2012-10-16

Chozo Spirituality

The Metroid franchise sits solidly in the science fiction adventure genre, and while its narratives are certainly heroic it doesn't present the sort of mythical themes that tend to attract the attention of a religion scholar to a video game. Its world is one of fact and science, history and technology. However, at least in some of its 21st-century titles the series has developed the background of one of its omnipresent elements — the Chozo — to include a dimension we might recognize as spiritual.

Qualifications are in order regarding whether the elements of part of the Metroid saga (initially and primarily presented in Metroid Prime) I'm labeling spiritual are properly so-called, but first let us consider those elements and their context.

The Chozo were a race of bipedal birds (their name is contracted from the Japanese choujinzoku, 'bird-people race') known to have developed a civilization characterized by supremely sophisticated technology wedded with profoundly peace-loving and contemplative culture. Once a warrior people, they somehow overcame the drive to armed conflict and seem to have established an enlightened interplanetary diaspora. Relics of their technology and art (particularly their statuary) remain scattered across the known regions of Metroid's galaxy, but the Chozo themselves are nowhere to be found.

While some supplementary sources suggest a few stragglers may yet linger, the overwhelming impression made in the games themselves is the Chozo are effectively extinct, have transcended physical existence, or perhaps simply went someplace else. The lore and information entries the player can collect in Metroid Prime and its two sequels are the most revealing sources about the fate of the Chozo, but they relate primarily to the Chozo of Tallon IV and other nearby planets, leaving us to guess at what became of the rest of the vast Chozo civilization. In any case, throughout the franchise they are present only as images or apparitions.

Those apparitions, the Chozo ghosts, may be the best place to root our examination of our so-called Chozo spirituality. However vaguely, the Chozo ghosts are tied to Metroid's science fictional genre of discourse, which is to say they're not regarded as paranormal spirit beings but physical entities subject to the same phenomenal laws as everything else. Despite their ghostly appearance and ethereal form, they're susceptible to analysis by Samus' scanning technology and damage by her weapons. The Chozo ghosts' origins are the point of interest. They aren't the wandering souls of dead Chozo in the traditional sense of ghosts, but the corrupted form of unfortunate Chozo who had somehow transcended mortal physicality only to be violently forced back to their original dimension.

The player learns the Chozo of Tallon IV colonized that planet to build a sanctuary relatively free of their advanced technology for the express purpose of pursuing a holistic, reflective life. One Metroid Prime lore entry reads: "All that is wild will flow around us here: our race will be just one more group of creatures in the knit of nature. It is our hope that such a state will bring with it greater wisdom, a greater understanding of the nature of the universe. Once our city here is complete, we will peer inward and discover the truth." Later we learn this group of Chozo attained to some sort of metaphysical exodus from the physical dimension, writing: "We have drawn the veils of time and space aside, and are withdrawing beyond the illusion."

However, pulled back to this dimension by a calamitous meteor strike on Tallon IV, these transcendent Chozo found themselves "wandering as shadows of the mortal forms we left behind, searching for why we are here." In the aftermath of this disaster, the Chozo "who remain suffer in dimensional flux, drifting helplessly across time and space, guided by unseen and inexorable currents." While some apparently die, others descend into madness, becoming the Chozo ghosts the player encounters.

If there's a spiritual aspect to this, it's the notion of a conscious being separating from its body, and perhaps also the idea of unseen worlds beyond normal perception to which such a being may gain access. Most often  we'd call that incorporeal being a spirit, soul, or ghost, and we'd call the unseen worlds the afterlife, spirit world, pure lands, or something along those lines. All this would be recognizable enough in its own narrative context, but science fiction narratives tend to leave these usually pretty unscientific ideas well enough alone.

This, then, is the interesting aspect of our glimpse into Chozo spirituality: it fits disembodiment of the consciousness and travel beyond familiar spatial and temporal bounds into an (ostensibly) scientific narrative context. Conveniently the Chozo left the player no explanation of how they drew the veils of time and space aside, but the important point is simply that the game doesn't couch their transcendence in supernatural terms (however mystical the mood of the Tallon Chozo's records). Superficially it may seem little more than a matter of mincing some words — saying different dimension rather than spirit realm, for instance — yet the words we use reflect the thoughts we think.

However outwardly subtle, there's quite a difference between talking about an immaterial soul passing into another unseen world and consciousness taking on a different physical form capable of perception beyond the extent of regular senses. The former implies inaccessibility to direct observation and invites all the historically familiar abuse of imagination to inveigle free thought; the latter affirms the pursuit of truth and invites empirical investigation to press the boundary of the unknown.

In this day and age, when religion and empiricism are too often opposed and the former tends to retain its old claim to spiritual discourse, the way we frame such discourse is critical in how it bears on our ways of thinking, which inform our ways of acting. Given the influence of our thoughts about the spiritual, imaginary or otherwise, on our actions in reality, and the impact of our actions on our very real environment, we would do well to reconcile our spiritual ideas with our empirical facility. Perhaps in doing so we may open the way to discover some mode of empirical spirituality and attain to a tangible scientific and spiritual enlightenment, as some of the Chozo seem to have done.

No comments:

Post a Comment