Xenogears: Human Works
Xenogears was the most controversial game to be released in the late 90s, and the controversy was so intense that SquareSoft almost did not release the game in North America(Cohen). This controversy stemmed mostly from the religious themes present throughout the game as North America is largely of an Orthodox faith mirrored in Xenogears (Alvide). It is important to note that the themes of the game that make it controversial are as misunderstood contemporarily as Nietzsche and his works, but also that by the nature of being a game, Xenogears is a member of a medium that turns those controversial elements into events that can be experienced through the playing of the game. This exemplifies the role that videogames have taken on in recent years: games can embody philosophical discussions in a way that thought experiments can become experiential. The controversy that almost kept Xenogears from being released in North America is tangential, but it draws focus to why exactly a videogame, something that has historically been considered little more than a pastime for children, could draw such ire and vehement responses. If a videogame can stir such responses from adults and censors, then there must be something more to a game, especially Xenogears, for it to be treated as more than a juvenile diversion. Public opinion on videogames has generally improved, and open-mindedness towards gamers and the gaming industry has allowed production teams to explore new storylines and characters without drastic repercussions, but it is important for scholars and gamers alike not to become complacent in this newly positive atmosphere. By revisiting a role-playing game from the 90s, gamers can open up their understanding of the games they play and their history in order to comprehend their current role. Towards that end, this paper will attempt to show three things. First, what may, prima facie, appear as simple comparison between elements of Xenogears and thinkers and their thoughts will actually become sine qua non to the second aspect to be shown. This second aspect is the use of elements of Xenogears to show how the systems, schools of thought, doctrines, and philosophies of the writers employed interact outside of the pages of the texts they wrote: so to speak, real instantiations of their work. Lastly, by expounding on how elements of Xenogears embody the thinkers employed through a game-to-thinker comparison, a thread will run throughout the whole paper showing how Xenogears takes political and philosophical theory to a possible end throughout the games’ plot thereby illuminating the good and the bad aspects of the systems discussed.
As Xenogears takes first timers 80 hours or so to complete and is chock full of concepts that are foreign to many, it is a massive game not only worth but requiring multiple playthroughs to grasp the plethora of information and interconnected plots. It is only appropriate, in that case, to begin discussion of Xenogears with Thomas Hobbes’ masterwork Leviathan. In Leviathan, Hobbes posits multiple concepts of which he is most famous for his State of Nature argument and his work on Social Contract Theory. For Hobbes, man’s original way of life was an even more chaotic state than that of animals, and he claims this when he writes, “[w]hatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man…” (77). Under these conditions, every single human being is in conflict with every other human being at all times, and these conditions have probably never been seen in human history since such conditions would have to have occurred before man developed any relations with one another, or, pre-history. This is echoed when Hobbes writes his most famous line, “…the life of a man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” (77), but from a philosophical perspective, it is good form for Hobbes to begin with descriptions such as these. These lines begin Hobbes movement towards Social Contract Theory in which individuals trade the pure liberty, or freedom, of the natural state in exchange for security, and this is concisely stated when Hobbes writes, “[t]he mutuall transferring of Right, is that which men call CONTRACT” (81). To exit the often deadly but purely free natural state, people transfer or relinquish a liberty to others in a mutually beneficial exchange that leads to security, and security is necessary and likely the first element required to begin building a society as security leads to trust and a willingness for interaction between people.
Hobbes’ post-contract world is emulated in Xenogears in the country Solaris and furthers Hobbes’ argument into a technological world that Hobbes could not prophecy. Solarian citizens live under the governing of Emperor Cain and the Gazel Ministry, and though they demand unquestioning loyalty, the citizens gain a life so close to paradise that they never feel the need to revolt or question their leaders. Their medical care is covered by nanomachines, there is no resource scarcity, and there is no conflict between the citizens, at least the First Class citizens, precisely because they gain so much from upholding their end of the Social Contract. Citan Uzuki is a party member and is a central character to Xenogears, and as the story progresses, he succinctly defines Solarian life when he comments
Do you know why people cannot exist alone but only under some bigger concept such as a group or country? People need a place to go to be themselves… The more stable it is the more effective it is. The Ministry gives them (Solarian citizens) such a place. Under total surveillance, there is no need to bear the risk of maintaining one’s own individuality. They simply live under the delusion of being an ‘individual’. What could be easier?
This comment defines a late-stage Hobbesian world in which humans could not be further from the natural state, but also exemplifies what the paradise of Solarian life costs: complete subjection. Citan, and his delineation of Solaris, effectively raises one of the most profound issues with Hobbes, his State of Nature argument, and Social Contract Theory. If contracts eventually require so much of a person that they must trade away their individuality and the liberties of privacy and a voice in government, then it would seem the contractor is no longer a citizen as they have traded away enough of their liberties so as to be indistinguishable from one another. No matter the level of goods earned by the individual in making the contract with a political entity akin to Solaris, those citizens are subsumed, perhaps even consumed, by the government and are no longer distinguishable as an entity that can exist apart from the government with which they have contracted as well. While this life under an all-pervading contract may be, as Citan states, the easiest way to live with Solarian technology and security, it is much more similar to volunteering oneself for slavery than living a life regardless of how good that life may be.
