Mass Effect 3 and Australian border protection policy

Front Desk Log

Civilian processing ratios:
Adults, 60% sent to integration
Children, 85% sent to integration

Suitable candidates are being assigned temporary living areas in alphabetical order. Family units are being preserved for ease of processing.


Last year, as Continuum drew nigh, I promised myself that when the convention was over, I’d give myself time to play Mass Effect.  Lots of my friends were into it, and it seemed like a pretty cool game.  Now, almost exactly a year later, I’ve completed my first play-through of Mass Effect 3.

It was an uncomfortable game.  Not just because I knew that the [infamously unsatisfying] end was nigh, and not just because the writing seemed less layered and interesting than the first two games.  (That’s not just my imagination, right?  There seemed to be a lot of points where your choices in previous games, like the identity of the human Councillor, was disregarded.  And there were less background conversations than there used to be, although I adored the two [female] soldiers standing guard outside the war room, bitching about the state of the universe.)

In ME3, the galaxy is at war.  The legendary Reapers are seeking to destroy all sentient life, and few places are safe.  And where there is war, there are refugees.  The game is full of displaced persons.  Those with particular skills are recruited to work on an anti-doomsday device, the worst-kept secret in the universe.  (“If your government happened to be working on a secret project…”)  The rest wind up in refugee camps, the most visible of which is a holding area in the Citadel docks.

The Citadel is the political and cultural centre of the galaxy, a millennia-old space station of immense power and beauty.  Through the trilogy, we meet its underprivileged, but not like this.  Over the course of ME3, the refugee camp grows increasingly crowded, its residents increasingly despairing.  Armed guards stand at the entrance.  Characters talk disapprovingly of the way the Citadel pretends the refugees, and the war, don’t exist.  The refugees themselves are humanised — if you can use that word for such a diverse group of species* — in various ways:  a girl waits for her parents to arrive; a human man with a French accent tries to make conversation with an alien who doesn’t want to talk.

The recurring idea here is that a society which mistreats refugees is inherently sick.  For an Australian, with our policy of locking refugees in concentration camps, which are increasingly being moved out of the country into whichever poverty-stricken nation can be persuaded to take them, this is stark stuff.  I had to take a break from the game for a couple of weeks, because it was getting politics in my escapism, and I was tired.

Late in the game, we visit the planet of Horizon, a human colony first established in Mass Effect 2.  There, it was a pleasant little planet targeted by the Collectors, aliens who are using human genetic material to create an abomination.  Now, it’s the home of Sanctuary, a haven for refugees.

We know from the start that there’s something very wrong about Sanctuary.  It appears to have been infiltrated by Cerberus, a terrorist organisation that’s pro-human the way Tony Abbott is pro-conservation.  On arrival, refugees are ordered to discard any communication devices.  (On arrival in Australia, asylum seekers who arrive by boat often have phones, satnavs and even their medicine confiscated and destroyed.)  Datapads indicate that refugees volunteered to man the reception area in exchange for the promise of better accommodation.  The facility is full of dead Cerberus soldiers, and dead Reapers.

As we progress through the compound, we learn two things:  the facility was run by Henry Lawson (voiced by Alan Dale), an Australian businessman obsessed with creating a genetic dynasty.  His “daughter” — actually a clone with a doubled X chromosome — Miranda was a team mate in Mass Effect 2, voiced by Yvonne Strahovski with the accent of a posh Sydney private school girl.  And Henry Lawson was working with Cerberus to continue the work of the Collectors, using human DNA to create monsters and, eventually, they hope, control the Reapers.

Miranda Lawson, CGI white human female, very pretty, wielding biotic powers in a pose that coincidentally draws attention to her vulva. Hey, at least she's fully dressed!
I love Miranda a whole lot, but let’s all take a moment to cringe at (a) her costume and (b) this pose.

Progress Update

Rejected subjects have proven useful for preliminary genetic testing. The death rate is 100% of course, but the data being gathered is critical to improving subsequent testing on viable subjects.

A society which mistreats refugees is inherently sick.  And isn’t it interesting that this false haven for refugees is run by an Australian?

Mass Effect 3 was released in 2012, well after Australia’s policy of mandatory detention for asylum seekers was entrenched.  I don’t know if the echoes here were intentional, but I somewhat doubt it — the franchise seems pretty apolitical in real life terms, and putting Henry Lawson in charge of the facility is just taking advantage of an existing yet heretofore unseen antagonist.  But it’s interesting, and a bit chilling.  They got politics in my escapism, and the effect is thoroughly disquieting.

*  “‘Human rights’.  The very term is racist.” – Azetbur, the original Klingon social justice warrior, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

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