The Call of Leviathan: Mass Effect and Lovecraft 9


If import can be mea­sured in influ­ence, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (18901937) is cer­tain­ly one of the most impor­tant writ­ers of the 20th cen­tu­ry.  Everyone from Neil Gaiman to Joyce Carol Oates has cited him as an influ­ence, and in videogames you can find his ten­ta­cles in every­thing from Amnesia: The Dark Descent to Borderlands.  Lovecraft, like his friend Robert E. Howard and, of course, Professor Tolkien, is every­where in genre fic­tion.

It’s Lovecraft’s influ­ence on Mass Effect which caused Kyle Munkittrick to argue that Mass Effect is “the most impor­tant sci­ence fic­tion uni­verse of our gen­er­a­tion.”  In both Lovecraft and Mass Effect, human­i­ty has to jus­ti­fy its very exis­tence in the face of an indif­fer­ent uni­verse and with­out recourse to any high­er author­i­ty.  This, Munkittrick argues, makes the Mass Effect uni­verse par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant to our post­mod­ern and increas­ing­ly sec­u­lar soci­ety.

While it’s impos­si­ble to deny Lovecraft’s influ­ence upon Mass Effect,1 there is a fun­da­men­tal dis­so­nance between this influ­ence and the game’s over­all struc­ture which goes all the way down to its roots and gnaws at them like Nidhogg.  I believe it’s this ten­sion which is respon­si­ble for the game’s more incom­pre­hen­si­ble moments.  At the end of the day, I believe Mass Effect sim­ply bor­rows Lovecraftian trap­pings with­out fully embrac­ing a Lovecraftian world­view, there­by con­struct­ing a deep dis­so­nance between the sup­posed power of the Reapers and the unstop­pable jug­ger­naut that is the player-controlled Commander Shepard.  The game attempts to be both a Lovecraftian nar­ra­tive of Powerful, Unspeakable Forces Beyond Human Comprehension and a straight­for­ward videogame power fan­ta­sy, and this is an irrec­on­cil­able ten­sion which weak­ens the game as a whole.

Even Dead Gods Dream

Rudimentary crea­tures of blood and flesh, you touch my mind, fum­bling in igno­rance, inca­pable of under­stand­ing.” — Sovereign

When most peo­ple talk about Lovecraft, they are pri­mar­i­ly inter­est­ed in the sto­ries which would form the back­bone of the “Cthulhu Mythos2″ of the early 20th cen­tu­ry.  These sto­ries, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to The Call of Cthulhu, At The Mountains of Madness, The Shadow Out of Time and, prob­a­bly his best, The Colour Out of Space, all share cer­tain pow­er­ful themes.  In each, the pro­tag­o­nists (for they can­not usu­al­ly be called heroes) dis­cov­er the over­all impo­tence and unim­por­tance of humankind in the face of some cos­mic rev­e­la­tion, and many either go mad or are qui­et­ly mur­dered by their dis­cov­er­ies.

In At The Mountains of Madness, an Antarctic geo­log­i­cal expe­di­tion dis­cov­ers the remains of an ancient, pow­er­ful and alien civ­i­liza­tion which may well have cre­at­ed human­i­ty to serve as a slave race.  In The Colour Out of Space, some inex­plic­a­ble Thing from beyond human com­pre­hen­sion crash-lands in rural Massachusetts and pro­ceeds to ter­ror­ize and destroy a help­less fam­i­ly.  And in The Call of Cthulhu, a man dis­cov­ers that some­where, sleep­ing deep beneath the sur­face of the ocean in his House at R’lyeh, waits a being of such ancient and ter­ri­ble power that its awak­en­ing would sure­ly spell the end of human civ­i­liza­tion, and dis­cov­ers, to his dread, that there’s absolute­ly noth­ing any­one can do about it.

In each of these sto­ries we are con­front­ed with the cos­mic irrel­e­vance of human­i­ty and the exis­tence of pow­er­ful beings far beyond our under­stand­ing.  At best, these beings regard us with indif­fer­ence and at worst would utter­ly anni­hi­late us for an after­noon’s light enter­tain­ment.  Even the hap­pi­est of these sto­ries ends with no more than a delay of the inevitable — human­i­ty is qui­et­ly doomed, and none of our under­tak­ers will care much about us even as they’re destroy­ing us.