This sacrificing of citizenship leads to another major issue with late-stage Hobbesian states, and it is found in the existence of multiple states. If an entire world were comprised of only one of these states, then all citizens are subsumed in a common culture which is what Hobbes believed to remove conflict from human life, but there has never been such a unified world government in reality nor is there one in Xenogears. While the forming of contracts in the Hobbesian state of Solaris creates harmony amongst the citizens, Solaris remains in conflict with the other nations of the world. The Hobbesian state then only recreates the issue of the natural state on a larger scale than that which it attempted to overcome. As Solarian citizens are subsumed in their nation, Solaris then takes on the role that the citizens originally played, and what was conflict between individuals then becomes a similar conflict between Solaris and other nations of the Xenogears world. Nations, in order to maintain sovereignty, must take up arms against other nations, and Social Contract Theory becomes irrelevant since a citizen cannot contract outside of their nation. In regards to Hobbes, Xenogears makes players capable of experiencing the various levels of a Hobbesian state: late-stage in Solaris, mid-stage in Aveh and Kislev, and early-stage in Fei’s home village of Lahan. When nations conflict with one another, it becomes apparent that Hobbes’ approach must be replaced by another theory which that is more applicable.
Niccolò Machiavelli becomes relevant in this scenario as his comments found in The Prince refer directly to the situations in which a leader endeavors to maintain their rule, and though Machiavelli is referring to individual leaders or small groups, his writings can be widened to apply to nations. Machiavelli lived in a time of political strife and somewhat violent turmoil thereby making his writings rather draconic, but by equivocating laws with arms, as seen in his statement, “[t]he principal foundations of all states, whether new, old, or mixed, are good laws and good arms, and because there cannot be good laws where there are not good arms, and where there are good arms, there are bound to be good laws…” (52), he epitomizes the perspectives that nations in conflict possess.
This mentality represents real world instances, such as English Manifest Destiny during their Imperial age of expansion and colonization, but it is also found in Xenogears as seen in the conflict between Aveh, Kislev, and Solaris. After a world-shattering uprising, Solaris uses their supreme technology to manipulate Kislev and Aveh into a 500 year war, and along the way, depose the royal family of Aveh in order to substitute a puppet ruler in Prince Bartholomew Fatima’s place. Machiavelli is relevant to these events in Xenogears in two ways. First, Aveh and Kislev excavate ruins to uncover giant robots, called gears, to increase their military strength, and should one nation locate ruins superior to the other, “[r]egardless of who gains the ruins’ technology, one thing is certain… Both Kislev and Aveh will simply use that power to oppress the other” (Xenogears). This is in accord with Machiavelli’s ‘might makes right’ mentality since the nation to gain military superiority will essentially formulate the laws over the nation that is defeated. Also, Prince Bartholomew represents what happens in a non-Hobbesian state in which a ruler lacks the arms to make the laws and maintain their sovereignty. Power, though, does not necessarily lead to an exemplary state, and the conflict between Aveh and Kislev has led to the deaths of an innumerable amount of citizens from both countries, and it is precisely because both nations rely on military power to maintain their existence. As a guard in Kislev High Command says, “[e]ven nameless soldiers have lives to live. Remember that…” (Xenogears), and this comments on the most prominent flaw of a Machiavellian nation: the deaths of its people. Where a Hobbesian nation may eventually lead to the death of its citizens through the sacrifices those citizens must make of their liberties, the Machiavellian nation demands the death of its citizens through conflict in order to maintain the nation. Even if one were to argue that every nation needs arms purely for self-defense, Machiavellian logic would seemingly lead inexorably towards our modern arms race as seen in the conversation between Fei and Citan which proceeds as
Citan: But, in order to protect yourself you need a certain degree of strength.
Fei: I agree that a certain degree of strength is needed for self-defense. And if it weren’t for this Gear here, Elly and I’d be in that Rankar’s stomach right now… But its power goes beyond what is necessary. Does one really need the power to destroy everything?
