The Wonder of Past Civilizations

I’ve mentioned before the fact that the original Xevious game seems to be set in Peru. I say “seems to be” because during Xevious’s introduction there wasn’t an abundance of journalism in the video game world, and games were released on the public with very little explanation or background information.

The Solvalou could be flying over one of any number of jungles (or even forests, for that matter) except for the Nazca lines that scroll into view every now and then. These are the elements that clearly identify the setting as Peru and, if I had to guess, one of the major reasons for setting the game there. As design elements they’re just so compelling. I’m surprised they haven’t been mined to exhaustion for “exotic” cultural cache the way that, say the pyramids or Stonehenge continue to be.

Like the pyramids, they are massive structures still striking in their scale to this day. Like Stonehenge, they were created by ancient, pre-Bronze-Age societies using a means of construction and infrastructure it took modern researchers a great deal of time to parse. And their exact function of the purpose behind their creation remains a mystery.

Leading ideas tend toward calendars, since the orientation of certain features in both structures seem to line up with astronomical sightings and phenomena that may have been occurring in the era of their construction. It is fascinating for me to try to imagine civilizations with technological systems that included vast structural arrays to function as calendars. The people that developed the Nazca lines (and the one that build Stonehenge) were pre-literate, which means the only way they had to record their experience and sustain their culture was to build. They expressed their formless, abstract thoughts and feelings by hewing them into the very character of their landscape. A vast, inscrutable alphabet of stone and earth. How impossibly wonderful.

There is something incredibly powerful to me in the image of unknowable people in the deeps of time toiling on some huge, fantastic project for alien motives that we will never know or understand… yet they still reach out from the past and touch us now.

It’s like hearing a distant whisper in a language barely understood. It’s impossible not to seek it out, even though there’s no way of understanding the message.

It often makes me think now, of the distant civilizations yet to come in our future, and what they will read in the orientations of our cities and the character of our landscapes. Of course easy answers are available – there’s no hidden message to urban planning, only solutions to engineering problems – irrigation and sewage, support and structural issues, the flock-like behavior of social organization, etc. But I like to believe that the people that follow after us in the coming millennia, be they post-human or extra-terrestrial, will have cognitive faculties we can’t imagine. And they will look at how we built our world and decode powerful messages about how we interacted with our world that we don’t even understand ourselves, because they remain hidden in the subconscious hieroglyphics of our fabricated environment.

As a writer, there is very little subtext to my job – I’m supposed to make sense of the world and organize it in such a way that expresses an idea that illuminates it. But that is, after all, what everyone does as they move through life as their author of their own lives, be they artists or mail carriers or surgeons or architects. We look at the ancient world and it presents to us a rich, complex narrative written in a language we can barely grasp. It’s a great regret of mine that I won’t live to have the perspective to read the story we’re all currently writing.

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