Welcome back to Gaming For Official Use Only. For this installment I thought I’d go down a different road. Whenever most people think of conspiracy theories, their first thought drifts towards a nebulous group with evil purposes such as world domination, destruction of the lower classes, or keeping Justin Bieber famous. This is not a knock on the thinking of most people – I do that on most other things, just not this – but on how most media sticks to the tried and true tropes for their work. However, there are benevolent or even good conspiracies that exist.
Let’s look at one from one of the finest gaming franchises, XCOM. Before I start, I’m going to state that most of what I say about XCOM is directly based upon XCOM Enemy Unknown, the only entry I’ve played. So hey, full disclosure and all.
In the XCOM series, you play the commander of a multinational conspiracy that aims to stop the alien invasion from destroying mankind, while also keeping the populace completely unaware that there is a freaking war going on. Instead of being this dark figure who aims to control the information flow to control the planet, you are a military officer who just wants to make sure mankind survives. The figures who give you orders are shadowed, and never have their identities revealed, but are nothing of the evil sort. In fact, in the newest XCOM game they usually give you praise when you do well. The only time they get angry is if you start screwing up left and right. Although I’m okay with this, as it means you are letting aliens kill citizens. I would say that’d piss me right the hell off as well.
Your first, last, and only line of defense…wait, wrong group.
What’s really interesting is that XCOM is one of the very few multinational groups that gains something from each nationality. The beginning bonus you get varies depending upon where you decide to actually base your XCOM headquarters, as well as gaining different bonuses for adding higher levels of security to the various countries. This involves using secret spy satellites along with high tech Interceptor planes to stop UFO activities. Everything that you do is used in some way to actually protect the people of Earth from the alien attackers, not just control the people or keep them in the dark. This is rare for any conspiracy, let alone a government one.
XCOM headquarters: they keep busy.
While XCOM certainly does cover up the existence of aliens and their outright war upon humanity, they never once sacrifice innocent people to keep the cover up going. In fact, many missions feature the XCOM soldiers going out of their way to save civilians caught in the crossfire, escorting them to safety so the aliens cannot get their hands on them. Sure, the cynical among us – I say this as a devout cynic – would say that XCOM merely does so to prevent the aliens from using the civilians to learn more about mankind or whatever, but the fact is that XCOM does save the innocent from the aliens. There’s nothing sinister about that in the end.
The highest tech on Earth, but still no good at lightbulbs. At least he’s friendly.
One thing that XCOM does possess that differentiates it from the national militaries that are ostensibly involved in stopping the invasion, is their technology. Since XCOM soldiers are battling aliens day in and day out, they can recover pieces of alien technology and even biology, which they then pass off to XCOM’s extensive scientific facilities. These facilities include department heads who are apparently highly ranked in their fields of engineering and physics. This teaming affords XCOM bleeding edge technology like fusion reactors for power, lightweight, yet incredibly strong armor materials, and of course, (since it’s science fiction and there’s alien killing) powered armor.
Powered armor and a high-powered laser weapon. Ready to kick E.T.’s ass.
While normal soldiers must be content with standard firearms, XCOM soldiers will end up being issued laser and plasma weaponry to deal with much more deadly foes. As XCOM does more research, they eventually develop quite an inventory of things like UFO flight computers and alien metals which you can then release through the “Gray Market” to the various nations as you see fit for extra cash. At various times nations may even ask you for amounts of certain things like XCOM’s advanced medikits or lightweight armor to help with various crises. So even though XCOM is working to keep the populace ignorant of the alien menace, they slip helpful new tech into circulation to slowly advance humanity to prepare for stronger threats. A group with access to much higher (no pun intended) stores of knowledge and technology than the rest of mankind, (who only wish to protect and enhance it) actually leads perfectly to our real life conspiracy theory: The 9 Unknown Men.