Citan: Fei, using power or being used by power… is that not a problem of the heart…? If humans do not use their power for wrong it can be a good thing… I believe such power can help us (Xenogears)
This conversation shows that Machiavellian reasoning can lead to patently illogical conclusions because a nation cannot exist without citizens. Should conflict lead to the deaths of a majority of the citizens of a nation, there would be no people to govern nor be governed, and this is echoed in Xenogears when Citan says, “…[n]o matter how scientifically advanced you are, you have no support without people” (Xenogears). This political philosophy coalesces with Xenogears in two ways that are conducive to explaining the weaknesses of Machiavellian thought. As Machiavelli equivocates arms with laws, Solaris becomes the most lawful nation of the Xenogears world, and Solaris uses its power to subjugate the other nations including the Ignas continent nations of Aveh and Kislev as well as the Aquvy Islands. The conflict between Aveh and Kislev further illuminates the impotence of the system as neither Aveh nor Kislev can win the war or even draw out peace talks for 500 years, and when Machiavellian laws/arms stagnate as they do on the Ignas continent, it is the soldiers, drawn from the civilian population, for whom the war is the most expensive. The nations of Aveh and Kislev continue to exist despite centuries of bloodshed, but the inability of either nation to win forces entire familial lines of both countries into either destruction or blood feuds. These blood feuds between the citizens of Aveh and Kislev, as well as their mutual subjugation to Solaris, highlight the bloody and dramatic issue that citizens must face within a nation guided by Machiavellian political thought. As the Hobbesian and Machiavellian models both culminate in a similar way; the proverbial and literal death of citizens respectively, but an approach from a utopian perspective might lead to a positive end.
Sir Thomas More attempted to approach the problems of government and interpersonal relationships from the perspective of a hypothetical utopian nation in his work entitled Utopia. Through his characters’ fictional adventure, More describes the utopian nation as a communist city-state in which almost all elements have been made identical including education, clothing, architecture, culture, and language. By writing the nation as such, he avoids the conflict which leads Hobbes from his State of Nature to social contracts and the draconic and violent rule of Machiavelli, and by discussing a nation in its prime rather than building one up over time, More can comment on how society should look in a utopian state. One of the most important elements of the Morean utopia is the states’ refusal to inundate its citizens with laws and regulations as seen in his statement
[t]hey have but few laws, for to people so instruct and institute very few do suffice. Yea, this thing they chiefly reprove among other nations, that innumerable books of laws and expositions upon the same be not sufficient. But they think it against all right and justice that men should be bound to those laws which either be in number more than be able to be read, or else blinder and darker than that any man can well understand them. (112)
To reiterate, a plethora of laws for More does more harm to people than good because citizens buried in tomes of law can never be sure of what is right. Citizens can have no conception of right if they cannot read every law that the state dictates, and if the laws be moderate in number, citizens can still not know what is right if they cannot understand the laws. More’s Utopia places self-government in the hands of its citizens in such a way that it avoids problems both Hobbes and Machiavelli’s theories must confront, and More’s utopian state allows freedoms for the people to pursue the life they wish as long as it is in accord with local customs.
The state of Shevat in Xenogears is the closest representation of More’s utopian nation, and Shevat is a fascinating contrast with both the other nations in the game and Hobbes and Machiavelli’s political systems. Shevat was the main force that opposed Solaris in the war 500 years prior to the beginning of the Xenogears plot, but after a tactically poor decision, Shevat and the other nations eventually lose to Solaris. In last ditch effort that doubles as a self-imposed punishment, the nation of Shevat can only continue to exist by erecting an impenetrable barrier and floating through the skies disconnected from both the continents they were allied with in the war as well as from utter destruction by Solaris. Shevat’s technology is second only to Solaris’, but because they are almost completely ostracized from the rest of the world, they do not have access to resources and people at the same level that other nations do. Shevat must maintain its population by adopting citizens of other nations who lose their home or livelihoods due to either conflict between Aveh and Kislev or those who survive Solarian interactions with the world. Despite the differences that all of these survivors held in their lives, almost all of these adoptees become unified under Shevat’s banner of resistance to the nefarious machinations of Solaris, and these adoptees almost always autonomously choose to unify even though they are not required to fight for Shevat as they would have been if Shevat were a Hobbesian or Machiavellian state. To be able to choose their own path is important to these adoptees as it gives them a raison d’etre they had lost through the various conflicts. Lord Elrich van Houten of Xenogears sums this up in his death speech when he claims, “[t]o be human is to be able to pick your own path in life…” (Xenogears), but as positive as this is, it is also where More’s utopian state begins to disintegrate.
