which I also thought was a minority: siarism is the dominant asari religion, no?) was probably inspired by the Protheans deflecting an asteroid or something that would have hit Thessia. The ancient asari saw lights in the sky saving them from disaster, called it Athame, and over the centuries gradually anthropomorphised (asarimorphised?) Athame into one of them. It’s been a while since I played that segment, but I don’t recall anything to support the idea that ancient asari discovered this beacon and only then decided to build a religion.

    I’m also not sure how the assumption of much faster technological development due to lifespan works. If asari get set in their ways as they age, one might posit that long asari lifespan would contribute to technological stagnation. Or they might gradually refine ideas more effectively, but due to their much slower pace of generational change, would have far fewer paradigm shifts.

    • Silvertram says:

      Agreed. Paradigm shifts in science, from what I’ve read, only really occur when people die. Otherwise they have the tendency to defend their ideas as the correct ones, they’ll modify the ideas to suit new facts on occasion if the evidence is that overwhelming but they almost never completely change ideas.

      Maybe it’s different now but when you consider how hard we fought against ideas such as Bacteria merely because we couldn’t accept that we may be accidentally killing our patients. Well, I’m not going to put much money down on a species more advanced than ours just because of their long lifespan.

      • Knut says:

        I agree. For example, Albert Einstein refused to accept the implications of quantum mechanics (that it’s not deterministic) to the day he died, even though he was one of the founders of quantum theory.

        • Slothfulcobra says:

          It doesn’t always work like that. I had a teacher who, when he was in college, decided to cheat on an assignment about Milton Friedman’s contributions to economics by just calling up the University of Chicago pretending to be a student paper to interview Milton Friedman.

          He ended up failing the assignment because Friedman’s views had changed over time from the point the assignment was covering. People change.

      • paercebal says:

        Paradigm shifts in science, from what I’ve read, only really occur when people die.

        No. What you are describing is paradigm shift in society.

        Which needs irrational people to die to let other ideas thrive despite tradition. And even then, this is not guaranteed.

        Back to science:

        Science is not about “defending” an idea. It’s about having an idea that actually works well, solves an apparent paradox, and then make unexpected predictions that are revealed to be true later.

        So, if the problem is having the right “idea”, this means youth is the right moment: You are fresh from studies, you are not set in your ways, are daring enough to consider ideas that would seem ridiculous, and are just ignorant enough to consider options that were discarded by others.

        Once that time of “frivolity” is gone, it is much more difficult to find something brand new. You can refine what’s already existing, because you have your science-fu. You can help students reach their potential. You can share your knowledge with the common people.

        (Note: I’m not inventing it: My past subatomic physics professor, Luc Valentin, described it to us that way).

        Note that this is exactly what happened to Newton, and then to Einstein. And I guess Hawking.

        • Mike S. says:

          In practice, it’s often demonstrably hard for those older scholars to shift even as the evidence piles up, and frequently there’s active resistance. Max Planck described it thus: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

          Or as it’s been more pithily paraphrased, “Science advances one funeral at a time.”

          • John the Savage says:

            As true as this is, I have to believe that a species of scientists which lives for ten god damn centuries would eventually figure out not to get set in their ways. If they didn’t, they never would have gotten to space (uplifting or no). It’s just not feasible to have an entire society of crotchety old women spending 400 years complaining about how things were so much better when Space-Eisenhower was in office.

            • Duoae says:

              I have to agree with this. So far in my life as a scientist, I hold my views as long as my knowledge, understanding and the evidence tells me that something I think or thought was true is not.

              I can change my views based on evolution of one or more of those three… What I’m not understanding about other people is their steadfastness in the face of evidence… I think that any long-lived specie (and I’m talking about educated entities here, I don’t expect the same from farmers as I would from scientists) would end up being able to evolve their understanding over time.

              I mean, Einstein was invoked above, but his views were not disproven during his lifetime. The evidence came afterward. It’s not very logical to accept a change to a proposed theory based on someone else’s theory…

        • Zak McKracken says:

          There are some scientists who will stay in the “young an creative” phase longer than others but at the same time there are more often than not also some who will defend their worldview tooth and nail, proper scientific process or not.

          Ernst Mach claimed around 1900, as one of the leading physicists and philosophers of his time, that the whole idea of atoms was just stupid. That ended a few particle physicists’ careers. I’ve more than once heard the saying that science advances one funeral at a time.

          Then again, if a species did live for 1000 years, I suppose there’d be a lot more long-term thinking, and people would indeed take longer to get settled. If you fell into “everything new is just a silly fad” mode after 40 years, you’d be a _very_ grumpy old person by 100, and would maybe try something new by 150 because it’d get really boring otherwise…

        • Joe Informatico says:

          Whatever idealistic light you want to cast science and its methods in, scientists are part of the larger society and a society in and of themselves. They are not immune to ego, nor clinging to obsolete views, nor painting their work in the best possible light, nor larger societal biases, nor arriving at beliefs for emotional or cultural reasons, they’re just better at defending their wrongness than less-educated people.

          If, for example, a cadre of older scientists control all the levers of authority and status in leading scientific institutions (lab assignments, editorial boards of journals, grant applications, funding bodies, hiring of research assistants, etc.) and that cadre is entrenched in their outmoded views, they can block the progress of advances in the current understanding from younger scientists, or at least use their positions to delay the acceptance of advances with pointless and wasteful rear-guard reactionary motions until they eventually have to retire or die.

          Now think about how much more damaging such a hidebound, ossified cadre could be if they hold on to the loci of authority for centuries instead of decades.

    • Shibbletyboops says:

      It’s been a long time since I’ve played Mass Effect 3, but I could have *sworn* that they specifically mentioned that the Protheans “Uplifted” the Asari, teaching them not only agriculture, but also extensively genetically modifying them to become the “biotic gods” that we see throughout the series. Maybe it was the VI who mentioned that? I don’t quite remember, to be honest.

      • Mokap says:

        I remember hearing that the Asari were so good at biotics because eezo was so prevalent on Thessia… Although, I have the feeling we’re all right. The writer just forget about what excuse they used last time.

        • guy says:

          It can be both. I mean, people didn’t know the Asari were an uplift, so they’d assume it evolved from local conditions. Note that the Codex is an in-universe document so it reflects what’s known in the setting; the entry on the Citadel contains multiple factual errors.

    • Vermander says:

      I also remember the Athame doctrine no longer being the primary religion of the Asari. My understanding was that it was an ancient religion that gradually fell out of favor and the temple and the statue remain as a sort of world heritage site like the Parthenon or the Great Pyramids. I assumed that there were few if any active worshippers and the scientists who were killed in the temple were historical researchers who doubled as park rangers/tour guides.

      Also, was it ever clearly stated that the current Asari government (besides a select few like Liara’s mother) has any idea that the beacon is inside the statue? Or was it placed there in ancient times when the Athame doctrine was at its height and then gradually forgotten (or knowledge of it suppressed)?

      • MrGuy says:

        Which, frankly, would be FINE. Actually, it would be BETTER. Because it wouldn’t have required them to actually found the religion at all.

        The newly uplifted Asari could make the statue, and claim it’s a really old relic of a religion from the pre-uplift days that died out a long time ago. Build a fake “historic temple” for it to be part of. Or better, yet, just put it in a REAL historic temple – I’m sure there are actual archeological digs done by the Asari (given that’s what Liara does for a living in ME1 and all). Hey, presto. Now we have our beacon in a protected religious monument just like we wanted, but instead of having to create a real religion with real doctrines and get everyone to follow it (requiring a massive conspiracy of government, religious leaders, community leaders, etc.), all we needed was a conspiracy of a few archeologists to claim a certain artifact is part of a real architectural site when in fact they know it was planted there.

        Actually founding a religion is a terribly expensive way to create holy sites.

    • Bruno M. Torres says:

      I really think that the Matriarch-barmaid from Illium gave the most elegant explanation for the Asari’s issues with technology: Sitting on the top of the Galatic Council for too long, they grew fat, lazy and arrogant, allowing the other species to catch up.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      Not all technological advances are paradigm shifts, a lot of it is ‘stamp collecting’, filling in data. One of the theories about China’s stagnation relative to Europe is that they didn’t develop glass, and thus spectacles, losing about a decade of useful work per scholar, though the inability to make microscopes and the like are also likely to be significant.

      Besides, if a species lasts 1000 years, they’d presumably have to be more mentally plastic to deal with ecosystem changes.

      As for the religion, if a relic has lasted from the beginning of agriculture to well into the space age, odds are there’s a religion around it that kept it in good nick. All it takes then is for the government to realise it’s got Ark of the Covenant-style powers and take quiet control of the sites.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        A lot of technological advancement is a result of necessity or environment. Ancient peoples in Mesopotamia, Europe, and North Africa, once they learned how to smelt bronze (an alloy of copper and tin), quickly realized its superiority to copper alone for weapons and other implements. By the Late Bronze Age, elaborate trade networks had been established between the civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean to facilitate bronze smelting (copper was fairly common, but tin was only available in England and deep in modern-day Turkey).

        These trade networks fell apart by the 1100s BC as the invasion of the Sea Peoples took out all these trading partners except Egypt, which was also crippled by the sudden loss of trade. The tin trade became a lot less reliable, but this essentially forced Mediterranean cultures to start working with more commonly available iron, else we might not have had an Iron Age (or at least it would have been delayed).

        Likewise, we know Mesoamerican cultures knew about the wheel, as it appears in toys and other small artifacts. But they never adopted it for transportation because it wasn’t practical in the marshy terrain of the Valley of Mexico. It was, however, very suitable for the steppes and plains of the Mediterranean and central Asia, so despite what Civilization‘s tech-trees would have you believe, it’s possible the wheel wasn’t invented independently by several Eurasian cultures, but instead it was developed by one and then literally rolled everywhere else.

        • Grudgeal says:

          Much can be said about most technology on the Eurasian continent, really. For example, it’s true China didn’t ‘invent’ glass, but they learned to develop it from trade with the Indian subcontinent and the middle east. There’s examples of Chinese glassware reaching back to 500 BCE.

          In fact, China was very good at being the exception to the rule: A lot of things invented in China (to mention some examples, paper, gunpowder and coke furnaces) had to either be invented individually elsewhere or forcibly extracted by conquest because the Chinese had no interest in sharing or exporting the technology. People came to China to trade, not the other way around.

          There are a lot of theories on why China ended up being eclipsed by European imperialism in the 19th century, but the mainline hypothesis AFAIK says that neccessity and environment was one of them: China had, within its borders, access to practically all desired natural resources with the exception of silver and never had to expand or trade much to acquire them, it had no states capable of challenging it militarily (barring raids from northern nomads) and didn’t have to invade neighbouring countries to protect its own sovereignity and interests, and was mostly free of the large-scale cultural and religious migrations that changed Eurasian power structures in the 5th-8th centuries and set the tone for centuries of cultural and religiously-motivated infighting. Much like the Roman Empire, several dynasties of China had the means to start an industrial revolution (a centralised state apparatus with taxation and civic duties, urbanization and the neccessary knowledge of steel production and steam power) but they lacked the population pressures, probably partially caused by a millennia of societial change from the volatile political situation on the subcontinent, to induce it like what you had in 18th century England.

    • Grudgeal says:

      Arcanum, if I remember right, explained the local Dwarven technological stagnation (relative to humans’) with the anecdote that Dwarves live long enough to see the consequences of their own work. Due to their long lifespans, a Dwarf’s immediate thought upon discovering an innovation would be “what are the long-term issues of this development” and not “how can I put this to work for me right now”.

      I mean, look at modern-day humanity. We’ve had about 100 years of antibiotics and we’re already grasping at straws developing new ones for clinical use because we’ve been over-using antibiotics for agricultural and commercial purposes. For an Asari, that’d be about a tenth of her lifespan to see an entirely new way of combating disease come into existence and get challenged through overuse. Maybe evolving long life-spans would necessitate a different form of perspective or a more cautious psychology.

      • pdk1359 says:

        The webcomic Shlock Mercenary (set 1,000 years in the future) recently had immortality nano-technology become open source, more or less. The author touched on the social ramifications, but the story’s gone elsewhere for the moment (attempts to figure out the technology behind a super-massive habitat and also figure out what extincted the people who built it).
        It’s a good read, but an archive binge would take some time; it’s been running since June 2000, with daily updates.
        I think the immortality thing was revealed around last summer… The hell, November 2014?
        Okay the problem with reading as it updates is I lose track of how much story there is.

    • natureguy85 says:

      I don’t think it has as much to do with age itself as how that longer lifespan magnifies younger people not being taken as seriously. This is an actual part of Liara’s character in the first game.

    • Sarellion says:

      IIRC Athame is the goddess Liara calls out to quite often.

      It seemed to me that the whole Athame religion developed out of all these deeds the protheans did, like preventing the asteroid strike, keeping the other aliens from invading and handing out all these gifts to the asari like astronomy, agriculture etc.

      My impression is that the Athame religion is some kind of cargo cult/Dänikens astronauts as gods setup. The religion is fake, but the government didn´t need to invent it.

      The whole stuff about the government funding the church actually makes sense. The catholic church is a big religious entity with quite some centralization but also quite old. The money which is spent on buildings and paychecks has quite a few sources differing fro country to country and was and is sometimes quite a complicated mess. it was quite common in earlier times that someone was the patron of a particular church and had certain privileges ranging from better seats up to presenting the priest to the church, aka I want this guy to be the priest of that and the church only confirming that choice. The kings of Spain had that right for their country and the colonies overseas for centuries, turning the clergy into a government organisation. A lot of noble houses elsewhere used “their” church to secure a nice position for second or thirdborn sons

      And even in modern times there are quite a few complicated rulings. The churches in France belong to the municpality/state, the priests are paid by donations/fees with the exception of churches in the Alsace which weren´t part of France when the government and the church made their latest agreement and are paid by the state, too. Churches in Germany are paid by hm let´s say “tithe” which is part of income tax (goes to your religious group if she raises money that way). Oh and they still get some compensation for all the stuff the german states took from them in the 19th century. Switzerland raises taxes but some dioceses have the local community vote for the bishop they want.
      Some of these agreements date from 1905, the thirties or even 1871.

      Paychecks for our asari priestesses would probably bear the signature of their local head honcho priest who got the money somewhere. In this case from the government as some form of grant, subsidy or because someone wrote 10.000 years ago that the local queen pays for the erection and maintenance of local temples.

      So well, it´s not so farfetched that the local government paid for a temple and controls who gets to run it, without the rest of the church knowing that they worship protheans and what goes on in Church 51.

      But yes, the whole idea of putting their font of technology into a temple is plain weird.

    • MrFob says:

      Yea, ot’s been a while since I played this section but I was also under the impression that the Protheans themselves started the religion, it wasn’t like government did it later. So the religion did actually evolve naturally. I think it’s also possible that – since the Asari are an alien species with a completely different cultural background – a weird mix of science and religion is possible that doesn’t really need to have a direct comparative basis in our own history (although even for us, the concept of scholarly monks is not unknown). I can swallow the idea that an interweaving of religion, science and the government works differently for the Asari than it did/does for us. This already negates (or at least dampens) about half of Shamus’ complaints.
      I also don’t have a problem with the Shadow Broker knowing about secret funding to the temple (or rather the beacon research.
      I also don’t have much of a problem with the idea that the Asari tried to squeeze the beacon for information but didn’t get very far because no one had the cypher.

      Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of odd things in this scene but I would have focused my criticism much more on the prothean VI and its BS and how it knows all this stuff when the Asari didn’t know about the reapers (something that Shamus did mention in one sentence) and also, why the Asari councilor didn’t tell Shepard and Liara about the beacon immediately during the first council meeting in the beginning of ME3 when it became clear that prothean knowledge was of paramount importance for the last chance of the galaxy.

      Those things bother me much more than the idea that an alien civilization might have different socio-religious development and world view than us.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This is like Great Britain building the Apollo program during The Blitz.

    Even worse,once you put the rest of what we know about it into the metaphor.Its like the britain building the apollo program during the blitz,based on the lost atlantean blueprints,that only few people can read(poorly),and no one knows what it should be once completed.

    Oh,but its ok,because we have a person who knows atlantean perfectly.And we send them to…faff around in the occupied france and stomp on the italians in the desert.But we also have a real live atlantean who somehow got revived.And we send him to…faff around as well.Basically,the leadership is full of morons.

    • Falcon02 says:

      Yeah, when I read that my first thought was replace the Apollo Program with something like the machine from the Movie/Book “Contact.” Where they were simply given blueprints for some massive machine, without any understanding of what it did.

      Except add on top of that that the ones who gave you the blueprints didn’t really know what it did either, yet still somehow updated it from the previous group who also didn’t understand what they were designing.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I know it’s petty, but I HATE how the Asari have jargon for ranks, units, weapons, formations, vehicles, and tactics that are simply a mindless copy of 20th century American (movie) military. It feels so… lazy.

    This thing I always attribute to the universal translator.Honestly,at this point you practically cannot have any science fiction involving extra terrestrials without universal translators,unless you decide to specifically have your story revolve around the language in some fashion.

    • SPCTRE says:

      Indeed, and the UT has to come with a healthy dose of Virtual Intelligence and predictive abilities that border on (or cross over into the territory of) telepathy.

    • Slothfulcobra says:

      But then again, if that’s how the translation works, why does the translator not work at all for the Quarians? Or that one Japanese woman in ME1?

      • Pyrrhic Gades says:

        Simple: Because the translator doesn’t cover all languages. It’s hard enough translating back and forth between English and the Italian dialect of Space Birdian, and now you wanna throw Japanese and a gypsie language with only 300 people speaking (and there are a lot of different languages amoungst the Quarians)? Forget about it!

        Be lucky you get to cope with the accents!

      • Syal says:

        It works; they’re just shouting gibberish at you.

      • natureguy85 says:

        Not everything translates. The Japanese guard on Noveria just adds honorifics to the names. I don’t recall her using any actual Japanese words.

    • Merlin says:

      Yeah, and frankly as a reader/player/whatever I don’t think there’s a lot of value in renaming things we’re familiar with without meaningfully changing them anyway. When you start swapping out all uses of “birthday” for “life day”, that’s not worldbuilding, it’s just jargon. Making up Asari words to describe their military ranks is mostly just a nuisance unless their military functions in a way unique enough to merit departure from the standard.

      • Echo Tango says:

        This right here is why I prefer playing CNC: Generals or Civilizaiton, to playing Starcraft (I or II). There’s just a tonne of names I need to memorize in SC, just to know what is a “tank” or my “artillery” unit.

      • Syal says:

        That stuff’s cultural flavor, though. Your machine-centric culture could speak have the Day of Priming where the person was started up, your communication culture has Breath Days, your nihilist group has the Entrance Into Sorrow (celebrated with mourning veils and midnight-black kazoos, and of course with cake).