The 9 Unknown Men
This theory comes out of ancient India, of all places. In 260 BC, the land was ruled by the emperor Ashoka Maurya, who would go down in history as Ashoka the Great. His grandfather, Chandragupta, had first united India under one rule in 322 BC. Ashoka later became well-known and beloved for his dedication to the well being of his subjects as one of the very first “enlightened” rulers. He wrote often of the duties that rulers owed to their citizens, often calling them his children.
However, Ashoka had to go through a bloody “Road to Damascus” moment before he became the pillar of enlightenment he is so well regarded for today. In 260 BC, he was waging a bitter war against the state of Kalinga, which is the modern day Indian east coast. His forebears had often tried to subdue the war-like province and only Ashoka succeeded, although at a terrible cost. While overseeing the battles, Ashoka grappled with the rumored 100,000 plus deaths and hundreds of thousands of civilians forced from their homes. These horrible events compelled him to seek a better way. Which he then found through the teachings of Siddharta Guatama, the Buddha. Converting to Buddhism, Ashoka dedicated himself to helping his fellow man any way he could. This is undisputed history.
Ashoka, with a quote, showing why the guy was a legendary ruler.
What is disputable is that having seen what happens when the intelligence of man is set to evil desires, Ashoka determined that mankind’s intellect should be aimed at noble goals. He named 9 men of learning to head up the development of 9 books. These men would research the darkest ends of human thought so as to catalog and conceal the worst outcomes. Each man would dedicate himself to secrecy so that mankind wouldn’t learn the terrible secrets in the depths of otherwise noble studies. I’ll list the subject of each book and what terrible secrets the Unknown Men sought to conceal from the populace:
1) Propaganda/Psychological Warfare – We don’t think much of propaganda nowadays since we think we are immune to its charms. But the book contains the secrets of total Psych Warfare, by which the thoughts of anybody can be controlled with no concern for failure. Do I actually have to point out why this doesn’t need to get out?!
2) Physiology – the study of how the human body works is one of the more noble and useful pursuits. While it has mostly led to amazing advances in medical science to the point of doubling the life expectancy of Ashoka’s time, this book contains knowledge from the opposite direction. Supposedly this book contains the most undetectable and deadly poisons, pressure point techniques, and of course the legendary martial technique of the Touch of Death. That’s right, it’s not just for shitty Kung Fu flicks!
3) Biology/Biotechnology – The study of microbial life and disease has also greatly advanced our medical sciences and we’ve even cured such infamous mass murders as smallpox. However, this book not only contains all the horrifying diseases that could wipe us out, but also the invention of miracle cures and beneficial microbes. More on this a bit later on.
4) Alchemy – Alchemy was the ancient study of the universe that blended science and magic. This in turn lead to the development of the actual science of chemistry. The alchemists’ primary goal was the discovery of the “philosopher’s stone” which would transmute cheap metals like lead into gold. Supposedly, this book features the methods to do so. The funny thing is that modern nuclear science has shown that by simply altering the number of protons and electrons, an atom can change from one element to another. This makes alchemical transmutations an actual physical possibility.
5) Communications – This subject is pretty obvious. Supposedly, the book contained the true secrets of easy communications of all kinds. But the main subject that conspiracy theorists really latch on to – like a facehugger pumped full of Spanish Fly – is the rumor that this book includes instructions on communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence.
6) Gravitation – A famous component to many Hindu legends is that of vehicles called Vimana which were apparently powered by antigravity devices. A staggering amount of conspiracy theory literature is based around the truth that such vehicles actually existed, or even exist today. The book supposedly details the finer points of Vimana construction and operation. The fact that no true antigravity device currently exists today will show just how advanced such a vehicle would be.
7) Cosmology – Here’s another crazy one. This book supposedly details the fabric of the cosmos along with the secrets of how to traverse huge distances. In other words, faster-than-light (FTL) travel. Now with the exception of wormholes, only one true theory of FTL travel exists in modern science: the Alcubierre Drive, and many scientists dismiss it as just a mathematical construct. Beyond that, the book supposedly goes even further than FTL travel by including instructions on time travel and travel between parallel universes. Needless to say, such a tome would just about rewrite modern physics from the ground up.