Human beings are capricious and whimsical, and this is problematic for a utopian state in which most elements of life are standardized. As readers explore More’s writings, it becomes obvious that the utopian state is nearly impossible to attain because of the diversity of human beings. By combining the capriciousness of human beings with the ability for those beings to choose their own ways of life, conflict is inevitable as not all people will agree on what the right way to live is. For instance, if the citizens of Shevat, natural and adopted, did not have a banner to rally under, their differences would likely be as divisive as they were in their home nations such as the blood feuds between the citizens of Aveh and Kislev are. The quasi-utopian state of Shevat is comprised of such a diverse group of people that, without a unifying force, the formation of factions is inevitable, and Shevat would then represent a microcosm of the conflicts that exist in the world. This commentary is multifaceted as it both represents post 9/11 America in its unity against terrorism, but also that a utopian nation is subject to collapse if it does not have an element of unification that is more prevalent or overpowering than the forces of disintegration. If we accept that self-determination is a necessary condition of being human, then we must accept that the resulting conflict is also part of being human. This is essentially the same issue that was raised of Machiavellian thought in which might became the deciding factor in ways of life, and that in this scenario, providence, a concept that recurs throughout Xenogears, dictates that the strong are most human and the weak will die or be subjugated similar to Machiavellian and Hobbesian states respectively. This series of possible events is characterized by the nation of Nisan before the 500 year war began. Nisan is a religious center for the citizens of the Xenogears world, and as the war between the land nations and Solaris devastates the world, displaced citizens move to the idyllic Nisan to avoid the conflict. Nisan begins to take in refugees from around the world, and because of the religious nature of Nisan, the refugees are not expected to fight against Solaris. Eventually the leader of the refugees becomes more popular and influential precisely because the conflict produces so many refugees, and the military leaders of Nisan sacrifice the religious1 symbol of Nisan and leader of the refugees in an underhanded and secret trade with Solarian leaders. The refugees are then made leaderless, and because they are either non-violent or incapable of combat, Nisan is incapable of continuing the war. In Nisan’s and its allies defeat, the refugees are displaced and subject to the whims of Solarian influence. While the refugees were safe and happy in their pacifist nook of the planet, the world was moving ahead without them, and because Nisan was focused on caring for people rather than military and technological advancement, the quasi-utopian state of Nisan was subjugated by Solaris. The strongest faction that shakes out of the shrapnel of an exploding utopia will take the lead, but then the utopia returns to the issues of Hobbesian and Machiavellian states. One important difference to note amongst the authors mentioned so far, though, is that More is the first to focus so closely on the concept of self-determination. Hobbes, Machiavelli, and More approach government from the top down, but their varied assumptions, methods, and conclusions do not necessarily lead to a viable or pragmatic state. If government from the top down does not lead to a solution, then it is necessary to shift emphasis to the individual: government from the bottom up.
John Stuart Mill is famous for his Harm Principle, which was a product of his reworking of Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarianism, but his philosophy also led to many governmental policies. The Harm Principle directly influenced how many 19th century politicians and philosophers thought about the role of government and interpersonal relations, and Mill states the principle to be, “[t]hat the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others” (9). This is comparable to More’s utopian nation in which laws are kept simple and to a minimum, but it also represents a shift away from government as the focus of political writers. Mill posited the Harm Principle as a way of maintaining individual liberties rather than as a guideline for the institution of government. This placed more importance on the individual over deference to the state, as was shown to generally be the case with the previous writers mentioned. Although Mill’s simplicity is elegant, the Harm Principle is not without issues, and one of the most pronounced flaws involves the lack of order and strength the principle holds over the minds of the people. While Utilitarianism has a general moral claim that people can live by, that is, perform only the action which produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, it does not delineate how that should be achieved, and whenever such a pure form of subjectivity is allowed to guide thought, there is discord in discussion of the right course of action. As the liberties of the individual are respected in this system, as long as they do not harm others, people can end up leading lives closer to wanton debauchery and this does not lead to a flourishing state: the Thames is stagnant as an entity throughout the plot of Xenogears. The Thames as a nation does not advance in terms of military strength, technology, medicine, or political power in the world for the entire game, rather, the Thames fleet comes close to being wiped out. For personal liberties, then, Bentham and Mill’s Utilitarianism works very well, but it shows signs of lacking the ability, potency, or direction to guide a culture towards advancement because Utilitarianism does not necessarily make those properties a focus. The Harm Principle also does not act as a guide for cultural and technological advancement, and while Mill believed that people should engage in what he called experiments in living, culture can stagnate when his principles are applied in earnest.
In Xenogears, the scavenger ship Thames encapsulates the ideas that Mill holds to be true, and the Thames, a city-sized ship that roams the ocean scavenging from the sea floor, lacks a focus that drives cultural development. The citizens live by what the captain of the Thames calls the code of the men of the sea which can be reduced to a scant few maxims: help those in need, drink beer in the beer hall, and contribute to the scavenging efforts for the good of the ship. The simplicity of this way of life is the only way the citizens of the Thames would live, but they are at the whims of other more powerful nations and rely on their patronage, the trade of their scavenged goods, of those nations to subsist. This highlights the drawbacks of solely using Mill’s theories to structure a society, and even though the citizens of the Thames are happy, the culture does note evolve or grow in a meaningful way throughout the story. Flourishing is sine qua non to Utilitarianism, but it is not as simple a concept as simply producing happiness. For an individual to flourish, they must be happy, but the culture they exist within must also evolve. The Thames nation is not self-sufficient, and because their economy relies on other nations for both trade of the goods they scavenge as well as access to scavenging technology that other nations produce, their flourishing would be directly hindered if they were left to their own devices. Also, to be sick reduces an individuals’ happiness, and the Thames does not possess a general system of education nor an educational system focused on medicine. Without the help of medical personnel from other nations, Thames’ citizens would suffer from issues of health that nations like Solaris, despite all of the negative aspects already covered, no longer need be concerned with. If the citizens of the Thames were to establish a compulsory education system in order to counteract their reliance on other nations for educated individuals of various professions, then it would lose an aspect of its Libertarian nature, and this reiterates the issues with Utilitarianism already raised. Utilitarianism and its application, as seen throughout Xenogears in the issues that Nisan and the Thames experience, positively impacts the happiness of the individual, but the flourishing of the state as a whole is left to the altruistic motivations of the able-bodied and able-minded.
