Reconciling the Past: Interpretation
How can everything be true?
Here is my stance on Canon, and I’m sure it will disappoint everyone at once (but hopefully interest you as well).
Everything is true
Yep, everything. Ultima is high fantasy. It is rockets to other planets. It is demons and balrons. It is blasters and reflect armor. It is runes and syllables of magic. It is time travel. Ultima IX happened. Ultima II happened. Ultima X Odyssey could happen. Its all true.
If we accept anything as Ultima canon, we have to accept the Quest of the Avatar. It is the building block for every game after the Age of Darkness. In that game, we learn the most important rule for how to deal with Ultima.
If Infinity teaches us anything, it is that all things exist. We may not like them all, but they must exist as Infinity is the sum of everything. We have to be willing to interpret the games using its own ideology, so let’s look at Infinity.
First, let’s look at the Codex symbol. This is a representation of Infinity, the Principles, and the Virtues. However, while it may seem to only represent what is inclusive in the Virtues, it actual contains everything, virtuous or not. Of course it focuses on the Virtues, but that can only be expected.
Notice that the Principles are centered, and that they are bordered by the virtues that they constitute. The bottom circle is the Principle of Courage. The line below touches only that circle, so must be Valor. Above and to the right is the Principle of Love, and the diagonal line to the right of it is Compassion. The line that runs along both of them combines both Principles; Sacrifice. Similarly, the top left circle is Truth, and Honesty runs left of it. Atop Honesty and Love is Justice, and along Honesty and Courage is Honor. In the center of the diagram is a small circle, touching all three Principles; this represents Spirituality. Around the entirety is a circle, touching no Principles but encompassing them nonetheless; this is Humility.
Outside the circle of Humility, is infinite Void. Paraphrasing another series, “It surrounds them and penetrates them; it binds them together.”
Infinity is What We Make of It
If we look at each piece of Ultima lore as deserving of inclusion, there is no reason why it must be excluded. One map calls the port south of Britain “Britanny Bay”, while another labels it “Britannia Harbor”. One source says the Lands of Danger and Despair were wrenched away to become the Serpent Isle, and another says they were destroyed outright. Which is correct? Perhaps they all are.
These are the methods I use when I try to make sense of what we are shown, in the context of a game.
- The Novel-Screenplay Phenemenon
When your favorite novel is turned into a movie, there will invariably be cuts. Some plot will be lost as it consolidates dozens of reading hours into a 120-minute running time (or often, far less). There are technical limits to movies to consider: a release date, budget, increasing cost, and a time limit. Games share some of these same limitations, and have similar results.
The way to take this is, everything that we see in the game happens, but not everything that happens is “on screen”.
- The Scale of Story
Games are “drawn to the scale of story”; that is, important things are bigger. That is why you can walk from Trinsic to Britain in the opening minutes of Ultima VII, rather than travel for a week. The world is not to scale, but is instead designed to maximize the “important”, and minimize the “trivial”.
Games are a work of art, and while art often imitates life, it does not follow the same rules. It proposes the fantastic, but avoids answers to the questions the fantastic would raise. For instance:
- Magic is real in Britannia, yet relatively few people utilize it in their day to day lives. Why would someone denign to do sewer work, when a single spell could scour the entire area?
- If the cities and shrines were created post-Exodus, and moongates exist to link them, why is the known map in Ultima IV blank? Even magic should be able to reveal the landscape of the world, yet no mages thought to create a map?
- Britannians themselves are unlike any of the Earthlings that travel to their land; they are not very adventurous, there is little innovation over the centuries, and they are easily swayed by symbolism. Are they another species (Homo-sosarias)?
Next up will be my view of how everything can co-exist, in peace and harmony. Stay tuned!