Monday, 18 August 2014

Javik - Beneath the Surface

Though it was included in my first MBTI series, I have not written extensively on characters from Mass Effect outside of this initial series and have decided that, seeing as it is such a supremely rich narrative, that this would definitely have to change. Thus, I have been thinking about which character should receive the 'honour' of being the first Mass Effect character to undergo deep analysis. After some discussion, and a little bit of coercion, I have come to the conclusion that the subject of this entry is to be Javik.

Image posted by Madame de Fer

Remnant of a Fallen People

Devised by the Intelligence (one billion years, or so, before the plot of Mass Effect begins), an advanced race of synthetic beings known as the Reapers are created to preserve organic life and solve the recurring problem that organic life will always seek to create synthetic life which will in turn attempt to eradicate and overthrow those who made them. These Reapers proceeded to create a cosmic cycle in which they arrive and tear down civilisation, harvesting the races to create new Reapers and then attempting to hide all trace of their presence once they have gone, clearing the way for new species to develop until it is their turn to be harvested. 

In the cycle immediately prior to that which is featured in Mass Effect (fifty thousand years before the narrative begins), the ruling people were the Protheans. This term exists in two senses, for there was a biological species of Protheans, from whom the name came, but it was also applied to members of many other races who were forced into becoming part of the Prothean empire, which pleaced the Prothean species at its head. The empire was formed in response to an encounter with a threatening machine intelligence (not the Reapers). In uniting the other races beneath them, and crushing those peoples who did not join with them, the Prothean people were victorious in what came to be known as the Metacon War. 

"Vengeance is the goal, suicide is not."

However, when the Reapers arrived, their first act was the retaking of the Citadel, which was the centre of Protehan government. With access to all their records, the Reapers turned the unification which the Protheans had forced on all of the races, which had been their greatest strength, into their greatest weakness. Their Empire was shattered and over the next few centuries, the remaining Protheans were found and destroyed. 

Yet, the Protheans were set on survival and a plan was set in motion. A Protehan Avatar, an individual selected to embody one of their societal virtues, of Vengeance, Javik, was selected to enter status on the remote planet of Eden Prime, alone with one million warriors. Their task was to sleep out the Reapers and awaken once the danger had passed in order to rebuild the empire. 

Their plan failed. Betrayed to indoctrinated spies, Eden Prime was attacked and where one million Protheans should have been preserved, only one endured. Javik. 

Legacy of a Primordial Empire

In the previous section, I have attempted to present Javik's story as concisely yet fully as possible, though in doing so I have perhaps done some disservice to the narrative employed within Mass Effect itself. The Protheans are mentioned from the very first level of the very first game and yet the few answers which are given as to who they were (some of which have been mentioned above) are not revealed until the end of the third game.


Importantly, the Protheans have had a profound impact upon the peoples of the follow cycle, including humanity. Thus, in order to understand Javik, it is important to discuss and illuminate the ways in which the Protheans are considered and presented prior to his appearance. 

Images posted by Mythic Beast

From the offset of the series, we are given a certain picture of the Protheans as this exceptionally advanced, progenitor race who possessed exceptional technology yet who are shrouded in mystery, for they are known to have vanished, though nobody knows exactly why. 

Prothean technology is able to do things which that of the species cannot. 

Though they are wrongly credited with the creation of the Mass Relay network and the Citadel (both of which are, in fact, Reaper tools to manipulate development and allow a more streamlined harvest) the Protheans' expansive empire has lead to discovery of Prothean ruins and technology across the Galaxy. Most importantly, the Prothean cache on Mars is responsible for giving humanity a technological leap, allowing them to join the galactic community two hundred years earlier than they would have done otherwise, before the coming of the Reapers. The discover of a Prothean beacon in an important Asari temple, as well as Prothean-like figures appearing in Asari mythology, may indicate that the technological prowess of the Asari can also be attributed to the use of Prothean technology.

Thus, the image of the Protheans which is established from the outset of the series is that of an exceptionally advanced race and much of our early impressions of them is established through the character of Dr. Liara T'soni, who has spent half a century researching the Protheans and is considered to be an authority on them. Liara is evidently highly respectful of the Protheans, somewhat regarding them as having set a cultural and technological standard to which she appears to aspire.