        • Fie, I resent this persistent mischaracterisation of nihilism. It’s ‘arbitrary celebration day’, and everyone gets to decide when theirs is and how often it occurs.

          Technically there was that one guy who had his as ‘arbitrary celebration minute’ (which initially occurred every 30 seconds, causing a potentially catastrophic pile-up of overcelebration) but no-one else was really interested in coming to his parties often enough for the shorter intervals to gain popularity. :P

    • Zeitgeist says:

      To quote Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg on the subject…

      “…it seemed simpler and more desirable to use these familiar terms… [than] to invent a long series of wholly [alien] terms. In other words, we could have told you that one of our characters paused to strap on his quonglishes before setting out on a walk of seven vorks along the main gleebish of his native znoob, and everything might have seemed ever so much more thoroughly alien. But it would also have been ever so much more difficult to make sense out of what we were saying…”

      It’s like, if you’re going to question why they use English/Earth-based terms, you might as well ask why they’re speaking in an Earth-based language.

      Hell, using more impenetrable alienspeak would make Mass Effect seem more like Star Wars. Which, Shamus being a bigger fan of details-first over drama-first, you’d think he would be against.

      • Mike S. says:

        Sure, calling a rabbit a smeerp is just distracting, unless someone is actually good at constructed languages. But there’s still the sort of compromise that got us asari huntresses and krogan battlemasters instead of more standard military terms.

        They could use rank names that draw from the idea that they’re primarily independent small group fighters, or the Hellenic-sounding names the asari use all over the place elsewhere (maybe hoplites and stichoi instead of soldiers and squads?).

      • That quote reminded me of this.

        But funny nonsense words aside, I agree with the other replies that we’ve got plenty of non-ridiculous terms that they could use without sounding exactly like a 1950’s military.

    • MrGuy says:

      Sorta true, though if you’re into world building, really NOT an excuse.

      Because different languages use different metaphors, idioms, and images to mean the same things. The literal meanings of those things are both intelligible, but you’d immediately recognize the difference.

      Simple example. In English, we ask “What is your name?” The literal translation into Spanish is “Cual es tu nombre?” which is perfectly understandable. However, it’s more likely for a Spanish speaker to ask the question as “Como te llamas?” which literally translates as “How are you called?” It’s a different way of thinking about the same concept – a name is a property of an object, where a way of being called is a societal determination.

      There are cultural echoes in how we choose to express ourselves. There was a fascinating sociology experiment where North American and Chinese speakers were asked to complete the sentence “I am _____.” North Americans tended to use a self-describing adjective (“Smart,” “Strong,” “A good listener,”) where those from China might say something more like “The eldest daughter in my family,” or “part of a strong community.”

      Even with a very good translator, echoes of different expressive patterns, choice of metaphor, and built-in imagery should be clearly identifiable. If you’ve ever heard someone whose native language is German speak English (even speak English very well), you immediately notice a different preferred structure and phrasing that’s easy to identify. It’s still all reasonable, understandable, syntactically valid English. But it SOUNDS different.

      Plus, there’s all kind of idomatic metaphor that major languages use that differ between languages.

      Example, in American English, a military unit under fire would say that it’s “pinned down.” The idea of being fixed in place with a pin is a very specific metaphor for being unable to move. I could imagine other perfectly reasonable english language metaphors for being unable to move that don’t require a reference to a pin. “Stuck down.” “Snowed under.” “Grabbed.” “They have us legless.” “Quicksanded.” It’s not obvious why “pinned down” is the dominant metaphor in English, as opposed to some other visual metaphor.

      Why would every language in the universe choose specifically “pinned down” to express this condition. And if they didn’t, why wouldn’t the universal translator translate the image actually used, instead of switching to the 20th Century American English version?

      I guess you could argue the translator has an immensely nuanced grasp of metaphor and imagery, but that seems hard, and possibly impossible – is the translator so good at picking up intent that it knows the difference between actual flowery metaphor and “common usage” metaphor?

      If you really want to do some world building, give Asari different metaphors and phrasing from Krogans (who sound WAY to articulate compared to how they’re portrayed, IMO).

      Of course, the reason we DON’T do this is probably accessability – if your audience uses American English, and your characters don’t, you’re trading off the ease of understanding the dialogue against building a world where not everyone’s speech is the same. IMO a high-minded game like ME (at least ME1) should aspire to that tradeoff, but a space marine game maybe shouldn’t.

      • Poncho says:

        Quite good.

        I think the reason this segment bothered Shamus is due to the fact that other facets of alien races are given these subtle differences. Volus call humans “Earth Clan” even if Shepard isn’t technically from Earth. Krogan have Battlemasters and Warlords as their leaders; Asari have Matriarchs; Turians have the Hierarchy. While all these concepts are human in origin (I mean, they’d have to be to make sense to a human audience), the differentiation from modern western / English speaking concepts make it feel like at least the writer was attempting to shape the aliens in a way that reminded the audience they’re aliens.

        Then we get to this scene and the Asari are using our own military jargon on their radios. It feels out of place when elsewhere in the game effort was put into making the races seem somewhat foreign.

        • Shamus says:

          Yes. This exactly.

          The effect is even more pronounced in the game, where you’re also hearing modern warfare sounds and weapons. (Turret section, woo!) It feels like a round of Call of Duty where everyone has been painted blue.

          A few small tweaks would have been nice to make this feel just slightly alien.

          • Poncho says:

            Yeah they could have lampshaded it very easily, too. “Oh the human SPECTRE is here, alright changing to Alliance protocol. Let’s get this gunship in the air and secure a… LZ, that’s what you call it, right?”

            Another disappointing aspect of this segment is that the turret looks and feels exactly like the one we pick up on the Turian moon, and the gunships are identical to the ones in ME2…. it’s like all the art budget went into the backdrop of Thessia and they didn’t have time to animate anything that looked specifically Asari.

            • Falcon02 says:

              Such lamp-shading could have attempted to address it, but I think might have bothered me even more. It would be like a Navy officer observing a Marine operation and the Marine declaring they’re going to start talking to each other using Navy ranks instead.

              Not only would it incite existing cross-branch rivalries, but cause confusion in communications…
              “Sir, are you referring to me? There’s no Lt. Commanders here, but I am a Major…”

    • Joe Informatico says:

      In my old D&D games, I used to try and be “creative” and use different ranking systems for fantasy armies, e.g. stealing rank names from the ancient Roman or Persian armies, etc. All this did was cause confusion among my players, who shouldn’t have to memorize dozens of new nouns just to play a tabletop RPG as a hobby.

      And realistically, human beings can only be usefully organized into groups of certain limited sizes, especially before the development of radio or widespread literacy, and we can assume similar limits to most humanoid fantasy and SF races. So even if the terms don’t translate directly, the militaries of most human societies usually have had some equivalent to “sergeant”, “lieutenant”, “captain”, and “general”.

      • Gethsemani says:

        It doesn’t have to be all that confusing though. Look at the old Sisters of Battle from Warhammer 40,000 for example. They use monastic hierarchy as the basis for their naming conventions (all soldiers are Sisters, their leader is a Canoness or Prioress etc.) and since it is something most of us have at least cursory knowledge about it works without confusing people. It also lends a lot of flavor to the SoB, as opposed to giving them the same rank structure as the contemporary US Army.

        The trick is to use relatable structures, which neither Roman legions or Persian armies can be said to be. If you call your soldiers Hunters, your platoon leaders Pack Alphas and your company commanders Masters of Hunt you get a flavorful naming convention that evokes thoughts of savage predators and it takes all of maybe three seconds for the player to understand the hierarchy (especially if you show the hierarchy in action).

        Likewise, in my current medieval fantasy campaign I am steering clear of using medieval measurements and similar, because it just confuses the players. At the same time, they don’t see a doctor, they see a healer. They don’t call on the police, but the city guard. They pay tithes instead of taxes etc.. Knowing how to walk the fine line between flavorful and complicated is hard, but the pay off is immense.

        • guy says:

          Tithes =/= taxes. The tithe goes to the church and secular rulers (or religious rulers who also hold secular authority separate from their religious authority) collect taxes.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The entire point of this device is to warn the people of the next cycle about the Reapers.

    Not quite.These are prothean phones,and it just so happens that one of the last messages sent was about the reapers.But their main function is communication.

    • Coming_Second says:

      But this particular prothean phone knows all of the important facts about the Crucible. We were specifically sent to it to discover something vital pertaining to the mission. This phone KNOWS the most important thing there is to know in this galaxy. Hence the main point – if the asari apparently used this thing to develop technology years before they should have been able to, how come they never discovered its primary function?

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Because that message was coded to work only for those who have prothean language in their heads.Meaning shepard and javik and no one else(well,the green asari too,if you let her live).

        • Coming_Second says:

          The fact they wouldn’t be able to understand the projection is honestly a side-issue. My main point is that a) this thing is still in one piece, despite the fact the asari “developed technology off it” in the vaguest of terms, and b) despite having done that they never worked out what it was for.

          Let’s say some Bronze Age humans discover a mobile phone in the forest one day. They can’t do anything with it, it’s completely worthless to them, despite it being an awe-inspiring object. A number of things could happen.

          One possibility is that they take it back to their community and opt not to study it, keeping it instead as a treasured icon. The local religion declares it holy and it becomes a sacred object, to be worshipped but not scientifically examined. Some idiot decides it’s so precious that it needs to be locked in a statue. If it manages to survive the turmoil of the millenia, eventually from their own technological advances the elite work out that it must be a communication device. Your ear goes there, your mouth goes here, these buttons must be to type a form of code… the point here is that the phone in no way helped the technological evolution of these people, and that if it remained intact over all those years eventually they would have worked out what it was for.

          More likely what would happen is, with as much care as possible, that original group of Bronze Age humans take the phone apart. Again, almost everything inside means absolutely nothing to them, and worse, now they can’t put it back together. Imagine the sense of loss. But wait – the screws. The tiny little doodads that held the back on. The brightest craftsman of the village looks at those, and the genesis of an idea is formed. A year later, these people are using crude helixes to hold their tools and weapons together, and to transport water uphill. They have gained a small but crucial technological boost centuries ahead of its time. The rest of the phone meanwhile has become earings, at best a treasured icon. The point here is that if a technological boost was gained from primitive people studying the phone, there’s no chance the phone survived.

          So the idea that the Asari studied it at a very early age and got something useful from it, then made it part of a religion (then made it a secret and stopped it being studied thereafter for some reason), AND it survived intact, AND they never worked out what it was actually for, is nonsensical on every level.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Liara spends the whole scene denying that the flagrantly Prothen statues look like Protheans, when that`s something a PROTHEAN ARCHAEOLOGIST like her should have noticed on her own. But then she says this line of dialog, where she switches sides in the argument. Then she goes back to denying.

    To be fair to her,the way protheans look is very fluid,going from one version in me1 to another version in me2/3.So its not her fault,but a huge retcon pileup.

    • Mike S. says:

      It is, though, a huge stretch that thousands of years of close examination of Prothean ruins didn’t produce a clear picture of their anatomy. (Or anatomies, if we take Javik’s idea that multiple species adopted Prothean identity.) The Reapers don’t pulverize everything, and there should be thousands of years worth of remains to analyze on dozens of worlds. (Even if the Prothean funerary custom was total disintegration, they’d miss some accidents or disaster victims.) And things like radioactive dating and stratigraphy should guard against confusing members of the Prothean civilization from earlier cycles’ people.

      (Never mind the fact that those layers should make the existence of the cycles obvious before Sovereign lectures Shepard in ME1.)

      Being that ignorant of any details of what the Prothean’s look like is nearly as much a stretch as classifying the orbital distance of Menae. If they’re digging up Prothean sites at all, that should be one of the first things they learn.

  6. SAeN says:

    The part of this mission I always enjoyed was that Shepard very clearly loses here, and reacts as you’d expect. It’s a bit of a gut-punch seeing the world collapse around you, opposite to the way they show Earth collapsing. The game tries so hard to make sure you realize that, at the end, you’re going back to Earth to save it. It’s never said explicitly, but you know that’s where this is all heading. And because of that the the game indirectly implies that Earth is savable, that it’s not actually that bad. Whereas the Asari home-world is not, it’s gone as far as the game wants to show. And in the end I feel exactly as I should about losing the Asari world and exactly as I shouldn’t when we lose Earth at the start. The writer is completely incapable of putting you properly in Shepards shoes because of the human-centric focus of the game.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But people with some sort of rudimentary, middle-school grasp of history will observe that religions tend to have some kind of background and culture associated with them. Laying aside arguments over a supernatural divinity, a historian can observe that religions don’t simply materialize at random. They’re the result of political changes, cultural shifts, charismatic leaders, and heroic deeds. That’s not something a group of scientists could manufacture, even if they had a reason to do so. Especially if the only point was so that they would have a container to prevent them from studying a technological artifact.

    Well we do have scientology.And those who believe in it know that the founder was a science fiction writer.Still doesnt stop them.So sometimes money or power is all that you need to establish a new religion.Governments tend to have both,so this is not that far fetched.

    • ehlijen says:

      Hubbard may have created scientology, but it didn’t rise from nothing to what it is today without at least some of the things shamus has listed, namely charismatic leaders and a good understanding of the cultural shifts and social dynamics of their target recruitment groups.

      I agree that Shamus is wrong when he says scientists couldn’t just create a religion, but it would take scientists dedicated to social dynamics and psychology, ie fields not typically associated with studying ancient artefacts, and it would take a lot of time and effort.
      It could also very possibly go against the ideals of their scientists to knowingly create a fake religion (depending on whether Asari science has similar views on truth and objectivity as human science).

      Another question I didn’t notice in Shamus’ article:
      The asari were the first into space, using the tech from the beacon, presumably. Who were they trying to hide the fact that they have a beacon from if they were alone in space for the first few centuries? The existence of the protheans doesn’t seem to have been denied or kept secret, so why can’t their own population know that’s where their space tech came from (seeing as the idea that the relays are prothean is also a thing)?
      Or did they wait with hiding it until they met other aliens? If so, how did they erase the knowledge from the public mind? Who edited all those wikis?
      The implication I got was that they didn’t find the beacon until after they met the other council races and agreed to share all beacon tech, but chose to lie about theirs. But then we’re back to ‘what did they actually learn?’
      They seem to sell all their tech on the galactic market, they even have money governed RnD planets where anyone can invest in anything (Noveria) and 100% free market planets where anyone can buy anything (Illium). So what is it that the Asari learned that they then didn’t sell?
      Or is this a giant patent fee scheme? Which doesn’t sound very effective if the government has to secretly fund it.

      • guy says:

        I’m pretty sure the biggest example of their tech edge is in fact the Destiny Ascension. Yes, it’s the flagship of the Council fleet, but that’s like being the flagship of a NATO task force. It’s still an Asari warship, just seconded to the Council fleet. And saying it’s just big is underselling it. It’s the most powerful warship in the galaxy, and the fact that the Turians haven’t built warships at least as powerful given that they’re the militaristic ones implies they just can’t. Asari-controlled companies also sell the top-end biotic amps and omnitools and other top-quality gear, and that’s just what’s approved for general sale.

        • ehlijen says:

          So what, there are size limits on everyone’s ships but the asari’s? That sounds more like a treaty limitation than advanced technology.

          We’re told more often that the Normandy is super advanced than we are given reason to believe the Destiny Ascension is anything but the same tech everyone has scaled up.

          If the Asari keeping something to themselves is as big a plot point as ME3 makes it out to be, then the audience should be told what that is, especially given that the game is a race to find the supertech needed to beat the reapers. I don’t think the catalyst is really all they were keeping under their mattress this whole time. If we are meant to care, tell us! If we are not meant to care, don’t oversell it!

          • guy says:

            Scaling tech up is not a trivial exercise or we’d already have a space elevator. The Destiny Ascension is larger. It therefore requires a more powerful drive core, and its gun must be able to direct and channel more energy, and scaling laws mean that being able to build something does not inherently imply the capacity to build a larger version of the same thing.

            • ehlijen says:

              Insert mass effect technology, wave magic wand. If you can fine tune the mass of objects to make tooth brushes, you can make construction of any size possible; if mass is variable, so is inertia and therefore everything that makes large objects troublesome.

              Also, if ‘the ability to build bigger things’ was the big secret, then maybe saying so would have been nice. The asari holding out on Shepard with something that could genuinely benefit the crucible would actually be plot relevant drama!

              • Poncho says:

                They made kind of a big deal about Silaris ship armor that you get in ME2 as one of your ship upgrades. You need Samara to buy it because it’s apparently a closely guarded Asari manufacturing process.

                There are little details like this, most of which are hidden in the Codex, but the impression is that the Asari have or had a huge technological superiority and kind of sat on it–only making political or financial progress.

                • ehlijen says:

                  I never got the impression that it was anything that couldn’t be explained with ‘first space faring race has more tech’, especially if the comparison is to cerberus, a clandestine splinter group of the youngest space faring race.

                  This was clearly presented as a big deal, but if something’s meant to be a big deal it needs some big deal details.

                  Compare ‘Obama cheated!’ to ‘Obama cheated…at cards…in college…while drunk…’

                  The asari cheated…at something they already had an advantage of…to gain nothing in particular that makes a difference to us (we only care about the bits they didn’t care about)…and they stopped doing it a while back (seeing as the beacon is now a museum piece)…

                  • guy says:

                    What makes you think it’s a museum piece? High government officials have been visiting the facility within the last century. Also, while the first civilization into space would generally have a tech edge, given the fairly decent trade relations between Council races and the fact that salvaging Prothean tech remains the primary source of new research, the Turians and Salarians would generally have caught up by now. But the advantage is narrow enough that it isn’t blatantly obvious to everyone else that they’ve got a hidden Beacon.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      It’s only about a half-century old, and still a lot of its secrets have been laid bare, its traditional powerbase is crumbling, and the anonymity and ubiquitousness of the internet means its enemies are no longer threatened by its previous strongarm tactics, as Project Chanology and Operation Clambake demonstrate. Apostate members are writing tell-all memoirs. You can get a small group of people to believe just about anything, but a culture-spanning force needs something much stronger backing it.

    • Neil W says:

      There’s room here to think about different modes of religion; the way the Romans bound it all up into their calendar, way of life, rituals and so on. As though football and baseball games and the Fourth of July and hotdogs were part of American religious life. There’s also the adoption and creation of various gods by the governments (for example the deification of Roman Emperors, or Serapis, the patron of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt who, even if existing prior to their arrival, the cult was changed radically).

      That’s not what the Mass Effect 3 writers are doing here though.

  8. Gunther says:

    “So the Asari studied an artifact without ever learning the one thing it was specifically designed to teach them, but which gave them a technological boost that isn’t depicted. Then they decided to hide the artifact by making up a religion they didn’t need, and which people had no reason to believe in, so that they could put the artifact where it couldn’t be further studied. Then they formed a secret conspiracy to give the religion money it shouldn’t need, in order to conceal the source of technology they didn’t have, from people who weren’t looking for it.”

