Thursday, April 26, 2012

Commander Shepard and Captain Planet

Mass Effect 2
System: Xbox 360
Developer: BioWare
NA Release: January 2010

Back when neon was king and Paula Abdul was coherent, environmental matters were an issue of great media attention—by which I mean exploitation.

The global warning debate barely garners a yawn on the airwaves anymore, but the '90s bombarded us with tons of bright, whimsical shows and games that fell along the same general lines: Nature good! Big greedy dirty corporations and their machines bad! Evildoers—you could tell because they were ugly and often voiced by Tim Curry—sought to take over worlds by pillaging them of their resources and overrunning their dry, smoggy husks with metallic contraptions. These plans, of course, would be foiled in extreme '90s fashion by wildly colored characters like Captain Planet, Sonic the Hedgehog and Widget the World Watcher.

You know! Widget! The World Watcher? Ah, forget it.
Setting things in space does change things significantly. In the Mass Effect series, the metal of ships and stations becomes a primary means of life, with the natural settings of planets mere specks compared to the grand void of it all. Still, I had to muse how the influence of environmental messages has seemed to wane as I shotgunned probe after probe onto every planet I could find to satiate the game's never-ending demand for natural materials.

Mining in Mass Effect 2 is a simple matter of scanning planets from orbit and firing probes onto locations that spike the readings. Whatever needed materials are found there are automatically added to your store. Ores include Irridium, Platinum, Palladium and “Element Zero,” which is probably what powered Ma-Ti's heart ring.
Even he knows his useless ring's going to get him hurt.
On the surface, probing is a fun little mini-game, but go deeper and the propensity for environmentally based backlash rises right along with the likelihood of making dubious metaphors. For a series that enjoys delving into moral quandaries so often, I'm surprised I haven't come across any sort of tough choices in this department. Firing probes at a planet from space can not be the safest means of exploring. Many of these planets are noted as being inhabited, so it would only be a matter of time before you hit something important. It's much the same reason they banned lawn darts, only now you're playing it in someone else's backyard with stakes the size of the Eiffel Tower.

"I'll build on that Palladium deposit!" I said. "Who's ever going to need Palladium?" I said!
And how do the materials instantly transport to your ship? It doesn't look like the universe has teleporters yet or else you'd be Star Trekking all up in this place. I can only imagine a long, Dr. Seussian hose snaking out of the Normandy and onto the planet, sucking all the elements up while fluffy Neptunian dodos or what-have-you shriek and flee in terror.

Of course Mass Effect shows that the universe has a lot of gray areas, but when my '90s kid mind sees me hopping from planet to planet, depleting planets of their metals in order to fabricate weapons and war machines, I'm suddenly Dr. Shepbotnik. I just can't get around it.

Perhaps I've missed a scene where mining is brought into question or one is coming my way, but I think it would be an interesting subplot. Trust me, though; even if it's not, this definitely isn't the end of the world for me. I can only shudder to think of what Mass Effect could have been if media's extreme '90s environmental push was still alive today. We could be playing some cross between Star Fox and Awesome Possum.

Remembered so it may never happen again.


  1. I only remember Widget because he had a pretty decent NES game. As did Zen: Intergalactic Ninja! He fought pollution too!

    1. I thought he had a game. I was scared to look.