I never expected to better understand the great mystery of life because of a videogame. The game in question, Xenoblade Chronicles X, is a stellar Japanese Role Playing Game (JPRG for short), filled with some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen in a video game, matched with an equally epic soundtrack. It is a flawed game, but the game’s plot grapples with serious philosophical issues under the guise of a somewhat forgettable humans vs aliens story.
Please note, this article contains full spoilers for Xenoblade Chronicles X.
The game begins with Earth being destroyed. The remnants of humanity escape in a spaceship called the White Whale, containing a residential city called New LA; a vestige of human civilisation. The culprits behind the destruction of Earth make chase, and shoot down the White Whale. It is ripped apart by the gravitational pull of the Planet Mira, with New LA surviving the fall. New LA lands and settles on a lush steppe. The inhabitants of New LA are now humanity’s last survivors, and they set out to establish their home on Mira by taming it’s treacherous wildlife.
Most important in their quest is to recover pieces of the all-important Life Hold. The Life Hold was part of the White Whale which held a large number of humans in stasis, preserving them. By uncovering parts of the Life Hold, more humans could be uncovered, increasing the chances of survival.
This seems an interesting story. But the undertone is far more interesting. The plot at this stage is predicated upon the human body being essential to life.
But about halfway through the game, in quite a shocking moment, your character’s arm is blow off by an enemy robot, revealing … wires.
You’re a robot. So are your team mates. So is every human awake in New LA.
The robots are being controlled by the humans who are in stasis. This has some positive implications in that if any citizen of New LA dies, it is only the robot that their mind is controlling that has perished – they continue to survive in stasis.
So now the quest for Life Hold also becomes the quest to become united with your original, organic human body. And here we see another subtle but significant shift in the philosophical undertones of the story. Previously, the human body was seen as the cradle of life, and you as an organic human would recover other humans, saving humanity. But now we see that actually it is the brain of each human that is controlling a robot. Here, the dichotomy between body and mind is initiated.
The story progresses towards it’s climax, with the core of the Life Hold being discovered at long last. You venture inside, and after a confrontation with the grotesque and pompous antagonist, you are left to be reunited with your original body, and not a mechanical mimic.
Except, it’s not here. Nor are your team mate’s bodies. Nor are any bodies. They were all burned to a crisp when Earth was destroyed.
Then what’s controlling your robot? Your consciousness. It was uploaded to the core of the Life Hold. And so you continue to live. Humanity also made a unique liquid, which when exposed to the uploaded consciousness, can recreate an organic body.
Then the credits roll. Humanity survived because of consciousness. Consciousness is life.
Except it isn’t.
An after credits scene shows a team entering the core of the Life Hold to extract all of the consciousnesses uploaded onto it. And they enter the chamber holding the data, only to find it all destroyed, flooded when crashing onto Mira.
So, all of the uploaded consciousnesses are gone forever. The main characters are bewildered. So are you. Why are you alive? Why do you and others continue to live. Your team mate says ‘we just don’t know’.
And that is the answer to the great mystery of life. We don’t know. We know that God created us, at least for theists, but we can find no observable or definable phenomenon that can decisively be seen as defining life. Xenoblade Chronicles shows this with great deftness. It begins by telling you that human life is the human body. It then introduces the duality of mind and body. Then it eliminates the body, stating that life is consciousness. And then it eliminates consciousness, and leaving us with the nothingness, and an imposing question; what is life?
We don’t know the answer to this. When the heart stops beating, and the human body perishes, we have no way of knowing that our consciousness has ceased, or that we’ve stopped experiencing life. This is because we don’t know what life is in the first place, so it is implausible to associate the death of one’s physical state with life at large. And with this, the possibility of an afterlife becomes wholesomely plausible.
Or perhaps, this is all nonsense and I’m overthinking a video game.