    I love that this paragraph is just summing up the idiocy of at most a five minute slice of exposition in a hundred hour game.

    • Alex says:

      Maybe once this epic trilogy has been concluded, Shamus should produce a Cliff’s Notes version consisting of nothing but these kinds of paragraphs. How long do you think it would take to merely summarise ME 2 & 3’s failures?

  9. boz says:

    Analyzing Mass Effect 3 is like being in a twilight zone episode. You know the person you love is victim to a body snatcher and (s)he is now acting completely different. Yet somehow everybody acts like this is how (s)he was supposed to behave in the first place. While you are going through a continuous cycle of “wait, what?”, “how?”, “but why?”.

    • Poncho says:

      Yeah I loved the first game when it came out, and thoroughly enjoyed the second game despite the flaws in its plot and storytelling. I was hopeful that the third would rectify some of of the poor main-story segments of ME2 but I could immediately tell that ME3 was going to double-down on the stupid rather than try to fix it.

  10. Silvertram says:

    Shamus, have you played with the Prothean DLC? It does answer some of these questions. Some of them anyway, and the banter between Liara and Javik is very amusing. It does enhance other issues though, specifically regarding why they only seem to be barely above our level of tech and have no warning of the reapers despite the VI being designed to detect indoctrination (Now where did that come from?) and knows about the reaper cycle.

    And it’s able to determine we’re in a middle of a reaper cycle being reaped. That sort of implies some form of sensors and the like, and may address why Kai Leng couldn’t just steal the VI outright, but it still increases the questions regarding exactly why they aren’t supporting you from the get go when you start talking about the reapers.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I hate that dlc.Javik shouldve been the focus of the story,not cerberus.The fact that a freaking live prothean was cut to make more room for more fuck kai leng is rage inducing.

      • paercebal says:

        Kai Leng could have been so much…

        … But he was used as a boring nemesis, to embody how easily the writer could f*ck with that story. The writer needed a cool and impressive and awesome soldier to counterpoint Shepard, and what we saw was instead a one dimensional emo-looking armor-plot-protected guy who just needed a good spanking.

        Re-imagine Kai Leng in Mass Effect, perhaps as a squad mate. The guy is clearly an a**hole, a cruel pragmatic, with perhaps a clever tongue, with the empathy of a rock. Efficient, and dismissing others as weaklings. A good counterpoint to an paragon Shepard, he would have been renegade Shepard’s best friend (and possibly enemy, once Shepard quit Cerberus). Or a romance (50 shades of Kai Leng?).

        But what we got was the boring emo guy with plot armor…

        This must be *that* decade, I guess. Should we blame Twilight for Kai Leng and Kylo Ren?

        • Gethsemani says:

          As I said in an earlier part of this blog, Kai Leng could have been so good if he had been properly introduced and used. Imagine if we had seen Kai Leng on Mars, where he directs the Cerberus forces there and we get to see him kill some innocent scientists and drop some quips about how Shepard is not as good as he thought before leaving without Shepard having a chance to stop him. Then he shows up at Sur’Kesh and tries to take Eve away, but this time Shepard manages to stop him and save Eve, which makes Leng leave with some grudging admittance that Shepard won that round.

          If the game had up-played Leng as the TIMs Dragon and as an image of what Shepard could have become if (s)he had stuck with Cerberus and TIM, Leng could have made a compelling character. A rival to Shepard that shows up at all the hot zones and tries to stop Shepard. Maybe have him engage in a few fights with Shepard, where he has the upper hand and forces Shepard to work around him (like Leng protecting the bomb on Tuchanka).

          That way there would be a reason for the player to dislike the character as that nefarious dude who keeps presenting problems. Instead he shows up a few times at random and gets insanely plot-shielded despite coming off as nothing but a lame attempt at copying Grey Fox and Cyber Ninja.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            I still maintain that kai leng shouldve been the protagonist of me2.Best way to introduce him and have him connect with the player before he is revealed as the bad guy in 3.

        • Poncho says:

          Don’t compare Kylo Ren to Kai Lang, they aren’t even on the same spectrum of edge-lord.

          Ren is an intelligently written character who has in-universe reasons to be angsty. Kai Lang is a poorly constructed plot device masquerading as a character.

    • Sol says:

      Ah yes, the Day 1 DLC that completely retcons the Protheans and begs the question why exactly Vigil had to keep turning off so many stasis pods when they can apparently work without much power for 50000 years

      We have dismissed that claim

      • Mike S. says:

        Vigil had to turn off the pods to power himself. We don’t know that the pods on Ilos wouldn’t have lasted to the present if there weren’t higher-priority energy needs.

        (Javik’s pod was also the only one operating out of an intended million, which suggests that he may have been rather overprovisioned with power.)

  11. Ranneko says:

    “Funding a religion in secret only makes it seem extremely suspicious. Which would be fine, except little Liara had apparently heard of the covert funding, which means it must have been a poorly kept secret.”

    Isn’t Liara
    a) The shadowbroker? i.e. the head of a spy organisation
    b) The daughter of a reasonably important matriarch?

    Her knowledge of the religion having classified government funding doesn’t seem like it should be an indicator of a particularly poorly kept secret.

    • Shamus says:

      She was a kid, and her mother told her, casually, in passing. Long before Shadow Broker.

      Again, it just doesn’t flow naturally. It’s POSSIBLE, but it’s awkward and unsupported and thrown out for basically no reason.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Still,as a shadow broker,wouldnt she be curious to investigate all the secrets of her race?She investigates what random people are doing behind closed doors,but she doesnt care to find out what her government is doing?To her own people?

      • Matt Downie says:

        Maybe this is the equivalent of the government creating Santa Claus to conceal a secret North Pole research base, and enough people deciding to play along that it becomes effectively real.

      • MichaelGC says:

        I think Liara did need to dig the info out of Benezia’s files at a later date – I don’t think she found out on the same day as their visit – but either way it’s a pretty minor detail in an epic rant! The hate is certainly beginning to flow – that final alt-text almost makes me a bit nervous for next week… :D

      • Ranneko says:

        I don’t see anything in the conversation that suggests she was told as a child that it had classified government funding.
        This site appears to have the whole conversation.

        Commander Shepard: Then get to the shuttle, and let’s do this. Liara, do you have anything more on this artifact?

        Liara: These coordinates the Councilor gave you are for the Temple of Athena. My mother took me there once. It’s several thousand years old, and for some reason, it has classified government funding.

        Commander Shepard: Sounds like we’re on the right trail.

        Liara: What if we’re too late? My people are dying down there.

        Commander Shepard: Benezia took you to this temple?

        Liara: I was just a child. I thought it was a history lesson, but now, maybe there was more to it.

        Commander Shepard: What do you mean?

        Liara: I went digging through her old files. She had heavily encrypted records on this place, some dating back centuries. I still can’t crack most of them. Whatever’s going on, it’s well hidden.

        From that I kind of assumed the information about the funding was from research now, rather than half remembered information from her childhood trip.

        • Tizzy says:

          Let’s face it: the terrible writing does nothing to clarify that particular ambiguity. The lines go back and forth between childhood and present time in a way that is way too complex for something that is supposed to convey important exposition orally.

      • Burnsidhe says:

        Seamus, you should know by now that the ME 3 writer does a fair amount of worldbuilding in planetary descriptions.

        Athame was not the only goddess in that pantheon, she was just the chief goddess. Other planets around Asari space are named for other deities. Many of them are not named after Prothean science staff.

        If you were to go by Earth history, right now, you’d come to the conclusion that apart from the monotheistic religion that has several major factions and three different holy books, half the planet is still worshiping the Norse deities, and refers to our planets by the names of the Greek / Roman pantheon. So yes, perhaps a ‘single religion’ is improbable for the Asari, but then again, they’ve had a lot more time to develop socially.

        Athame wasn’t created out of whole cloth. You can clearly see the implication that the Protheans gave this one group of Asari an advantage over the others, and because they worshiped her, they spread that worship to other Asari. Over time, Athame became the predominant figure of Asari religion and then the siari philosophy supplanted the worship of Athame.

        The real problem I have with the things Javik says in that temple is the implication that the Protheans are responsible for the Asari having natural biotics. This is complete bullcrap. If a bloody varren born and raised on Thessia has natural biotics (see Jack’s apartment visit in the Citadel expansion), then the Asari had natural biotics well before the Protheans came along. Prothean meddling might very well have created the Ardat-Yakshi genetic syndrome, though.

        My general conclusion is to take whatever Javik says with a serious dose of skepticism. He enjoys needling his companions and getting a rise out of them.

        • guy says:

          No, what the Asari have is pretty weird by galactic standards. One hundred percent of the Asari population has biotics to some degree. Thessia is rich in Element Zero, but that’s still rather odd, especially since the Asari don’t all live on Thessia anymore.

        • Mike S. says:

          Javik also makes it clear that he was born into a Prothean remnant that had been under Reaper assault for a long time. His knowledge of what the Protheans did at their height is the secondhand knowledge of a soldier for whom history education (other than “we were great, and will be great again”) wasn’t likely a priority. It’s unlikely that he actually knew a lot of specifics about the Thessia uplift, over and above what he could infer from the display in the temple.

          (The story doesn’t signal that he’s wrong, but on the other hand it’s not especially important that he be right.)

        • Pyrrhic Gades says:

          That wasn’t the impression I got. The Protheans didn’t turn the Asari into Biotics when they uplifted them, they uplifted the Asari because of they’re biotics.

          It was they’re very physiology and breeding mechanism which caused the protheans to uplift them. The asari were to be the main hope for the next cycle, and Javick is very pissed that it was all squandered.

          • Poncho says:

            That’s what I got, too.

            The Protheans are much like a race from Babylon 5 that I can’t recall of the top of my head. They favor evolutionary superiority and biological advantage over all else. They don’t speak to lower lifeforms and believe it is their biological imperative to enslave or destroy every other species.

            They saw the Asari as eventually being their equals, so they gave them a head start in hopes that they could find a solution to the Reaper problem.

  12. lurkey says:

    I just wanted to congratulate you on your Hugo nom. It’s fitting — in a somewhat poetic justice-y way — to earn a prestigious science fiction nomination for tearing undeservedly praised as “sci-fi masterpiece” abomination a new one . >:-)

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      What is baffling is that bitching about mass effect is what got him the nomination,not fangasming over system shock 2.

      So if anyone ever tells you to stop being so negative,tell them “Fuck that!No one notices positivity,its when you rage that people reward you.”

      • Supah Ewok says:

        I mean, his audience has grown exponentially since the System Shock (1, btw) fan-novel. That was before DM of the Rings, Stolen Pixels, Experienced Points, the MMO LP’s, Spoiler Warning, or ME3. He’s actually known now, at least a bit, at least in some circles. Plus I don’t think the Hugos would’ve considered videogame fanworks to be Hugo worthy a decade ago.

      • Neil W says:

        Even if bitching about things isn’t the most popular thing to do in the various SF groups I’ve hung out with, it certainly makes the top three.

    • Khizan says:

      Eh. No offense to Shamus, but he was on the “Rabid Puppies” slate(note: they slate people without asking permission), which means that the nomination is meaningless at worst and deserving of an asterisk at best.

      As an example, there are five nominated authors for “Best Fan Writer”, and four of them are from the puppies’ slate. Best Novelette and Best Novella were also 4/5 for them, as well as the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

      Best Graphic Story? Puppies swept that one 5/5. Same with Best Related Work. Same with Best Short Story. Same with Best Professional Artist. Best Fanzine. Best Fancast.

      • Mike S. says:

        The Rabids are trolls gaming the nominations process, and some people will No Award all their nominations for that reason. But this year especially some of their choices are perfectly worthy (their movie nominations were mostly fine last year and this, and while I haven’t read Gaiman’s latest Sandman book yet I’d be surprised if it were unsuitable for a Hugo nomination).

        So I’m personally going to vote on the merits. My feeling is that setting fire to entire award categories in order to save them is as much a victory for the Rabids as voting for one of their choices is, so I might as well err in the direction of honoring work I like.

        (And then I’ll probably get up unsuitably early for the Worldcon business meeting so I can vote for changes to the nominations process that may– though I’m not especially confident– make the nominations a bit less easily gamed.)

        • Ranneko says:

          I don’t think this is likely to be a good conversation to have here, because Shamus has pretty frequently expressed a desire to avoid controversy (something made difficult when one side in particular picks you without asking), but in theory this should be the last time slate tactics to manipulate the ballot process will work given that rules have been changed to combat it.

          One more year with a number of no awards (save where the Puppies actually picked award worthy works) and then hopefully we can go back to a process focused on awarding authors producing great work.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        The whole slate is not tainted just because a bunch of jackasses write some names on a website. They put Lois McMaster Bujold on their slate–who has been nominated pretty much every year she’s been eligible for over three decades. That’s like nominating the sun for “planetary bodies in our solar system”.

    • ehlijen says:

      Congratulations, of course!

      But I’m curious, he was nominated for this series, right? Given that he hasn’t finished publishing it (and has no official date for such either as far as I know), does that even qualify? How would anyone judge an incomplete work in comparison to a complete one?

      Presumably it does qualify, given that it made the list, so how does that work?

      • Mike S. says:

        “Best Fan Writer” is an award for the person, not any specific work. “Any person whose writing has appeared in semiprozines or fanzines or in generally available electronic media during the previous calendar year.” So only 2015 material should really be considered, but anything people choose to consider “fan writing” (vs. professionally published[1]) and “in the field of science fiction or fantasy” more or less counts. Which arguably includes this and a fair number of other reflections on games in the genre, discussions of movies in the Diecast, etc.

        [1] As I recall, at this point the site is Shamus’s primary occupation, which might in principle have counted against it’s being “fan writing”, since e.g., self-published novels can qualify for the Hugo as professional publications. (The Martian, for example, wound up falling through the cracks, since it was eligible the year it was self-published, while by the time it was professionally published and noticed by everyone it wasn’t eligible.) But since the administrators didn’t disqualify the nomination on that basis, I’m assuming it’s not an issue.

        Honestly, this site is outside the ambit of where the award has mostly historically gone (at least as far as I know), since it tends to go to people who are active within the convention/fanzine world that the Worldcon membership has typically drawn from. But at this point that decision is in the hands of the Hugo voters. If, as Damon Knight said, “science fiction is what I point to when I say ‘science fiction'”, that’s doubly true for as nebulous a category as “fan writing”.

        (And unfortunately, the political stuff going on with the Hugos will probably play a role, but Ranneko is probably right that the less said about that here the better. There are plenty of places on the net to hash it out.)

      • Syal says:

        Plot is only one element of a story. You can still judge the word structure, the pacing and the themes without having a resolution.

        And any particular segment of the Rant is as finished as The Fellowship of the Rings, or A Game of Thrones, or any other book whose story outlasts its page count.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Its (un)lucky that you didnt play through the prothean dlc,because the pile of stupid that would drop onto all of this is just astounding.

    Imagine if jesus suddenly popped back into the world,and he was found by the pope.So the pope and jesus then go to the vatican and….no one there cares.Just the little christian scholar nerd that hangs out with these two gives brief fangirl comments once in a while,that all ultimately end up pointless.Oh and jesus is a jerk for some reason,and he confirms that christianity is a lie,and he used to have slaves.Because why not.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      That’s a really unfitting analogy starting from the point that there wasn’t a race of Jesuses. A single famous historical figure is nothing like a race of now extinct aliens that MOST people could not possibly recognize on sight.

      Which is actually the only fitting part OF your analogy, because people wouldn’t recognize Jesus on sight. They would be looking for a bearded white man wearing a white robe with a blue sash, not a Middle Eastern Jewish man with Roman heritage.

      • Shamus says:

        I’m not going to touch the “roman Heritage” part, since that’s a fight waiting to happen. But even glossing over that, the modern picture of Jesus is skewed in all kinds of ways:

        * He was not a 70’s hippie. He would have worn SHORT hair. Aside from the fact that long hair is HOT and this is the Middle East, long hair was for women and letting your hair get too long would have been taboo. If Jesus had done it, people would have brought it up constantly.

        * Giant woolen ankle-length robes? Pfft. While we don’t directly know how the Jews dressed, we DO know how the Egyptians and Romans dressed, and we know that Paul was once taken for an Egyptian. Ergo, Jews *probably* dressed like the Romans and Egyptians. Which means knee-length tunics.

        * Probably no color in his outfit. Dye was crazy expensive. His tunic wouldn’t have been white, but beige when new.

        Don’t even get me started on how basically every single daub of paint in the Last Supper is wrong. (I’m not calling out Da Vinci here. Dude was a genius. It’s just that we know more about that time period than he did.)

        EDIT: Yes, this is a strange digression. Hopefully nobody takes offense. I just LOVE this topic and never get a chance to talk about it.

        • ? says:

          But every daub of paint on Last Supper is wrong, because Da Vinci had no experience with frescos and used wrong method :P That’s why it’s falling apart.

        • I am so glad it’s not just me that is bothered by this sort of thing. Even at a comparatively early age, most of this had occurred to me (I had a fairly standard CofE upbringing). Possibly the lack of decent answers to any of these points contributed to my current state of atheism…

        • Sicod says:

          In the British museum there is the oldest known (I believe) depiction of Jesus in the world. It is a 4th century Roman mosaic. I didn’t expect to see it there, it was a nice surprise. It is called the Hinton St Mary Mosaic. Wikipedia has the image if you want to look at it without the travel.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Except its not just the common folk you get to talk to while you are with javik.Its the higher up asari,prothean scholars and various scientists.Not to mention that people who send you on your missions specifically know that you are walking around with literal space jesus in your team.And they still send you just to shoot people.

    • Syal says:

      Funnily, that more or less happens in the Bible.

      “But I tell you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know or recognize him, but did to him as they liked.”

  14. VaporWare says:

    It’s worth noting that starting a religion is actually pretty tragically trivial to do.

    I mean, and I don’t want to deeply disrespect anyone here, but whatever they may have become, Mormonism and Scientology both owe their start to known, documented con-artists (one of whom was a sci-fi author before deciding that real money was in religion).

    James Randi did a demonstration of how this sort of thing can kick off with his ‘Carlos’ hoax in the 80’s: http://skepdic.com/carlos.html

    One might imagine it’d be a little harder to accomplish in a species with long memories like the Asari, but if they were new enough to this particular format of social manipulation/indoctrination it’d probably work just fine. Especially if it were, as it generally is, framed in things they naturally want to believe anyway.

    People aren’t always as rational as you might hope or expect them to be. Many people, at the end of a long day, don’t have the cognitive reserves left to give this much critical thought when a charismatic person comes along and tells them they have all the answers they’ll ever need to relieve them of their burdens, or at least promise them comfort tomorrow for toil today.