These themes will sound very famil­iar to any play­er of Mass EffectMass Effect’s pri­ma­ry antag­o­nists are the Reapers, a race of ancient machines which return every 50,000 years to anni­hi­late and har­vest all advanced life in the galaxy as part of a cos­mic Cycle which has stretched back since long before human­i­ty’s dis­tant ances­tors con­sid­ered swing­ing down from the trees.  The Reapers are vast and inscrutable, each the size of an enor­mous star­ship and capa­ble of incal­cu­la­ble destruc­tion.  One Reaper is enough to threat­en the com­bined fleets of sev­er­al advanced space­far­ing races.

The Reapers thus recall Lovecraft’s “Great Old Ones,” of whom Cthulhu is the most famous.  Even their design is rem­i­nis­cent of Cthulhu’s ten­ta­cled descrip­tion.

reaper

Sovereign, the first Reaper encoun­tered in Mass Effect

Their motives are ini­tial­ly incom­pre­hen­si­ble and cos­mic in scope, and they shape the very course of galac­tic his­to­ry time and time again.  Spending time around a Reaper caus­es any organ­ic life to go insane as they are enthralled by the Reaper’s pow­er­ful indoc­tri­na­tion.  The game assures us repeat­ed­ly that they are far beyond human under­stand­ing, and that Shepard’s quest to pre­vent their har­vest of this cycle’s civ­i­liza­tions is almost cer­tain­ly doomed.

There is a scene in Mass Effect 2 which makes the Lovecraftian con­nec­tion about as explic­it as pos­si­ble. A Cerberus sci­ence team has found the corpse of a long-dead Reaper and sets up camp on board to dis­cov­er its secrets.  Though the Reaper is dead, some­thing of its abil­i­ty to indoc­tri­nate remains, such that the sci­ence team begins to slow­ly go insane, and is fully gone by the time Shepard arrives.  In a log left behind for Shepard to find,3 one sci­en­tist, real­iz­ing what’s hap­pen­ing, states that “even a dead god can dream,” recall­ing the “much-discussed cou­plet” from the Necronomicon4 and the chant of the Cthulhu-cult: “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dream­ing.“5

Shepard is faced with an impos­si­ble task, fac­ing down the wrath of a race of beings far beyond his/her com­pre­hen­sion.  Yet Shepard some­how man­ages to sur­mount the insur­mount­able, and it is here that we find our dis­so­nance.

Hither Came Shepard

Mass Effect, like most games of its ilk, is a power fan­ta­sy.  Shepard is able to deal with these tremen­dous prob­lems because he/she is the Player Character, and there­fore infal­li­ble.  Shepard is a prime exam­ple of the Mary Sue arche­type: a proxy for the play­er who is infi­nite­ly more pow­er­ful, charm­ing and respect­ed than the play­er might ever be.  Everyone is impressed with Shepard.  Krogan war­lords, Drell assas­sins, and even the Reapers them­selves know Shepard’s name and rep­u­ta­tion and bow to him/her as the badass­est of the badass­es.  When Shepard is killed in a Reaper-orchestrated attack, one of the most pow­er­ful human beings in the galaxy spends a vast for­tune to res­ur­rect him/her, because Shepard is the Only One Who Can Do It.  He/she is the Hero, the Chosen One.

Shepard is preter­nat­u­ral­ly per­sua­sive and pow­er­ful.  He or she can talk any­one into any­thing sim­ply by shout­ing at them.  Two sep­a­rate games have a penul­ti­mate dia­logue encounter in which Shepard can talk a pri­ma­ry antag­o­nist into shoot­ing him­self in the span of five min­utes.  No one can with­stand Shepard’s sil­ver tongue or bru­tal threats, and no one, no mat­ter how pow­er­ful, can beat Shepard in a fire­fight.

Further, Shepard is always con­ve­nient­ly placed in a posi­tion to make all of the most impor­tant deci­sions in the galaxy, even when it does­n’t make much sense that he/she would be.  Shepard decides the fate of entire races on at least three sep­a­rate occa­sions, plots the course of galac­tic pol­i­tics at least twice, and fre­quent­ly issues orders to mil­i­tary offi­cers high above his/her own rank, some­times even those in entire­ly sep­a­rate mil­i­taries.  Shepard is so badass that the Reapers specif­i­cal­ly seek him/her out to kill him/her, but only ever suc­ceed in mak­ing him/her angry.

