If you own Destiny, then whether in your completion of the story, or in one of the relentlessly repeated daily missions, you have most likely played through the mission titled “The Archive” on the Ishtar Sinks of Venus. To refresh your memory, the in-game description of the mission reads, “Find the Collective’s lost Archive, sealed for centuries, in a vault deep beneath the Ishtar Academy.” If that doesn’t help, we understand.
The game’s story is one of its issues of most critical contention, and if the plot of this mission was lost to you along with the rest of the loosely strung together bits and scraps of info that Bungie calls a story then you definitely aren’t alone.
However, despite the conspiracy theory that the content was all gutted for the purpose of making more money by re-packaging it as expensive DLC, there is still a great deal of story material contained within the game’s lore system, known as the grimoire cards. If we follow the clues that we are given in “The Archive” mission on Venus, we are led to some of the game’s hidden story content within the grimoire cards. The clues are given to us within this in-mission dialogue:
Archive AI: Welcome, Dr.Shim. Please enter your security clearence code.
Ghost: Dr. Shim? Nevermind that. Let’s hit that terminal up ahead. This place is amazing. It’s bigger than the archives in Old Accra.
Archive AI: Thank you, Dr. Shim. Shall I begin correlation of Vex Mind Core samples?
Ghost: So polite.
Archive AI: Dr. Shim! Security breach detected! Intruders. Initiate Protocol 19.
If you’re anything like me, then when Peter Dinklage (Ghost) told you to never mind about Dr. Shim, you listened to him, completely forgot about it, and went on with your quest to pop the heads off of aliens with questionable motives. However, if you are more the curious type, you may have wondered to yourself, “Who the heck is Dr.Shim? And why is the Archive AI addressing me as such?” If you pursue those questions to their logical ends, you find yourself in the grimoire cards. The three that pertain to Dr. Shim are Ghost Fragment: Vex, Ghost Fragment: Vex 2, and Ghost Fragment: Vex 3. Feel free to read over the grimoire cards in full, but for now, let’s go over a simplified analysis.
In the first Vex fragment, we walk into a scene in which the characters Esi and Sundaresh, members of an Ishtar Collective research team, are discussing their analysis of a captured Vex specimen. Esi, the one examining the Vex specimen, meets with Sundaresh in his office to inform him that inside the Vex specimen’s mind is ,”a spectacularly high-fidelity model of a Collective research team studying a captive Vex entity.” In other words, inside the Vex specimen’s mind is an exact virtual model of the physical wold, but in higher definition.
Esi goes on to explain that although she cannot tell if the virtual Esi and Sundaresh have their own thoughts. The Vex specimen’s model does indeed show virtual Esi and Sundaresh to be in Sundaresh’s office discussing the nature of the Vex specimen’s mind. While Sundaresh is in disbelief that the specimen could have predicted their actions with such accuracy, Esi reminds him that the capabilities of a Vex mind are far beyond that of our own minds. Ultimately, the two come to the logical conclusion that if there is a perfect simulation of themselves inside the Vex’s mind, then for all they know it is indeed them.
In the second Vex fragment, Sundaresh and Esi are imparting what they have just learned to their colleagues Shim and Duane-McNiadh. At first Duane-McNidah is not so concerned, seeing the Vex simulations as, “Just copies.” However the rest of the team has a different perspective. Esi and Sundaresh insist that if the Vex is running an exact copy of their personalities, then it would be morally reprehensible for them to ignore the fate of their clones. They believe that if the Vex can hurt the copies and the copies would experience pain the exact same way that they would, then they need to have an emotional investment in their existences and experiences.
Shim however sees deeper into the conundrum. He ponders, “If it can run one simulation, maybe it can run more than one. And there will only ever be one reality. Play the odds. Odds are that we aren’t our own originals. Odds are that we exist in one of the Vex simulations right now.” In other words, they conclude that their entire reality is likely contained within the mind of the Vex – a.k.a. Vex-ception.
In the third and final Vex fragment, we are with the four members of the team as they decide how to react to their new discovery. As the team bickers, Shim is the voice of abstract reason saying, “Stop talking about ‘real’ and ‘unreal.’ All realities are programs executing laws. Subjectivity is all that matters.” In other words, Shim doesn’t care whether or not he is a Vex simulation because regardless of whether he is “real” or a Vex simulation, he is still himself. He is essentially reaffirming Descartes’ famous notion, “I think therefore I am.”
Sundaresh ignores Dr. Shim’s caveat and returns to the notion of real vs. simulation indicating that if they are indeed real people trapped within a Vex simulation, then they might be able to somehow break the virtual reality bubble by calling out to a warmind for help. Seeing the cleverness in Sundaresh’s logic, Shim agrees saying, “In the real world, the warmind will be able to behave in ways the Vex can’t simulate. It’s too smart. The warmind may be able to get into the Vex and rescue us.” As the scene closes out, the team realizes that the Vex may erase them for trying to fight back against it. So they savor their last moments, and hope for salvation.
Wow. That’s a serious mindfuck right there. What an awesome story. Destiny clearly has the material, so why aren’t they showcasing it? Why take a precious gem like this, that not only adds depth to Destiny’s story, but also provokes conversation about the nature of reality and existence, and then stuff it away, hidden deep within the grimoire cards that very few people actually take the time to read?
We might never know the answer to that question. But instead of being just another person that complains about Destiny not adding any of this spectacular sci-fi content into the game properly, let’s be happy that at least fans that do want to be immersed in the lore have the option to do so with the grimoire.