Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Conspiracy and Subtly

Was there more to the ending of Mass Effect 3 than people thought, and if there is does it even matter?

As always due to the very nature of anything talking about the ending of a game that is less than a month old, please be aware that there are unmarked spoilers a plenty. You have been warned.

Alright, just a couple more posts about Mass Effect 3, I promise. Tomorrow I get a little more esoteric about the ending of the game, and about gamer culture in general, but for today I think that I'm on fairly solid ground for the most part. Basically the ending to Mass Effect 3 has been one of the most divisive finales that I can think of in terms of the outpouring of negativity it produced in the fanbase. Some couldn't care less, some seem to care far too much (a point I'll cover in more depth tomorrow), but some saw something more...

It wasn't too long after the game came out that something came to a head. I can't honestly think of a more appropriate term to use other than conspiracy theory, but that's only for lack of a better one. Although it isn't a complete fit, the idea that the Mass Effect 3 ending was telling the audience much more than what was being presented on the surface is a movement that has gained momentum and popularity. This video which is perhaps the most polished work of the "Shepard's Indoctrination" theory has been making the rounds on many sites:

It's a hefty video, coming in at a little over twenty minutes, but to summarize: proponents of "Shepard's Indoctrination" theory would hold that the games final scenes, as well as the choice that Shepard makes, play out only in Shepard's mind, rather than in reality. The idea is that Shepard has been slowly being indoctrinated throughout the course of the trilogy, and that the effects of said process are now coming to a head. The people that Shepard interacts with are facets of his mind, and the final choice that is made reflects whether Shepard falls prey to the Reapers or fights off their influence to come back to reality.

The theory is at least somewhat compelling, although I can't fully weigh in as I haven't played the games. What is presented does raise questions, but when at the end of the video they challenge opponents of the theory to come up with a plausible explanation for all the inconsistencies a mere two words lept into my head: bad writing.

If a person ascribes to the Indoctrination theory then they are giving BioWare a lot of credit. I honestly believe that even if said theory turns out to be true (or perhaps adopted by BioWare to somewhat downplay the lacklustre nature of the ending as it stands) then I still, in all honesty, believe that said credit has been misplaced. There are mainly two reasons for my saying so:

A point that this Forbes article brings up and that I stand behind is as such; if this is not the true ending of the game, then when and how will the true ending be delivered to the players? The article makes it a point that if the Indoctrination theory was true, and turned out to be a twist before the climatic final act of the story which was continued directly after then fans would have been amazed, BioWare would have reaped huge amounts of praise and people might have been happy. But if the ending is to be sold as DLC that one has to buy at a later point, then it's essentially a betrayal of the highest order. Saying "hey, want to know what really happened? then shell out more cashdollars please" would be tantamount to spitting in the face of the collective fanbase.

Even if the DLC would be free, and released at a later time, there's still an issue. I talked to my friend about all of this, got his perspective on it, and he said something that I believe hits the nail on the head:

"My main problem is purely from a storytelling perspective. It reminds me of the ending of V for Vendetta in a way. You do need to make it clear when something like this is happening. If you have to pull out of the story in order to tell what's going on it just doesn't work (as a wise man put it: If you have to explain the joke, there is no joke!). If you have a reaction that something doesn't make sense, it pulls you out of the experience. It's a sign of bad storytelling when you have to analyze something that much, in ways that aren't brought up in the story itself. If this is the case, they needed to make it apparent in the game itself, not something you can realize after hours of analysis."

Basically, what is the point in being so subtle that the true nature of the game -- something that I believe should be experienced by all players -- is turned into something completely esoteric? If (and that's a big if) this was BioWare's plan from the start, then surely there could have been more hint to it than this. I know that players love a mystery, but when you take the mystery and present it as finality that's another story entirely. I wouldn't consider that to be as bad as what seems to just be a sloppy, poorly executed ending, but at the same time I would definitely be disappointed at the opportunity that was seemingly squandered for the sake of appearing clever.

Just what will come of all of this still remains to be seen. BioWare has promised some sort of action regarding all of this, but at this point I think for many reasons that it might just be too little too late.

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