Matter Of Perspective: Mass Effect – Humanity’s Hubris

Usually in these articles I like to examine one or two characters from a title and look at things from their point of view. However, the Mass Effect series allows for a much broader scope, so I’ve chosen not to simply focus on a couple of characters but instead look at how humanity itself is perceived by the other races of the galaxy.

Although the Mass Effect series does boast a wide range of species, what it really boils down to is a tale of how great humanity is. The most obvious way this is portrayed is through Shepard, who discovers the existence of the Reapers and their aim of killing off the intelligent societies of the galaxy. Ultimately, he pursues the Reapers and leads a small team to face them, despite being constantly hindered by the Council and intergalactic politics.

Shepard’s heroics serve as analogue for humanity as a whole’s supposed superiority.

However, there are other ways humans are shown to be among the elite of this galactic society. For example, humans gain a seat on the Council despite there being dozens of other races who would like one and probably deserve it more than humanity.

I mean, just look at the other members of the Council. The Asari are on there because they discovered the Citadel and became the primary negotiators, The Salarians due to their scientific abilities and the Turians because they are the biggest military force in the Galaxy and can act as the peacekeepers.

By comparison, humanity kind of just blundered onto the Council due to the attack on the Citadel. Although humans certainly provided a significant victory, was it really reason enough to grant them a Council seat?

I’d argue that the Volus deserved a say in setting policy far more than humans did, mostly because of their role in creating and maintaining much of the Citadel space economy. Without the stable economy they’d worked to create then any long lasting form of government would be pretty much impossible.

However, if it’s another military force that Council want, then the Krogans should have a chance. They were brought up to fight in the Rachni Wars, which could have seen the loss of the Council and Citadel had they not taken part. If saving Citadel space is enough for a seat, then the Krogans did it long before humanity. Of course, post Rachni War political tensions destroyed any chance of this, but their actions in the war still should have earned them a seat.

No, humans aren’t mediators like the Asari, as efficient in science like the Salarians or the biggest military force in the galaxy like the Turians. They didn’t stabilise the economy like the Volus, and the Krogans were their first when it comes to saving Citadel Space. So why did humanity reach the upper echelons of galactic society in such little time while others waited for centuries?

[drop]The answer is humanity’s collective brashness. Humans became known to the Council through the First Contact War. Unlike the relative peaceful introductions of other Citadel species, humans came in guns blazing. From that introduction humanity did what humanity does best; expand and claim.

Dozens of worlds soon became human colonies. While other races would expand relatively slowly, humans went out in force and claimed anything they could.

On one hand it could be seen as excitement from a new space faring race, eager to explore. However, on the other hand it clearly demonstrates the power humans can wield. Some races could even have seen the pace with with which humanity expanded as empire building.

It’s not like this expansion was harmless to other races either. In fact there was one group above all others who suffered from humanity’s hubris.

The Batarians had been part of the Citadel community for almost 2000 years before humanity turned up. Though Batarian relations with the rest of the Citadel could be described as delicate at best, they still had an active embassy dealing with Citadel politics, as well as their own expansion program; a program which was disrupted by humans, leading to the ultimate downfall of the Batarian civilisation.

The Skyllian Verge was an area that the Batarians had been colonising for sometime but this came to a stop when humans also started claiming worlds there. Worried their efforts were being undone and feeling threatened by this show of human force, the Batarians asked the Council for help and to declare areas of the Verge as a places of Batarian interest.

They were denied. Feeling betrayed by the community they had spent millennia interacting with, the Batarians left and returned to their own system.

This event eventually led to the Batarians backing illegal groups like pirates and slavers, though this was put to a stop by the Human Alliance. The Batarians fully retreated and were left to their own devices.

This isolation made them vulnerable when the Reapers came, with the majority of Batarians being wiped out. While humanity isn’t fully to blame for this chain of events, the extinction of an entire race was still an unintended consequence of their desire to expand.

The introduction of Cerberus adds further credence to the suggestion that sections of humanity are a threat to the other races. Cerberus believes that humanity should be a more dominant force in the galaxy and should obtain said dominance by any means necessary. Of course the Alliance hates them, but I find it ironic that in a game where Cerberus is supposed to be the enemy we get so many nods to how brilliant humans are, while everyone else seems to flounder.

Ironically, the Illusive Man best represents humanity’s portrayal in the series.

