Welcome back to Gaming FOUO. A large amount of conspiracy theories nowadays seem to revolve around some free energy tripe or whatever that’s been suppressed by the super evil oil/energy companies, so it’s only natural one would come up in Gaming FOUO. What’s interesting is that whether it was a conscious choice or not there’s a very famous parallel in gaming that is almost in line with a conspiracy. Let’s get started.
Very few games, for better or worse, have the lasting influence and impact of Final Fantasy VII. While a lot of the main components of the story have been examined to Hell and back, very few have chosen to look at the Lifestream. I will ignore all thoughts I have about the other parts of the story or anything else about Final Fantasy VII to just focus on the Lifestream. Honestly, the entire story of Final Fantasy VII is predicated on it, but yet few people ever think about it when they discuss the story of the game.
In the backstory of FFVII, the planet’s surface hides a ethereal energy river called the Lifestream. This band of “spirit energy” circles underneath the planet in multiple bands, often erupting from the earth in things called “Mako Springs.” All in all, it’s very obvious that the physical basis for the Lifestream was likely the Earth’s mantle. This energy can pool into a liquid known as Mako, and near these pools it can even coalesce into a solid material known as Materia that can be used for magic. Ironically, Lifestream can be hazardous to living creatures which leads to something called Mako poisoning. Not every affliction needs a special name, after all.
The Lifestream itself acts not just as a source of magic, but also as a sort of afterlife. It collects all of the emotions, memories and wisdom of all creatures to be recycled in the birth of new life. It also explains why not every sentient being comes back as a ghost since only a select few beings can stay sentient in their Lifestream based afterlife. The various media is actually conflicting on whether physical bodies disappear into Lifestream or not as FFVII has a graveyard but Advent Children shows bodies disappearing into light. I actually see a lot of parallels to Hindu afterlife in the mythology of the Lifestream, but that may well have been intentional. The Lifestream actually works for both a Heaven and Hell analogue. The good souls fragment in the Lifestream and join in the collected souls that actually make the Lifestream proper. Bad souls retain their individual personalities, but must deal with the fact that they are alone in the Lifestream due to their own actions and unable to join the others. There’s probably a comment to be made on the “collective is good, individual is bad” but this is FOUO, not Free to Play, so I’ll avoid it. You got lucky this time.
Beyond the magic/afterlife, the Lifestream also acts as the repair system for the planet. Much like the immune system of an organism the Lifestream works to fix injuries and illnesses of the planet. Unlike an immune system, Lifestream has a nuclear option, however. If the planet is too scarred and ill the Lifestream summons an Eldritch Abomination called Omega that will scour all life off the planet. After Omega has curb stomped existence from the planet, it gathers up the Lifestream and heads off to find a new planet to bring life back on. Thus, the Lifestream is the only “immune system” that will actively leave the object it is supposed to defend. It’s like personal security as performed by the French Army.
The part that kicks off the plot of FFVII is that the corporation Shinra develops a way to tap into the Lifestream and use it to generate electrical power. They name these plants Mako generators, and start building them across the planet. With the massive wealth generated by the Mako plants Shinra becomes a hugely powerful mega corporation. This allows them to sink their tentacles into all aspects of life including media, defense and even food stuffs. Combining the technology of the Mako generator with their considerable military technology holdings grants Shinra even more power as they discover a way to infuse soldiers with Mako. This in turn pushes their abilities into superhuman levels. These super soldiers are only able to be infused if they are injected with cells from the captured Jenova lifeform, which I’ll detail a bit later on. Shinra creatively dubs their group of supersoldiers SOLDIER, thereby proving that incredibly scientific skill does not imply any creative ability whatsoever.
Shinra even works out a way to manufacture artificial Materia, which allows them to equip any soldier – or SOLDIER – with magic. Materia possesses this ability because it essentially lets the user commune with the Lifestream, giving them access to the collective wisdom from all the souls who exist there and allowing them to channel that into the material world. While some Materia is produced naturally in the areas around particularly strong Mako Springs, most Materia in the game comes from Shinra facilities. One advantage that Materia has is it that it allows groups to move magic abilities around individuals so that they can customize them to the mission ahead which is useful for any military or paramilitary group such as SOLDIER.
The problems with the Mako generators is the semi-McGuffin that propels the plot of FFVII. Mako generators sap the Lifestream from an area, and quickly ruins the ecosystem around it. Midgar, the city the game starts in, is a perfect example. Due to the effects of the Mako generators that power the city, the area around it is a godforsaken wasteland teeming with monsters. This economic devastation prompts the formation of various anti-Shinra groups, of which the focus is upon ecoterrorists AVALANCHE. No, I have no idea why everything in the game must be all caps since they are not acronyms, but of course JRPGs have never worried about things like sense or logic.
I mentioned Jenova earlier but now it’s time to elaborate. Jenova is an extraterrestrial lifeform with the ability to absorb traits from cells that can invade other organisms. It apparently would take over a planet then use that planet to travel the cosmos looking for other ecosystems to absorb. Shinra discovers Jenova’s crash site on the planet and decides to use the Jenova cells to recreate the original inhabitants. These inhabitants were called Cetra and were in tune with the Lifestream. Due to their ability to control it, Shinra decides it can copy them. They start with Sepiroth.
Do I need to say that it didn’t work?
Sepiroth goes ax crazy and decides to gather the two most powerful Materia, the White and Black. The White Materia summons the saving magic Holy which can save the planet but may wipe off people and animals deemed a threat, while the Black Materia summons Meteor which is exactly what it says on the tin; it destroys the planet. Sepiroth’s plan is to hurt the planet so much with Meteor that the Lifestream must react so that he can gather all of the energy to become a god. He gets Meteor to appear, but Cloud and his party give Sepiroth a bad case of “Sword To The Guts” ala Aeris, so his plan fails. Holy tries to stop Meteor but it is too close for Holy to stop. Aeris summons Lifestream which pushes Meteor back, allowing Holy to do its thing. The end.