8) Light – Beyond the aforementioned FTL travel, this book includes how to both speed up and slow down the speed of light. Now, light is the fastest object in the universe by modern physics, traveling at a constant 186,000 miles per second. Besides screwing with light’s accelerometer, this book details using light as a directed weapon and how to control its reflection. We can somewhat direct light as we want to, we call this a laser. However, the feat of making visible things invisible would be a terrific feat of engineering. One that we can only barely do with current technology.
9) Sociology – This is the big one. Supposedly this book contains the rules of social engineering that allow groups to completely control the evolution and fortunes of societies. Now science fiction fans like me will notice this is strikingly similar to the psychohistory that enables Hari Seldon to predict the fall of the Galactic Empire in Issac Asimov’s fantastic Foundation series.
Yes, Harvard actually has a book bound in human skin; not the Necronomicon.
Now in the hands of any other group, the collection and holding of such knowledge would be seen at best as sinister, at worst outright evil. But Ashoka had a totally different idea for his men. They would be dedicated scholars who would research what could not be researched. This was a way of not only keeping the evil that could arise from such knowledge away from mankind, but also guarding the good that could come of it in case society would ever fall. They would watch as the various nations of mankind rose and fell, always ready to aid if needed but never directing how mankind developed. They would, however, release bits and pieces of their accumulated knowledge to help the rest of the planet in secret.
Probably the coolest looking library ever.
In contrast to Ashoka, XCOM would release their tech to various nations so that defense forces could be straightened and the 9 Unknown Men would release their secrets to the public. In India, the Ganges River is a holy river that has possesses the ability to heal the sick. This has been known for centuries. But only recently did science somewhat explain the otherwise miraculous ability. The river waters harbor a bacteriophage that destroys many types of dangerous diseases. It was this bacteriophage that was supposedly released into the waters by the Unknown Men to help the poor who often brought their ailing loved ones to the holy river when there were no other options. Seeing that citizens needed to be able to defend themselves from those who aimed to harm them, the Unknown Men used their knowledge of physiology to construct one of the most useful and effective martial arts known to man: Judo.
The legendary “Judo” Gene LeBell. That’s him on the left. Watch the whole thing.
This is what fascinates me so much about this rarely talked about theory. We have a conclave of brilliant minds who have no allegiance to any country or people, only to mankind itself. They research paths of thinking that the rest of the planet should never venture down. Yet, are never represented as anything more sinister than simply somewhat aloof compared to the rest of humanity. In nearly any fiction, a group with the kind of technology and knowledge that the Unknown Men possess would be seen as some horrifying evil; the ultimate expression of intellect unchained from duty or morality. Instead, the Unknown Men are a bulwark of knowledge in the event of the fall of mankind, and a safe place to store the knowledge mankind does not need to possess.
Asimov’s Foundation. Seriously, go read the original trilogy. You’ll thank me later.
Again, this ties perfectly into XCOM. In many stories, the supranational group that hides the existence of aliens, reverse engineers their technology, and fights them, would be seen as sinister. Instead, they are a force for good who shield mankind from alien invasion. But also keep the populace unaware for their own good. They fight for mankind, not simply in the name of mankind. They release higher technology as they can, while hiding away the darker tech that the aliens possess. The fact that XCOM answers to a multinational council of authority figures makes me wonder even further: could XCOM actually be the Unknown Men in the near future? Fighting a war against extraterrestrials for mankind because nobody else could? But that would be straining the “theory” part of “conspiracy theory” even further than the insane logic most conspiracy theorists already utilize.
I hope that this article has been entertaining, and maybe even made you think. I don’t personally believe this theory; as always there is no concrete evidence. Carl Sagan said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and there isn’t even any ordinary proof that the Unknown Men exist. However, I love reading about this conspiracy because it actually shows that you can hide in the shadows without being evil, and that not all nebulous groups are out to do harm. As always, please feel free to comment below, or catch me on twitter @ithinkibrokeit. Thanks for reading.