Jordan Farley, Community Editor
Videogames aren’t short of memorable villains, but SHODAN – System Shock’s perfect, immortal machine – may just be my favourite.
She gets inside your head – a disembodied, discordant computer voice that continually torments you while traversing System Shock’s Citadel Station, and System Shock 2’ s Von Braun Starship. While her grotesque children The Many provide the physical threat, SHODAN embarks upon a none- too- subtle form of psychological warfare. “What is it you fear?” After a few hours in SHODAN’s company there’s only one answer.
She’s cut from the same circuit board as 2001’ s HAL 9000 with one crucial difference: while much of HAL’s homicidal actions can be explained by malfunctioning hardware, SHODAN is completely aware her decisions will result in death and destruction after her ethical restrictions are removed by the first game’s militant hacker. She’s an AI with a god complex, and frequently likes to remind you how little she thinks of humanity. “You move like an insect. You think like an insect. You ARE an insect.”
Across the two Shocks she has a fascinating character arc. In the first she’s in full control of her surroundings – for all intents and purposes she is a god. By the second she’s almost completely powerless, forced to co- operate with the insects she despises, including the player’s cybernetically enhanced soldier. And boy is she mad about it. Where HAL remains chillingly calm, even in death, there’s passion behind every syllable SHODAN utters.
Eventually SHODAN gets her hands on a reality- warping drive, using it to shape the physical space around you to her will, and then comes the inevitable knife in the back. “You travel within the glory of my memories, insect. Make yourself comfortable… before long I will decorate my home with your carcass.” It’s good to have you back, SHODAN.
In some ways it’s a blessing that System Shock 3 remains unmade. Too many failures and she’d turn into a GLaDOS- like joke, one step away from being trapped in a potato. For now she’s down but never out, immortality finally achieved.
SHODAN is voiced by Terri Brosius, former Tribe keyboardist and the wife of System Shock 2’ s sound editor Eric Brosius. SHODAN’s name stands for Sentient Hyper- Optimized Data Access Network. To misquote Joss Whedon, sounds like someone really wanted the initials to spell out SHODAN. Ken Levine, the writer and designer of System Shock 2, is currently scripting a Logan’s Run remake. After System Shock 2 Irrational Games went on to make BioShock – a spiritual successor to the Shock games.
SHODAN: a megalomaniac not above being petty. Remind you of your boss?