weyland consortium

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One of the most overlooked aspects of Prometheus is its deep connection to the David Lean film Lawrence of Arabia. Sure, Peter Weyland name drops T.E. Lawrence in his cornerstone TED talk. Lines like “big things have small beginnings” and “there is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing” are direct quotes from the film. And David is seen watching the film while the rest of the crew sleep away the journey in cryo-sleep but really this only just scratches the surface.

Weyland himself identifies heavily with T.E. Lawrence implicitly and explicitly labeling himself as “superior” in both his first and last appearances in the film. He is a man set on changing the world in spite of the “rules, restrictions, laws, [and] ethical guidelines” of the existing rulers. Lawrence himself was wont to buck authority, conventional wisdom, direct orders, and even what was commonly understood to be physically possible. Weyland declares “we are the gods now” with the same fervor and commitment as when Lawrence, after bringing Gasim out of the dessert, looks Ali in the eye and says, “Nothing is written.” They are men who understand that it is up to humans to change humanity and if you indulge them they are willing to change the world.

Of course, however, the main parallel with Lawrence of Arabia comes to us through the lens of David. The android played so brilliantly by Michael Fassbender has almost religiously patterned his person and appearance after Peter O’Toole in the epic film. We see him watching Lawrence of Arabia while bleaching and parting his hair to reach as close to Peter O’Toole’s infamous visage as he can. David has developed not only his image but also his mannerisms and speaking patterns around the character of T.E. Lawrence. While he works he sits and recites to himself Lawrence’s famous line about how he handles the pain of extinguishing a match between his fingers: “The trick, Willam Potter, is not minding that it hurts.” This is where the connections begin to burrow even deeper.

One of Lawrence’s defining characteristics in the film is his ability to endure inhuman amounts of physical discomfort, social humiliation, and even bodily torture. His refusal of water and rest until the Bedu are willing to take them for themselves leads his initial companion to ask “Are you certain you are not Bedu?” He is a stranger in a strange land but he suffers his indignities and powers on with his agenda.

David is very much the same. He is an outsider in a world of flesh and blood humans. He suffers the indignity of being treated as a servant or an appliance despite his contributions to the missions – contributions which he no doubt views as superior to those provided by others. Many people would attribute his general lack of affect to his nature and limitations as an android but I truly believe that this is a conscious choice by David. He views himself as special: a purpose built creation much like Lawrence was a man with a destiny. He speaks with Holloway about how disappointed Holloway would be if humanity’s creators had the same justification humans had for creating him: “Because we can.” This scene (which is visually analogous to a scene in Lawrence of Arabia where Lawrence discusses his purpose in the Army while bouncing billiard balls around a pool table) gives us an insight into David’s actual psyche. To me this scene makes it clear that David DOES feel on some level and is merely being the good soldier, forging on to his objectives all the while not minding that it hurts.

David’s relationship to Lawrence of Arabia is even more personal than all this however. Both David and Lawrence are essentially bastard children of famous fathers. They are seeking approval and validation for an existence that is proving to be less than their promise. David is seeking the love and praise of Weyland as much or more than Lawrence is for that of the Arabian people as well as his surrogate father figure Mr. Dryden. While Lawrence is somewhat betrayed by Mr. Dryden claiming there have always been plans to take Arabia from the Arabs, David is betrayed by Weyland as he is reduced to a mere demonstration of human ability to the Engineers. David so deeply wants to be praised and appreciated for his achievement that as the Engineer reaches down and caresses his face we can see the moment of pure ecstasy proving once and for all that David does in fact feel. Of course this is immediately followed by the Engineer ripping his head from his body and using it to kill Weyland. This is an echo of the moment when Lawrence takes Damascus in a great victory for the Arabs only to have their rule disintegrate to infighting and luddism.

David and Lawrence both sought greatness only to be reduced to ruin. They both endured inhumanities and displayed great strength. These bastard sons of greater men did amazing things only to let their hubris and pride turn their victories to ashes in their mouths. David’s deliberate replication of the lifestyle and living image of Lawrence of Arabia is truly a powerful and sadly ironic statement. Perhaps both David and his father should have paid closer attention to the end of the film to see what really happens to great mean with limitless ambition.

-Andrew

Start of buisness day.

Start with a light mocha. Rogers is on line one reporting on the latest sales numbers of the new Hadrian’s play set. It’s going to be this year’s best selling toy. Elizabeth calls after her press conference. Everyone loves her; that last hostile takeover is already forgotten.

Jackson Howard is on loan from NBN, and is on line three. He thinks he’s got a way to make those old geothermal fracking plans viable again, though he’ll have to work them through R&D.

Line four buzzes. It’s the Space Elevator Authority. Someone picked up some “interesting” logs from that hack that trashed what was to be a very valuable set of government contracts.

Six hours from now, a series of unexplainable explosions will level a city block containing an outdated Weyland Consortium building, tragically costing the lives of several dozen residents of a nearby apartment complex, along with one scum-sucking piece of shit runner who REALLY should have known better than to fuck with your money.

You finish your coffee. It’s going to be a good day.

Weyland. Building a Better World.

Netrunner: Every deck tells a story

My entire life, I’ve been disappointed by “cyberpunk” video games, even the ones I thought were good. The reason why is simple. Plenty of games let me walk around in rainy, neon-lit urban dystopias, and yes, I love this as much as anyone. But what these games often focus on is the experience of shooting people in these environments, or maybe of punching people with cybernetically enhanced arms. 

You know, meatspace stuff.

