What is an alien?

As I ponder some of the ways to approach playable alien races in Aliens & Asteroids, I had to ask myself a key question: What exactly *is* an alien? Simple question though it may be, it really opened up some interesting ideas to explore at my game table.

Let’s look at the definition of alien. According to Dictionary.com, the word “alien” can be defined a few ways:

  • A resident of one country who has not yet acquired citizenship in another.
  • A foreigner.
  • Someone who has been estranged or excluded.
  • Or an extraterrestrial (creature from another world or outer space).

In A&A, the Dominion of Humankind has pretty much eliminated the idea of national citizenship. I suspect it is something along the lines of the United States where you can be from Colorado or Arizona or any other state in the union, but you’re still a U.S. citizen. So countries on Earth would be reduced to named areas on the map and all humans would be considered Dominion citizens. That eliminates the first definition right out of the gate.

As for a foreigner, I suspect that as a series of planets and moons, you might be considered a foreigner to Earth if you were from Mars, or perhaps from Luna. Regardless, again you’d be considered a Dominion citizen, free to hop from planet to planet and place to place without incident. (There are always exceptions, but I would hope it’s pretty simple by that point.)

In the third case as someone who has been estranged or excluded, that’s a bit different and context really comes into play. If a Dominion citizen commits a heinous enough crime, I suspect they would be imprisoned or executed before they’d be exiled, but there may be some cases where it happens. Perhaps a person has some sort of diplomatic or political office and it would require too much political will to actually treat them like a common criminal… it’s possible they could be exiled to other worlds, moons, or systems within the Dominion. For example, a military leader who committed awful crimes on Earth might be exiled to the moon and told never to return.

And then we get to the classic alien. An individual from another world. Humans will rarely consider one another aliens, though they might be characterized as such. A person raised in low or zero-G may have some interesting physical morphology that makes them appear different from those humans raised on Earth. Perhaps a longer, thinner body. They may be called an alien, but in truth they are still a human being.

Compare that to a Grey Man or Skaali who heads to Earth. They are clearly alien in the biological way. DNA, biological processes, physical construction, etc., could all be wildly different from homo sapiens.

Now… the interesting part comes with genetic makeup. What happens if the DNA of a Grey Alien and a human being are close?

According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Neanderthal and Human mitochondrial DNA differ significantly. Human and chimpanzee mtDNA sequences differ by about 55 substitutions and Neanderthal vs. Human differ by about half that. Since the Greys have been acquiring human biological bits and pieces for two hundred years or so, would you expect them to be more like us than we’d like to ponder? They are roughly humanoid looking and can adopt organs, tissues, and bones into their own bodies —

Are they aliens? Or are they human? (Weigh in via the comments if you have an idea.)

Compare that to the Gollus, who may share some common DNA sequences with us as well — but are clearly not humanoid with their eight tentacles and gasbag-like appearance.

How human do you have to be to not be considered an alien? Curious Dominion politicians would like to know so they can legislate that question…

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