Shepard is the mod­ern Conan, com­plete­ly free, above the law, above the chain of mil­i­tary com­mand, immense­ly pow­er­ful and free to be hon­or­able or scum­my as the play­er sees fit.  This is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a prob­lem in-and-of-itself.  Power fan­tasies have their place in the world.  But there is a fun­da­men­tal dis­so­nance between Mass Effect as power fan­ta­sy and Mass Effect as Lovecraftian nar­ra­tive, and it is this dis­so­nance that dam­ages the coher­ence of the game as a whole.  Humans can­not be both irrel­e­vant and immense­ly pow­er­ful.  The moral of any Lovecraftian nar­ra­tive can­not be “but if you just try hard enough you can win.”

A Pleasant Chat With Cthulhu

Nowhere is this dis­so­nance more pro­nounced than in Leviathan, the sec­ond piece of add-on DLC released for Mass Effect 3.  Released at least part­ly in an attempt to assuage annoyed fans by giv­ing them more infor­ma­tion about the Reapers and their back­sto­ry, Leviathan puts Shepard on a quest to find and recruit a leg­endary Reaper-killer, a pow­er­ful crea­ture called the Leviathan of Dis.  The Leviathan does not par­tic­u­lar­ly want to be found, how­ev­er, so Shepard must work his/her way through a vari­ety of tri­als and tribu­la­tions before final­ly com­ing face-to-face with the thing and con­vinc­ing it to join the cause.

Leviathan hap­pens to be remark­ably sim­i­lar to the cen­tral con­ceits of Lovecraft’s most famous short story, The Call of Cthulhu, and it is in exam­in­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between the two works that we can see the real prob­lem inher­ent in couch­ing a power fan­ta­sy in Lovecraftian lan­guage.

In both sto­ries, our pro­tag­o­nists are search­ing for some immense­ly pow­er­ful crea­ture of leg­end that can only be dis­cov­ered by care­ful­ly inves­ti­gat­ing arche­o­log­i­cal infor­ma­tion and strange behav­ior from cer­tain cults or other orga­ni­za­tions.  In Leviathan, the tit­u­lar beast keeps track of what’s hap­pen­ing in the galaxy by enthralling var­i­ous sci­en­tists and other agents and forc­ing them to report back on the goings-on around them.  If any­one gets too close to dis­cov­er­ing the nature of the crea­ture, Leviathan orches­trates that per­son­’s demise.  In this way, Leviathan remains hid­den, and can observe the events of the galaxy and bide its time until it feels it can act on its grand designs.  In Call, Cthulhu is wor­shiped by a cult that works to bring about his return to the earth and mur­ders any­one who asks too many ques­tions about him.

Unlike Leviathan, the pro­tag­o­nist of Call never does much in the way of inves­ti­ga­tion him­self, pre­fer­ring to read other peo­ples’ diaries.  Yet the struc­ture is oth­er­wise the same — Thurston first reads an account of an unusu­al young man hav­ing weird dreams about a sunken city/Shepard first meets a man who is under the con­trol of some­thing he does­n’t under­stand.  Second, Thurston reads about a cult of Cthulhu-worshippers in Louisiana/Shepard dis­cov­ers a min­ing colony which is entire­ly under Leviathan’s con­trol.  Finally, after a bit of dig­ging, Thurston reads about a man who actu­al­ly encoun­ters Cthulhu/Shepard trav­els to an unchart­ed plan­et and finds Leviathan.

Cthulhu slum­bers deep beneath the ocean in the ancient, sunken city of R’lyeh, and Leviathan waits with sev­er­al oth­ers of its kind deep beneath anoth­er ocean on a dis­tant world.  Both are asso­ci­at­ed with the untrav­eled depths of dis­tant oceans, but it’s in the phys­i­cal encoun­ters with these crea­tures that the sto­ries diverge.

