Blasto Sacer

Mass Effect as an Allegorithm of Sovereign Exception

Expanding state power has clashed repeatedly with the rights of citizens and non-citizens alike since 9/11; the political theories of Giorgio Agamben, specifically his discussion of the figure of the homo sacer and of sovereign exception, have stimulated much discussion on this topic. Underlying debates over the legality of government-sanctioned torture, assassination, and “extraordinary rendition” is a basic contradiction: Is it possible to write laws that allow us to break the law? Or, to put it more generally, is it possible to design a system with a rule that allows an agent within that system to break the rules? These questions can be especially interesting for videogame studies, not only because we can ask them about the representational aspects of contemporary video games that model extra-legal, state-sanctioned violence, but because we can also consider the deeper procedural implications of these issues. A look at the “Spectres” from the Mass Effect series offers a way to do both at once, and, when interpreted via Agamben’s work, the Spectres reveal some of the contradictions inherent in both the representational and allegorithmic aspects of games. Continue Reading