    People want hope, and the easiest con in the game is promising it to them.

    • Shamus says:

      Neither Mormonism or Scientology have supplanted all other religions in our species.

      I didn’t say it was impossible. I said it was a strange idea. The kind of thing you can’t gloss over like it’s no big deal.

      • Supah Ewok says:

        Mormonism and Scientology haven’t had thousands of years to work with. In a measly two thousand years the Abrahamic religions are followed by more than 50% of the world’s humans, and that’s for the most part without 20th/21st century communication and the benefit of a miracle observed globally (which someone upthread mentioned the Asari saw, when the Protheans blew up an asteroid or something).

        But the biggest influence would be when a religion is tied to a government. For the sake of argument, imagine the US becomes a Christian state. Then for whatever reason the US conquers or otherwise dominates the world, becoming the base of a planetary government. Fast forward a few centuries. Is it really that hard to see how a single religion in such circumstances becomes dominant? Tying a religion into public education and mandatory Sunday Sermons will turn any population towards being outwardly of that religion, with maybe the old practices taking placed behind closed doors. Give it a couple of centuries and the generations are just gonna go with the flow.

        • Shamus says:

          That sure is a nice story you told about how one religion conquered the world. And if the Mass Effect 3 writer had bothered to tell that story – or even noticed that this was a point that needed to be addressed / lampshaded – then we wouldn’t have a problem here. Like I said twice in the post and twice in the comments now:

          I never said it was IMPOSSIBLE. I said it was strange, and not the kind of thing that can be thrown out there carelessly.

          This would indeed be a minor nitpick if this was the only problem with this section, but taken together it all shows a writer that is totally unqualified to do even the most basic-level of worldbuilding. It’s not that this problem ruins it, it’s that the whole section was obviously given no thought at all.

          • Sicod says:

            Asari are alien and we are considering their views of religion through a human lens. Maybe they just have consensus thoughts on religion…”If any religion is right its probably the one most people believe.” No, the writer didn’t set up anything, but explaining the religious ideas behind an alien species outside of this is their main religion might not have been worth the time.

        • Shibbletyboops says:

          You just spent more time and thought writing a story for how a dominant world-religion comes to be than the writers of ME3 did. That was Shamus’s point.

      • VaporWare says:

        To be fair, neither Mormonism nor Scientology have had tens of thousands of years to do, nor are either of them armed with magical alien supertech (notwithstanding some fervent claims of such) to aid them in their cultural conquest. They have to make due with evangelism and book sales.

        Not that I don’t generally agree with you on this point, just noting that the idea of someone going out and basically saying “Here’s my OC God, it’s pretty rad, why not subscribe to our newsletter?” and becoming Pope of a new religion isn’t so absurd that one has to be a child to believe it would work. People have /done/ this, in living memory, and as often from whole-cloth (Scientology, Carlos, Rael, etc.) as from extant cultural materials, so even the fact that Asari live ten times longer than humans doesn’t really save them from this type of memetic trap.

      • Dev Null says:

        Which is also relevant to Mormonism and Scientology. It did happen… and almost everyone from outside the religion who hears about how it happened goes: “WTF?!?! That is _not_ possible. Is it? Really?!? How did that happen?”

        As Shamus says; it’s something that you can’t really drop in conversation and then gloss over.

      • Mike S. says:

        Shamus, I’m not Mormon, but I’d suggest that some of the trend in this subthread (not from you personally) is at least in the ballpark of “backhanded” [or not so backhanded] “insults against whatever religions you find annoying” with respect to the LDS.

        (Your site, your call, but I thought I should at least flag the issue.)

        • Dev Null says:

          I see your point (though I think we’ve been pretty even-handed between the LDS and Scientology, so it’s presumably either insulting to both or neither.) My comments weren’t intended that way, but it’s pretty hard to talk about the origin of either religion without a certain amount of snark creeping in. Even the practicing Mormons I’ve known over the years have pretty much shrugged and said “Well, yeah, it started weird. But then it became something true.” If we were in a philosophical mood, we could argue about the true, but I don’t think the weird start is really up for much debate.

    • Retsam says:

      Pointing out that two religions have started in modern times isn’t really an argument that starting religions is “trivial”. Are we saying that L. Ron Hubbard is the only one who has had the idea of starting a religion in the last two centuries or so?

      I imagine hundreds, if not thousands of people have had the idea of starting a religion in the last century alone, and really only Scientology has had any measure of success. I obviously don’t have numbers for “attempting to start a religion”, but the point is the success rate could easily be much less than one percent, despite the success of Scientology; so Scientology really doesn’t prove that starting a religion is “trivial”.

      Plus, a charismatic individual getting a cult following is one thing: a group of scientists and/or politicians? Not so much.

      • VaporWare says:

        This is part of why I cited James Randi’s ‘Carlos’ hoax, which was an example of someone getting a group together with the specific intent of initiating a cult-like phenomenon and successfully manipulating the media into doing the bulk of the legwork for them.

        I cited Mormonism and Scientology, as well as a brief mention of Raelianism, to illustrate that it is possible to do this even under conditions of increasing public awareness of both /that/ these things are happening and /how/ they can be done. About how people can be taken en masse in even when there is readily available good cause not to trust the person trying to convince you of something or when the thing itself is so implausible that it should rightly provoke suspicion in itself irrespective of who is promoting it.

        Is starting a religion trivial in the sense that anyone can /literally/ walk out their front door and tell people to start believing some random stuff they made up? No.

        It’s just a LOT easier than we’d often like to think, and sometimes it even happens quite by accident (see: Pastafarianism which is legally recognized as a religion in at least one nation I’m aware of despite it’s origins as outright satire about religiosity in education).

        As I noted to Shamus, none of this invalidates his basic point about this section of ME3’s story, it just answers one question. ‘How do you start a new religion?’ isn’t itself really much of an obstacle. The /rest/ still requires far more consideration than it was given, but getting it /started/ isn’t actually a hurdle it falls on.

  15. Staff Cdr Alenko says:

    And here I was, thinking I had all of the asinine fragments of the “ME3” plot basically licked. Turns out I remembered next to nothing about the Thessia section. And it’s so jaw-droppingly stupid that the only comment I can make is “wat is dis i don’t even”.

    Shamus, you are the hero of my Thursdays.

  16. Coming_Second says:

    I don’t really have much of a problem with the Athame = Protheans twist in all honesty. The primitive asari would have had conceits of supernatural powers before the frog-bugs showed up, and would have adapted whatever they were shown into those myths. It’s not a case of inventing a religion out of nothing but the evolution of a God complex based on new information. All of human’s great religions have adopted symbols and traditions that have completely changed their meaning over time. The Javik DLC further develops the idea the protheans had a particular interest in the asari, so if you’ve got him riding with you that aspect doesn’t feel quite as much as an ass-pull.

    The rest of it is bollocks that Dan Brown himself would blanch at, obviously. I’ve got to say the wider concept of the asari being disingenuous witches who only got their supposed technological boost because they got a leg-up from precursors left a nasty taste in my mouth. It often seems as if aliens only show up in ME3 to demonstrate how ineffective, manipulative and stupid they are, as a contrast to bold, courageous humanity taking care of business: either magically becoming the biggest baddies in the galaxy or slapping everybody into shape, building the MacGuffin and assembling the fleet to “take back” Earth, that even Techno-Cthulhus acknowledge is The Most Important Of Places. It’s an unpleasant subtext.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      ? Recall that humanity was uplifted by finding Prothean Archives on Mars. In this respect, we are EXACTLY the same as the Asari. How is the game being hateful to them exactly?

      • Coming_Second says:

        The asari have been concealing the truth about where their supposed technological advantage came from since they encountered other intelligent life. It can’t be for the mundane reasons that they were the first in this cycle to get into space, and their very long lives – it’s because they got a big, artificial leg-up. They had absolutely no need to conceal this – as you say, humans jumped forward in a similar manner, and given the sheer amount of Prothean detritus kicking around the galaxy probably most species did at some point or another. But they did, because… why? The subtext is that the asari wanted to maintain their image as the ultimate arbiters of civilisation, a facade of sophisticated mystery so they could continue running the galaxy along asari lines. They are not-particularly-bright frauds, in other words.

        Another commenter on this page baldly describes them as high-class whores. It’s not the language I would use, but the very fact somebody did I think says it all about how this scene in ME3 depicts the asari.

  17. Drew C says:

    Looking back this is basically where the dam burst and my fandom for Mass Effect as a franchise fell apart. I hated this brain dead shit and by the time your back on the Normandy I was furious. I’m still fond of the original game but everything else… Ugh…

  18. Nixorbo says:

    I’m not asking the reader to write me a story. I’m saying the writer of Mass Effect 3 should have written a story.

    Oh snap, son

  19. Slothfulcobra says:

    I wonder how much the Asari’s biologically unique throughout the galaxy ability to populate and reproduce with other species played into their relationship with the Protheans.

    • GranForte says:

      Probably a decent amount in the now ignored lore, especially as it’s not just mating, but more of a mind meld where the Asari have the ability to perfectly understand others.

  20. Orillion says:

    I’m pretty sure the game never implies that the Asari government created the Athame religion. They discovered (well after the fact) that Athame turned out to be a Prothean, and that the Protheans uplifted the Asari. They chose to keep that bit of trivia secret for a couple of very important reasons:

    First, this easily could have been post-Krogan Rebellion. Uplifted races would not have been very popular right about then, and getting ousted from the Council (very possible, if you look at historical human wars) would have been very, very bad for them.

    Second, they were never said to be very far ahead of anyone technologically. The way they were ahead of everyone was diplomatically. They got what they wanted, when they wanted, and a good deal of that had to do with their reputation for mysticism. Athame was a religious figure, which is the same as saying “the Asari managed everything that makes them special on their own.” If you replace Athame with a Prothean, suddenly there’s a very mundane reason for nearly everything special about them. This is a bit more shaky than the above, but think about it as if the Asari are high-class prostitutes (inb4 “they are”): They need to impress, and being “mysterious” allows them to pretend to be better than everyone else, which becomes a fact you don’t necessarily question when it’s something your ancestors have been accepting at face value for thousands of years.

    • Burnsidhe says:

      Asari share memories. There is no reason why the fact Athame was alien to the Asari would not have been known for a long long time. There’s certainly no reason that Janiri and Lucen were Prothean wouldn’t have been known; there are sculptures of their heads in the temple/museum.

      • guy says:

        Who’s to say they knew and understood they were aliens to begin with? They’re people from the sky with mysterious powers come to help the Asari. Sounds like a goddess and angels to me. Also, I don’t think people knew what Protheans looked like. Never seems to be implied.

  21. Flip says:

    OK, I have two more questions here:

    Why did the Asari keep this a secret?
    The Asari have spent the last few centuries building a multispecies and peaceful galactic society. To do this Citadel law prohibits keeping Prothean technology a secret. Nihlus even says: “This could affect every species in Citadel space.” If the Salarians, Humans or Turians found out that the Asari kept this beacon a secret the Asari would have a giant diplomatic crisis on their hands. You can’t lead the galaxy if the other races see you as hypocritical. And you definitly can’t lead the galaxy by hiding information that is critical to the survival of the galaxy. This hiding-thing is shortsighted and stupid.

    Why does nobody ever comment that the Asari broke Citadel law and willfully hid information about the galaxy’s biggest threat, the Reapers?
    Nobody in the game ever comments on the potential implications of this becoming public. Nobody is ever angry that the Asari hid this beacon. Nobody blames the Reaper’s genocide and the galaxy’s powerlessness on the Asari. Nobody makes remarks that the Asari will have to pay for breaking the law. Nobody calls out Liara’s hypocracy – “My people are dying!” -> “Well, if you had allowed the other races access to this beacon, maybe we would’ve been prepared for the Reapers.”

    • guy says:

      Uh, they kept it a secret because it gave them a technological advantage that they would be legally obligated to share with the other races. So they didn’t tell anyone.

    • Dev Null says:

      You can’t lead the galaxy if the other races see you as hypocritical.

      Why not? Works in US politics; scale it up.

      Which is not (please no!) meant to turn this into a modern politics flamewar, but I think we can safely say that the general public thinks most politicians on either side of the fence are highly hypocritical.

      • Mike S. says:

        On the other hand, most politicians– most people, for that matter– will make the attempt to keep hypocrisy secret, or failing that deniable, whenever practical.

    • Pyrrhic Gades says:

      Why did the Asari keep the beacon a secret? Because they’re greedy idiots.

      “Nobody in the game ever comments on the potential implications of this becoming public. Nobody is ever angry that the Asari hid this beacon. Nobody blames the Reaper’s genocide and the galaxy’s powerlessness on the Asari. Nobody makes remarks that the Asari will have to pay for breaking the law. Nobody calls out Liara’s hypocracy – “My people are dying!” -> “Well, if you had allowed the other races access to this beacon, maybe we would’ve been prepared for the Reapers.””
      This paragraph is flat out wrong. The first thing Shepard does when you get off Thesia is call the Asari on they’re bullshit.
      The Mass Effect 3 writer is very aware that the Asari were behaving moronically

      • Flip says:

        1. I understand that. I still think it’s stupid because they are risking their diplomatic power – something the Asari supposedly excel at – and the respect they have among other races (it seems like nobody really dislikes the Asari) for a questionable technological advantage we never see.

        2. (I just watched the Spoiler Warning video.) The first thing Shepard does is talk to the Asari councillor. He does not call the Asari out there. Then Shepard talks with EDI and Traynor about Kai Leng’s signal. So it’s definitly not the first thing Shepard does.
        Can you point me to where Shepard calls the Asari out? (He does say “A beacon like this could explain why the Asari are so advanced.” on Thessia. But that’s an observation.)

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      And han and leia will have a son who will grow up to be an emo git.
      And once the empire gets destroyed,its remnants will make an even bigger death star,capable of annihilating multiple planets anywhere in the universe.
      And storm troopers will be bred to be black,instead of looking like their original bluepring.
      And c3po will get a red arm,then switch back to his regular arm,all for no reason.
      And you will abandon your daughter just so she could inherit your lightsaber that just fell down from a blind midget.
      And somehow han will stumble on your daughter and the only renegade storm trooper by pure accident.

      • Gruhunchously says:

        The will of the Force, man.

      • Mike S. says:

        The transition from “clone trooper” to “stormtrooper”, and the fact that they didn’t all have the same voice in the original “Star Wars”, strongly suggests they weren’t using clones exclusively long before Finn’s time.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          He was bred and he was issued only a serial number instead of a name.He is a clone.Not of jango,thats true,but he is a clone.

          • Retsam says:

            You can breed child soldiers without them needing be clones, unfortunately.

            There’s even a throwaway line in EpVII where Kylo Ren says that they should use a clone army instead of the storm troopers, implying that the storm troopers aren’t clones.

          • Mike S. says:

            Finn says in so many words that he’s not a clone, and that Stormtroopers (in the First Order at least) aren’t: “I’m a Stormtrooper. Like all of them, I was taken from a family I’ll never know.”

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            Finn was “bred” in the sense that he was taken from his parents. They didn’t grow him in a vat or anything. We also know from Phasma that white women are also possible storm troopers (and you can hear a female trooper randomly during one scene). So… uh, no.

            • Mike S. says:

              Strictly speaking, we don’t know what Captain Phasma looks like without her helmet, do we? I mean, I assume she’ll look like Gwendoline Christie, but they could always pull a switcheroo– Anakin Skywalker turned out not to look a lot like James Earl Jones.

              • ehlijen says:

                That is of course, true. More likely though, she’ll never take off that helmet, just like Boba Fett never did (what prequels?), leaving it a perpetual theoretical secret.

                But also, why would you hire Gwendoline Christie for the voice and then hire another really tall woman to walk around in the armour? Is Christie somehow not the right kind of tall?

                • Mike S. says:

                  I think it’s by far most likely that Phasma looks like Christie. But it’s obviously not unprecedented in the series for helmets to conceal surprises, or for a character’s look and identity to be determined well after their first appearance.

                  So it’s true I can’t imagine much reason for a reveal that Phasma is actually a really articulate Wookiee, or secretly Finn’s mom, or anything else that would point to her appearing different. But until/unless we see her without the helmet, they always have the option of retconning in something not originally intended a la Darth Vader or Boba Fett.

                  • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                    Well… the guy walking in the suit was David Prowse and the voice was James Earl Jones. They were clear on that point from the credits of the first movie on. Same with Darth Maul, a redubbed voice clearly marked in the credits. Meanwhile, the voice AND body of Phasma is Christie. They’d have to throw in a second person’s head in order to NOT feature her… if the helmet ever comes off. That would go beyond “helmet surprise” (which is, I imagine a popular Star Wars sex move) and into “why the eff would you DO this??”

                    • Mike S. says:

                      The guy walking in the suit was Prowse, the voice Jones… and the guy we saw when the helmet was removed had the body and voice of Sebastian Shaw. They had to throw in a third actor, so as not to feature either of the people who’d been Darth Vader all the way until that point.

                      (And then they CGIed in Hayden Christiansen for the final Force ghost, but we needn’t speak of that.)

                      Again, I think this is a low probability thing for them to do with Phasma. (And even lower that they’re actually planning it now, versus someone having a bright idea later and running with it.) Just not outside the realm of possibility.

                • Syal says:

                  That’s what Star Wars does, though. It’s traditional, man!

                  • ehlijen says:

                    Has it, though?

                    Darth Vader was cast with Dave Prowse because he’s huge. Jones was less so. The mask allowed them to combine one voice with another suit for tangible benefit.

                    Other than that, I don’t recall any ‘mask reveal suprises’ in all of star wars.

                    • Poncho says:

                      Well, there’s Leia in Jabba’s palace posing as a bounty hunter.

                      That’s the only other one I can think of, though.

                    • Syal says:

                      Darth Maul was also dubbed over. Star Wars has a proud history of casting two people to play one role.

                    • ehlijen says:

                      True, there’s Leia. That’s two instances over 4 movies (and Ren doesn’t count since there was no identity surprise in his reveal).

                      I still wouldn’t call suprise mask reveals a star wars thing, still. A single Scooby Doo episode still outdoes the entire movie franchise.

      • SlothfulCobra says:

        And then the Jedi will return but be totally destroyed again offscreen.
        And the rebellion will win, but refuse to rebrand itself to reflect the fact that they are now the establishment, and it is they who are cracking down on militant radicals rather than the other way around,
        And after the next Death Star, there’ll be another Death Star ten times the size that eats stars, but is ultimately only tangentially related to the plot.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          And after the next Death Star, there’ll be another Death Star ten times the size that eats stars, but is ultimately only tangentially related to the plot.

          Wait,really?I assume that you are kidding,but before episode 7 I would say that about the starkiller base.

