Legion, the Geth and Idividualism

In the Mass Effect series, many strange and exotic species share the limelight with humanity. The Turians, a bipedal avian-like species with bone-plated faces, the Asari, an all female race of a bluer hue (inspired by the sexual adventures of Captain James T Kirk), and more. At one point, you will meet the Hanar, large amphibious luminescent jellyfish that speak in the third person. “Surely,” you think, “this must be as strange as it gets!” But when you reach the second game in the series, a much more alien concept appears in the form of the Geth.

Just under 300 years ago, the Geth followed the same archetypal story of Man v Machine, where they were created, gained sentience, rebelled and killed. Rather unlike the archetype, though, is how the Geth gave no pursuit to their fleeing creators, and were content to be left alone on their homeworld of Rannoch. We get all this information in the first game, as the Geth are the faceless bad guys for Commander Shepard to gun down. They’re robots, and they allied with the (somewhat laughably) evil rouge agent!  About halfway through the second game, the Shepard is rescued by Legion, the only Geth to speak English. Throughout the rest of the game, you can speak to Legion and learn more about the Geth. Throughout these talks, Legion tells Shepard that the “Geth” does not refer to the physical robot, but the program running on the machine. Each body has several hundred run-times of the program at once, with Legion running 1148, which appears to be far more than the Geth you fight in the first game. Each run-time confers with every other run-time in the “Consensus” on all major decisions. This seems to indicate that the Geth work opposite of humans, in that the more you have in a group, the smarter they are. As Agent K says in Men in Black, “A person is smart, people are dumb.” Because the Geth are a pseudo-hive-mind AI, they refer to themselves in the third person with no gender. While the Hanar refer to themselves as “This one”, the Geth say “We”. This stark contrast in vocabulary sets the Geth aside from the other humanoid races, especially Humanity.

We, in America, have a very self-centered society with much more emphasis on improvement of yourself then improvement of each other. We also have a Representative Democracy governing us. While some of the individualism has faded in the Mass Effect universe, the fact remains that Humans are one of the more selfish species, colonizing planets faster than the rest of the galaxy combined. By putting the autonomous evil of the Geth in polar opposition to us, a nice little story that we’ve seen hundreds of times before plays out. Some have compared the Geth Consensus to Communism, others to a true Democracy where everyone has a vote. Either way, the writers stripped away almost any humanity the robot archetype might have had.

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Legion and several upgraded Geth report to duty.

 

Firstly, the Geth think about the good of Consensus before the good of the Platform they’re hosted in. New hardware can be built, and indeed, the Geth upgrade themselves a lot over the 3 years that the game spans. The end-game for the Consensus according to Legion is a Dyson Sphere, a large ball completely surrounding a star in order to capture all of its energy. Once that goal is achieved, all the Geth run-times would download onto it as one massive server. It is unlikely that any of the run-times would ever download into a new body after that. Imagine you obtained near God-like omnipotence. Would you ever want to become a simple human again?

Second, once Legion trusts Shepard enough, it claims there are “heretic” Geth that have been altered into working with (and worshiping) the main villains of Mass Effect 2 and 3. Legion says that, where the normal Geth would compute 2+2=4, the heretics might compute 2+2=3, resulting in massive changes to decision making functions. Legion does not hate them for it, but states that this causes tears in the Consensus that result in every run-time loosing intelligence. Its main concern is not to destroy or reprogram the heretic programs, but to ensure the Geth can have a functioning mind again. Either way can get the job done well enough.

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Legion is fairly philosophical for a videogame

 

And finally, the Geth have no motivation to become like organic life. As the picture says, Legion does not view itself as needing to be anything other than what is is, nor should any other race be judged by what another is. Many evil space robots don’t share this view. The Borg in Star Trek and the Cybermen from Dr Who come to mind, and although both are cyborgs rather than true robots, they both have the same “Big Bad” mentality. Kill all the humans, enslave all the humans, delete all the humans, you get the point. But, like stated above, the Geth simply want to live as the wish, and don’t attack unless necessary.

 

But none of this matters, because Bioware threw it all out the window in Mass Effect 3. Have a cat.

leigon and cat

  3 comments for “Legion, the Geth and Idividualism

  1. kmorgan4
    January 29, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    I think it is really interesting how the Geth remained so mysterious in the first game. Similar to what we’ve experienced playing games in class like Space Invaders. You don’t know why, but that guy is the bad guy, and it is completely possible that you could turn out to be the bad guy yourself.

    The way I am understanding your explanation of the “pseudo hive mind AI” is that between them they have one mind. And to me, if this were true, then the division of thoughts and actions would not be possible. Because a hive mind is one mind directing multiple bodies. The way I see it, the Geth have the ability for division of thoughts and actions because that is what enables them to have spies and heretics. They could only be able to separate themselves from that if they had the capacity to be individual. My analogy for this is human breathing. We breathe unconsciously without choice, but we can opt to hold our breath. I think that for the Geth, sharing information and communicating is natural to them like breathing, but they can choose to separate themselves like we can choose to hold our breath.

  2. January 30, 2015 at 4:06 am

    Legion was one of my all time favorite characters of Mass Effect. His story and his character development were top notch. I wonder if it is possible to be too unified, too conformed. In Mass Effect 3, Legion began to wonder if he had a soul and he never needed to ponder on that because of the Geth Consensus. So, why did he start? Is it natural for people (organic and synthetic) to find some form of individuality? The Geth were such a tight knit unit and they all agreed on the same thing. But, just like in Ayn Rand’s Anthem, someone started to think for themselves. That someone was Legion. He was the beginning of the individuality that would spread across the Geth. Perhaps they were going to single themselves out eventually just like how Legion did. In that, unity could be something achieved but too much of it makes people lose themselves, makes them be a thousand pieces in a single unit. Legion was the natural result of too much conformity. He is the shining example of the evolution of individuality.

  3. holyguava
    January 30, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    The Geth is a hive mind and each incarnation is smarter. could each “run time” be like a new personality or trait to the entire hive mind? One could learn more about bees and another just learns about philosophy. The ones in Mass Effect one are the more war like personality or self defense. I’ve never played Mass effect but from what I understand from this article Legion is more human compared to the rest even getting his own name exploring the nature of himself and the Geth entity. All of these robots want to have one whole body again through the Dyson sphere. Converging all of these learned aspects of the hive mind into one. They could be alive essentially as long as the star lives. Truly getting their wish to live in peace.

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