They said the Wilds could never be tamed. If only they could see us now.
Here’s the tl;dr version of Bastion’s setting. You know how JRPG worlds often feel like medieval Europe and medieval-Europe-flavored fantasy run through a strange and colorful culture grinder? Bastion’s landscape is like that, except its raw materials largely come from North America.
Now, the long, spoiler-filled version.
In Bastion, your character belongs (or belonged) to a migrant people from a vague Motherland across the sea. From their City upon a hill, they spread out across their adopted continent, subduing the wilderness, mining energy resources, and so on. And they built a wall, and kept pushing this wall outward as they grew — that was the hero’s job. It was a culture paradoxically fascinated with acquisition and intent on keeping unwanted elements out — a culture happy to accommodate, if not entirely accept, foreigners willing to serve as laborers, foreigners such as the inhuman but intelligent Windbags.
You can see the grimdark potential there (and I guess it is a post-apocalypse story, after all). But Bastion’s as fun as it is partly because it isn’t just an extended metaphor. It takes North American cultural artifacts and makes them fit in a fantasy world. For example, the mechanical bull becomes an idol, an object of worship. (Note, also, that religion in Caelondia is a commercial enterprise.)
In their efforts to domesticate the wilderness, the Caelondian Brushers found themselves at odds with a whole bunch of spiky plants.
Let’s get back to the history, though. It’s important.
Eventually, inevitably, the Rippling Wall reached the borders of the Ura, a people not content to assimilate and become miners and trash collectors. And here’s where it gets difficult to drop appropriate links. The Ura aren’t a clear analogue for, say, the Native Americans or Mexico, though you could make a case for one or the other. Suffice to say that they were residents of coveted land, people with a civilization in place, and that war ensued. It’s a familiar story.
And it might’ve been a long story, but it was made short by the Mancers of Caelondia, who devised a way to close off the ancestral burrows of the Ura. It didn’t work, for various reasons. The result is the fragmented, floating world in which the game takes place.
Expansionism with shattering consequences. Fair enough. Except in Bastion, you can undo it — you can turn back time, if you so choose.
Is it wish fulfillment on a grand scale? Well, not exactly — before you’re offered the choice between rewinding the world or living with the consequences, you’re reminded that there’s really nothing stopping the Calamity from happening again. Maybe it’s inevitable. How far back would you have to turn the clock before that wasn’t the case? How many time loops have we been through, anyway?
Bastion’s final lesson, then, seems to be that history, big mess of causation that it is, is complicated. That to write history is to guess at things.
What does it mean to pursue the past at the cost of the present? What does it mean to shoulder your less-than-sterling heritage and move on? And why isn’t Bastion a standard text in every U.S. history class ever?