To mend and defend, a discussion on Reboot’s guardians and users

I come from the net. Through systems, peoples and cities to this place: Mainframe. My format: Guardian, to mend and defend. To defend my new found friends, their hopes and dreams. To defend them from their enemies. They say the user lives outside the net, and inputs games for pleasure. No one knows for sure, but I intend to find out. Reboot!

Anyone who has watched Vancouver-based Mainframe’s Reboot knows this motto by heart.

This little speech played at the beginning of every episode – with some variation between seasons – gives watchers the briefest of looks at the universe the show takes place in and Bob the Guardian’s place within it.

He protects systems, he defends his friends, he reformats viruses, and he plays/beats the Games that threaten to destroy systems. It’s pretty clear cut life, but let’s take a closer look at the end of the motto.

“They say the user lives outside the net and inputs games for pleasure, no one knows for sure, but I intend to find out.”

Although the User takes a backseat to the other plots in the show, the first season sees sprites and binomes banding together in order to save their systems from this unknown and destructive force.

There’s no pleasure in fighting the Game Cubes. It’s hard work and people end up dying. For places like Mainframe, Games destroy lives.

Lose in a game and you become a fucking Null.

Lose and you become a fucking Null, a fucking Null.

More that Megabyte, Hexadecimal, or Daemon, the Games are the universe’s most destructive force. They travel through cyberspace as floating cubes of death ravaging places like the Damaged System in season 3 episode “Icons”.

Binomes have to be praying in their little square beds every night that the User will be merciful and not destroy the world they seemingly created.

Then pops along the Guardians, an all-powerful force meant to combat the User’s Games.

They arrive in systems with never before seen weapons and abilities, and even with Key Tools that can create portals to other words. They spread the good word of the vengeful User saying it’s their job to find out who or what it is. They are, as it stands, the only defence against the Game Cubes and 9 times out of 10 a Guardian will end up beating the game and save a sector of the city.

Kinda, convenient, ain’t it?

Imagine, you’re just some binome or sprite suffering from the ravages of the User and suddenly there’s a person telling you that they have the power to control this unknown force. Now they’re also saying the Games are just misunderstood and should even be revered as a sign of the User. It’d be the biggest slap in the face… until the Guardian somehow defeats the Games.

Suddenly the User isn’t a threat and people no longer have to worry about imminent deletion. The Guardians become saviors and they can even convert sprites and binomes using Emergency Code 95-10 by downloading their programming into them.

A Guardian could even be mistaken as a User like Enzo was in “Icons”. They almost get the same respect as the User, much like a religious envoy would.

It’s a religious order for User’s sake, indoctrinating cadets into their militarized police force and using their overwhelming technology to protect some systems while letting others disintegrate for no apparent reason.

But there are vagaries in how and why the Guardians operate the way they do.

Sometimes Guardians are good like Bob and sometimes they’re like Turbo who make hard choices like blowing up Mainframe with a bomb.

"To mend and defend" more like "To be a big jerk face"

“To mend and defend” more like “To be a big jerk face”

Yup, during the Web World Wars in season 2 saga, Turbo and a council of Guardians, in fear of the web creatures escaping the system, decided they were going to blow Mainframe up. Luckily Bob was able to take the detonation device far enough away from the city to prevent any real damage, but the end results were pretty nasty.

It’s about this part in the series you start to realize that there’s something going on with the Guardians, something unsettling. There are even some conspiracy theorists within the show thinking along the same lines.

In the episode “Trust No One”, Agent Fax Modem (a play on Fox Mulder from The X-Files) say something pretty interesting about what he thinks the users are all about.

“There is no User. It’s just a mass induced psychosis engineered by the Guardians,” he says.

“What? But what about the games?” Bob rebukes.

“Sent by the Guardians to promote the user myth,” he says.

“So the Guardians are control freaks who are willing to sacrifice the very people they are meant to protect by dropping games on them??”

“That’s right…”

That one piece of dialogue, aside from poking fun at The X-Files and Reboot, gives us a bit of insight into the possible connection between the Guardians and the User.

Cyberspace, the Net, and the Web

In the beginning there was the void. Then there was a sudden flash of light.

This explosion of data, bits, and bytes created three planes of existence with a possible fourth hidden away. Throughout the hours, the separate spheres of existence compiled themselves into the forms we know them by today.

In the centre of the universe is the Net, home to systems, people, and places. It’s also the home to the Super Computer, a force the Guardians use to help secure the Net against outside threats.

On the periphery of the first ring is the Web, a wild place filled with odd creatures and confused geometry. It’s not exactly a place you’d want to go whether a binome, sprite, or virus.

"I'm not weird!"

“I’m not weird!”

And then surrounding all of this Cyberspace is another sphere: the Realm of the User.

While the User exists outside of Cyberspace, its presence is still felt within the systems created inside of the Net. Although everyone believes in a single User, many speculate that there are several with one unique to each system.

What is constant: the User controls everything, the User is all, the User is God.

Or so the myth goes.