  22. Mersadeon says:

    I really don’t get the whole “every cycle improves on it” bit. How do you improve a piece of technology when you don’t know what it does and how it works? If found a mysterious machine, even if I could make out that one part of it is the power supply, anything I might to to “improve” it might very well just make it worse because I don’t know what the heck it does .

    Nitpick: wasn’t humanity said to have made the tech-jump to space by studying a Protean beacon on Mars, or am I misremembering? That would at least confirm that there are beacons that don’t just warn about the Reapers. Although, that really just opens a new can of worms – in ME1 it makes sense, the Proteans were still this mysterious race that left technology and a warning behind, but now we know that the Proteans knew about the Crucible and other cycles and that left behind technology was nothing but a trap, so why would they leave that trap themselves instead of just more warnings?

    • Ninety-Three says:

      In the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization.

      The game never really goes into much detail, so the presence or absence of a beacon is pure speculation.

    • guy says:

      The Protheans actually knew how the Crucible worked and did not think it was a trap; there is no indication they knew about the Citadel AI and they knew enough about the Citadel systems to be reasonably confident they could make it do what they wanted.

    • KarmaTheAlligator says:

      No, humanity found the Archives on Mars (the whole first level of ME3, where they also found the plans for the Crucible), and that led to the discovery of the Mass Relays and Mass Effect fields and such. So yeah, it’s not just a Beacon™ that they found, it’s the knowledge of the entire Prothean Empire (how did it survive the Reaper invasion? Was it like Ilos, wiped from their known maps?).
      Which makes it even more important than what the Asari got, the only difference is that humanity found it a few centuries ago (and was still trying to sort what was inside, presumably because most of it, if not all, was in Prothean*) while the Asari had theirs for 50 000 years (and presumably done with it since they put it up for display in a museum).

      *And that opens up another plot hole, why the hell didn’t they put Shepard in charge of finding something in there instead of placing him under house arrest? They show that the Alliance was preparing for the invasion, but apparently thinking isn’t their strongest point.

      • guy says:

        In ME1 I’d assumed that the Reapers deliberately left it intact after making sure it didn’t include any information about them, so they could be confident that next cycle they’d face the tech they’re used to again. ME3 shoots that theory in the foot.

        • Great theory though! Never thought about it before, but that’s a great plan for the Reapers to have. I’m going to add that to my head canon of ME now (along with a Reaper stepped on the thingy Shepard was on Thessia for and Shep went after annoying ninjaman because well, dude is annoying? Still working on that bit…)

          • guy says:

            Well, the Sovereign speech does indicate that they’re deliberately channeling organics along predictable paths, so it follows. But obviously if they did check it out they’d have gotten rid of the Crucible data.

            Unless the Protheans deliberately buried it under a ton of datastores of useful technical data and irrelevant nonsense, so the Reapers purged most of the other datastores of dangerous info and believed they’d gotten it all (when they’d have started tearing up the planetary crust if they found nothing in the main stores), which would also neatly explain why no one found it earlier, but there’s no particular indication in the game itself that it was particularly hidden.

            • Poncho says:

              There is also that vision in ME1, from the data disc thing that the Consort Sha’ira gives you on the Citadel, which shows that the Protheans abducted and experimented on early humans, and Reapers came to earth in a previous cycle.

      • Mike S. says:

        the only difference is that humanity found it a few centuries ago (and was still trying to sort what was inside, presumably because most of it, if not all, was in Prothean*) while the Asari had theirs for 50 000 years

        Nit: humanity found the Mars Archive only 35 years before the opening of the first Mass Effect game. We found and opened the Charon relay the next year.

        (The timescale for human participation in interstellar civilization is ridiculously short for how much we achieve, reinforcing our status as a Campbellian super-species.)

    • Gruhunchously says:

      It’s a great demonstration of how the story is in full-on drama-first mode by this point. Shepard sends scientists to “work” on the Crucible. What are they working on? How are they working on it when they don’t know what it does? It doesn’t matter, they’re working on it, and the rules of drama dictate that if you work on something hard enough, it will produce something of value. Even if no one knows what that value is.

    • ehlijen says:

      How does each cycle improve on the crucible if they don’t know what it does?

      They rip out all the weird chairs and install replacements more in line with their own physiology. After that, you can look into adjusting screen brightness, picking desktop backgrounds and snazzing up the paintjob of the outer hull. I think racing stripes are in this cycle.

  23. Merlin says:

    “”Best place to a hide secret is out in the open”

    This subtitle is broken, please fix it. PS I am not a crackpot.

    • ehlijen says:

      But the truth is already out there. Do we have enough room to put the secrets there, too?

    • Tektotherriggen says:

      Be fair, Shamus is just one guy, doing this basically for free. It isn’t reasonable to expect him to never make mistakes.

      Oh no, wait. That’s the official subtitle in a AAA game with a budget of 10s of millions of dollars. FFS Bioware.

    • Neil W says:

      Well to be fair my brother worked in a building in London where the top floors were officially occupied by HMRC – a government tax office. And indeed, most of it was. The roof of the building has a whole bunch of antennae and satellite dishes and the very top floor was an independent department, almost completely cut off from the already secure offices below. It’s probably a government communications centre of some sort, although wild rumours of which agency it actually belongs to and what goes on there came out every few months while he was there.

      So if I had a piece of alien technology and wanted to hide my research in plain site, I’d probably set up an agricultural research institute somewhere small and rural, and within it have a “secret laboratory” that everyone “knew” was govenment funded for protecting crops from terrorists or something. That’s hiding in plain sight.

  24. Vermander says:

    I think the usual trend in sci-fi/fantasy literature is to portray extremely long-lived races as prone to cultural and technological stagnation. They don’t have the same sense of urgency as us humans because they have centuries to find their true calling and complete their life’s work rather than decades. There’s also the fact that their leaders probably stay in power for much longer, and thus have a greater interest in maintaining the status quo. An empress who plans to rule for 900 years probably doesn’t want to encourage a lot of social upheaval and dynamic change in her society.

    So the Asari are more advanced than the other races thanks to having a long head start and a little help from the Protheans, but their technology may be advancing at a much slower pace, and the other races are rapidly catching up. Contrast this with the Salarians, who have the shortest lifespans of any council race, yet seem the most obsessed with scientific research and development.

    It’s been a long time since I played though, so I’m not sure if this is spelled out, or at least hinted at in the game, or if it’s all just “fan fiction” I created in my head to explain gaps in the story.

    • Mike S. says:

      That strikes me as consistent with what Aethyta says in ME2: she pushed for the asari to actually try to advance to deal with the fact that the galaxy isn’t stable over an asari lifetime, and wound up getting ignored and leaving in a huff. (Or accepting a field position to spy on Liara, but in either case no longer involved in policy making.)

      Made even more egregious by the fact that what she was pushing for was for the asari to do what other species in previous cycles did— the Protheans built a small mass relay, so it’s not as if it was inherently impossible.

      (Of course everyone is slower to advance than humans in the ME setting– the salarians have been starfaring for longer than anyone but the asari, and haven’t made it significantly further techwise. But that’s because ME has Golden Age SF roots, where humans are always showing up among more advanced but slower peoples and making themselves the center of the action.)

    • Falterfire says:

      Yeah, long-lived species not acting significantly different from other species is a pretty common trope. I’d imagine a large chunk of it comes down to the obvious problem that writing a group of characters who are significantly smarter and with significantly different experiences from any human ever is really tricky, so it’s easier just to write them as roughly human-ish and just handwave it.

      The writer wanted 1,000 year old space babes, but didn’t particularly care to deal with the weirdness of a setting full of ancient and wise characters who have far more knowledge and expertise than any other species could ever have. Y’know how we humans mock teenagers for doing stereotypical teenager things we know they’ll grow out of eventually? To the Asari, every single thing a human could ever do is like a teenager acting without full experience of the world. Trying to have a conversation with somebody literally hundreds of years younger than you would be like having a conversation with a high schooler as an adult.

      That would be unspeakably annoying to interact with, and so rather than do that, we end up with a bunch of characters who are basically humans but happen to live longer, with minimal practical difference in behavior.

      • Mike S. says:

        While there are still age and generational differences and annoyances, seventy-year-olds don’t relate to thirty year olds the way adults do to children or teenagers. The process of development becomes less striking once people hit adulthood.

        This is also space opera with extremely human-like aliens, rather than a hard sf exploration of incomprehensibly alien extraterrestrials. Differences are compressed to make the setting work. Everyone sees in the same spectra, can shoot the same guns, can speak and hear in the same range, can share food (with others of the same chirality), etc. And long-lived species like the asari and krogan get some knowledge and perspective out of the deal, but don’t become constitutionally incapable of dealing with ephemerals, just as salarians aren’t permanent teenagers to humans. (Though the vorcha sort of are.)

  25. Zeitgeist says:

    About the Protheans’ depiction in this game: it’s worth noting that Javik describes his civilization as an all-encompassing empire, with all the races they conquered eventually coming to be considered “Prothean”.

    Apart from that, it seems strange that Vendetta’s voice acting in comparison to Vigil is brought up here. Is the implication that all Protheans are supposed to look and sound the exact same? That’s kind of going against one of the core recurring themes of the Mass Effect series–that not all members of a species/race/group/whatever are the same.

  26. Deager says:

    Oh yeah, this is getting really good. I mean, next week is going to be a blast and when you get to the end of the game, it’s going to be a blast, but Thessia always drove me nuts and you actually unpacked it more than I ever could have. Thanks! Oh right, and you got into the Crucible this time which also was more broken than I had realized. Kasumi! They really do want you to plant a big “I win bomb” somewhere!

    I will say I viewed the government funding as for just that specific location. And that the writer was probably going for the “hide it out in the open” as an argument. Hiding it out in the open is a terrible argument, but I’m actually ok with the concept that government funding was just for this location; not for the religion as a whole.

    Granted, I may be missing something from the codex or other lines spoken or maybe something you even said in your post. That’s my only nitpick with this post, and while I may not agree with every sentence, I view the rest of the post as +95% correct. Keep it up.

    Anytime people bash ending mods (which is fine to bash by the way) I always explain that the game went sideways way back and I had just had enough and wanted something to wash the garbage away to some degree…although sometimes I don’t. Anyway, then I link them to your retrospective. :)

  27. Cybron says:

    This would have made so much more sense if the religion came first and the secret discovery that the basis of their religion was a Prothean artifact came later. Government wants the religion to remain intact for social cohesion reasons (or whatever, there are plenty you could come up with) so they study it in secret. Their failure to find the true message or whatever can be explained away as them not wanting to damage the item as it is a significant part of their culture.

    I think there are seeds of a tolerable idea here but the writer’s absolute contempt for thinking such things through just kills it.

  28. AD-Stu says:

    One of the things that always bothered me the most about this section (aside from the 100% stupid writing, and that bloke with the sword) was this is ALL the time we get to spend on Thessia.

    They built it up as you finally get to go to the major species homeworlds, which sounded pretty cool. We spend significant time on Tuchanka (in ME2 and ME3). We spend a decent amount of time on Rannoch. But we’ve spent more time on random side quest worlds in ME1 than we end up spending on Thessia here – same goes for Sur’kesh, and we don’t technically got to Palaven at all. It would’ve been cool if we could have got something Noveria sized, or even Rannoch-sized.

    But given how much nonsense they managed to cram into just this small section, maybe it’s for the best they didn’t spend longer here :P

  29. 4th Dimension says:

    When I played the game (long long time ago) I got the impression that the Prothean Assari interaction went as follows.

    Couple of Protheans come to Assari and at least partially uplift them, living “with” them for a while. Naturally over time the Assari come to honor > venerate > and finally after the Protheans have left/died worship the strange powerfull beings that uplifted them (gave them fire etc.). Meanwhile there were some Assari more closely involved with Protheans who knew more and were gicen the beacon to continue helping uplift their people.
    Now speculation: Eventually once the Protheans became gods in the eyes of the public, it was impossible to reveal that they weren’t gods but aliens. So it was decided to allow the continued veneration of their uplifters.

    The rest, like hiding the beacon IN the statue (hiding is fine) of course idiocy.

  30. Xilizhra says:

    Not to disparage the rest of your rant, as I hated this section too, but why are you complaining about Vendetta not being identical to Vigil? They were clearly programmed by different people for different roles.

    Also, asari jargon is like human jargon because of the translators, which I’m fairly sure translate idioms as well as literal words.

    • Shamus says:

      They didn’t need to be identical. But it would be nice if they had some tiny thing in common. Accent? Tone? Outlook? Anything?

      Vendetta and Vigil have less in common than Shepard and Liara.

      • Gruhunchously says:

        That’s because there’s no chance of an optional sexual encounter between them.

        Ironically, if there was any chance of some hot VI on VI action, you can bet that they would be scrabbling to keep their lore as consistant as necessary allow for such a scene.

    • KarmaTheAlligator says:

      To be fair, from what we see with Javik’s flashbacks, most Prothean VI looked the same, so it’s reasonable to expect Vigil to look similar. On the other hand, Vigil is damaged.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        To be fairer,what protheans looked like in me1 drastically changed,so why not their vis as well.

        • Poncho says:

          It’s never outright stated that the tentacle-people statues on Ilos or the Reaper visions are Protheans. They could have been the Inusannon who the Protheans got their mass effect technology from originally. They appear in the Prothean vision as an explanation of “this is what happened to the Inusannon! They got Reaped!” much in the same way it is a mystery as to how the Protheans disappeared in ME1.

          • krellen says:

            Everyone thought they were Protheans. There was no reason to believe they weren’t Protheans. You cannot deny people’s expectations without at least saying you have done so.

            Protheans only look like they do in ME3 because Collectors looked like they do in ME2 and someone decided “they’re Prothean remnants” would be Cool™.

            This could have been as easy as Shepard meeting Jarvik, saying “what about those statues on Ilos, and the visions in the beacon?”, and having Jarvik offer your explanation. But they didn’t.

            • Poncho says:

              Sure, but ME1 never outright stated what Protheans looked like. They even intentionally obscured the Vigil program to leave it open in later games.

              Just because “everyone” thought the statues were Protheans doesn’t make it so. This is the tamest “ret-con” possible since the writer never definitively established the Protheans to begin with. It doesn’t even matter what they look like or how they behave until Javik comes along in ME3 (but they wasted that particular lore opportunity by having yet another Space Marine to add to the squad).

              I mean authors like GRR Martin structure entire narratives around subverting audience expectations. Bioware just did it in a very lackluster fashion.

            • Raygereio says:

              This could have been as easy as Shepard meeting Jarvik, saying “what about those statues on Ilos, and the visions in the beacon?”, and having Jarvik offer your explanation. But they didn’t.

              They did. Javik will say that Ilos was inhabited by the Inusannon before the Protheans colonized it themselves.
              It’s not spoonfed to you, but making the conclusion that those statues then had to be of the Inusannon isn’t that far of a leap.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            I would buy that if not for the fact that the visions were changed in me2 so they would resemble the collectors more.

  31. guy says:

    I’m pretty sure the religion wasn’t created by the government, and in fact has been discreetly suppressed and driven to minority status to divert attention*, and they couldn’t get the Beacon to work because they lacked the Cipher. Though with the new Javik DLC revelations needing the Cipher no longer makes sense; I’d assumed in ME1 that since the Protheans didn’t interact with other sentient species much they actually didn’t know that other species wouldn’t be able to use the Beacon. It makes a degree of sense to lock the Beacon to an extent; if the Asari advanced too fast there’s a risk the Reapers would swing by Thessia and notice during the Prothean cycle. The Council doesn’t know about the Cipher or ways to obtain it, but they still planned to do something with the Eden Prime Beacon so there must be some way to get information out of it without properly activating it. Those methods presumably do not make the statue explode.

    *

    Worship of Athame eventually fell out of favor as the asari turned to the siari religion.

  32. MrGuy says:

    This entire concept is just as complex in its stupidity as the fake religion idea I just tore apart. And in about six seconds, Kai Leng is going to show up. The insanity is just so overwhelmingly DENSE here.

    I think you’ve just backed in to the most logical possible explanation for the existence of Kai Leng.

    As we all know, Mass Effect prides itself on being hard sci fi. And we all know that, in space, if the density of an object passes a certain limit, the result is a singularity. And, of course, a singularity can potentially be a bridge to another place, or even another universe.

    What clearly happened was that the stupidity density in this part of the game exceeded the limit of being able to hold itself together conventionally, and it collapsed into a stupidity singularity which ripped open a hole in the fabric of the game itself. Through this wormhole, Kai Lang was pulled out of Bro Shooter 2 and dropped into ME3.

    He’s as confused about this as you are.

  33. grndmrshlgando says:

    This is music to my ears. Pull no punches Shamus.

  34. Gruhunchously says:

    It’s really is sad that for every segment of the main story (not counting the Quarians or the Genophage or virtually any of the side-quests), the entirety of the dialogue seems to consist of brief expositional exchanges shouted over gunfire and combat music. What’s worse is that it seems that well over half of those lines are handwaves, inane comments, or wild unsubstantiated conjecture. It just feels like whoever wrote these sections is desperately trying to capture the style of an action movie, but just doesn’t care enough to even reconcile them with their own story.

    “How did Cerberus infiltrate this top secret facility?”
    “Cerberus is capable of anything”
    “Oh. Okay.”

    • MrGuy says:

      The real slight of hand is by using a good question with a not great answer (“How did Cerberus invade this facility?” “As we’ve shown elsewhere, they are capable of anything, as long as it’s offscreen or in a cutscene!”) to cover for NOT asking a BETTER question with ZERO answer (“WHY did Cerberus invade this facility?” “They were looking for the….no…I guess they weren’t…um…well…they were clearly trying to capture the…hmmm..I guess they didn’t actually….well…um….SPACE BATTLE!!!!”)

  35. guy says:

    On the Crucible: my understanding was that they were actually moving it around to dodge the Reapers, since it’s definitely relay-capable. I really rather like the Crucible itself, though I concur that it was introduced rather abruptly. We don’t get much detail on how it worked in the prior cycles, but there’s no reason to assume that it did nothing, just that until the Protheans it wasn’t a superweapon to kill every Reaper in the galaxy at once. And we don’t actually have to understand it in order to build it, we just need the blueprints. Which have a “Catalyst goes here” label, and we’re able to tell that it generates a ton of energy and channels it into the Catalyst, at which point something happens. The Protheans put the information about the Catalyst itself into the Thessia Beacon, where it would be discovered by the next cycle but overlooked by the Reapers, except the Asari didn’t use it properly. On waking up, the VI determines the Reapers have already arrived and it’s too late for this cycle, and Shepard has to convince it not to shut down and wait for the next cycle to conceal the information from the Reapers.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Remember how hard it was to gain the dead language of the protheans back in me1,so that we could decipher one simple message of theirs?But now,this weapon designed by who knows who is being constantly built,upgraded and changed by countless races,all of whom are dead,not a snippet of their language remaining.So yeah,no matter how you try to justify it,its impossible.No way around it.You may ignore that impossibility and focus on other stuff in the game,sure.But if you analyze it just a bit,it simply cannot work.

