182. Abundance (IV)
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
The computer game series Command and Conquer has sold millions upon millions of copies over its twenty-six year lifetime; it may continue to do so, as these modern entertainment sagas do, for decades to come. C&C is a topdown realtime strategy game; the player controls an army—and also manages its capacity to gather resources and build units. The game mechanics compel, but so too does the background story in which the game takes place; indeed, C&C has been known from its inception for camp—though compelling—narrative arcs, told through short introductions to each mission or level of the game.
C&C replicates the geopolitical situation in the mid-1990s, when the game was first released: the two sides are the Global Defense Initiative (effectively America and NATO) and the Brotherhood of Nod (a religious terrorist organisation). The game reflected the emergent dynamic of conflict between the US and her allies—often under the aegis of the UN—and small paramilitary groups, religious or nationalist, such as al-Qaeda. The old superpower conflict was over.
The game includes a science fiction conceit: Earth has been bombarded by meteorites and these contained an organism called “Tiberium” that leeches minerals from the ground via deep root networks and then blossoms into crystals on the surface. The crystals can be harvested and used for new technological purposes—yet Tiberium destroys the land it grows on, it creates a desert; and the material is hazardous to humans. The Brotherhood of Nod enjoys a religious relationship to Tiberium and thinks that the technology associated with it can lead humanity to a new stage of development, a tech-gnosis: biology and technology as spiritual relationship. Their nefarious leader is Kane; the real Cain was, of course, exiled to the Land of Nod after the first murder.
C&C was built on a game engine that was originally made for a series of games tied to the novel and movie Dune. The franchise is highly mythological, being set on a desert planet where a spice called “Melange” (Tiberium) forms. Contact with the spice can lead to esoteric abilities (tech-gnosis). Frank Herbert, Dune’s author, modelled his tale on his local Oregon sand dunes—these became the desert planet of Arrakis. As with all good myth, Dune is an image—a reflection of Oregon dunes fused with mystic-warrior races who speak the language of jihad and the Tao. Tiberium threatens to turn the Earth into a wasteland—just like the deserts of Dune, a desert that contains a magical material: the spice.
In C&C the nominal villains, Nod, are modelled on the heroes of Dune. In Dune, the heroes become a quasi-terrorist band in the desert—allied with the Fremen (freemen), the wild desert nomads. The hero, Paul Atreides, follows the dictum “the sleeper must awake” and, in doing so, achieves messianic powers. He achieves a kind of tech-gnosis aided by the spice—just as Nod in C&C wish to achieve an awakening through Tiberium.
It is said Cain built the first cities; his brother was a nomad with the sheep, he followed the path of milk; Cain followed the path of war—as did Nimrod the hunter. The Nod faction in C&C represents the Gnostic awakening found in Dune, the left-hand path—the path of Kane (Cain), associated with the masculine solar principle; from the cities comes technology, war, and, eventually, tech-gnosis. “Nod” is said to mean “wander” in ancient Hebrew; so Cain, the settled farmer, is sent to wander for a time as a punishment, just as the underground terrorist network Nod do in C&C and Paul Atreides does in Dune.
The mythological appeal of C&C is, therefore, its replication of the structure of Dune—a series that already spoke to people on a fundamental level—in a new form. This knowledge should also give us pause to reflect on who the “bad guys” really are in C&C: should we play as the mystical Brotherhood or as the UN-financed GDI? Every game always gives us an option…