In the classic science fiction DOS game, Star Control 2, you’re a human captain asked to contend with a variety of different alien cultures, who have a host of different possible reactions to the things you do and a fairly interesting broad range of wants and ideologies. My normal go-to example of the work done to make these cultures interesting is the Ur-Quan, who basically are two cultures engaged in a literal war over who’s got the better unhealthy way to reckon with their personal trauma.
And like, Star Control 2 is still at its root a game which is basically giving you individual people to chat with, with a slightly slack memory. Like, these aren’t cultures cultures. They’re a single surface of a culture that it sometimes implies that there’s degrees within that culture, with individuals that don’t necessarily comply with the standard you’re presented. The Vux have Admiral Zex, the Spathi have the Black Spathi Squadron (and Fwiffo, to an extent), and the Zoq-Fot-Pik show the way their culture varies within itself just by their constant bickering. The Slylandro talk amongst themselves right in front of you, showing they’re not all these vast monocultures.
This isn’t true of all cultures, though. In this space bursting with life, you have cultures that just don’t get that much variety, so they’re kind of ‘lesser’ cultures. The Supox barely get any screen time. The Druuge are just capitalists. The Umgah are Ettin.
One of these ‘lesser’ cultures – who you can still bully into joining your alliance, mind you – is the infinitely pugnacious Thraddash.
Thraddash are a small culture that controls only a few spaces, including one enormously fortified home planet where you can obtain an important artifact necessary for a quest in the game. When you first encounter them, it’s going to end in bloodshed, because the Thraddash are really stupid, and no matter what you try, they’re going to eventually break out in a fight. They look a lot like I guess a kind of anthropomorphic hippo, chewing cigars and occasionally bursting out with loud laughter, HARG HARG HARG. They’re kind of hard to talk to, because uh, again, the instant leaping to violence at the earliest opportunity. How are you going to get through to this culture, to learn more of them?
Well, you have to kill them.
I mean it, the Thraddash are so into violence, that if you just keep killing Thraddash they eventually go: Hang on, this Captain’s pretty good at killing things. Let’s talk to them, and you get to talk to this culture of complete dipshits, and eventually you get to learn the story of the Thraddash culture. Or rather, Cultures.
Thraddash civilisation it seems, is divided into eras of each Culture, like they literally draw a line and decide ‘this is when we are now a new culture.’ These cultural lines are drawn through the violent and absolute overthrow of the previous culture. So, Culture Three demonstrated their dominance over Culture Two, but Culture Three were overthrown by Culture Four, perhaps because Three’s idea of a demonstration of power was to sever one of your own limbs and threaten your enemy with it.
Culture Nine pointed out how stupid their adoration of a single alien artifact was and how many people were dying. Then Culture Ten took over, two weeks later, killing off Culture Nine, indicating that the alien artifact was clearly even more important than they thought originally, and went on a violent purge killing everyone who disagreed.
Culture Fourteen sought to quell their violent urges because it set them back five hundred years. When Culture Fifteen overthrew them in a bloody war, it only set the culture back two hundred, three hundred years, tops, showing that clearly, Culture Fourteen was wrong.
Blood is red, bruises are blue
When strangers come here, we run them through!
HARG! HARG! HARG!
You get the pattern, right? Whatever Culture lasted, it’s always shown as the Culture of violent goons that were able to take over the previous Culture and prove that Culture wrong somehow. Very rarely has the Culture takeover been of a more thoughtful, more sensible leadership, and when they do, they tend to get killed off. What’s more notable is that these names – Culture Two, Culture Three, etcetera – indicate that these are the entire culture, but the fact that they’re at war with each other over their ideas prove that they absolutely are not monocultures.
The Thraddash got into space, despite being bad at cooperating and good at fighting, and despite the constant cultural resets and the eventual imposition of actual slavery, they still managed to claw into the stars. There’s no actual stated explanation for how this culture managed to get to outer space, whether they were uplifted by the Ur-Quan when they were conquered, or if they already had access to space travel before that point. Hard to say. They do have Thraddash engineers, who they talk about doing modifications on their ships – which suggests that they are capable of making and maintaining the ships themselves.
Either way, the Thraddash you encounter are loud, aggressive, quite stupid, and charmingly goonish. In a world where there was a proper sequel to this game, I’d love to imagine seeing ways that the Thraddash culture developed variety, different types of Thraddash.
We never got that, though
What we get instead are these absolute idiots, bumbling their way through space like it’s a bar at two in the morning, constantly bellowing YOU TALKIN TO ME when something bumps them, even if the thing that bumps them is their own elbow against a desk.
Anyway, you can wind up becoming their Great Teacher. You can tell them to talk in rhymes. You can tell them to talk in Pig Latin. Those are kind of funny, but what’s really funny is when you tell them to emulate Humanity in their pursuits. They do this by having no standard behaviour – they will vary their introductions depending on who they’re dealing with. They’ll try to extract all information they can from everyone they meet, even threatening them, and then when they’re 100% certain they can win the fight, blowing the person they’re talking to the living fuck up.
The Thraddash are very funny and I’m very fond of these utter idiots.