Cthulhu dis­cov­ers a boat full of tasty and inquis­i­tive sailors and imme­di­ate­ly sets to work eating/frightening them to death.  The first mate, Johansen, only bare­ly escapes, appar­ent­ly because Cthulhu is too unin­ter­est­ed to seri­ous­ly pur­sue, choos­ing instead to hit the snooze but­ton after Johansen caus­es it to stub its toe.  Not long after the sailor makes it home, he is mur­dered by a cultist.  There is never an oppor­tu­ni­ty for the crew to speak with Great Cthulhu, who appar­ent­ly views them as noth­ing more than a mild annoy­ance.  Even being direct­ly rammed by a large boat only caus­es Cthulhu momen­tary incon­ve­nience.  Cthulhu cares noth­ing for our attempts to harm it.

Leviathan, con­verse­ly, rises threat­en­ing­ly out of the ocean only to dump a great deal of expo­si­tion on the play­er.6  The details are large­ly irrel­e­vant to the mat­ter at hand, but Leviathan is revealed to be a mem­ber of the race that indi­rect­ly cre­at­ed the Reapers, and is even greater and more pow­er­ful than the Old Machines them­selves.  It is capa­ble of destroy­ing a Reaper with rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle effort, and once held entire plan­ets in thrall.  It is vast­ly beyond Shepard, and cares noth­ing for Shepard’s trou­bles.

Shepard valiant­ly attempts to enlist its help in the war, but it ini­tial­ly refus­es, argu­ing that there is lit­tle rea­son to sus­pect that this cycle will be any dif­fer­ent from the count­less cycles it has already wit­nessed.  Then, the absur­di­ty begins.  The play­er makes one dia­logue choice which sim­ply changes the fla­vor of Shepard’s rhetoric (friend­ly or mean) and then Shepard, with per­haps three lines of spo­ken dia­logue, con­vinces the ancient and inef­fa­ble mon­ster to change its mind.

Commander Shepard, like Abraham, can suc­cess­ful­ly bar­gain with God.

One can­not imag­ine Randolph Carter nego­ti­at­ing with Azathoth, or Albert Wilmarth con­vinc­ing Shub-Niggurath to help out in the Second World War.  There is sim­ply no rea­son for Leviathan to care about Shepard’s prob­lems — Shepard is as far beneath Leviathan as an ant is to Shepard, yet we are sup­posed to believe that a brief set of apho­risms is enough to con­vince this ter­ri­ble and eldritch Thing to help in the war effort.  The entire con­ver­sa­tion with Leviathan, includ­ing all of its Stygian-voiced expo­si­tion, takes eight min­utes and forty sec­onds.  Leviathan ulti­mate­ly agrees to help because Shepard is con­fi­dent.

Cosmic Boss Fights

The most mer­ci­ful thing in the world, I think, is the inabil­i­ty of the human mind to cor­re­late all its con­tents. We live on a placid island of igno­rance in the midst of black seas of infin­i­ty, and it was not meant that we should voy­age far.” — H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

The rhetor­i­cal power of the Reapers and Leviathan is under­cut by the ease of this con­ver­sa­tion.  Again and again we are told that these beings are beyond our under­stand­ing, that they are count­less mil­len­nia old and full of immense power.  Again and again Mass Effect clothes its vil­lains in Lovecraftian rhetoric.  The Reapers are gods, the Old Machines, “eter­nal… the pin­na­cle of evo­lu­tion and exis­tence.  Before [them], [we] are noth­ing.”  Yet time and time again, Shepard is able to beat them with brute force or out­rea­son their bet­ters in a mat­ter of sec­onds.  Shepard kills Reapers with orbital strikes, he/she kills them with hand-mounted nuclear weapons.  He/she kills them in sin­gle com­bat when they fool­ish­ly pos­sess human-sized beings and stride into the arena rather than just nuk­ing him/her from orbit.

Much has been made on forums and blogs of the fact that explain­ing the Reapers’ ori­gins dam­aged their mys­tery and emo­tion­al power, and this is prob­a­bly trueIt’s very dif­fi­cult to make an answered ques­tion as fright­en­ing or intrigu­ing as an unan­swered one.  We never find out what the Colour Out of Space is, or if it thinks, or what its moti­va­tions are, and that makes it ter­ri­fy­ing.

