Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles magnifies its obvious and stark conflict between nature and industry, respectively, on two worldscapes: Bionis and Mechonis. The two are locked in stasis, having defeated each other in the same moment long ago in the story’s setting. This backdrop forms signifiers that conceptualize our own contemporary dialogues concerning ecological preservation and technological industry.
Xenoblade Chronicles succeeds in taking its initially general and clichéd exposition suggesting a conflict between man and nature and developing it into a much more dynamic plot that asks players to question that theme entirely. Shulk, our protagonist, is incited to action by the bombarding of his home village by Mechonis troops. His home village rests on the foot of Bionis, a lush and verdant tropicale teeming with a human-like race (called Homs) and not over-saturated with technology. The Mechonis invaders (called Machina) are almost entirely robotic (it is revealed that some of them have cybernetically-implanted pilots), and are clad in dreary greys and blacks. As Shulk and his companions set out to avenge his fellow Homs, our expectation of a traditional fabled warning against the evils of technology is soon problematized by a web of political intrigue by good and bad, heroic and villainous, arbiters of both Bionis and Mechonis.
This resulting dynamic forces us to question the conceptualized image of technological industry. Fear of technology is popularly conceptualized in the media in print texts, film, and video games, especially in their dystopian narratives. The end of our world is, at present, ever one more technological advancement away from gainful profit by corrupt CEOs alongside the gradual whittling away of nature and a cataclysmic wasteland. Internet or Skynet, such gains will lead to barren wastes and mechonized “life” not unlike the many locales of Mechonis through which Shulk and his party venture. Here, the rich, ecological landscapes of Bionis are traded for steel, desert canyons and mammoth, monochrome factories. At a glance, this setting lends itself well to the dystopian settings that permeate our media. However, the mythos behind these worlds frames for the player a different perspective, one which alters the signified concept of dystopia to which we have become so accustomed.
The mythos behind Xenoblade Chronicles–revealed through the creation mythos that incites political conflicts on both Bionis and Mechonis—suggests that the Machina are not all cybernetic monsters resulting from a gross permutation of man and machine but simply a second race created in contrast to the Bionis from the very beginning of both races’ creation by two gods, now manifested in the static forms of Bionis and Mechonis–a complex creation story to be sure. However, the two oppose each other not in the stereotypical conflict of man versus machine but to give to the other meaning, to define the other by its opposite traits.
It is how Xenoblade Chronicles treats this binary that makes it’s conflict so engaging. The plot and mythos experienced by the player are so rejected by the theme of man-versus-machine that overly saturates today’s mass-mediated narratives, particularly within the video game medium. By only suggesting the binary between nature and technology, Xenoblade Chronicles presents negative value. It is in not delivering on the traditionally conceptualized conflict between the two values that we consider both the Bionis and Mechonis for their equal presence in a universe which, by its own creation story, could not exist without both worldscapes, the manifestations of the universe’s two creators, Zanza and Meyneth. Nature and technology must be accepted on their own terms, by the good and bad characters that entangle the plot from either side. This consideration includes the player as well, who participates through his or her own technological devices and portals, his or herself a limited omniscience to the story. Thus, we question one’s natural relationship to the other and not simply one as the other’s alternative.
Images: Monolith Soft, Nintendo