Let me be clear about something up front; I love Homeworld. Homeworld is one of the few games that I continue to play years after its release, simply because it is a stupendously good game. Homeworld 2, which is actually the final chapter in the Homeworld trilogy, is as near to a perfect game as I could ask for – and then the modding community made it better. All this said, I’ve always thought there was something to Homeworld’s story that doesn’t quite sit properly.
For those who don’t know, Homeworld is Battlestar Galactica by another name. It is the story of a group of exile humanoids reclaiming their ancestral planet, hence the name of the game. Unlike Battlestar, Homeworld is considerably darker in its tone than the disco sci-fi of Glen Larson’s television series. NB: the game predated Ron Moore’s reboot by about half a decade.
We open on a barely habitable desert planet called Kharak. One day, the Kushan, Kharak’s resident sentient life forms, sent an archeological expedition to the planet’s equatorial region. Thereupon the Kushan discovered the ruins of an ancient starship. Within the sand blasted hulk, they found two things: a hyperspace engine and a relic called the guidestone, a map that proved the Kushan were refugees from a distant world known only as Hiigara (trans. Kushani: our home). This revelation unified the oft-feuding Kushan clans with a singular purpose: a return to Hiigara. After nearly a century of work they launched the Mothership, a colony/foundry ship capable of making the journey to their ancestral planet.
Problems begin for the Kushan when their first hyperspace test violates the terms of a long forgotten treaty with the Taiidan Empire, the people who drove the Kushan from Hiigara ages ago. The Taiidan respond to this breach by igniting the atmosphere of Kharak, killing all the Kushan save for the six hundred thousand who were in cryogenic storage awaiting transfer to the Mothership.
Genocide in the first act. Now that’s how you grab an audience by the gender appropriate balls. There’s also at least two different historical/religious allegories in play by my count – Persian and Judean.
Venturing forth, the surviving Kushan brave the dangers of space en route to Hiigara. Along the way they make friends with the Bentusi, an enigmatic and technologically advanced race. The Bentusi serve two purposes in the game: first, they are arms dealers to the Kushan, providing them with directed energy weapons. Second, they are the political patrons of the Kushan. If the Kushan can get to Hiigara, then the Bentusi will summon the Galactic Council to hear their claim on the world. You could say there’s a special relationship in play between the Kushan and Bentusi.
Battling on, the Mothership arrives at Hiigara, which has since become the seat of the Taiidan Empire. Naturally, there is a climactic showdown with Taiidan Emperor, himself, which ultimately leads to a Kushan victory upon the arrival of the Galactic Council. In the game’s epilogue, the Council recognizes the Kushani claim on Hiigara. All’s well that ends well, right?
Except for one thing. What happened to all the Taiidan living on Hiigara? Imagine waking up on the day you pay off your space mortgage only to turn on the news and find out that your planet has been encircled by powers unknown. In the days that follow, said powers proceed to upend the political stability of your government. Later that week, a few of these “invaders” pull into your driveway touting a thousands of years old claim on your house. Apparently, your deed of ownership and a paid off bank loan don’t hold up against what might otherwise seem like scribbles on a rock.
Homeworld wasn’t only revolutionary for the fact that it literally brought a third dimension into the real-time strategy genre, but also for its sharp discussion on the rights of indigenous and displaced people. Who has the better claim on Hiigara, the people who used to live there, or the planet’s current residents? The Taiidan might have driven the Hiigarans off their planet in days past, but are the contemporary Kushan any better than the ancient Taiidan in reclaiming Hiigara? Consider Homeworld’s epilogue.
At first, Relic Entertainment’s creative team aren’t outright celebrating the Kushan victory as a triumph of good over evil. Reclaiming Hiigara came at a price in blood on both sides. It’s somber until the epilogue cuts to the image of Taiidani iconography being burned. So much for a two-state solution on Hiigara. While there’s nothing in the game’s mythos that suggests the Kushan executed a pogrom against the remaining Taiidan, flag burning doesn’t leave a lot of alternatives for interpretation. If the Taiidan want stay on Hiigara – assuming the Kushan don’t drive them off – they will have to assimilate into Kushani culture.
The sticking point there is the Kushan are a tribal people. A person’s standing within Kushani society, and indeed the government itself, is based association to a particular “Kiith” or house. In order to have any sort of station within Kushani society, an assimilated Taiidan would have to marry or be adopted into an existing Kushani Kiith. It’s hard to imagine that happening in the wake of the Taiidan exterminating millions of Kushan on Kharak. Without that act of legitimization, an assimilated Taiidan would have no chance for a voice in planetary affairs, thus becoming a voiceless minority on, what they perceive to be, their own world. Relic Entertainment might not have made this explicit in the endgame of Homeworld or the intervening plots of Homeworld: Cataclysm and Homeworld 2, but they provided enough back story and official mythos to make it an inescapable conclusion.
I don’t know if the developers intended to make Homeworld’s endgame a political quandary. Be that as it may, one exists. The historical allegories that underwrite Homeworld‘s story are the geopolitical debates of our day. The Taiidan, Kushan, and Galactic Council can easily be inserted into any post-colonial narrative you care to name. As a critical audience, we shouldn’t divorce those allegories from the discourses they evoke simply because the narrative isn’t explicit in guiding us there. Nor should we ignore this ending because the conversation it invites is a difficult one.
If reconciliation is impossible, must we fall back on the old Roman motto, Vae Victis: woe to the defeated?
I await your trolling.