Cyborgian Gaia

13Jun17

Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170219161803

Post-apocalyptic narratives crowd current fiction, television, film, and videogames. Horizon: Zero Dawn combines two versions of these narratives and actually makes an interesting, if slightly abstract, point about anthropogenic climate change. In the game you play a young woman named Eloy who is a hunter from a matriarchal tribe. The wilderness around you is rather primeval save the fact that many of the creatures in it are, at least, part mechanical. You eventually leave your enclave and search the world for answers as to your mysterious origin and how it relates to the fate of the old ones (the humans of the former technological world), and to the bit of technology (your focus) which provides you with insight to your surroundings. One immediately feels as if young Eloy would much rather be a cyborg than a goddess.

Quite a bit happens over the course of the game narrative (and I wont go into all of it) but eventually you discover that humanity was wiped out by intelligent machines (the swarm) and that the scientists who worked on the project discovered that there was no way to stop them before the extinction of the human race. The rub is not only were the machines killing humans at an incredible rate, but that the machines fueled themselves by consuming large amounts of biomass. So even if humans could have prevented their immediate extinction, the surface of the Earth in the machines’ wake was left uninhabitable.

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The solution, which no one in the historical sequences wishes to accept, is that humanity must be abandoned and the Earth must be primed to re-start life in the future (once the insanely complex kill codes for the swarm can be decrypted). Thus the emphasis shifts from a Terminator-style end of the world narrative to one of restarting the biosphere after its collapse. But the difficulty, and one of the most interesting aspects of the game’s narrative, is that this will no doubt take multiple tries. This means that the massively complex organic AI (called Gaia) must be able to wipe out its own failed attempts in order to get it right. This aggressive aspect of its programing almost starts the robot apocalypse all over again (and serves as the main villain for the game).

What’s worth noting is that many of the narratives regarding restarting the biosphere are about the struggle to make the technology and then deploy it at the proper time (to make sure it does not fall into the wrong hands). But in Horizon: Zero Dawn the threat is internal to the system itself – one cannot, through any technological means, give nature a push and see stability occur as a result. After anthropogenic climate change there is no reset button that then does not require ongoing intervention by the human species. We cannot simply remove ourselves from the picture. We cannot simply go back.

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In regards to this last point the painful entanglement, and the fact that future humanity may not be humanity anymore after ecological collapse, has much in common with Jeff VanderMeer’s recent novel Borne. How exactly is something Steven Shaviro has discussed here.

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