While Mill’s theories may lead to the happiness of citizens thereby avoiding the egregious damage done by a Hobbesian or Machiavellian state to its people, it does not lead to the hypothetical utopian Morean state in which culture grows without sacrificing the nature or wellbeing of the citizens. Xenogears shows, through the gamer experiencing the many forms of government and their interactions, that it is not a simple exercise of thought experimentation to come up with a form of government or interpersonal guidelines to produce a state in which individuals can flourish without having to make expensive sacrifices for that flourishing.
As the politico-philosophical thinkers employed so far have had their negative aspects encapsulated by events in Xenogears, the next logical step for discussion is to move further away from overarching themes like government, policies, and groups of people, to focus on the individual as solely as possible. In order to do this, there must be a discussion of human nature on its own before it can be applied further, and there are three possible natures human beings can possess inherently: good, evil, or neutral. Confucian philosophy is often considered as a system of thought meant to train legislators how to lay down the precepts and maxims for people to prosper within society, but the end goal was not to fortify and strengthen government, rather, to give citizens the means to improve themselves thereby improving the state vicariously. Although Confucius himself never focused too closely on inherent human nature, other Confucians did. Amongst them is Hsün-Tzu, a member of the Confucian school who claimed that man’s nature was inherently evil, and because of this, strict governing of the self was required to produce a good self and good works in the world. He states this theory eloquently in Basic Writings when he claims, “[m]an’s nature is evil; goodness is the result of conscious activity” (Hsün-Tzu 157), and this is a break from both Confucius who never made overt claims about man’s nature and Mencius, another Confucian who claimed man’s nature was inherently good. To overcome our evil nature, Hsün-Tzu believed that individuals should focus on self-improvement through education and avoid negative obsessions by employing rituals throughout our lives. This, he argued, would lead people away from their inborn evil nature, but also that, “[e]very man who desires to do good does so precisely because his nature is evil” (161). Fei Fong Wong epitomizes this struggle against an inherently evil nature manifested in what Fei perceives to be at times accidental destruction and at others times as a side of himself that is uncontrollable and devastating. After moments when Fei is destructive accidentally or in response to a life or death situation, he enters into a state of despair at having lost control of his strength. He believes that his martial arts training is purely for self-defense and the mastery of the self, but in using his strength or losing control of it, he feels that conflict in general brings out the worst in him. This exemplifies two real world issues for human beings, in that, should attempts to master ourselves concomitantly strengthen us, then should we lose control of our inherently evil natures the resulting destruction, physical or otherwise, is that much more impactful. Also, if our inherently evil natures are provoked by external forces and forms of conflict, then the issues arising from the earlier mentioned schools of thought become geometrically more important. If Hsün-Tzu is correct in claiming that our natures are inherently evil, then Fei’s conflicts within Xenogears represent tangible concerns for how we govern ourselves: the governments we are citizens of and the philosophies we espouse directly influence our actions.