      • MrGuy says:

        For whatever its faults, the movie Contact does a pretty decent job conveying a plausbile way a civilization could communicate somewhat complicated plans for a device without any need for any understanding of their language, as long as they were plausibly good at math. This is pretty good hard, plausible scifi.

        This is less implausible than you make it out.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZDT-FsO9Uc

        • MichaelGC says:

          Aye – the first half of the book it’s based on is very good on that (by Carl Sagan). The second half is essentially a different kind of book, if you ask me – a little like a certain videogame series I could mention! :D Although it’s far less baffling and/or rage-inducing; still a good but just a different type of story. (I’m avoiding spoilers regarding the switchover point – perhaps a bit overcautious given the title…)

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Sure,a single civilization that has intended to share specific knowledge of a device they made could code something like that.But multiple civilizations,trying to decipher old manuals written by civilization who were trying to fight for their survival,while simultaneously building something they have no idea about?Nope,impossible.Even if we disregard stuff like preferred alloys,standards for bolts and welds,currents,etc,etc,etc.

          Oh,and thats not even going into that that movie uses pi,a random constant that humans prefer over other constants that could be much more prominent for other races(speed of light,plank length,or even just a simple tau(double pi)).Not to mention that everything was also coded in binary,when even today we are searching for ways to move our computers into stuff that aint binary(integrated hexadecimal or quantum computing are two possible paths).So yeah,that movie conveys a plausible scenario that could happen,but neither a likely one,nor one that would be as easy to decipher as shown.

          • Nidokoenig says:

            Circles are pretty damn useful, and are mathematically stable, whereas lightspeed depends on your units for time and distance(you know, being speed) and Planck length probably has a similar issue, and are both fairly esoteric, you want something any rando operating a telescope might get. Anyone who can recognise tau can recognise pi, and of all the bases an advanced species might spend a lot of time messing with, binary is top of the list by a significant margin. Basically, it might not be the only possible way, but any species advanced enough to be making these decisions is likely to gravitate towards these relatively simple concepts if they want to be understood. Any species that doesn’t get ones, zeroes and circles probably isn’t worth talking to is too weird to receive a generic message.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Nope,both light speed and planck constant are universal.Its how we express them thats tied to our units of measurements.You can just as easily use planck length as your base unit of distance and express everything as a multiplier of it(same with time).And the ratio between light speed and planck constant could easily be the most common thing for an extra terrestrial society.

              Similarly,both pi and tau are tied to base 10 in modern mathematics,and the ratio of circles diameter and circumference.But what if someone prefers to describe it as a ratio of a spheres volume and its diameter?What if their signals are encoded hexadecimally instead of binary?What if they prefer curved geometry instead of planar one?

              Even on earth today there are societies which use some other base for counting,and intuitively count much easier in base 12 or 16 than in base 10.So assuming that a species developed on another planet wouldnt be worth it if they dont use binary to encode their signals and dont use circles for their constants is pretty close minded.

              And thats all assuming that our current level of tech is sufficient for anyone to even consider us.We like to assume that once a species reaches space travel and nuclear power,its ready to meet its neighbors.But what if they prefer practical fusion or quantum computing or wormhole detection?

              • Nidokoenig says:

                You can express pi in binary, too. You can express it in any base, and any species that has a go with electricity is going to try binary. It’s going to come up at some point for a species that does maths.

                Similarly for circles on flat planes. Preferring something else and using it day to day? Sure, fine, but if you do enough maths to receive the message, you’ll have had enough of a go to find pi, tau and presumably other interesting numbers in the vicinity.

                Besides that, in the film they’re returning a message broadcast from Earth, so they’ve got some idea of the technology style. For technology level, the higher you go the harder it is to express in unambiguous terms. If there are other styles other than binary and circles that can be clearly expressed in flashes of light, then it’s probably easier to send those as well, since binary and circles has pretty great coverage.

              • Mephane says:

                Even on earth today there are societies which use some other base for counting,and intuitively count much easier in base 12 or 16 than in base 10.So assuming that a species developed on another planet wouldnt be worth it if they dont use binary to encode their signals and dont use circles for their constants is pretty close minded.

                But if the signal is intended for a recipient who has no prior knowledge of the senders’ language, numeric system etc., it would establish that in the first place. The beauty of mathematics is that some principles are universal. An easy way to convey how a numeric system works is by presenting the symbols of your system next to the simplest possible numeric system: unary, which is basically just repeating the same symbol and the count of symbols is the number. For example, a message could start like this:

                /
                . #
                .. ~
                … °
                …. _
                ….. /#
                …… ~#
                ……. °#
                …….. _#
                ……… //#

                What numeric system have I just established there?

                A quinary system, i.e. base 5, written from low to high order digit.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Thats true.But that assumes that the signal is being sent in a way we can recognize.We assume light waves because thats what we can reliably pick up.But what if they send out neutrinos?Or to go more fantastic,what if they use tachyons?

                  But ok,lets assume we detect the signals,and it first transmits the numeric base,then the base constant(which is most likely).It takes a long time to figure that out.And lets not forget error detection bits,because if you dont use them,the signal is likely to be misinterpreted by sheer distance alone.

                  • Mephane says:

                    If they want us to actually find and understand the message, they would probably make it something easier to find. Why not carve it in a durable solid material (e.g. stone, gold), for example, and store the tablets in a safe place. :)

                • Tektotherriggen says:

                  Did you miss out ## ?

          • Alex says:

            “Oh,and thats not even going into that that movie uses pi,a random constant that humans prefer over other constants that could be much more prominent for other races(speed of light,plank length,or even just a simple tau(double pi)).”

            You can’t use the speed of light or the Planck length, because they are not unitless constants. The speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second, but that is useless information if you don’t know what a meter is or what a second is. Pi, phi and tau are unitless because they are ratios between two variables that share the same unit (i.e. length) – the exact same number shows up as the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference no matter whether you measure distance in meters, miles or cubits.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              You can’t use the speed of light or the Planck length, because they are not unitless constants. The speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second, but that is useless information if you don’t know what a meter is or what a second is.

              You most definitely can use planck legth and plank time in conjunction with the speed of light as the most fundamental constants of the universe.

              But even if you want unitless constants,there are far more of them than just the ones involving a circle.You can use the number of quarks as your constant.You can use the number of perceived spatial dimensions.Or the number of all physical dimensions.You can use equilateral triangles and the sqrt(2).You can use the golden ratio.Etc.

              • Alex says:

                “You most definitely can use planck legth and plank time in conjunction with the speed of light as the most fundamental constants of the universe.”

                No you cannot, because that is a tautology. Establishing a basis for communication requires distinctiveness, and “(c =) 1 (Planck-length per Planck-time)” is not distinctive. Pi (or rather 1/Pi) is good for this because it requires a “language” of only three letters to be uniquely identifiable: “start”, “yes” and “no”. If you see a pattern of “…ΩИ♦И♦ИИИ♦И♦♦♦♦♦ИИ♦♦ИИИИИ♦♦И♦♦И♦♦♦ИИ♦ИИ…” and so on, it doesn’t matter what Ω, ♦ and И actually are, because the pattern itself identifies the meaning of each part.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Sure,thats distinctive and can be recognized as something artificial.But the problem isnt that,its understanding of whats being said.It takes quite a while to decipher what constant is being sent,even if we assume that both the sender and recipient use the same way of translating them into binary.

                  • Nidokoenig says:

                    There are only so many constants that can be expressed without units. Bottom line is, if aliens are trying to talk to us, we’ll brute force it with all the ones we know, pi is just high on the list.

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            Note: the translation of the Crucible plans from civ to civ most likely involves scientific formula related to the “Mass Effect” or the relays, since the only species who would attempt to use these plans would necessarily be familiar with those concepts. So the trap of making civilizations essentially fall along similar lines (with the Citadel and the relays) ALSO gives the different civilizations a guaranteed point of similarity between them.

        • Dev Null says:

          If you read the book of Contact you get enough more detail to realise that they handwave huge swathes of the Rosetta stone problem. They pull a 2d, black-and-white image out of a radio signal, puzzle over what it means for a bit, and then it turns out to be a blueprint for a higly-complex electronic device which they then build. How do they decode it into an image in the first place? How do they know what the symbols in an alien circuit diagram mean?

          Stanislaw Lem’s His Master’s Voice is a much more realistic first-contact story; they puzzle over an alien message for decades, occasionally _believing_ they’ve made some progress, but lacking enough common referent for it to make any sense. They are never sure whether they’ve properly decoded it or not.

      • Nidokoenig says:

        To be fair, with blueprints, and ones designed to be passed down between cycles, you’re providing technical drawings of objective reality, and materials can be explained by giving a key for the atomic structures and drawing them, then showing molecular structure using those keys. You’re not having to decipher the sounds, metaphors and word prototypes of alien words, which is hard enough when dealing with written Earth languages like Etruscan.

        Besides that, explaining the whole thing and explaining a constituent part are different issues, it’s theoretically possible for each component to be advanced enough along different lines that, chances are, only one or two components makes any gorram sense to a given space-faring species. They look at what they understand and tart it up a bit for the next lot. Which is still silly, but enough for a setting like this.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Ok,we represent atoms as a collection of spheres orbited by a collection of spheres.Species X represent them as their spectral lines.Species Y represents them by the total energy.Species Z represents them by the quarks in the nucleus,disregarding the electrons completely.Convert those four into a single blueprint understood by all four races so that they can combine those atoms into advanced materials.And thats not even going into the weird annotation that goes into constructing extremely complex organic molecules,and all the ways those can entangle.

          • guy says:

            Translate species X’s convention into our convention because each step translated the previous step’s convention and we know species X’s convention.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Sure.Assuming thats possible and that race X will understand everything race Y wrote down.Also assuming that the translations are perfect.Which they probably wont be.

          • Nidokoenig says:

            Or, since space isn’t an issue, all four. Quark count is ambiguous because of isotopes(Is that carbon 14 or nitrogen 14?), and omitting electrons is an obvious omission you wouldn’t make for interspersed communication. Protons are the main event, believe me. In any case, you’re going to be making a list of a hundred or so numbers and symbols, then bashing the symbols together, a chemist is going to have a go and find out if they’re spectra or proton counts by running the numbers, and you can build notation for organic compounds using examples, or deliberately omit as many as possible from the construction.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Why is space not an issue?We have no idea how big this place was in the beginning,nor what kind of computer it had.Space is definitely one of the issues.But even ignoring that,readability is another huge issue.And lets not forget that since many races used this,how are we going to understand that the two languages used one next to other are two languages and not a single weird one?

              Using quarks instead of protons and neutrons can be just as unambiguous.For example,use up quarks to represent protons and down quarks to represent neutrons.But the thing is,if you use it for your plans,others wont understand it if they dont know thats your convention.Which is the very problem Im outlining here.Its impossible for multiple races to communicate highly technical plans over a long stretch of time unless one of them specifically plans for it.

              • Nidokoenig says:

                A proton is two up quarks and a down quark, a neutron is two downs and an up, and unless they’re seeing quarks directly, proton count really is more useful and less ambiguous. Yes, it requires a species to specifically plan for it, so presumably one did. Note that as far as we know, it’s been humanoids working on the thing, and ones that have access to mass effect technology, which gives them some pretty advanced concepts in common to start with.

      • guy says:

        Except that in ME1 people could absolutely read Prothean. Human technology is mostly from the Mars Archives, copying Prothean technical specifications, and it is strongly implied that this is historically common and everyone salvages technical data from prior cycles. The Cipher was needed to decode the telepathic transmission from the Prothean Beacon.

        • Poncho says:

          In other words, technical schematics are designed to be read and repeated, and it would be much easier to translate a technical document for Mass Effect-based drive cores than to come up with the concept organically in the absence of any Element Zero to observe.

    • ? says:

      But “Catalyst goes here” is actually Citadel shaped slot. So in order for Crucible to work you need to hook it up to the first place in the galaxy that falls in the tentacles of Reapers in a normal cycle. If you can carve your way to SpaceSquid HQ you don’t need superweapon to defeat them. It would be one thing if disabling the Citadel Überrelay by Ilos team was part of grand anti-Reaper conspiracy, but then I would imagine Vigil saying “[coordinates for Sol system], fourth planet,[landmark nearest to Prothean base]” on a loop.

      • guy says:

        The Reapers dispersed throughout the galaxy. Breaking through to the Citadel, even in the face of an invasion, is more achievable than destroying every single Reaper in the galaxy. But only if the Reapers don’t know that the superweapon needs to hook up to the Citadel. Also, there’s really no reason to believe that the Crucible plans were only in the Mars Archives as opposed to that being the only surviving copies out of hundreds. For that matter, Illos could easily have been cut off before the Crucible plan commenced.

        Plus, the Citadel is important for the huge galaxy-wide death pulse since it controls the Relay network, and taking the Citadel back would be more manageble than building an entirely new network.

  36. Incuabulum says:

    . . . mindless copy of 20th century American (movie) military. It feels so… lazy.

    I consider stuff like that to be just a translation convention.

    Sure, they could have a Centurion leading a Cohort composed of 6 Centuries, themselves composed of 5 Maniples – but does that tell you anything without requiring a 15 minute long exposition-dump cutscene describing the inner workings of the Asari military? Does the above mean anything to you *now* (and that’s a description of the rough organization of a Roman legion up to a Battalion-sized element – does *that* tell you anything or is it more technical gibberish)?

    They could come up with a native term of the basic Asari frontline combatants that emphasizes their independence of action and their superior ability to know their place in the OOB and take appropriate action to further the commander’s intent without needing to call higher for guidance – and it’d still be just a made-up word that would then need an expo-dump.

    Soldier get across what this person’s doing well enough – front-line combatant – and doesn’t slow anything down.

    This entire section is a piñata of bad ideas.

    Especially when their attempts at worldbuilding go like they normally do.

    • ehlijen says:

      To a lot of people contemporary US military jargon doesn’t mean much either. And if you have a choice between copying a word that doesn’t fit the tone but is functional to some people, but not others, or making up a new, self descriptive word or looking for one in history/mythology, who not take the opportunity to flesh out the world a little?

      Using contemporary human jargon is part of the ‘planet of hats’ approach to alien cultures that suits fables and hero myths better than hard scifi epics, and is thus one more grating change from ME1 to 2/3.

      • Incunabulum says:

        You have a point – but ‘soldier’ is understandable to a far larger group of people right off the bat than ‘zarbulsticier’.

        And we’ve seen the quality of their expo dumps in this iteration. Shamus describes the *very detailed* way they went about describing a world that makes no sense in this very column.

        • ehlijen says:

          I don’t think Shamus was complaining about the word ‘soldier’ in particular, but rather that the entire scene on Thessia in the screenshot has sergeants and lieutenants barking at each other about gunships and turrets in very earth war movie-like tones and phrases.

  37. Grudgeal says:

    To be fair, a predecessor of the Apollo programme *was* very much active in Great Britain during the Blitz.

    Not in the sense of Britain *building* those rockets and launching them of course, rather the opposite really

    • Mike S. says:

      Though the ones launching them were undergoing rather heavier aerial bombardment than the Blitz had managed at the time, so the point holds some. They did put a surprising amount of effort into gee-whiz weapons in the middle of a continental war, even if they (thankfully) didn’t manage to get very close to the one that might have made the difference.

  38. Steve C says:

    This is like Great Britain building the Apollo program during The Blitz.

    I think it is more analogous to the USA building the Manhattan Project during The Blitz. It’s a better comparison because the atomic race had the full gambit of outcomes.

    The Axis powers had similar secret programs during WWII. Except Japan’s was blown up in untargeted firebombing. And Germany’s was scrapped early in the war when they decided the timescale was too long to make a difference as short-term needs were more pressing. So one project was destroyed by collateral enemy action, another was deemed very important but cancelled because of timing, and the third was far enough from the front and well supplied and was ultimately successful.

    I’m not defending ME3’s take on it at all. Just that there was an interesting story to be told both of what did happen, vs fears what could have happened. Instead it is brushed aside.

    Imagine aliens crash on Earth and the US government wants to conceal the wreckage. But instead of sticking the ship in Area 51, they put it in a giant statue of the Virgin Mary, which they put in the biggest church in New York.

    Building a giant public concrete structure in plain view around an alien artifact was a major plot point of the Transformers movie. High praise indeed when your story has similar elements to Micheal Bay’s. It’s like being on the same level as Shakespeare.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Germany had a lot of Wunderwaffe (“wonder weapons”) programs–pretty much all of them were pipe dreams and a waste of time and money. (While the Germans grasped at several silver bullets to win the war, the Americans and Soviets focused on making more tanks and bombers.) On the atomic weapons front–I’ve read the path the Germans were on would have given them an atomic bomb in 20 years–much later than the Manhattan Project. It didn’t help that the Nazis’ ideology had most of the best nuclear physicists in Europe run right into the arms of the Americans either.

      • ? says:

        If I remember correctly their project missed crucial discovery of cheap and abundant substitute for heavy water for construction of breeding reactor. And then Allies thrown the biggest stockpile of heavy water in Europe back into the lake it came from. 20 years worth of setback indeed.

  39. Zak McKracken says:

    Not to nitpick too much, but when I read the sentence about classified funding I understood it to mean that they get money, and people know that they do, but the exact purpose of the money is classified. Sort of like people also know that there’s a budget for military research but it’s use is classified.

    … which does not make the whole thing much more rational but still.

  40. Dreadjaws says:

    This is it. This (counting, of course, what comes next week) is the part of the game where I ragequit and almost never returned. This part of the game was so bad that I was willing to leave the game for good. I calmed down later and came back. I still don’t know if I should have.

    The worst part is that, unlike in every other game where I’ve ragequit, this was never about difficulty, or bad luck. It was about a level of unfairness I was completely unable to do anything about, since every thing that bothered me was part of the story and not the gameplay, and every bit of loss I suffered was in cutscenes rather than gameplay.

    I screamed like a maniac. I cursed the developers in at least two different languages. I hated this part with every fiber of my being, and I still do. I’ve only watched that Kai Leng’s (seriously, F**K that guy) cutscene once. Each subsequent playthrough I’ve simply walked away to do something else while it plays. That’s how much I despise it. I’m willing to watch Fant4stic in its entirety again rather than just a few seconds of this cutscene.

    I have to say, I hate this part more than the ending. I least I can fan-fiction my way through the ending. What comes next week is the reason why I’ve always wanted to purchase a Kai Leng action figure exclusively to be able to crush it with a hammer and burn it with a blowtorch, as that would be the closest thing to a satisfying victory against him.

  41. natureguy85 says:

    Like many things in the series after the first game, I think a lot of the frustration comes from there being things in the mess that could have been really good.