During Mass Effect 3, the Reapers unleash their full scale attack against every major civilisation in the galaxy. Every world that had the presence of advanced intelligent life is almost simultaneously attacked, with billions killed or harvested. Earth is one of those worlds and Shepard is sent to get help.

That’s not wrong in itself but the way it was done kind of was. One event that really sticks out is when Shepard goes to find the Turian leader to get help for Earth. The most striking thing during that whole sequence was the Turian home world burning in the background. Shepard is told that one of the bright orange spots that can be seen is the Turian capital ablaze.

However, this doesn’t deter Shepard from his aid mission. Immediately after helping to repel a Reaper attack, Shepard pretty much demands assistance for Earth. The Turians have just suffered a devastating attack and without even allowing the Turian leader time to coordinate a full recovery and regrouping of Turian forces, the demand to go to a meeting is issued.

After watching so much destruction it feels callous and like Shepard is dismissing the Turian situation, blinded by Earth’s and humanity’s needs.

And this is what Mass Effect is really about. Sure there is a story of a galactic community having to overcome odds to fight a common enemy but the real meat of the story is of how humanity are the main saviours, leading others into war.

All throughout the Mass Effect games you come across individuals from other races who fear or despise humans. Within those small conversations it is easy to dismiss them as bad or wrong, but when you think of humanity expanding so quickly or causing a civilisation to go rogue then maybe those sentiments aren’t bad.

Maybe if the Reapers hadn’t appeared humanity would have been the biggest threat and danger to Citadel space.



  1. Great read. Playing the Citadel DLC a few weeks ago has me wanting another Mass Effect game soon!

  2. Thought provoking, and I agree entirely. I am sure all the other animals on this planet view us as the disease.

    In terms of ME3, any news on an edition with the all/some of the dlc bundled together? I’ve been holding off as I can’t stand the thought of playing through an incomplete game, and the cumulative price of the game and dlc is far too high (about £60-70?).

    • Not sure what platform you’d be looking to play on. But last weekend I managed to find a new copy on PC for £7 from greenman gaming. That’s a lot of game for the price.

      A well written article, I can’t find any fault with the logic, or the summing up of galactic politics.

      I sort of agree with Avenger. The “Big picture” plot is not really anything we haven’t seen from many space opera films/novels/and tv series. But at the same time, there were many choices I had to make throughout the 3 games at a more personal level that I had to think long and hard over, that still stick with me.

      Making those choices have consequences that play out over the course of all the games is what sets it above all others for me.

  3. Interesting article. The one thing that really lost interest for me with the Mass effect series, aside from the terribly told story and 2D characters, was stuff exactly like humanity’s camaraderie and the relationships between races which were uninteresting. The politics never mattered, we just got some conventional and stereotypical ‘humanity comes first’ ideas. I know a lot of people liked mass effect, but as a writer, the story was simple and boring for me. Liked KoTOR though, much better personally.

  4. Very interesting piece, however backing humanity’s corner here, lol:

    Could you ‘blame’ us?, when we, as a species venture out and find ourselves no longer ‘top of the tree’ as it were.we are not the smartest, the physical strongest, nor do we have the biggest military clout.Must have put the wind up a good few souls, so no wonder a mass panic to start expanding, get new tech, people on our side etc.

    Humanity had a look at the bigger picture and did’nt like what it saw.We had to act fast, get noticed, be considered a worthy species etc.Sure we made mistakes but is it not human to get things wrong?.

  5. just how wonderful humanity is seems to be a theme of many scifi stories.
    the aliens are always remarking how humanity has such spirit, how they’re often weaker, less technologically advanced, or don’t posses remarkable powers like the aliens do, yet they prevail through sheer force of will or something.
    or humanity has some important part to play in the future of the galaxy, either they’re descendants or inheritors of some long dead ancestor race and their secrets, and the key to saving the galaxy/universe.

    but then being written by a human it will tend to have a human centric view.

    i’d love to be around when/if humanity does make open contact with an intelligent alien race.

    i’d love to see how attitudes would change.
    would more scifi be about how humanity has to deal with a suddenly much larger universe rather than humanity being the savoir all the time?

    i find sci fi written from the non human perspective very interesting.
    a great writer can make a totally alien species seem totally alien yet still believable.

Comments are now closed for this post.