Fei’s personal conflict is further compounded by his Dissociative Identity Disorder, and one of his alter egos is a destroyer personality named Id after Freudian psychoanalysis. Id is a sadistic and malicious character in Xenogears, and as one of the strongest characters of the game, he has the power to enact his desires for death, destruction, and chaos. Fei is unaware of his condition through much of the first disc of the game, but as Fei becomes aware of Id’s existence and his split personalities, he struggles to find a way to both control Id and live a life without conflict. This is a directed response to the fact that Id consistently manifests himself throughout the game when Fei undergoes moments of severe conflict or despair, and since Fei is, at first, unaware of Id’s existence, he believes the destruction Id causes is actually his own responsibility as evidenced in discussion with Elly about the destruction of Lahan when Fei wails
Look! Look at my hands! Can you hear their voices? Can you understand this feeling? The feeling of having destroyed your village with your own hands…? Of not being able to do anything for the children left behind…? Now they have nothing… I have nothing… I have nowhere… no one…(Xenogears)
This is important to note because Fei’s unawareness of Id is similar to an individuals’ unawareness of how systems of power influence their actions. Id is accountable for the destruction Fei believes to be his own responsibility, but because Fei lacks knowledge of his nature and place in the world, he cannot make meaningful progress towards bettering himself because he cannot approach the true root cause of his issue: Id. Humanity is in a similar situation, in that, by attempting to employ systems of control on each other, which may or may not work as shown so far in this paper, individuals cannot be exactly sure of why they act the way they do. If we are unsure of our own natures and unaware of how political and philosophical systems influence us to behave, it may be nigh impossible to make profound progress as individuals, citizens of nations, and as a species as a whole. This is defeating for Hsün-Tzu’s theories, even though they were amongst the most organized of his day, because he appears to create the very problem he sets out to solve. If a man desires to do good, then it seems more logical to simply believe that man’s nature is good rather than claiming, “[w]hatever a man lacks in himself he will seek outside” (161), thereby making the desire to do good a response to an evil nature. Overlooking the leap in logic, there is also an issue with how staunchly Hsün-Tzu supported government influence in the daily lives of the people. When men had enough desire to do good so that they appeared to be better than others, Hsün-Tzu argued that those people should rule the state and order the lives of the more evil citizens around them. However, this scenario can lead to many errors in judgment, and Xenogears shows how some of these errors can begin and play out. As Fei moves throughout the game, he is subjected to forces larger and more powerful than him, and as he attempts to grow as a person, those forces attempt to mold him as they see fit. Fei wishes to live a simple and peaceful life without violence, but Bartholomew Fatima calls on Fei for military support as he attempts to retake the throne. Shevat and Nisan, in an attempt to remedy their errors and defeat at the hands of Solaris, call on Fei to support them towards that end, but this places Fei in many violent situations which lead him into moments of despair and remorse over the conflict. In these moments, Fei appears to be inherently good as opposed to Hsün-Tzu’s belief, but the systems that Hsün-Tzu believed to organize and better the lives of the people are actually the things that make Fei into a combatant who must kill in order to maintain his position in life. Fei’s desire for betterment and the conflict between political entities typifies the shortcomings of Hsün-Tzu’s system.
Another obvious issue that arises from combining Xenogears with Hsün-Tzu’s system is that rulers, sages in his writing, may seem to have control of their inherently evil nature thereby making them worthy of ruling others may simply be acting more cunningly than the next person to fulfill their own goals. This issue is represented in Xenogears by the Solarian government which seems to be acting in the best interest of its citizens with no dubious or underhanded methods being employed, but as the plot develops, the player realizes that Solaris is one of the most morally reprehensible forms of government. The unplayable character Sigurd, half-brother of Prince Bartholomew Fatima, condenses this into his statement, “[f]oreigners are called –Lambs-(by Solarians). They are used as manual labor. Basically it’s slavery. Solaris gathers its workforce from the land dwellers. Jobs are divided up by who is most suitable. Sometimes people are brainwashed” (Xenogears). This shows that the application of Hsün-Tzu’s sagely government may in fact be one of the most dangerous because the people, believing falsely that they are being ruled by the most exemplary amongst them, are actually being led into depravity. Anyone who disagreed with the practices of the government could be ignored through the circular reasoning that if you disagree, you must be wrong because you are not amongst the ruling class, and if you were amongst the ruling class, then you would not disagree. Evil individuals, even if Hsün-Tzu is wrong about evil being inherent in man, could thrive in this environment because it would be conducive to evil behavior and easy to game the system towards ones’ own goals. Where evil flourishes, the state must inevitably disintegrate as more and more people are wronged, and even if good or sagely people rise up against the tyranny of evil, it may not lead to the desired outcome if, to call on Machiavelli again, the rebel’s arms are not on par with the powers that be.
Conversely, if we adopt Meng-Tzu’s view that mankind is inherently good as he eventually claims, though not blatantly, in Mencius, it may solve some of the issues that arose in the application of Hsün-Tzu’s theories. Meng-Tzu takes a circuitous route with many avenues to claim that man’s nature is inherently good, but one of the most concise proclamations of man’s good nature is found when Meng-Tzu writes,
[n]o man is devoid of a heart sensitive to the suffering of others. Such a sensitive heart was possessed by the Former Kings and this manifested itself in compassionate government. With such a sensitive heart behind compassionate government, it was as easy to rule the Empire as rolling it on your palm. (38)
This appears similar to the sagely governing of Hsün-Tzu’s view, but is different in that Meng-Tzu’s reference to the Former Kings, most likely Yao, Shun, and Yu, refers to rulers that were not battling with an inherently evil nature in the implementation of their government. These sage kings were always good from Meng-Tzu’s perspective, and it is difficult to disagree with him when history recounts the rule of Yao, Shun, and Yu as benevolent, prosperous, and flourishing. Meng-Tzu’s theory is not without flaws though, and it is similar to the problem of evil many Orthodox religions face in Western cultures: if something purely good created or guides the world, then how do we explain the evil that exists? The problem of evil for Meng-Tzu is not the same as its Western counterpart and so must be reworded as something along the lines of if man’s nature is inherently good, then how do we explain evil men?
