Monday, February 2, 2015

From Chi to Cyber: The Journey of the Lin Kuei in Mortal Kombat

Sometimes you play video games for the great writing.  Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Planescape: Torment are a few that come to mind, and certainly there are others (Bioshock, Dishonored) that I haven’t played yet but reputedly have great writing.  Then there’s Mortal Kombat.  I’m not sure how many people play Mortal Kombat for the writing, but I admit that I’m hooked on one of the subplots in 2011’s Mortal Kombat.

There are a variety of factions kompeting in the kombat (forgive me the many k’s), like the Blood Dragon crime syndicate, Shaolin monks, and ninja clans.  Among the factions is the Lin Kuei, a cult of assassins that turns orphans into devout killers.  What makes the Lin Kuei particularly interesting is their decision to move past the spiritual practices of chi and prana and begin the adoption of technology in their art.

By adoption of technology, we aren’t talking guns and knives.  No, the Lin Kuei go all out, hacking off the lower body of their assassins and building armored cyborg bodies with lasers and rocket launchers around what remains of their killers.

Some characters enter the process willingly, others are dragged kicking and screaming to the blades.  All along the doubters worry that having their bodies cut apart will cut apart their spirit, and disconnect them from perfection.

As a yogi and as a bionic man, this notion disturbs me.  Prana, the yogic counterpart of Chi, rides the breath, and flows through all the limbs of the body.  When connected to your prana, the yogi can move with complete integration of the body, and ultimately with world.  As that connection takes our awareness out, it also draws our awareness inward.  Ultimately we see that the core within ourselves is the same in everyone we see, and at the center of us all is unity with a piece of perfection.

(This is why yoga people seem so fucking relaxed all the time)

So while I practice an art of peace, and the Lin Kuei practice an art of war, it is the same kind of energy that we tap into as we move.  Once you’ve touched it, cutting someone off from that energy is, frankly, horrible.  But how much machine does it take to cut you off from perfection?

How many times have I heard the first harrowing description of Darth Vader?  “He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil.”
This guy lost his moral center even when he still had 95% of his original parts.

With that one sentence pop culture, even in the form of a movie deeply entrenched in eastern philosophy, teaches the world that the bionic and the spiritual are diametrically opposed, an idea that has spread through film and television at pace as fast as the spread of artificial organs and limbs through our bodies.  I am happy to report that this notion is, of course, wrong.

A few significant parts of my heart are artificial, made of Dacron and titanium.  Despite the very center of my being partially artificial and ticking like a clock, I am fully human, fully functional, and full of perfection.  My artificial heart valve may be loud, but it also keeps me focused and balanced.  Take that, Obi-Wan!

Ultimately that is the story of the Lin Kuei in Mortal Kombat as well.  The process of making them cyborgs does cut them off from themselves and their emotions, but it is a deliberate action.  In time one of the assassin-heroes, Sub-Zero, defeats the programming that cut him off from himself and turned him into a cold(er) killer, and returned to being the hero he strives to be.

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