Before discussing how Javik himself relates to these expectations, there is one final aspect of the Prothean legacy to discuss: the Hanar. This betentacled race view the Protheans as Gods, referring to them as the Enkindlers, giving them the responsibility for having given them speech and uplifting them. Therefore, whilst the Protheans seem largely responsible for enabling technological advancement for most of the races, they are also viewed, by some, as deities akin to the extraterrestrial figures present in Ancient Astronaut theories.

 

But how does this relate to Javik himself?

Primarily, Javik defies the majority of these expectations and he does so by both serving to enlighten us as to what the Protheans were truly like, but also by not being, in and of himself, the best representative for his entire species.

As Javik is the only Protehan remaining and thus the only one which is encountered (there are a few virtual intelligences modelled after Protheans, though these are computer simulations, not individuals in their own right) he is the de facto representative of his entire race. When Javik speaks, he speaks with the only remaining, 'pure' Prothean voice. There are no other examples to which we can point, he alone remains and thus we, rightly or wrongly, judge his race by the standards which he presents.

This in itself allows us to form a very narrow opinion. One can illustrate this by pointing to the real world. Those who have only ever met one person from a certain part of the world inevitable shape our opinions based around this individual. This is only lightly linked to cultural manifestations such as stereotyping, and it certainly should not be considered to be, in and of itself, racist, as it is not something which is chosen, it is simply a natural, mental faculty to base your expectations off your experiences. The narrower your experiences, the more limited of an understanding one can possess. Of course, this can lead to discrimination and other kinds of poor behaviour, though this is not a necessity.

Images posted by Vertigos

In our considerations of the Protheans, we are given this picture of an advanced culture, a place where both art and science flourished and things we could not even dream of were considered to be part of the everyday. Upon finding Javik, Liara is elated at the thought of conversing with one of the greatest scientific minds of the Prothean race, of debating philosophy and learning all she can of the Prothean culture.

But Javik is a warrior, not a scientist. He was for all intents and purposes bred to embody the very virtue of vengeance, created to fight and kill Reapers. He does not understand how the advanced technology of his people functioned, though he is certainly vocal about his dislike for current technology, which he views as clunky.

Furthermore, Javik never saw the great Prothean empire in its prime. He was born after the coming of the Reapers, his entire life has been one of struggle and confrontation. This fact is an exceptionally important one when it comes to understand Javik, for it is at odds with the purpose for which he was created. His mission was to hide in stasis, emerge with his soldiers and rebuild the Prothean empire, yet how can he rebuild that which he never truly knew? True enough, Prothean memory shards and their ability to share information and memories through touch (which will be discussed later) has allowed him to learn and experience much, he has only been able to know that to which he was created to aspire through such means, he has never truly experienced it for himself.


Yet, he has had Prothean ideas and values instilled within him. Understandably then, upon his awakening it takes some time for him to exhibit any warmth. Not only is he dealing with the loss of his people, which is to him as fresh as if it had happened moments ago, rather than 50,000 years, he is surrounded by the evolved forms of races all of his given memories and ideas tell him are underdeveloped, they are his lessers. This is where his arrogance comes from, his superior attitude. It is not because he is a terrible individual, but his very life was created to preserve a culture which tells him that we are beneath him and he is loathe to allow the viewpoints of his people (as vastly outdated as they may be) to be eroded, for as they are weakened so too is his purpose.

Furthermore, Javik reveals to us the Cosmic Imperative, which he, at least, considers to be a central concept with Prothean philosophy. Effectively, this is simply an understanding of the cosmos in which evolution is considered to be the fundamental driving force and is given greater importance than other methods of understanding. This belief sets Javik at odds with other individuals, notably Liara, and also serves to highlight that Javik is an exceedingly pragmatic individual. He is not the idea-oriented thinker Liara and many others might suspect a Prothean to be, he is a soldier and a firm believer, for it is his role to preserve them, in the Prothean Imperial attitudes. It is also suggested that the Prothean empire was exceptionally strict with heavy emphasis on discipline, thus these ideas will have been drilled into him further.

Therefore, Javik is the last representative of a culture he himself never really knew, yet one which, if her were able, he would restore. The failure of his plan has meant that his mission has failed, for he is the last of his kind and his empire is little more than somebody else's memory within his own head. He has only one goal remaining, though this is his goal only because there is nothing else he can do: ending the cycle and defeating the reapers.