This issue is confronted directly in Xenogears in the country of Nisan when the player’s party of Fei Fong Wong, Citan Uzuki, and Prince Bartholomew Fatima discuss the teachings of the religion of Nisan with Marguerite. The important aspects of the conversation take place between Citan and Marguerite as they view statues and stained glass in Nisan’s largest center of worship, and their conversation is as such
Marguerite: According to a legend in Nisan… God could have created humans perfectly… But then, humans would not have helped each other… So that is what these great single-winged angels (one masculine and one feminine) symbolizes… In order to fly, they are dependent on one another.
Citan: And the space between them is the path from where god advents… Or could it be the path leading to god? Well… I do not know, it could be either, or even both. This all coincides with the teachings of Nisan. (Xenogears)
Our natures may be inherently good as Meng-Tzu claims, but being inherently good does not mean we are inherently perfect, and it is in our imperfections, the same human fallibility that made More’s utopian state impossible, that we must look to others to improve ourselves. This moment in Xenogears combined with Meng-Tzu’s claim of inherently good people results in the first step towards a system that has traction in the real world compared to the possibly dystopian cultures that previous thinkers in this paper lead to. This coalescence of game and theory produces the claim that nothing can be done without the struggle to improve oneself, not only for the good of the self, but for the good of others as an adoptable methodology for improving our lives. This could lead to one of the best forms of government, and it is startling that Xenogears makes a claim so practical and applicable to living life. It is also astonishing how similar this claim is to the ancient works of Hsün-Tzu, Meng-Tzu, and the Stoic Seneca. Seneca, in comparably Confucian terminology and phrasing, claims that
[y]ou must inevitably either hate or imitate the world. But the right thing is to shun both courses: you should neither become like the bad because they are many, nor be an enemy of the many because they are unlike you. Retire into yourself as much as you can. Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. (Seneca 43)
This coincides with both Hsün-Tzu and Meng-Tzu’s claim that self-improvement is necessary in a good life, but it also shows how to overcome the problem of evil that plagues their systems. It only creates more evil in the world to make enemies of evil men, and in dissociating oneself from evil, you can, essentially, starve it. Where good people interact towards the betterment of the self, goodness is one of the primary products of those interactions along with healthy communities, families, friendships, and flourishing lives. It is in the coalescence of all these thinkers compared with the storyline and claims of Xenogears that it becomes obvious that the best form of government, one most conducive to the flourishing of its people, is one that begins with individuals who seek to make themselves flourish. Even if, as the angelic statues of Nisan represent, that flourishing requires that we always work with others, it is in the foregoing of our differences that we become more human.
As characters in Xenogears learn to become more human towards themselves and others, conflicts occur less often, and Existentialism then becomes one of the most relevant philosophies to apply to the discussion and Xenogears and how it impacts reality. Jean-Paul Sartre, in Existentialism Is a Humanism, attempted to clear up many of the modern misconceptions about Existentialism, and towards the end of his lecture/text, he states that Existentialism is
…humanism because we remind man that there is no legislator other than himself and that he must, in his abandoned state, make his own choices, and also because we show that it is not be turning inward, but by constantly seeking a goal outside of himself in the form of liberation, or some special achievement, that man will realize himself as truly human. (Sartre 53)
This is not a claim that would prefer the successes of one over the goals of the aggregate, but rather, that mankind finds meaning in itself. As a finite and isolated individual, each person must not get lost in despair or disparage their existence, and in order to do so, must, as Citan says, “…live an ordinary life, in this condition… as a son of man…” interconnected with every other person (Xenogears). Citan’s claim here, in the context of Existentialism, illuminates that we should not be the sons and daughters of divisions such as racial, religious, or political, but that we should all, in our equal humanity, find structure in life through combined efforts. This philosophy and approach to life is entirely opposite most of the writers mentioned in this paper, but it shows that life is truly a human endeavor and perhaps is impossible to create an overarching policy system to articulate how life should be lived. Politics, even with the best intentions of the citizens in mind, of any form have issues, and these issues have negative consequences for the individual citizens of the state. Xenogears exemplifies repeatedly throughout the story that human happiness cannot be ordered and controlled by political systems even though those political systems are products of humanity. Humanity, as a species undivided, can only find a path to the future through the understanding of the self, and only once individuals come to terms with who they are as individuals can they begin to interact on a significant and meaningful level. This does not mean that the process of understanding the self must be done alone, but in our common condition of being human, we can find the perspective we need to understand ourselves. The main protagonist of Xenogears, in one of his final dialogues, both comments in and embodies this Existentialist belief when