Yes, I skipped over a lot of the story aspects to focus on the Lifestream itself since we’ve all heard FFVII’s story regurgitated a million times over the past few decades. The idea of a energy powered by the emotions and thoughts of sentient beings is an interesting one that pops up often in fiction, but has no basis in reality. Or does it? Let’s take a look at a controversial “theory” of an energy that is powered by emotions and acts as a counter to entropy that is known as orgone energy or simply orgone.
I used theory in quotation marks above as this idea has all the hallmarks of pseudoscience, especially when you look at what supporters of orgone claim it can do. Orgone was developed by Wilheim Reich (1887-1957), a psychoanalyst who actually learned his trade by studying under Sigmund Freud himself. Reich became fascinated by the idea of the libido – no jokes from the peanut gallery – but Reich went further with the idea. While Freud argued that suppressing the libido could cause mental problems Reich believed that the libido was an expression of a powerful energy called orgone that when unbalanced could cause physical ailments, most notably cancer. Reich was somewhat unique among creators of pseudoscientific theories in that he believed that not only was orgone scientifically provable, but that it must be scientifically proven.
Reich’s orgone was interesting stuff. It had no mass but permeated the entire universe. It was invisible in its natural state but could coalesce to form solid matter up to the size of galaxies. This actually follows the theory of relativity on energy to matter, as all matter is energy condensed, with the exception that relativity actually exists. Now, the idea of energy based upon emotions is nothing new; we’ve become very used to terms like soul, chi/ki, and spiritual energy and this is the same vein. What made Reich’s theory so different is that he built machines to do things that could be physically demonstrated with orgone.
The most well known of these devices is called the orgone accumulator. When viewed from the outside it resembles a large wooden chest or bureau, but it is actually composed of alternating layers of things like wool, wood and various metals. A patient sits inside the closed chamber which supposedly concentrates the ambient orgone in the environment. By concentrating the orgone it could then be channeled to fix “imbalances” of orgone in patients, thus curing various mental and physical ailments. While cancer is the most common ailment that orgone is claimed to cure, a vast array of mental ailments can also be fixed.
Orgone goes beyond simple medicinal benefits. One of the more interesting inventions that Reich created was his cloudbuster. This large device featured a series of hollow metal tubes connected together by a series of hoses that allowed the collection of orgone energy from weather, allowing for weather control. The device was a psychic lighting rod which could funnel this energy to something that was considered an absorber of orgone, usually a body of water. By this method the cloudbuster could make rain occur, and multiples were built although only parts of one remain.
Interestingly, supporters claim that Reich demonstrated his technologies numerous times successfully. It is true that Reich offerered demonstrations of orgone equipment, and famously never accepted payment. The problems came when there was very little outside experimentation or verification of the theory. Also, a little known group known as the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities came down upon Reich as a damned dirty red possible communist. The HUAC was founded as a response to the filthy, blatant lies of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and existed to root out members of the Communist Party for subversive activities. Despite its very creation was the work of falsehoods, the committee outright ruined the lives of many on very, very spurious evidence, and all of this in spite of the 1st Amendment guaranteeing the right of assembly. But hey, since when has any Congress gave a shit about our rights anyway?
In a very interesting side note, an obscure California politician became a big name in politics when he stood up against his own GOP to absolutely destroy McCarthy in investigations. Richard Nixon became a force in politics for his righteous destruction of McCarthy’s arguments and actions.
But I digressed more than a little bit. Reich was investigated for possible Communist ties in the 1950s which also put a stop to his selling of orgone based machines. Within a short time span Reich was acquitted due to the small matter of not being a member of the Communist Party, but then another in the multitudinous arms of the State reached down to grab him: The FDA. The Food & Drug Administration didn’t even let the dust settle on the HUAC findings before launching an injunction against Reich that banned him from selling orgone devices until a hearing could determine their utility. The FDA actually found him guilty of selling fake medical treatments – or what those of us who are educated about the politics of medical tech call freaking snake oil – and had him jailed. They destroyed most of his machines and even burned every bit of orgone related literature that Reich had printed. This goes well with every single fringe science conspiracy because here’s indisputable proof that the government destroyed orgone items. The problem we have is that they didn’t do so because of a conspiracy of government officials and the medical industry to protect profit and status quo. A more accurate statement is that it’s a conspiracy of government agents doing their damned jobs.
The fact is very very little proof exists that orgone does anything or even exists. As with nearly any “alternative medicine” that comes up in discussion, orgone has been claimed to clear all kinds of horrible ailments that modern science still has trouble with but again, as with all alternative medicine, there is no concrete proof. Despite the fact that orgone has been theorized for 60 years there have been less than TEN peer reviewed studies on the idea. That should tell you just how “accurate” this alternative medicine is. It’s nearly ubiquitous for alternative medicine to have no evidence, let alone be peer reviewed. You know what we call alternative medicine that actually works? Medicine.
I don’t honestly believe for a second that orgone is what they based the Lifestream on, but I certainly believe the ideas that influenced orgone also influenced Lifestream. After all, the idea of emotions having an energy of their own is a staple across nearly every human culture so it’s not surprising to see a common idea come up in not only two very different roles, but two very different cultures. Lifestream and orgone have another, deeper connection: They are both elements of pure fiction.
As always, I hope you enjoyed reading and hopefully learning as well. I even made it through a full article with a guy named Reich without making one joke about Nazis… aw, crap. Until next time.