Limbus Company's cautionary tale on tech ethics
A retrospective of Canto III and IV: a commentary on all aspects of tech development in disguise.
The buzz surrounding the recent web revolution permeates far and wide among the gaming industry due to its intrinsic link to technology. It is no strange coincidence then that games often touch upon topics of technology such as artificial intelligence, nanomachines, and robotics. Each developer has their own way of incorporating them into parts of the game to tell a tale, either with rosy blooms or grimy dooms.
Just minutes of surfing the mobile gaming waves and you'll be wowed by how many of them are vying for a sense of relevance, of being on topic, by portraying tech-related elements in their characters, worldbuilding, and storytelling. Oftentimes we see games with their cast assembled from cyborgs or artificial intelligence.
Other times we have games that try to spin a cautionary tale regarding rogue technology which often centers around Artificial Intelligence; Punishing Gray Raven is also similar in the delivery of that message, except the messenger takes the form of a robotic plague. However, there is one game that branched away from the tried-and-tested theme and explores the uncontrolled use of technology with biology. In this week's column, we take a crack at Limbus Company. And yes, we are well aware of how Limbus Company was caught up in the heat with South Korea's contemptuous gender social issue, but we are not here to explore that.
For the uninitiated, Limbus Company is a live-service venture developed by Project Moon, best known as the minuscule team that developed Library of Ruina and Lobotomy Corporation on Steam. The former is a free real estate battle simulator-slash-library management game while the latter is a compact SCP Foundation simulator game where you are assigned the prestigious role of a facility manager to keep unprecedented threats at bay. Beneath that veneer lies a compelling universe with rich lore meticulously crafted by Project Moon, with a strand of continuity connecting all the games together. Limbus Company is no exception and is a spin-off that aims to expand the narrative of Project Moon’s universe. It's probably late to mention at this point, but my entry point into this universe is through Project Mili's world.execute.me that I happened to chance upon during my Arcaea playthrough.
Leaving the aforementioned Steam titles aside, Limbus Company sees you playing as a manager sporting both a dapper red look and a clock for a head. You lead a motley crew of twelve sinners with grassroots to classical literature, leading them through a hellish world collecting McGuffins known as Golden Boughs. In true Project Moon fashion, Limbus Company pulls no punches when it comes to gore and violence that can irk the faint of heart but also stand out in a market where most mobile games tend to shy away from edgy horror.
Technology versus anti-technology - two sides of the same coinThe first chapter serves as a nice prologue, showing how amoral and grim the Moonverse can be, with the second being a snarky commentary on social inequality in terms of the wealth gap. This theme rears its significant head in Canto III as well as the lengthy Canto IV. Spoiler alert: tread with caution - you’ve been warned.
For context, Canto III reaches its climax during the confrontation against N Corp and one of your sinners - little Sinclair - as the centre of the show. Now, N Corp made a distinction with their dress code as these whacky crusaders with loose nuts in their heads with the same fervour as the Bread Boys. Here is where the theme shines through in the form of their operative motto: cybernetics or robotic replacement for carbon-based body parts is considered the highest form of taboo.
The killing fields of perished man-machine hybrids
In the air, there are talks about enhancing humanity by fusing flesh with machines, much like the procedure Emil Sinclair's family had undergone with the logic that mechanical components can eliminate any physiological complications. While we have yet to reach that sophisticated level of cybernetic engineering, humanity’s continuous strive for optimisation to maintain our status quo as the apex predator manifests with ideas such as gene editing. In 2018, a controversy stirred the gene editing scene when a Chinese professor crossed the red line with reckless abandon to ethical practices. This transgression garnered condemnation from experts worldwide.
Another argument comes from the viewpoint of religion. As sacred scribes or any cosmic super-being tucked away in a fabric of reality dictates, a human's flesh-borne vessel is sacred, and the alteration with mechanical parts is deemed hubris. N Corp takes the mantle of those Crusaders from the medieval ages who hammer that sacred mindset deep in you.
As countenance, the other side of the camp would raise the burning question: What if marrying flesh with mechanical components is a life-saving solution to a doomed life, especially for amputees devoid of a limb or plagued by chronic, incurable disease (or in the case of Emil's family, amplified day-to-day productivity by shedding away physiological needs such as feeding and drinking)? After all, the right to happiness and good quality of life are tenets set out by humanity's governing bodies around the world, deprivation of which is deemed a violation of those rights. Is it logical to forsake the transformation of humans to posthumans just to fulfil that abstract moral quandary?
Progression versus regression
This is amid the entertaining flurry of heated exchanges between the scholarly Dongrang and Dongbaek who both shared a strenuous history - the latter being the disillusioned colleague to Yi Sang and ex-superstar of K Corp with grand accomplishments under her belt. Her allegiance with the Technology Liberation Alliance to blast everything back into the Stone Age as a gambit against unethical tech using the Concept Incinerator stood out as a shocker. However, the thing that ignited my spark to write this article happened during the rising action in Canto IV - during the encounter between a high-ranking executive from the technophobic alliance and Faust, the game showed self-awareness and retorted through the enigmatic Faust as its vessel, expressing yet another chilling line.
“Once accustomed to the luxury brought by technology, people won’t be able to withstand life in the past…”
For context, Canto IV is a big ordeal and undertaking. And personally, it is a crazy train ride rife with witty commentary on bio-engineering and corporate ethics with K Corp being the embodiment of all evil as the centrepiece. In the public's eyes, K Corp is a national treasure responsible for laying the foundations for their prosperous economy, thanks to their range of innovations such as the K Ampule - a serum capable of healing any fatal wounds within a matter of seconds once injected. However, behind the scenes, chickens were amputated while being continually injected with it. The confinement of livestock to depressing conditions is a topic for another day. The point remains - at the expense of other beings we derive gains for our own kind.
The gruesome manufacturing process of K ampule
I stand firm with Faust's response. Going by the logic of nature, who in their right mind would want to turn their tail on the luxuries offered by modern technology? The thought of wanting to put a halt to progress is asinine. Instead, shouldn't we advocate for moderation of technological advent under the scrutiny of an ethical framework? After all, given the option to choose between a Nokia brick phone and a state-of-the-art iPhone, the latter would be the de facto selection compared to the vintage button phones.
At the risk of sounding like a semi-Luddite, I will play the devil’s advocate and maintain my stance that technological breakthroughs must be reined in. Breakneck speed without ethical moderation can open another can of worms and cause a massive societal upheaval. As a matter of fact, in the wake of these LLMs, we see an eruption of tireless lawsuits out of fear from stakeholders concerned with copyright (and again, let's not discuss this in this article). Hence, to secure the interests of all parties involved for a common goal, ethical development is paramount to achieve pan-humanism.