he says, “[w]e don’t have to be perfect. Actually, being imperfect makes mankind live by helping each other… That’s what being human is… That’s mutual understanding! That’s ‘unity’ and ‘love’…” (Xenogears), and this is the culmination of Fei’s constant contemplation of and conflict with emotionally devastating events throughout the story. Though none of us will likely ever face the insurmountable odds and devastating experiences Fei does, we can draw the same conclusion he does for ourselves in our lives. From events that leave him so distraught that his personality splits creating a destroyer entity named Id who annihilates Fei’s village and kills some of his closest friends to battling through some of the fiercest conflicts his world has ever seen, Fei attempts to place everything into a perspective that reconciles the differences of opinion he experiences throughout the story. This culminates in an applicable maxim, in that, humanity already makes enough distinctions and discriminations between things that we do not need to distinguish ourselves from each other over even more petty differences. Our lives are filled with the gamut of emotions, from despair to exhilaration, but in our trepidations over acceptance and understanding, we disjoint ourselves from a truly human experience which necessarily leads us to create systems to order the lives we ourselves disorder. This claim of Xenogears, combined with Existentialist philosophy, shows that humanity cannot persist in separating itself by its differences, and must, in order to create a healthy world in which to flourish, connect one person to another by the fact that we can be tied like a line to one another simply because we all exist as human beings. This is echoed in the claim of Chuang-Tzu, a major Daoist and possibly the first Anarchist, which posits that, “[t]he sage embraces things. Ordinary men discriminate among them and parade their discriminations before others… So I say, those who discriminate fail to see” (44).
This is perhaps the most important statement that Xenogears makes: that there is too much at stake to place our own lives too far out of our own control. Whether our natures are inherently good, evil, or neutral, it is of the utmost importance to focus on bettering the self so as to better the world, and rather than placing our collective fate in the hands of systems which may or may not be moving us in a positive direction is too dangerous. If we continue to allow our political conflicts to guide and shape who we are as individuals, then the state imprints its character on us as citizens and individuals, but to move humanity towards a more positive world, we should imprint the selves we endeavor to better on the state. There can be no peaceful resolutions to conflicts that occur on the national rather than personal level, as exemplified by the 500 year war in Xenogears, because the arguments have no actual connection to what it means to live as a human being. Xenogears does not make a claim for anarchy and the complete absence of political systems, rather, it makes a much deeper claim, and this claim is that any political system from the top down cannot organize people who have no ability to govern themselves, nor can a system that solely relies on organized selves lead to a political system in which individuals can interact. Xenogears culminates in the claim, one of many, that as we come to recognize that the divisions between human beings are products of our negligence towards ourselves and a tacit devotion to overarching systems, the only solution to the resulting arguments is to remove the divisions we create for ourselves because, as Sartre states, “[t]he only universe that exists is the human one – the universe of human subjectivity” (52),
The conclusions to be drawn from Xenogears are as varied and innumerable as the perspectives applied to it, but by adopting and adapting Xenogears for discussion, it becomes obvious that videogames have taken on a much larger philosophical role than is currently recognized. Philosophical thought experiments which, historically, were truly only products of the mind, can now be brought to an experiential level. Whereas in the past, many of the arguments and claims made in this paper would be exempted from logical debate as they appear to commit the fallacy of the slippery slope argument, by having a game like Xenogears to use as an example, arguments can be made that hypothetical situations posited in videogames signify real world theories and that they may lead to certain ends or outcomes. Before the advent of the videogame, it may have been impossible to have so many accurate representations of competing or concomitant theories within one manageable work as to be impossible to make the claims this paper has made, and this places the videogame in the realm of practical philosophy, to borrow from Thoreau. The most important issue now, as this paper represents, is for gamers, students, and educators to do videogames the service of researching and discussing them. By approaching these fictional stories from a scholarly and critical perspective, we can glean information about the world we live in, and with that knowledge, we can begin to right wrongs, expand worldviews, and ultimately move towards a more flourishing world. As Chuang-Tzu said, “[a] good completion takes a long time; a bad completion cannot be changed later. Can [we] afford to be careless?” (61)
Alvide, Stan. “Guide2Games: Xenogears Review”. ChristianAnswers.Net. Saturday, November 23, 2013 12:45:54 AM. Tuesday, May 06, 2014 4:53 PM. http://www.christiananswers.net/spotlight/games/2000/xenogears.html.
Cohen, Drew. “One Man Stopped Square-Enix From Letting Gamers Kill Yahweh”. Kotaku. Tuesday, May 06, 2014 4:47:12 PM. Tuesday, May 06, 2014 4:47:12 PM. http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/04/one-man-stopped-square-enix-from-letting-gamers-kill-yahweh/.
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