What about the politics of Midgar itself and its characterization?
The first question to ask is whether Midgar has a government. This is a particularly tricky question because, as I remember, the word government was used in the script exactly once and even when the word was used, it wasn’t entirely clear if the character was talking about a government in the way we would understand it or speaking of the Shinra Electric Power Company which seems to serve in place of a government.
Later in the story, you are introduced to the singular government official referenced in the storyline, the Mayor of Midgar, Mayor Domino.
He seems to have no power, describing himself as a glorified librarian and the power he does have was not given to him by the people or by any sort of democratic process. Instead, he was appointed by the Shinra Electric Power Company as a puppet to trick people into believing they have a level of control over the city they live in. Instead of representing a government, he is more a vestigial feature of the idea of government that has long since been absorbed into the Shinra corporation.
There is also President Shinra.
He serves in the capacity of CEO of the Shinra Electric Power Company which is not an elected position but is reserved for a member of royalty. He is, after all, one of the titular Shinras and presumed owner of the Shinra Corporation. When he dies during the game, it is his son who takes over the company and, through succession, control of Midgar.
And then there’s the so-called “chief warmonger” himself.
The man befitting this ominous nickname is none other than one of Shinra’s executives, General Heidegger, named after the German Philosopher, and more importantly, a real-life Nazi really compliments President Shinra’s pseudo-fascistic worldview.
Like our real-world oil companies, the Shinra Electric Power Company is willing to do terrible things to maintain its power. Even though President Shinra claims to be acting in the interests of the people, he clearly doesn’t care about their individual lives. It’s not just that he forces those whom he cannot profit from to live in the slums; nor just because he blew up two reactors to try to frame Avalanche so that he could retain power. No, my friends, even later in the game, he commits an act of mass murder and drops one of the eight plates on sector 7 in an attempt to destroy Avalanche completely.
One of the things that scares me about President Shinra is he really believes that in consolidating all of the power, he’s doing the right thing for the people, or at least he seems to have convinced himself of that. He actually realizes what his reactors are doing to the planet, and yet knowing this, he justifies his actions in the thought that not acting would be worse for everyone.
The reality is that Shinra controls everything. In this respect, Midgar is a bit of an anarcho-capitalist wet dream or nightmare depending on how you look at it. I don’t think of anarcho-capitalists or libertarians as actual anarchists because, in my mind, an anarchist is opposed to all unjust structures of power, which corporations certainly can serve as; but it also seems to be the opinion of many self-described anarchists that what anarchism actually means is merely the opposition to government structures, and viewing anarchism this way leaves a big hole for corporations to wedge themselves in exactly the way the Shinra Electric Power Company has in Midgar.
As I said, asking if Midgar has a government is a tricky question. It isn’t the only or even the most popular hypothesis. Many see Shinra as an authoritarian fascist police state, and I’d certainly agree it seems that way. However, without any regulation at all, corporations tend toward monopoly the way fascism tends toward mono-party. Whenever a single corporation owns everything, including what little scraps are passed off in this game as a government, it would likely come to function as a fascist police state, using military force to protect its ability to extract wealth from all threats foreign and domestic.
We see this dynamic play out directly in the game in Sector 6’s Wall Market. This area of the game operates independent of Shinra and without any rules or laws imposed by them, and yet it is ruled with an iron fist by Don Corneo, one of the antagonists of the game.
He has his own group of burly thugs that enforce his will within Wall Market and this lack of laws or societal structure leads to rampant drug use and thriving sex trade that mainly serves Don Corneo and his men. This seems to solidify the idea that if capitalism is left without a centralized structure to impose decency and regulation, a society tends towards a singular ruler who enforces their own version of the law, even without a government, in a way designed purely to serve their own interests.
So if thinking of Shinra as a bunch of fascist jackboots does it for you, go ahead, but recognize that regardless, this is the future that anarcho-capitalists, perhaps better known as libertarians, are trying to enable.
Again, I don’t think of anarcho-capitalists or libertarians as actual anarchists because in my mind, an anarchist is opposed to all unjust structures of power, which corporations certainly can serve as.
In addition to controlling the entirety of the power grid, Shinra also controls the police force, called public security even though they are owned and operated by a private corporation. Run-ins with public security are frequent during the course of the game but that is not the full extent of their control over society.
Through General Hiedegger, they also control an invasive military force led by SOLDIERS, genetically altered supersoldiers made with either Mako or cells found from the body of an alien creature named Jenova that arrived on a meteor.
And then there’s Sephiroth, the iconic villain of the original.
Sephiroth had his genes manipulated from conception with Jenova cells, making him the most powerful soldier by a wide margin. He was a loyal warrior to Shinra and was considered a war hero before he was said to have been killed in battle.
Before his supposed death, Sephiroth learned the full extent of his history and that of the Ancients. Shinra mistakenly believes Jenova is one of the Ancients, and because of this, so does Sephiroth. So, he believes the Promised Land is his birthright, and with clear eyes, he can see Shinra’s intentions. They are sucking the planet into lifeless oblivion. So, in order to have Gaia and the Promised Land, he vows to end Shinra, and humankind alongside it. Sephiroth sees his life and his lineage as being manipulated by humans, and by summoning a meteor he plans to save the world by wiping out everyone on it.
This sort of plan might seem ridiculous, but it’s similar to a political line of thought called accelerationism. The premise is, things suck and will slowly get worse, so, to force people into a state of revolutionary change, the accelerationist desires to speed up the decline. A socialist accelerationist, for example, may seek to hasten the collapse of capitalism to hurry along with the transition into socialism. An accelerationist Democrat may want Trump to win reelection precisely because they think of him as a terrible President. They imagine the damage a second term may do to the long term credibility of the Republican party.
So ultimately, accelerationists see the world as bad and getting worse and want to make it worse faster so it can finally begin to heal on the “other side”. But, we are promised no other side, and by the time we get there, we may be already too far gone. Instead of hitting the gas and plummeting off a cliff, we must instead hit the brakes, turn ourselves around…
and start forward to progress and the bright future we know is possible.
In the rest of this 5-part series, I’ll show you the three-tiered class system, built right in the city by design. In the final installment, I’ll discuss the invisible hands of fate and how they shape our world. Tune in next time or check out more of my work at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDfnoYQUfECzpS5r_f7mFUA