THE EVENT ON WHICH THIS FICTION IS FOUNDED has been supposed, by Dr. Darwin, and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence. I shall not be supposed as according the remotest degree of serious faith to such an imagination; yet, in assuming it as the basis of a work of fancy, I have not considered myself as merely weaving a series of supernatural terrors. The event on which the interest of the story depends is exempt from the disadvantages of a mere tale of spectres or enchantment. It was recommended by the novelty of the situations which it develops; and, however impossible as a physical fact, affords a point of view to the imagination for the delineating of human passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield. – First Paragraph of the Preface from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
The YouTube Channel “Extra Credits” did a video highlighting how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was the precursor for all science fiction. As I was watching that video, I started to compare and contrast how both the book Frankenstein and EVE Online approach the idea of what it means to be human. The above quote was also referenced in the video, pointing out how Shelley was using “what might be” as the basis of her book. As Extra Credits put it “Shelley is saying that the events in this book could be real. Not that they are real, or even that they are remotely likely, but they could exist in the universe that we know.” This idea that Science Fiction exists to some extent within the “rational world” and “within the bounds of what science tells us is possible” is precisely what sets this genre apart from fantasy. This was revolutionary for the time, and is also the very foundation of what EVE Online’s premise of the Capsuleer is founded upon. I thought it would be interesting to explore the similarities between Frankenstein and EVE Online, as well as pay homage to the founder of a genre I love so dearly.
In EVE Online, the concept that Humanity was able to leave its home planet, conquer its home cluster of stars, and then use a method (wormhole) to get to another area of space, is not outside of the realms of possibility. Not only that, but the very concept of a Capsuleer, an animated clone, whose consciousness originated outside of the flesh and blood of the physical form. This idea is not unlike Frankenstein’s monster, which is also an animated body built from human body parts (although they were reused rather than grown). The very concept of Capsuleers presupposes the idea of being able to circumnavigate death or to create life to some extent. EVE Online, like Frankenstein, raise some very difficult questions regarding what it truly means to be human.
Human Nature and Playing God
As Extra Credits put it in their video, Dr. Victor Frankenstein was a “young man determined to overcome death”. The video also points out that he was “blind to the consequences of what he is trying to do”. In CCP’s faulty “Origins” trailer, it is stated that a new “kind” of human being was developed “out of the years of conflict” that was “capable of immortal life”. These two basic premises are very similar. Capsuleers were initially developed as weapons. As immortal warriors who were able to have an invaluable strategic advantage over mere mortals, regardless of the consequences.In Frankenstein, we see the monster get reviled and scared away. Vulnerable as a newborn babe intellectually who eventually becomes murderous without taking responsibility for the value of human life. In a similar fashion, Capsuleers are responsible for billions of deaths. It is almost second nature for many in this universe that sometimes a Capsuleer may even consider such killing “drudgery”, as one would view running mission after boring mission.
If Frankenstein were to be a reality, many would have moral quandaries with it. Some may defend the idea along the lines of the “Ship of Theseus“, or that the parts do not necessarily make the person. This idea of reanimating the dead into a potentially completely new human being would also raise questions about the nature of consciousness. While an inanimate clone does not raise the same moral problems as an individual clone such as what we see in Star Wars, the concept of Capsuleers wrestles with the same question.
The Nature of Consciousness
In EVE Online, the idea that your “consciousness” is transferable is a simple given. It is also an assumption, while not addressed, that arises in the book Frankenstein. The idea that consciousness is even measurable, or can be manipulated out of inanimate organic matter. In EVE, consciousness is considered something you can simply scan. When a Capsuleer dies in the capsule, their brain is scanned right before death, and that data is sent to the correct cloning facility. This operates under the assumption that consciousness can be measured, recorded, and sent to a new brain. The new brain is then assumed to be completely blank, and possibly able to receive said recording, and then start anew. The concept of a soul, however, is not truly addressed in the lore, and is also conveniently hand waved out by Shelley. For either of these science fiction concepts to be possible, we must first be able to quantify and qualify what the dividing line between consciousness and lack of consciousnesses is. This would also include the idea of a soul, or potentially the lack of one, if either conclusion is even possible. Mary Shelley conveniently skips over this important question, in favour of another one.