But what real­ly dam­ages the Reapers is the fact that they are over­come­able antag­o­nists in a power fan­ta­sy rather than the all-consuming, unstop­pable Forces of Lovecraftian cos­mi­cism.  The Reapers become weak because we know we can beat them, and fre­quent­ly beat them with ease.  Shepard is the Hero, the Chosen One, and can do any­thing.  This makes the eldritch lan­guage used by and about the Reapers feel hol­low and ridicu­lous.  The Reapers aren’t beyond our com­pre­hen­sion, they’re just boss fights.

Who’s Your Elder God Now

There are a lot of prob­lems with the last ten min­utes of Mass Effect 3.  Any kind of end­ing to a game as expan­sive and fre­quent­ly grip­ping as Mass Effect was going to be dif­fi­cult, and the sharp left turn the game took into spec­u­la­tive phi­los­o­phy is noth­ing if not jar­ring.  But I believe that the real prob­lem with the end­ing stems from this dis­so­nance.

Shepard has to make some kind of Big Decision in order for it to remain a power fan­ta­sy.  Shepard has to hold the fate of the uni­verse in his/her hands and choose accord­ing­ly.  Yet the Reapers, couched as they are in Lovecraftian lan­guage, can’t be defeat­ed just by a mas­sive bomb.  They have to be beat­en by some­thing inef­fa­ble and tremen­dous, some­thing con­cep­tu­al­ly larg­er than they are.  There has to be some­thing of Lovecraftian scale behind Shepard’s vic­to­ry in order for it to be remote­ly plau­si­ble.

So we’re greet­ed by the Catalyst, the cos­mic AI that designed the Reapers to do some Great Task, and so on and so forth.  We watch the orig­i­nal end­ing cutscene, almost insult­ing­ly short, leav­ing so much up to the play­er’s imag­i­na­tion, so much left unsaid.  They want­ed to fill us again with the sense of won­der and small­ness we got when first we talked to Sovereign on Virmire, when first we read of Azathoth, gnaw­ing hun­gri­ly in dark­ness, and Yog-Sothoth, the Key and the Gate.  But it’s too late for that.  We don’t believe it any more.  Shepard is the real eldritch force, the unstop­pable jug­ger­naut, and when faced with the tight­ly lim­it­ed choic­es the Catalyst offers, we don’t feel won­der.  Instead, we feel cheat­ed out of our fan­ta­sy.

  1. I’m going to talk about Mass Effects 1, 2, 3 and their atten­dant DLC as a sin­gle, coher­ent unit.  This prob­a­bly isn’t quite fair, since the game changed a great deal over its life­time, not just mechan­i­cal­ly but the­mat­i­cal­ly, with occa­sion­al flat con­tra­dic­tions in lore.  Nevertheless, the games are so tight­ly wound togeth­er that I don’t think there’s much sense talk­ing about them sep­a­rate­ly.  So through­out, when I say “Mass Effect,” I mean the fran­chise as a whole. []
  2. My inner ama­teur Lovecraft schol­ar wants me to make it very clear that much of the Cthulhu Mythos has very lit­tle to do with Lovecraft him­self, being rather the cre­ation of August Derleth.  Mr. Derleth is a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure in Lovecraft schol­ar­ship — with­out him, we’d almost cer­tain­ly not remem­ber Lovecraft at all, but through him we get a very strange and much less inter­est­ing vision of Lovecraft’s work. []
  3. For there are always apoc­a­lyp­tic logs, arguably anoth­er trope for which we can thank Mr. Lovecraft. []
  4. That is not dead which can eter­nal lie/And with strange aeons even death may die.” []
  5. Or, in the orig­i­nal gib­ber­ish: “Ph’nglui mglw’­nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’­nagl fhtagn.” The fact that I can spell that cor­rect­ly with­out look­ing it up prob­a­bly means some­thing. []
  6. This is actu­al­ly very Lovecraftian.  While I admire much of the man’s writ­ing, he was not par­tic­u­lar­ly good at weav­ing expo­si­tion into a nar­ra­tive so much as just front­load­ing all of it in one place. []

Bill Coberly

About Bill Coberly

Bill Coberly is the founder and groundskeeper of The Ontological Geek, now that it has shifted over to archive mode. If something on the site isn't working, please shoot a DM to @ontologicalgeek on Twitter!


9 thoughts on “The Call of Leviathan: Mass Effect and Lovecraft

  • Eckswhyzed

    Hmmm, that’s inter­est­ing. I always thought that Mass Effect 3 (espe­cial­ly the end­ing) was a rejec­tion of Cosmicism — that pow­er­ful forces can be explained.