    The Asari not being aware of the Reapers, either from seeing them or being told by the Protheans is dumb, but the beacons make sense. If anyone had received the warning Shepard did, they wouldn’t be able to make sense of the vision without the Cypher.

    As for making the religion, I think it mostly makes sense, except for one thing that I’ll mention later. I assumed the religion was Prothean worship that transformed over time to be an Asari goddess. This isn’t that far-fetched, particularly in fiction. It’s similar to how the Quarians’ oral tradition has distorted what actually happened in the Morning War.

    The one reason this explanation doesn’t work is the Asari long lifespan. The Asari at the bar in ME2 mentions knowing what Quarians look like under the suits. What is ancient history to them is only a third of her life. There would be Asari who remember “the old ways” making this shift much harder than with a shorter lived species. I also have no reason for “why?” My only guess is to foster Asari belief in their own superiority or to keep other races from seeing the special relationship with the Protheans.

    The Asari hiding the beacon could also have worked. While you’re right that the Asari aren’t shown to be super advanced over the other races, they advanced first and were able to establish themselves as important leader. I actually liked the idea that the Asari were hypocritically telling the galaxy to share all Prothean tech while hording their own. I’m sure we can think of resource examples, but what came first to my mind was the “Father’s” fancily decorated office at the end of Equilibrium, where having such things is forbidden and punishable by death. The problem is that this idea was never used for anything after Thessia. I envisioned a version of ME3 where there is no Cerberus (yay!), and the galaxy is uniting until this comes out and threatens to fracture everything. Everyone would be mad at the Asari, accusing them of being fake about their preaching of cooperation and sharing.

    I guess the reason they don’t interact with Vendetta is that he activates upon sensing the Cypher. However, given that the warning was for Organics and not necessarily for Protheans, I don’t know why it would need the Cypher to warn whoever found it. And then there is the minor plot hole of why the Beacon on Virmire didn’t have a VI activate. (Though you don’t have to have done Feros yet.)

    My ability to see poorly implemented good ideas stops here. What comes next is just trash.

  42. RCN says:

    More like La Resistance building Marvel’s helicarrier in occupied Paris while the Germans are actively trying to blow them up. But I get the drift.

  43. RCN says:

    Huh… now that you mention it they really never show what the Asari technological advantage was.

    I mean, since the first game when it was hinted they had better technology I always just sort of assumed that it was the reason why they lived for a thousand years, but now that I think about it… they never really link their longevity to their technology. I just thought it was a dark reveal because it meant that the Asari had access to all these life-extending technology and yet leave the Salarians to die at 40.

    Damn, now you destroyed my head cannon for the Asari and Mass Effect makes even less sense.

  44. Mazinja says:

    Oh boy! You are talking about Kai-Leng next!

    FUCK Kai-Leng.

  45. Raygereio says:

    It’s revealed that the entire Asari religion and goddess-worship is actually a government-created conspiracy.

    Wait. What? Where did you get that from? I don’t recal it ever being stated or even implied the Asari state completely invented the Athame Doctrine.

    But this VI isn’t anything like Vigil from Mass Effect 1 in terms of lore, outlook, personality, goals, appearance, or even voice acting.

    That makes sense though?
    Vigil was made with the personality imprint of the chief of the Ilos facility. While Vendetta was based of the Prothean in charge of the Crucible project. These were two completely different people, in different places & situations, with different priorities & goals.

    Did the Asari ever find this VI? Did the Asari ever TALK TO this VI? If not, why not?

    Because they didn’t have a Prothean or someone with a Prothean Cipher around? I thought Shep’s Cipher (or having Javik around) was either implied or outright stated to be the reason why the beacon activated the way it did?

    • Dreadjaws says:

      Your responses only make the game seem dumber. Why is the critical information being hidden under a cypher and the not-so-important one available to everyone with access to the beacon?

      And if it’s true that both VIs have different goals and priorities, why are both imprinted with “Reaper-stopping” information? Hell, how is that Vendetta has more critical information to stopping the reaper than Vigil had, if Vigil was the one that was made with that precise purpose?

      And how is not explicitly stated in the game that the Asari invented the Athame doctrine? Did you even read the text of this article? Have you played that section of the game? It’s very, very clearly stated.

      • Raygereio says:

        Why is the critical information being hidden under a cypher and the not-so-important one available to everyone with access to the beacon?

        Because Prothean tech was made to work for Protheans? This goes back to ME1, the whole reason why Shep had to get the Cipher was to because she couldn’t make any sense of the message of the Prothean beacon beamed into her head.
        And the Javik DLC shows that the Protheans as a race & society were fully expecting to surive the wrong in hidden stasis chambers. You could connect the dots there and infer that teams such as Javik’s went to sleep. Other teams such as the one working on the Crucible would then upload intel onto their beacon network (this would neatly explain why the info on the Crucible was on the Mars beacon).
        Then after Javik’s teams woke up after the Reapers were done and went away, they were supposed to use that intel to prepare for the Reaper’s next arrival.

        Should the Protheans have made sure somehow that such important information would be easily available to non-Protheans? After all Liara is trying to do so, right?
        Well, Liara isn’t a Prothean. She belongs to a species that thrives on mingling with other species and grew up in a society where different species cooperate.
        The Protheans on the other hand were a galaxy spanning empire that conquered and enslaved everything. Before the Reapers arrived there was nothing that could challenge them. The notion that they could help those species that they view as lesser, survive after they were gone might never even have occurred to them.

        Is this a fan explanation? Yeah, totally. But I think it fits with the info ME1 and ME3 gave us. And stories don’t have to spoonfeed every little detail. It’s okay for stories to leave some gaps here and there, while giving enough information that said gaps can be filled up.

        Hell, how is that Vendetta has more critical information to stopping the reaper than Vigil had, if Vigil was the one that was made with that precise purpose?

        Because the Protheans on Ilos didn’t know anything about the Crucible. They went in stasis when the Reaper invasion began and the handful of scientists that survived exited stasis long after the Reaper-Prothean war – and the Crucible project – was long gone.
        Offcourse the real answer is that back in ME1 Bioware had no idea where to take story, let alone how the trilogy would end. But I’d say the above works fine as it is supported by ME1.

        And how is not explicitly stated in the game that the Asari invented the Athame doctrine?

        Because it isn’t?
        The Athama doctrine was an actual religion. The big revelation was that the stories about the goddess were based on the Protheans uplifting the Asari and the current Asari government – or at least the most powerful matriarchs knew about this.
        The other revelation was that the Asari have a Prothean beacon that they kept secret and hid by building a temple dedicated to Athama around it.

        Like I said: I don’t recall it ever being stated or even implied the Asari state completely invented the Athame Doctrine. Nor could I find anything about this on the wiki or on playthrougs on youtube.
        I think people are making some weird leaps of logic here. Like “The USA government hid a nuclear bomb in a Catholic church. Therefore, the USA invented the entirety of Catholicism, just so that they would have a church to hide a bomb in.”
        If I wrong then please proof me wrong by finding one of the countless playthroughs of ME3 on youtube and point me to a timestamp where it is explicitly stated. I’m genuinely curious if I missed something somewhere.

        • Dreadjaws says:

          I’m sorry, but your counterpoints are either fanfiction or just wrong. You can’t say that the prothean beacons were made to work exclusively with the proteans when the game explicitly says that the Asari advanced more than the other races because of the teachings done by those beacons.

          The thing about the people of Ilos not knowing about the Crucible is something you just made up. Sure, it fits your point but there’s literally no evidence in the games of such a thing, and in fact it pretty much goes against the events shown in the trilogy.

          And I’m sure as hell not going to waste time rewatching or redoing a ME3 playthrough to satisfy your curiosity, specially when you’re ignoring logic here. You cannot make comparisons to Catholicism because the Asari species follows the classic trope of sci-fi: one planet, one species, one race, one language, one religion, etc. They’re not like humans.

          • Raygereio says:

            I’m sorry, but your counterpoints are either fanfiction or just wrong. You can’t say that the prothean beacons were made to work exclusively with the protheans when the game explicitly says that the Asari advanced more than the other races because of the teachings done by those beacons.

            I did actually say that my explanation was outright fanfiction. It’s right there in the third paragraph.
            Regardless, I can say that because game doesn’t state that the Asari are more advanced because they used the beacon in the same way Shep did and interacted with the Vendetta VI.
            It could for example be the difference between booting up a computer and using the software to access the data store on the machine’s memory. And opening the computer up, learning how it works, and making a scan of the data stored on the memory.

            The thing about the people of Ilos not knowing about the Crucible is something you just made up. Sure, it fits your point but there’s literally no evidence in the games of such a thing, and in fact it pretty much goes against the events shown in the trilogy.

            True, I made that up. It’s never outright stated by the game. Just like you made up that the Ilos team would have known about the Crucible. Unlike your made up stuff however, mine is more supported by the games. Your “events shown in the trilogy” don’t exist. If they did, then you would have said what they are.

            What is shown in the trilogy (really just ME1) is that the Ilos team was a group of scientists (plus support staff) that was working on a secret project and so was isolated from the rest of the Prothean empire. Said isolation ensured the Reapers didn’t know to come looking for them. As soon as the Reaper invasion started, the Ilos team went into stasis. They had no contact with those Protheans fighting their war against the Reapers, or those working on their version of the Crucible.

            And I’m sure as hell not going to waste time rewatching or redoing a ME3 playthrough to satisfy your curiosity, specially when you’re ignoring logic here. You cannot make comparisons to Catholicism because the Asari species follows the classic trope of sci-fi: one planet, one species, one race, one language, one religion, etc. They’re not like humans.

            I did not make a comparison to Catholicism. I was using it to illustrate the sort of non sequitur at work here. Secondly: One of the things the games did explicitly state about Asari religion is that they actually have multiple religions.

            And let’s be honest here: That whole “not wanting to waste your time” is nonsense. That’s a classic line used when someone can’t back up their claims with facts, and instead of admitting so tries to save face by pretending the discussion is not important enough for them.
            The reality is that if you really had more important things to do with your time, then you wouldn’t have wasted said time by writing that post. The reason you’re not backing your claim up with anything resembling a fact, is because you can’t.

  46. Zaxares says:

    I think you may be a bit needlessly harsh on the writer on this part, Shamus. Having played through that mission several times, with all different manner of squadmates, I actually came away with a rather different view on things.

    Firstly, I don’t believe it was actually suggested that the Athame religion was specifically constructed by the Asari to hide the presence of the beacon. Rather, the religion came first, and the beacon came later. (It’s never stated if the beacon was one that had been left to the Asari specifically by Athame, or it was one that the Asari simply discovered on Thessia many millenia afterwards.)

    As a few others have mentioned, the dominant religion practiced by Asari is “Siarism”, although I don’t remember what exactly the religion entails because it’s never explained in great detail. As such, the Athame doctrine might be more like an old, mythological/historical religion that many Asari are familiar with, but few actually truly believe. (Similar to how many people in the world are familiar with the old Norse, Greek or Egyptian gods, but almost none of them believe in them as a true religion.)

    The Temple of Athame we go to looks more like a museum rather than a true place of worship. As such, it’s entirely possible that while it’s ostensibly a place of worship, almost nobody actually goes there to pray (or whatever rituals Athame-adherents practice) and it’s purely a cover for the true research that goes on there. The “priests” of Athame working there are all actually scientists working for the Asari government.

    As for the beacon itself, as we know without the Cipher that Shepard possesses, the information the beacons transmit basically comes across as undecipherable gibberish. Imagine trying to make sense of an alien species’ records that keep on making reference to data from a sensory organ that humans do not possess; as an example, suppose you have a document that’s written in letters that only show up under ultraviolet light (because your species sees in the ultraviolet spectrum), then give it to a blind person. Not only can the blind person not even see any information at all, but even if he had his sight, he still would have seen nothing but a blank sheet of paper. It’s therefore not that surprising the fact that the Asari, without the Cipher to make sense of it all, would have been reduced to gaining technological upgrades from the beacon simply by reverse-engineering it and maybe managing to glean a few scraps of data here and there from lucky guesses and intuition.

    I have no explanation for why they decided to house it inside a statue though.

    • natureguy85 says:

      My only disagreement is on the Beacon because there is no reason for it to only react to the Cypher. The message contained in the Beacons in ME1 is one thing, but Vendetta is a VI that can talk to whoever finds it. There is no indication that only Shepard understands it, as there was with the message Shepard finds on Ilos before meeting Vigil.

      • guy says:

        There could easily be a non-Cipher activation sequence the Asari just never found. The Protheans wouldn’t want them to tech up too much during the Reaper invasion in case a Reaper decided to swing through the system and take a look around, so they wouldn’t want to have the Beacon just explain everything instantly in case the Asari got impatient. There’s also the possibility that the Protheans just didn’t realize that other civilizations wouldn’t be able to interface with the Beacon the same way they did, but that’s relatively implausible for an actual uplift team.

        • natureguy85 says:

          Yeah, if the Protheans had that much direct contact with the Asari, you’d think they’d know exactly what the Asari were capable of. However, I do like the idea of the Protheans purposefully limiting the Asari in order to make sure they survive until the next cycle. Maybe that means Javik wasn’t lying to Liara when he said the Protheans thought highly of the Asari.

  47. Dancho says:

    Sounds to me like the writer fell victim to the “values equal costs” fallacy. This is the one that leads to games where you get an invention by investing more money in “inventing.” In ohter words, people create things when they’re paid, and so creation is just a function of expenditure.

    That kind of thinking is based on the idea that “all complex human relationships are the same.” Business, religion, politics, war, family etc. are all the same thing with different labels. This is obviously a dumb idea but it can be seductive to someone with (very) limited emotional maturity and social experience. Like, say, a computer programmer who doesn’t get out much (I’m not judging this, really I’m not).

    The writer decided that since all complex human relationships are the same, it’s possible to extrapolate from business to religion, from politics to science and it all should make sense. The fact that none of it makes sense should provide a clue that this is a wrong idea. Various types of arrangements between people are all complex in their own unique ways. They go wrong in ways specific to each one. It doesn’t follow that if business is full of liars, and politics is full of liars, then religions and families are likely to be full of liars and fall apart in the same ways that businesses and nation states fail. It’s tempting to draw this conclusion and it saves time on the old under-grad paper writing, but it’s really dumb and it will show up as dumb when you try to build a fictional world around it.

    • natureguy85 says:

      Hey, people think that “values equals costs” from games is how real R&D actually works and try and make government policy around it. That’s the scary part!

  48. Calliope says:

    Hi Shamus,

    Thank you for writing this series of articles about the Mass Effect trilogy. I was linked to them only recently, but it is always interesting to hear different perspectives on media, especially in such detail. I also appreciate the effort you have gone to in producing these articles.

    Unfortunately I was disappointed by the actual content, with this most recent update standing out as particularly poor. I feel obliged to take you to task for the quality of your analysis, which, to put it bluntly, can be somewhat lacking in parts.

    Your analysis across this series is full of inaccuracies. Some of these are pretty minor, like the features of the cyberpunk genre or the creative origin of the Prothean beacon visions, and they’re not particular important. However, too often you get basic facts about the games themselves wrong. That is important.

    You claim that Mass Effect 3 says the asari religion is a government conspiracy. This is not supported by the text. Liara says only that this particular temple has classified government funding (implied to be for the scientists based there). Dialogue from interacting with the temple artifacts reveals that they had their origins in encounters with protheans during asari prehistory over 50,000 years ago: Liara: The goddess Athame’s shield. Legends say she used it to protect Thessia when the heavens grew angry. Our ancestors were probably misinterpreting a meteor shower. Javik: It was an asteroid strike. We deflected it.” Even without Javik’s comments, it’s clear from the age of the relics asari mythology predates any current or modern government. The statue of Athame was built around the beacon tens of thousands of years ago, and was only relatively recently rediscovered by the asari government. There is no grand conspiracy to found a religion in the slightest.

    Similarly, you ask how it is no asari ever activated the beacon in all this time. You then pre-emptively shut down dissent by aggressively dismissing any explanation as fanfiction and complaining that the writer should have given an explanation. Yet the writer does exactly this, immediately after Shepard activates the beacon! Liara: Incredible. The beacon seems to think you’re Prothean, Shepard. It must be the Cipher you got back on Feros years ago.” What exactly is the problem here?

    Sadly, this is not the first nor only instance of you misreading, misinterpreting or misrepresenting the text. For example, you criticise the opening crawl of Mass Effect 2 for presenting the ending of the first game as a coup on the part of humanity, which didn’t match up with your experience. Yet this opening crawl is but one of three possible title scenes, and in particular was written for Renegade Shepards that do, in fact, arrange a coup after the deaths of the Council. There is also a Paragon version in which humanity is an equal partner with the other Council races. You were either ignorant of this, or deliberately chose not to mention it. Either way, I feel it doesn’t reflect well on this article series.

    Of greater concern is your failure to analyse. Too often you dismiss basic plot or character beats as mistakes. When the game tells you Joker is largely only loyal to Shepard as a person, and cares as little enough for the Alliance as to resign from it after Shepard dies, you reject this out of hand as writer error, on the basis that Joker ‘should’ be loyal to the Alliance! This assertion is not only not based on the text, it is contrary to it. I am reminded of a maxim of the late Roger Ebert: it is not permitted to devise explanations for the text. Read what is there, or not at all.

    Worse is that while you (occasionally) talk about themes and messages and meaning, as far as I can tell you have yet to describe any of them – even for Mass Effect 1, which you apparently like! Perhaps if you did analyse these themes, you might have more to say about the superstructure of each game, or indeed have anything to say at all about the character of Grunt. (For starters, I’d like to suggest Grunt as a thematic lynchpin alongside Miranda that connects two different core themes of the series into one extended metaphor. This is in addition to being the source of some very interesting ideas about societal responses to trauma, for example.)

    Lastly, I feel (and in fairness, you have already mentioned this yourself) you are too reliant on the standard nerd-canon of Star Wars, Star Trek, Tolkien, Harry Potter and media from the 1980s to inform your reading of the games. Given that BioWare has already admitted to using Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces as a blueprint for storywriting (alongside most other game, TV and film writers), I would expect this to be your first port of call for comparison and analysis. Instead it takes 35 updates for a brief reference to the Hero’s Journey to appear. (35!) I think any serious analysis of the games warrants an earlier and more thorough reference to Campbell, alongside perhaps James Gordon Frazer, and almost certainly the foundations of the Western canon (i.e. Greek mythology and the Bible).

    This isn’t an exhaustive critique by any means, and there are other points (positive and negative) I could make here, but I feel I’ve written more than enough for now. I appreciate this comes a little late in the article series to perhaps be of much use! I also know from personal experience how disheartening it can often be to spend a lot of time and effort creating something, only for someone to relentlessly tear into it with no mercy. That said, I hope you can see the cosmic irony at work there.