At What Cost?
It is important to note that Mary Shelley never actually wrote how the Doc pulled it off, so any representation in the movies about “IT’S ALIIIIVE” is just that director taking artistic liberty. This is actually an important distinction to truly understand Mary Shelley’s literary genius. Frankenstein also has an alternative title. “The Modern Prometheus”.In Greek myth, Prometheus was a titan that created humanity and is considered a great benefactor. Like Prometheus, Frankenstein has the ability to create life, or rather raise consciousness out of formerly conscious meat. Extra Credit’s video points out that Mary Shelley never described or had Frankenstein share this process for bringing life out of death. This contrasts with Prometheus. Frankenstein is no benefactor to humanity in his control over death. And because this contrast is so stark, Extra Credits proposes that the Scientific Method is the true Prometheus that Shelley was referring to. As if to beg the question of “at what cost?” when progressing for the sake of progress.
In CCP’s “Inferno Trailer“, it says “Out here, Progress is numbers. Millimeters, Kilometers, Headcounts, death tolls. This is progress. Colonies burned, ships destroyed, people killed, money earned. It all comes at a price. And if the price is right, I’ll set the universe on fire.” “At what cost?” is answered in EVE Online by the phrase “How much are you willing to pay?”. If that was someone’s real answer in real life, we would call them a monster.
Taking Responsibility for the Monster
Dr. Frankenstein was a coward. At the first sight of his beautiful monster’s terrifying appearance, the man ran away from his responsibility and became physically ill in a very pathetic pity party that never took responsibility for his actions. He was so afraid of the consequences of his actions, that he allowed a young woman to take the blame for the murder of a young boy that he knew the monster committed, just because he didn’t want to explain himself. He was both afraid of being called crazy, as well as the consequences such a confession would have.Capsuleers, in many ways, are a mixture of the monster and Dr. Frankenstein himself. They are often the epitome of human selfishness run amok. While there are plenty of Capsuleers who are not horrible individuals who only care about money and think not of the value of human life, they are the exception. Not the rule.
Similarly to Frankenstein’s monster, Capsuleers eventually become separated from “baseliners” (EVE’s term for non-capsuleers) through societal, as well as physical, means. It is very likely this immortality goes to the head of many Capsuleers, allowing them to get away with atrocities they otherwise might not commit. Frankenstein’s monster eventually comes to the conclusion that he had no responsibility for his horrendous actions, rather that he had been driven to them by his circumstances. The doctor continuously avoids responsibility for his monster, and his monster avoids responsibility for its own actions. In the case of Capsuleers, of humanity unshackled by such restraints as death or morality, don’t see the same level of consequences that we do in the real world. Thus they are the perfect escapist fantasy for us who wants to unleash our inner monsters.
Am I reading too much into this? Yes. Yes, I am. However, the point of this article was to provoke thoughtful debate regarding the nature of humanity as well as what it means to have something be considered “science fiction”. As pointed out in the Extra Credits video, Mary Shelley saw her work as the continuation of Western Literature. Books like “Paradise Lost“, Dante’s “The Divine Comedy“, “The Sorrows of Young Werther“, which are all directly referenced in her book as a foundation as key insights into the “character of the monster”. Mary Shelley expected her reader to already be well read, and for a player to truly get the most out of EVE Online, they have to not only learn the mechanics of the game, but to also dive into the scientific aspect (such as Max Singularity’s “New Eden Physics Class 101“), as well as the lore.
I feel that EVE Online too shares a similar trajectory in Western Literature, albeit as both in textual form in the lore and a living simulated universe in cyberspace. Both Frankenstein and EVE Online challenge what it means to be human, the nature of consciousness, and what it is like to wrestle with the monster inside all of us. What do you think? Do you see similarities or differences I missed? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!