    SPOILERS:

    Consider the end­ing choic­es:
    Destroy — Kill the gods
    Control — Become a god
    Synthesis — Share the gods’ power with every­one

    • Oscar Strik (@qwallath)

      This reminds me of the end­ing choic­es of Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. Upon defeat­ing Melissan at the Throne of Bhaal and releas­ing the div­ing essence of Bhaal, the pro­tag­o­nist can choose:

      1: Destroy the Throne and remain mor­tal
      2: Take the essence, ascend and become a God of Good
      3: Take the essence, ascend and become the new Lord of Murder

      They felt sim­i­lar­ly hol­low at the time, empha­sis­ing that these RPGs are pret­ty much only about the jour­ney and as soon as the final boss falls, any wrap-up will leave us with a sort of anti- (or post-)climactic feel­ings. Apparently Bioware felt that this sort of three mean­ing­less (because out­side of the game) choic­es are good as a wrap-up. I sup­pose it could be worse, and it does­n’t real­ly both­er me too much…

      Now that I think of it, the first Deus Ex had a sim­i­lar thing, though by incor­po­rat­ing the three dif­fer­ent end­ings into slight­ly dif­fer­ent endgame sec­tions, they felt more unique and mean­ing­ful, because you have to make a mas­sive­ly impor­tant choice, and THEN work for it. Maybe that addi­tion of chal­lenge to choice makes it more mean­ing­ful as a game moment than just push­ing but­tons (BG:ToB, ME3, Deus Ex: HR).

      • Bill Coberly
        Bill Coberly Post author

        Someday I’m going to write a big arti­cle about the weak­ness of the “Big Ultimate Final Choice” you see in all of the games you’ve men­tioned. All I have to say right now is: “Yeah, it’s a prob­lem.” :p

  • julie

    Unfortunately, for love­crafts adapt­abil­i­ty to rpg for­mat, the aver­age con­sumer does­n’t typ­i­cal­ly pre­fer a game that can­not be won in a con­ven­tion­al sense.… Or love­craft did­n’t plan on com­man­der shep­ard ;) we do owe love­craft some grat­i­tude, his race of gods laid the ground­work for mass effect. Flawed, yes, but def­i­nite­ly enter­tain­ing

  • freeportsti

    I’m sorry, but to call Lovecraft “one of the most impor­tant writ­ers of the 20th cen­tu­ry” is sim­ply ridicu­lous. Don’t get me wrong, I love love­craft, but out­side a very nar­row field of pop cul­ture Lovecraft is nei­ther famous nor influ­en­tial — and he hard­ly ever was.

    If you want impor­tant 20th cen­tu­ry writ­ers, go read JD Salinger, George Orwell, William Golding, or Scott F. Fitzgerald.

    I know it’s off topic (and not rel­e­vant to the arti­cle at all), but that sen­tence just rubbed me the wrong way.

  • Jonathan Popham

    Western inter­pre­ta­tion of these themes is orphaned from Hinduism, which is the real source of the unstop­pable jug­ger­naut, the frailty of real­i­ty, the great cos­mic cycle, and the insignif­i­cance of human­i­ty. I think from a Hindu per­spec­tive, Shepard could be an avatar of the real “god” called the dream­er who cre­ates exis­tence. Lovecraft him­self was inspired by these themes. I think it works great, espe­cial­ly because Shepard is a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter. He is an avatar of the dream­er, you the play­er. Shepard can infer that he does­n’t exist but he does exist at the same time. NPC’s are stuck with their pro­gram only able to exist not able to ques­tion and from this per­spec­tive they are the unen­light­ened, falling into the cycle. Shepard is Krishna the play­er is Vishnu. Everything includ­ed in the uni­verse is part of the dream, even gods, even your­self.

  • Ernest Delannoy

    Mass Effect does­n’t make a mis­take by blend­ing “power fan­ta­sy” with Lovecraftian hor­ror. Because it does­n’t blend them, it con­scien­cious­ly con­front them.

    The whole idea of the saga is to respond to cos­mi­cism (the unun­der­stand­able and unstop­pable force embod­ied by the reapers) with nihilism (the Nietzschian super­hu­man embod­ied by “the shep­ard”.)

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