This is a plausible explanation for how the world of Reboot came to be, but I think it’s important that viewers know that the show’s setting might not literally be in a computer. There’s nothing to say that the User isn’t a man or woman at a computer screen, but it defeats the purpose, and fun, of this discussion.

In our real world, we exist as mere humans in the shadow of the awesome universe. So do Bob, Dot, Enzo, and Frisket, but they’re much closer to knowing their own God than we are.

Aristotle believed God was simply a measure of perfect forms existing in an unreachable plane, Descartes believed it is entirely plausible that our world doesn’t actually exist and we are simply brains in vats being fed electric impulses, and Bob believes that God is a being that exists to play the Games.

No one knows for sure how Cyberspace was created or how the Guardians were formed, but there exists a hierarchy surrounding the User myth and an order when we start watching the show.

The fact of the matter is the Guardians exist to control the Net. They patrol systems for viruses that are a threat to the natural order like the Web creature let loose in Mainframe. In order to protect the rest of the Net, Turbo will blow up the entire system.

Or maybe the Web creature was let loose inside of Mainframe to show the rest of the Net how much damage one could do to any system. Mainframe being an ideal system with one of the Guardian’s most evangelical members would be the perfect testing ground and crater to rally the systems behind eradicating the web creatures once and for all.

The entire incident shows just how pervasive the Guardians influence can be. Is it not equally plausible that a force like the Guardians who have control over Inter-Net travel through portals, the most powerful operating systems in Cyberspace, and a veritable army of soldiers that they could somehow be the force behind the User.

Could the User be someone or some kind of algorithm created during a time long ago that has been co-opted by the Guardians to wrest control from the individuals of the Net?

To Divide and Render

During the third season of Reboot, we witness the dissolution of the Guardian Core.

Although most of us hate Daemon and the films that came after the show’s three seasons (My Two Bobs…), her antics gave watchers an ominous look into just how much power the Guardians had before the great infection.

Through the portals created by the Guardians, Daemon is able to spread her infection to help bring order to the wild west that is the Net. Even though she is an exceptionally powerful virus even able to take over the Super Computer, she’s still unable to create portals without the help of the Guardians and their Key Tools.

What the mind-controlled Guardians bring about is the wholesale destruction of Cyberspace, so what was preventing them from doing this before?

You know, don't you?!

You know, don’t you?!

Well, for one it’s in the Guardian code to protect systems, so you can’t expect to get by saying the Guardians are evil, but they sure are able to turn a blind eye to threats and focus on the big picture even when things are dire in individual systems.

We know for a fact that Bob is not evil, right? Maybe a little naive and perhaps a bit of a religious zealot believing it’s the Guardians’ duty to reformat, not delete, viruses, unlike his former mentor Dixon Green.

And we all know how that ended…

But the problem is that no matter how strong the Guardian mend and defend code is, all it took was one super virus to take over the entire lot of them and bring Cyberspace to the brink of destruction.

Even when returned to their former glory, the amount of power they hold inside of the Super Computer is unsettling. Without their Key Tools, which left during the height of Daemon’s infection, they are able to hop from system to system on an adhoc basis for surveillance.

Now that the Key Tools have returned, Daemon has been destroyed, and fail safes against such an invasion of their brains, we can only assume that the Guardians are more powerful than ever before. Maybe they’ll take a lesson from Daemon and try to quietly infect systems in order to control them… OH WAIT THEY ALREADY HAVE WITH THE GAME CUBES AND USER MYTH.

***

Ahem… I think at its core, the Guardians are an altruistic force. However, their organization leaves a lot of questions unanswered about the power their wield, their right to control the universe, and what secrets they hold about the User.

Imagine if the User was simply a myth used to control systems through the Game Cubes. It makes sense if we think of the User as a human being. Who would play video games if each time you won it destroyed a chunk of your computer?

It’s questions like this that make Bob’s little microcosm (more like a microchip) of the sprite condition so interesting to study. While he’s the protagonist, while he’s affable, while he’s all around good, he’s an evangelical believer in the User. That’s like having that one really nice, but also really super religious friend that makes you super uncomfortable, yet we don’t have our “God” in this world wrecking shit up… unless you count natural disasters, diseases, wars, or anything else “God” can be blamed for.

As much as Reboot is a kids show, it’s themes deal with some pretty interesting topics through the guise of it existing in a computer. Kids had to contemplate the nature of existence and if there really were Bobs, Dots, and Enzos living in their personal computer at home.

It’s also not every day that a kids show could make you think about metaphysical issues, but it’s really only in hindsight that we get a chance to really delve into things like the User myth or the Guardians’ control over the universe. Much like the binomes and sprites within stable systems, kids are just too busy minding their own business or fun to see the possible machinations that control their everyday lives.

As Fax Mulder said, we suffer from an mass induced psychosis blaming something ineffable for all the horrible things in that happen in the world. Well, the people of the Net probably have a better cause to as the Game Cubes actually takes chunks out of their systems on a regular basis.

However, with hints of their being a new season of the show (and there are always hints), I can only hope that Mainframe will give us a little more lore, a little more food for thought, and a lot more Fax Mulder to stir the pot.

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