What I wanted more than anything from a cyberpunk game was the experience of entering cyberspace, a realm of pure information, making a run on some megacorp’s priceless data, and encountering some deadly, seemingly impassable piece of ice the corp has in place. Then would come the thrill of slamming just the right icebreaker into my rig to exploit some infinitesimal weakness in the corp’s code, something that lets me carve a hole the size of a pinprick in the corp’s defenses, but that pinprick is all I need, because this is cyberspace, and here, a hole a needle can’t even fit through is endlessly vast because the only thing that needs to pass through it is my consciousness. 

Expecting games to transport me to a realm as abstract and spiritual as this may be a bit much (though at times, Rez comes close). When cyberpunk video games do try to work hacking into their play, the experience is often so mundane that I wish they hadn’t bothered at all. But last year, I found a game that gives me what I’ve always wanted from a cyberpunk game–Android: Netrunner, a card game for two players in which one takes on the role of a corporation and the other plays the part of a runner who is trying to hack into the corporation’s servers. 

I never expected the game to do it to be a card game, but now, of course, it makes perfect sense. With William Gibson as my escort, my earliest trips into cyberspace were facilitated by my imagination. There’s no reason why it should be any different now. What I love about Netrunner is the way in which every deck I put together has stories woven into it; stories about the life of a particular runner or the unscrupulous operations of a particular corporation, and when my deck collides with that of my opponent, those stories play out. 

This happens because the theme of the game and its mechanics complement each other seamlessly. With almost every card, its mechanical function and its description mesh in such a way that a narrative takes shape over the course of a game. I understand and get invested in the life my runner is living, or in the happenings at the corporation I’m running. 

For instance, this is Noise, one of the game’s many runners:

And this is Wyldside, a seedy club.

Wyldside has the benefit of giving you two cards, but that comes at the expense of one action. (Normally drawing one card costs one action, so with Wyldside you net one extra card, but with the downside being that you don’t have a choice; you lose that action no matter what if this card is in play.) 

So with Wyldside in effect, part of my experience of the game becomes the idea of Noise (or whichever runner I’m using) staying out too late every night in this seedy club, making connections there, getting his hands on new hardware, new software, the stuff that lets him fuck with the corporations during the daylight hours when he finally drags his ass out of bed after partying too hard at Wyldside the night before.

I love this game’s cast of characters. There’s Kate “Mac” McCaffrey, who’s as skilled with nuts-and-bolts hardware modification as she is with beautiful code that can create doors in corporation ice where none exist.

There’s Elizabeth Mills (seen here on the Scorched Earth card), a ruthless executive for the Weyland Consortium, one of the game’s four corporations. 

From a narrative standpoint, my favorite runner is Valencia Estevez, an investigative journalist digging into the corporations’ doings to give a voice to the voiceless.

I imagine her risking her own life to be a thorn in the corp’s side, using the work she does…

…to put the squeeze on the corporations and hold them accountable.

I find myself thinking about Netrunner all the time. I admire the elegance of its systems, like influence (the number 15 you see on all the runner cards in this post), which lets you pull in cards from other factions like you’re calling in favors. I build hypothetical decks in my mind, wondering about strategy and the effectiveness of pairing this card with that card, sure, but also thinking about the narrative possibilities. Can I build a Weyland deck, for instance, that’s all about how vicious and vindictive that corporation is (see Scorched Earth above) and how it tries to brush aside the human consequences of its projects by presenting those projects as as progress, rejuventation, and urban renewal? 

Android: Netrunner is a living card game, and the newest series of cards, called the Mumbad Cycle, focuses on India. I love that both the game’s world and its mechanics are alive and in flux, constantly becoming richer and more colorful. I’m just as eager to discover the narrative texture of each new “data pack”–the people and locations, the hardware and software–as I am about seeing the actual functioning of the cards. 

The way it all fits together is beautiful. And when I make a run on a corporation’s server, using my icebreakers to slip past their defenses, dive into their systems, and swipe some precious, glowing core of data, it feels just like I always imagined it would.   

It’s late. You’re hungry. It seems like you’re always hungry these days. The buzzing of the cheap fluorescent lights in your apartment are starting to get to you. You grit your teeth and check the fridge again. There’s nothing in there but three month old soy-beef burritos, just like it was two hours ago, when you last checked.

“ALL GOOD THINGS COME DOWN THE BEANSTALK,” blares the Weyland corporation advert outside your window. It does that every three hours. It gives you a migraine every time, without fail. You pick up your piece to shoot the damn thing out of the sky out of frustration. Your hand waivers as you line up the sights of your gun to that obnoxious neon piece of shit. You take a deep breath. No. Bad M-Byte. You’ve got two strikes already. Destruction of corp property will pack you away for good.

You slump down in your seat in front of your rig. You’re sick of it all. Of being hungry, of the headaches, of the constant reminders of how much more is out there, and how little of it is yours.

Fuck it, why shouldn’t it be yours?

You slot into your rig, lining the jack up with your spinal interface, and popping it into place. There’s the rush of adrenaline as your brain connects to a computer almost ten times as powerful as the hunk of meat in your skull.

You’re not fucking around tonight. You pull up the connection data for Weyland’s financial departments and your own bank accounts with a single thought.

One part rage, two parts desperation and a dash of inspiration later, and you’ve diced your way past the ICE protecting Weyland’s precious, precious creds. The sight of Weyland’s holdings spiral downwards while yours skyrocket… it’s almost better than that last trip to Wyldside where you got stimmed up out of your brain.

You jack out, fifty thousand creds richer than you were a few hours ago. You crack your knuckles and hop out of your seat. Wyldside sounds good about now, you realize. A new wardrobe, a few new appliances around the apartment… hell, there’s always that new bistro up in Heinlein all the riste assholes are talking about. Maybe it’s time you paid them a visit.

After all, what good is it being a Criminal if you can’t live it up?