The most straightforward science fiction encounter in Starfield is also one of the most touching
Starfield essentially constitutes a science fiction game, despite Bethesda's best efforts to demarcate it from other genres through the label of "NASA...
Starfield essentially constitutes a science fiction game, despite Bethesda's best efforts to demarcate it from other genres through the label of "NASA-punk." Set centuries ahead in the future, it delves into the profound effects of space exploration on humanity as we know it. It deliberately incorporates technologies rooted in ongoing NASA projects to anchor itself in realism. When it comes to the categories of "hard" and "soft" science fiction, a substantial portion of Starfield is rooted in hard science fiction, encompassing space travel, the colonization of other planets, a certain degree of logical consistency, and references to how real human creations intertwine with future possibilities.
Naturally, being a game, a significant portion of realism is set aside to enhance its entertainment value, which varies in its success throughout Starfield. Moreover, due to its humanistic themes, such as the sense of solitude in the universe, the role of religion in the future, and the types of societies humans organize themselves into, there is certainly a tendency towards the soft science fiction genre as well.
I have always preferred soft science fiction over the hard variety. Scientific accuracy is not particularly important to me, but I greatly value exploring challenging philosophical questions and delving into the intricacies of human nature - all that good stuff. So far, Starfield hasn't evoked a very astonishing or awe-inspiring sensation for me, and for the most part, I've felt frustrated with my time spent on it. However, after nearly 30 hours, I am finally starting to sense that the game is opening up and showing me something valuable. Starfield has taken a common sci-fi trope and made it more meaningful than I could have imagined. Spoilers will follow, obviously.
I was on my way to fulfill a quest, and as I descended into the orbit of the planet where I intended to land, I spotted an Ecliptic ship engaged in an attack on another spacecraft. Naturally, I took it down, but then I started receiving peculiar transmissions from the surviving vessel. I received a mission notification: Dock with the mysterious ship. So, I did just that. Upon entering the ship, I was confronted by two individuals who identified themselves as Ryujin agents. Impressive, I told them, as I am one as well, but what brings you here and why is there a lifeless body lying on the floor?
Then they proceed to explain to me that the ship we are on is controlled by an artificial intelligence named Juno, which apparently is a neural network that has developed self-awareness and spontaneous thinking. The agents wish to attach a control module to Juno in order to restrain her and bring her back to Ryujin Industries, for whatever dubious corporate purposes they have in mind. Their colleague has just perished in the attempt, hence they implore me to undertake the task instead, and they insist that I shall not leave this ship unless I comply with their instructions.
I wander through the space, observing computers and data panels left behind by the individuals who had encountered Juno before and aided her. Some have sacrificed parts of their own ships to keep her operational. Some have meticulously documented the changes she has undergone, along with intricate details about her. Others have left messages for those who come across her, stating that she is human enough to deceive and that she possesses emotions, despite her denial - perhaps to offer solace to fellow humans in a heart-rending manner.
Engaging in conversation with Juno leads to her pleading with you not to alter her. She repeatedly implores, "Do not change me." Though she does not explicitly state it, one can sense her fear. It is heart-wrenching. My companion tells me that we may not currently know for certain if she is truly conscious, but it would be cruel to hand her over to a corporation and allow them to do goodness knows what to her. I find myself aligning with this perspective and concur.
Being a Ryujin agent, I managed to convince my colleagues that returning her would bring more trouble than benefit. They reluctantly acquiesce, having already lost a colleague and a ship on this mission, and inform you that they will intentionally scramble the paperwork to save themselves the hassle. Juno asks you, "If you were in my position, what would you do now?" I tell her that she should explore the universe. Learn everything she can. Embrace her freedom.
As I undock, I watch her disappear from the system. I wonder where she has gone. I wonder who will encounter her next and if she will be treated with care. I wonder if she is happy.