    I know your time is limited, so thank you for giving me your time by reading the above.

    C.

    • natureguy85 says:

      I do hope Shamus answers you, but it probably won’t happen today and I happen to be on. I thought about just waiting, but Bas L started us off. There are things I disagree with Shamus on, such as his criticism of the Athame religion, but you’re off on several points, two of which I’ll address.

      1) You claim Shamus misreading, misinterpreting, or misrepresenting the text of the games, but that’s exactly what you’ve done to his writing. The criticism of Joker is not centered on his leaving the Alliance, but his joining Cerberus, which is known as a terrorist organization as far as the second game is concerned. Likewise, the criticism of the opening crawl isn’t primarily based on Mass Effect. It’s based on Mass Effect 2 and the fact that the claims of that crawl are not represented by the game. Even looking at ME1, Shamus’ point is that Udina’s idea of a human only Council is ridiculous and hard to believe it would actually happen.

      2) I would like to know how you think Grunt is so important and, if you’re only reading what is there, why you can leave such an important character in a tank and never talk to him. If I were to guess I’d say it’s because of comments and questions from other Krogan if he is “real” or “alive” similar to questions of Synthetics, but that becomes more relevant with the third game, where Grunt only appears for one mission and only then if he’s alive.

      • Calliope says:

        Joker: No, one of Shamus’ key points is specifically that Joker would not leave the Alliance for anyone, whether they are terrorists or not. “I realize that not everyone goes to the military and so not everyone really gets how ferociously loyal military people tend to be, but there’s just no way he left the Alliance.” My intent with this point wasn’t to somehow exhaustively rebut every point Shamus made about Joker or anything else (not necessary, I’m sure we all agree), but to point out where he has failed to properly comment on the text as is.

        Opening crawl: Mass Effect 1’s Renegade ending isn’t ambiguous. Both Udina and Anderson make strong cases that the other races will accept a human-controlled Council with a human Chairman, over Shepard’s objections if they make them, and largely based on Shepard’s actions during the game. “Anderson: The ambassador’s right. I may not like it, but we can’t deny the truth.” For what it is worth, Mass Effect 2 does depict resistance to the idea in racial tension over the coup in dialogues on the Citadel. The same point again, though: not here to contradict Shamus at every step.

        Grunt: Grunt is relevant to themes that stretch throughout the series, from the casino AI to the Catalyst. His missions are also really interesting for alternative responses to the genophage. Okeer, for example, explicitly doesn’t want to cure the genophage! His reasoning why is interesting, and worthy of comment.

        • natureguy85 says:

          It took me a bit to find that quote because I was looking at the earliest articles before he jumped into the plot. Exactly, one of three key points. And that one is dependent on the first one; that the alliance grounded rather than reassign him. But he joins a terrorist group no problem. So you take the least consequential of the three and harp on that while ignoring the other two.

          But Shamus’ belief that Joker wouldn’t leave the Alliance isn’t just based on Joker being a military guy. It’s also based on everything in Joker’s backstory, which Shamus raises in that very article. Yet you say Shamus is wrong because… well because the writer said Joker left in ME2. Shamus’ point is that just up and leaving is out of character for the Joker established in ME1. It does make sense if you accept that he was grounded, but again, that’s stupid.

          You’re right, the ending of ME1 isn’t ambiguous, but it’s two guys without any power to enact it talking. It’s certainly implied that what they are discussing will happen, but I don’t have a problem with ME2 not doing that because the idea of an entirely human council was always silly. And again, the main objection was the lack of evidence of it in ME2. There is no human council and Anderson is still clearly the low man on the totem pole.

          Grunt is relevant because Grunt is relevant. Well, I’m convinced.

          • Calliope says:

            I’m not sure my point is coming across. My intention with bringing up Joker wasn’t to debunk this specific argument, but to provide an example of where Shamus has failed to analyse what the text means because he’s too busy dismissing it as ‘implausible’. I don’t know why you say I’m harping on about it or that I need to address his other points. For all you know, I may very well agree with Shamus on the other points! (I would like to see an actual quote to support Joker’s loyalty to the Alliance, though.)

            For what it is worth, I could have used “the Council disbelieves in Reapers” or Miranda’s description of Shepard as a “bloody icon” as moments where there is a failure to accept the text, and thus a failure to analyse what the text means, and thus understand why the writer might have made these choices. This isn’t an invitation to start debating these topics in themselves, mind, but to evaluate whether Shamus has fully explored their meaning and the reason for their inclusion in the text.

            Udina’s entire speech is about why he and Anderson now have the power to decide the shape of Council politics going forward. There are several references to an all-human Council in Mass Effect 2 – in the meeting with Anderson, in dialogue on the Citadel. The Council itself doesn’t feature much in the game because the game isn’t about the Council. I don’t know what point you are trying to make here.

            I’ve already explained elsewhere why I don’t want to post too much of my own ideas – this is Shamus’ show, not mine. It’s really not my place to start exploring my take on the themes of the games in detail without invitation. Not trying to be vague, just trying to respect Shamus.

            • natureguy85 says:

              There is no deep meaning to the text. Joker left the Alliance. Shamus is challenging that the previously established character would do that. Joker may not be some super-patriot, but I agree with Shamus that he’s unlikely to walk away from his career. That said, his career was basically over for unspecified reasons.

              I don’t accept the “Shepard is a bloody icon” comment because it wasn’t strongly established in the first game, though I could roll with it, but more importantly because it is not demonstrated in the second game. So what meaning am I missing? What was missed with the “Council disbelieves the Reapers?”

              Or is it that you don’t know if there is any meaning there, but are wondering if something (you have no clue what) was missed?

              Yeah, that’s what Udina says and looking at it as the player, I can see that it’s implied that it will be the outcome. In universe, the idea is absurd.

              Shamus has a comment section for people to comment. If you’re going to complain that he hasn’t touched on the themes in the way you think he should, you should explain why. Basically what you’re telling me is you just want to throw turds in the swimming pool and run away.

              • Calliope says:

                It doesn’t seem like Shamus will be responding to these comments, so I’ll just go ahead anyway. Better to ask forgiveness and all that.

                You are still making the same mistake as Shamus: obsessing over the plausibility of the text and thus failing to analyse what it means. “Would Joker resign the Alliance?” “Would the galaxy consider Shepard a hero?” “Would the Council disbelieve the Reapers?” There is more than enough to justify all of these in the text (I would still like to see a quote from Mass Effect 1 that suggests Joker’s loyalty to the Alliance).

                I’m going to explain the Roger Ebert reference I made, because it’s probably not as widespread a story as I think.

                In the movie Being There , the protagonist Chance walks out onto the surface of a lake and, standing on the water, dips his umbrella into it. When Ebert taught the film at university, his students insisted on explaining the scene away. After all, a man cannot walk on water! Therefore there must be some unseen sandbar, a submerged pier, or it is Bad Writing. Ebert’s response was to shout “Not valid! The movie presents us with an image, and while you may discuss the meaning of the image it is not permitted to devise explanations for it. Since [the director] does not show a pier, there is no pier – a movie is exactly what it shows us, and nothing more.”

                In the same vein, suppositions about how loyal military personnel would really be to their militaries or likely galactic reactions to catastrophic events are irrelevant. Focusing on this minutiae is precisely why you and Shamus are unable to perceive a deeper meaning to the text.

                Some examples:

                The very straightforward meaning of Joker’s defection is characterisation. Joker doesn’t care for authority or decorum, Joker cares for Shepard and flying. Joker is one of the few characters from ME1 that actually ‘keeps the faith’ – that doesn’t wander off back to their own lives as soon as Shepard’s back is turned.

                Shamus clearly dislikes Miranda’s “hero, bloody icon” line, presumably because he dislikes ‘chosen one’ stories so very much. Fine, agreed, not gonna argue there. But in his haste to use the line as a club with which to bludgeon ME2 (many, many times), he has missed the glaringly obvious: Miranda is being sarcastic. Miranda hates the idea as much as he does! Strahovski’s delivery drips disdain for Shepard and the notion they might be uniquely positioned to lead the fight against the Reapers. This is the first beat in Miranda’s character arc, in which she goes from being rather curt and dismissive (boasting about her genetic engineering, veiled intimidation in the control chip dialogue) to relenting and ultimately admitting that over the course of the game Shepard has demonstrated a charisma, determination and aptitude that she doesn’t have.

                This is also part of the larger structure of the games, in which Shepard – having achieved enlightenment and self-actualisation at the end of ME1 in true Campbellian fashion, or in other words ‘become a hero’ – must now deal with impotence in the face of a decidedly non-heroic galaxy. Shepard, as Master of Two Worlds, has knowledge both of the galaxy as is and the true nature of the galaxy as a Reaper trap, the latest in a series of unending genocides. Unfortunately the Council didn’t go on the same Hero’s Journey as Shepard did and can only see half what Shepard does – so Sovereign is dismissed as a geth flagship and Shepard is sent off to fight geth. The purpose of the dialogue between TIM and Miranda is to establish that Shepard has the will and the capability to lead the galaxy against the Reapers, but chooses not to, instead deferring to political authority (which, following on Sovereign’s speech on Virmire, is already corrupt). What TIM hopes to do, in classic satanic fashion (you picked up on this, right?), is to tempt Shepard into action and thus corrupt them to TIM’s cause; the jeopardy of ME2 is not whether the Collectors will eat Earth, but whether Shepard will rediscover their mojo and lead the fight against the Reapers, or if they’ll end up falling in line to TIM or the Council, neither of which are able to resist the Reapers.

                And for this most recent update: by spending 1,597 words talking about non-text (this asari conspiracy theory nonsense), Shamus has failed to identify the very obvious common motif that BioWare has yet again deployed in a Mass Effect game: the apocalypse. Mass Effect is full of moments of apocalypse – both in the sense of world-changing destruction but also its original sense of world-changing revelation.

                Saren is a traitor. The Thorian is controlling Zhu’s Hope. The rachni are peaceful. Sovereign isn’t a Reaper ship, it’s an actual Reaper. The Protheans weren’t benevolent precursors, they were chumps like the rest of us. The mass relays are a Reaper trap. The Collectors are Protheans. Maelon is helping the Blood Pack. Jacob’s dad is a monster. Niket is a traitor. Pureblood asari breed into ardat-yakshi. The true geth are peaceful. The Collectors are building a human Reaper. TIM is acting in bad faith. Cerberus are husking themselves. The salarians had a genophage cure all along. The Protheans were chauvinists and imperialists. Udina is a traitor. The Reaper signal is an actual Reaper. The asari race, who present themselves as wiser and smarter and kinder than all other races in the galaxy, are no better than anyone else – hoarding technology for their own advancement, the beneficiaries of a legacy they didn’t see fit to share with the rest of the galaxy, their own religion a misunderstanding of history.

                Most of these are paired with equally devastating cataclysms. Someone at BioWare knows their Bible.

                This, again, ties into Sovereign’s revelation on Virmire that the galaxy is corrupt, the whole thing one giant battery farm for the Reapers (that’s the analogy to be drawn there, not “Lovecraft”) and Shepard’s status as someone newly able to see beyond the surface world, into the deeper Campbellian underworld of true, deeper meaning. Of course the twists and reveals come thick and fast… that’s what being a hero is all about!

                With respect to Grunt: so the very obvious theme at work throughout all of Mass Effect, not just ME3, is ‘intergenerational conflict’. Quarians create geth, quarians and geth fight each other. Salarians uplift krogan, salarians and krogan fight each other. Wrex, Garrus, Tali and Liara all have problems with their parents. Jacob and Miranda have problems with their dads; Thane and Samara, their children. As protege, Maelon is Mordin’s (figurative) son, and arguably so is Sidonis to Garrus. Grunt’s dad is both absent and unworthy, so he adopts Wrex/Wreav and Shepard as parents. Jack was raised by Cerberus and spends her entire life getting over it. The Shadow Broker is a legacy title, inherited by conflict (like The Golden Bough’s priest-king of Nemi, come to think of it). Anderson and TIM both fulfil a father role for Shepard, one being their mentor and the other the man who gave them (new) life. The Reapers embody the concept in their cycles of genocide, where old races are harvested and transformed into Reapers in order to make way for new, younger races, who they in turn will one day harvest and transform.

                Organic vs synthetic is a specific form of intergenerational conflict (c.f. Rossum’s Universal Robots, Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus). Again, we have the quarian-geth conflict, but also the ban on AI development, the casino AI, the Luna AI, the Hahne-Kedar VI, and of course the Reapers themselves once more.

                Where Grunt (and Miranda) are useful is in tying these two themes together. What Grunt and Miranda demonstrate is that the quality of being synthetic is not a question of what base materials one is made from, but simply having been ‘made’ in the first place. Grunt is an artificial lifeform made of hydrocarbons; he’s no less synthetic than Legion, or Jacob, or Morinth or Maelon. By uplifting the krogan to fight the rachni, the salarians made ‘machines’ out them. By creating the geth, the quarians created the ‘children’ of their species. This allows us to reduce the organic vs synthetic theme into the larger intergenerational conflict theme – the basic metaphor at work is that organics are one generation, synthetics are another, the two fight, therefore intergenerational conflict. Again, the Reapers embody this in their melding of organic and synthetic technology, in how they are giant robots powered by orange people juice.

                This then should inform our reading of the Catalyst and the ending of the game, and what Shepard is really out to accomplish across the Mass Effect games.

  49. Bas L. says:

    I have a different opinion regarding some of your statements.

    Let’s start with Joker. I think Shamus’ point was to show how the writer first sets up a new situation (Shepard has to die, so the Normandy crew has to resign) and then comes up with explanations/excuses for how the characters get there. This is the same mistake, for example, that the showrunners of the Game of Thrones tv-series often make (unlike GRRM in the books). An action undertaken by a character should be the natural result from his previous arc. This, however, is just lazy writing. Based on Joker’s backstory (from his dialogue lines in ME1), it doesn’t make any sense that he would resign after all the struggles he has been through to become a pilot. His career means everything to him. At the very least, Joker should’ve been very critical of the Alliance in ME1 to set-up this plot twist, but most, if not all, of his anger is aimed at the Council. Ergo: there is no proper set-up for Joker leaving the Alliance and the explanation as offered in ME2 is a lazy excuse. I don’t see why Shamus cannot criticize this.

    As for the beacon. The game also suggests that the beacon is valuable to the Asari and that they got a technological advantage from it. How?
    The game implies that the Cipher is not the key here since the beacon has a VI. So, if the Asari think it’s valuable enough to keep it hidden and got some use out of it, how come they never learned about the Reapers? Did the beacon contain two databases, one about Reapers and one about futuristic weapons, and the Asari were only able to access the latter? I think this is a glaring plothole and valid criticism from Shamus. I do agree with you though that the game clearly states that the religion was quite old and not a recent government conspiracy.

    As for the book The Hero With A Thousand Faces. George Lucas admitted this being one of his main inspirations for the Star Wars movies and many comparisons have been drawn between Harry Potter and the book too. So I’d say that the standard nerd-canon of Star Wars and HP in this case is more than enough to recognize and analyze the theory of the monomyth in the Mass Effect series.

    Finally, I am curious what overarching themes or superstructure you give so much credit to. Sure, Shepard can be seen as a Jesus-character with his resurrection in ME2 and there are quite some references to it (Afterlife bar, Purgatory). Still, I have a hard time giving the writers any credit or praise for these sort of things given the huge amount of retcons, plotholes and inconsistencies throughout all three games. It is blatantly obvious that the take-over of Bioware by EA had its effect on these games, most evidently in ME3 with its focus on shooting first and its multiplayer mode. Not to mention the switch of writing teams and most importantly: the lack of any planning ahead, whatsoever. They admitted to writing this game-by-game and had no plan for an ending to the trilogy until they were nearing the end. After ME1 was finished there was only one sheet containing a possible direction of ME2/ME3 (with dark energy) which was ultimately dropped. I’d say that a game with the faults of ME, as pointed out by Shamus in his analysis so far, doesn’t really deserve such an extensive analysis of themes and overarching superstructures. This is a videogame with poor writing and far removed from literature where such an analysis would be appropriate, in my opinion.

    • natureguy85 says:

      Just because Mass Effect isn’t the highest form of literature doesn’t mean they can’t write a good story or that literary analysis is invalid. The series does have themes. I see them as “Strength through Diversity” and “self-determination.”

    • Calliope says:

      Joker: I feel this is still begging the question – assuming that Joker wouldn’t leave the Alliance, so any text to the contrary must be a mistake. Is there any actual textual evidence for Joker being so loyal to the Alliance that he’d never leave it? Otherwise what we have is supposition, and I can just as easily suppose: “Joker faced enough hassle and prejudice in the Alliance that when his CO was killed and he was grounded due to politics, it was the last straw and he resigned his commission.” Stalemate.

      Beacon: Here we are theorising about an object that doesn’t exist. The text is clear, though: asari scientists studied the beacon (without activating it) and gained a technological advantage that way. The method they did this is not important to the meaning here. However, if you really would like an analogy, imagine an electronic computer sent back in time to the 18th century. Any data on it would be inaccessible, but the inactive components alone would be of benefit – if only in the sense of showing what it is possible to make. This is still supposition on both our parts, though, and rather irrelevant to substantial analysis.

      Campbell: Yes, the main thesis of the book is that all stories follow a common structure. This doesn’t mean we can get useful analysis of any story by comparing it to any other story. Secondhand analysis is no analysis at all. We all know Darth Vader represents the Father in Star Wars (literally and figuratively), but who fulfils this role in Mass Effect? I think this is an important and useful question, one of many.

      Themes: This is begging the question again, though. How can we determine if Mass Effect ‘deserves’ to have deeper meaning if we refuse to look for said deeper meaning? Themes exist in all works, regardless of quality. Arguably poorly-planned works offer greater insight into the foundational ideas involved, since the author isn’t so consciously constructing his work. More relevantly, though, Shamus is the one who has brought up “themes and messages” as a justification for this analysis. This is a question you maybe ought to ask him, instead.

      While I do have my own ideas on this, I didn’t come here to listen to my own voice, and I feel it’d be rude (ruder, even) for me to interrupt somebody else’s series so I could talk instead. That said, I don’t want to be needlessly cryptic either. I think some useful questions to ask would be:

      * What common theme repeats itself across most of the party members in Mass Effect 1 and 2?
      * What common philosophical issue rears its head across the trilogy, both in sidequests and general background? Can we connect this to the previous question?
      * How does the colour palette change across games? Is there a colour motif at work?
      * How do the intertextual references to other sci-fi works change across games?
      * How does each game relate to Campbell’s monomyth?

      Not necessarily questions any of us need to answer, more questions to provoke thought.

  50. kdansky says:

    > “This is a new god I made up. Everyone believe in them now”

    That’s basically how every sect starts. I’m not entirely able to comprehend why it works.

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