Images posted by Oerbayun

Uneasy Intimacy

As a Prothean, Javik possesses a physiological ability similar to psychometry, which allows him to recall the experiences of others through physical touch, also allowing them to glean similar information from objects. Furthermore, this ability allows the communication of complicated ideas, with a single touch enough to attain complete fluency in another language or reach a competent level with a complicated skill. One might think that which such an ability, Javik would have little ability assimilating into a new world. However, this ability is as much a hindrance as a help.

True enough, Javik adapts must faster than most to his new environment, though he has come from a world in which everyone he knows is able to communicate entirely through the medium of touch, which, I assume, meant that Protheans were a far more open people (more so considering that they can pick-up memories from objects as well). 

In a society in which all members (or at least the majority) are able to access this ability, it would allow individuals to become exceptionally close in a very short space of time, both able to reach the same level of understanding of the other. However, when Javik uses such an ability, the other individual cannot reciprocate in the same way, and though he is able to transfer some of himself to them, this side of his ability appears to be more limited and thus there remains an inequality. Thus, he is able to discover and "get to know" others much faster than they are able to get to know him, which other individuals find alienating and intimidating, thus creating a gap between him and they. 

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Much of this stems from the fact that the way in which he can reach such intimate understanding is through memory, which he is able to view without the consent of another person, who is usually required to actively share their own memories. Thus, with a single touch, he crosses lines which our culture considers to be unacceptable, though he cannot switch off this ability, at least not easily.

Furthermore, whilst he can learn from others and view their memories, he is doing so through a Prothean lens, without a full comprehension of the cultural cues and concepts which others possess. Thus, he can view as many memories as he wishes, but these alone do not allow him to fully understand their significance and often serve to further confuse him. 

Identity is something that is, even at a very fundamental level, shaped by one's connections to other people. Cultural, social, dialectical constructions of identity all rely upon such connections and whilst it is possible, to some degree, to consider the mind of an individual independently of the external, such solipsistic attempts at understanding personality are less comprehensive that others (though there are some merits to them). Javik's links to others are fragmented and damaged, for he truly comes from a completely different world, and is thus unable to understand where he has found himself. However, he never truly knew the world which he was created to recreated and has lost all of his comrades and fellow Protheans. Javik is caught between two worlds and is kept in the middle of them entirely alone. The world of the past is forever lost and can never return and yet, it is so heavily present within him that he cannot fully embrace the present into which he has been hurtled. 

Conclusion

Javik's role within Mass Effect is more than just a representative for the Prothean race, though he is certainly used in this way, being the only living Prothean encountered in the game. He additionally serves as a reminder that, whilst the devastation caused by the Reapers is horrific in this cycle, that there exists infinite worlds and peoples outside of those known of by humanity. In Javik, the Protheans and countless other beings find one to speak for their loss, find an individual who fights for them more directly than Shepherd, who has huge stakes in defeating the Reapers in this cycle. Javik too, wishes the cycle to end, but it is not his race on the line, for his people have already fallen.

In many ways, one can consider Javik to be a ghost, little more than a remnant of the past, though he has a spirit in and of himself. Whilst much of that which defines him is his being Prothean, he should not be considered as typical, but rather as what the Protheans became when their empire was in ruins and they were desperate to survive. In many ways, he represents the darker aspects of the Protheans, just as the savage children in The Lord of the Flies represent the darker aspects of humanity. When civilisation falls, a Hobbesian conception of "rationality" begins to grow, though at least in Javik it never achieves full fruition.

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From an MBTI perspective, I would likely consider Javik to be a ISTJ, sharing this typology with Samara. This is due to his focus and reliance on using his senses, increased due to his ability to essentially see across time into the past, as well as his strong identification with a strict hierarchy, based in cultural tradition, which he adamantly defends. This is further enhanced by his disregard for abstract ideas and focus on facts and statistics. His enneagram personality type would likely by Type 8, the Challenger, for he seeks protection and safety, though at great risk to himself, yet draws close to losing himself to vengeance.

Though I doubt that Javik will make an appearance in Mass Effect 4, I think that BioWare did an excellent job with his character in Mass Effect 3. The idea of introducing a living Prothean could have destroyed many of their plotlines had it been done badly and yet I certainly consider Javik to be an interesting and compelling character who is a welcome addition to the crew.

Thanks for reading!

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