Thursday, 29 March 2012

Privilege, Consternation, and Expectation - The Ending of Mass Effect

One last time into the void.

Alright, seriously, this is hopefully the last Mass Effect 3 article I write (and it goes without saying that there's probably spoilers, so you have been warned) but it might be on by far the biggest, deepest, darkest storm that the release of Mass Effect 3 brought with it: the ending.

To say that the ending to Mass Effect 3 has been tumultuous would be an understatement of epic proportions. People have formed petitions, demanded changes, one guy is even going to the FTC over the way the game ended. I am perhaps in a somewhat unique position, in that I've never played the games and so I'm not particularly attached to them which perhaps affords me some clarity in this situation.

To be perfectly honest, I think it's almost paradoxical. It simultaneously shows how far we've come, and how far we have yet to go. It's both somehow strangely morose and uplifting at the same time.

Until this ending, I cannot think of a series of games, or even a game at all, which has inspired such a reaction from its fanbase. Certainly there have been movies, books, television shows, podcasts, and other things that have caused such fervour, but never the ending of a game. Jim Sterling states as much in one of his recent episodes of The Jimquisition, wherein he brings up that for a game to cause such an outpouring shows a clear emotional investment and resonance that up to this point has been incredibly hard to achieve -- I can think of perhaps one other series that might have gotten there, that series being the Metal Gear Solid franchise. So clearly this shows that games are moving forward and becoming more easily credible as cornerstone pieces of media.

On the flip side of course, I can't help but feel frankly embarrassed about the sheer level and magnitude of some of these outbursts of rage. People are claiming that the last half hour of what has to be a fifty to ninety plus hour experience has ruined the entire inherent value of the franchise for them. I've heard from more evenheaded people including one or two of my friends that there are some moments in this game concerning characters that people have become attached to that in and of themselves would represent an epic flourish to the average title and narrative therein.

There has been no lack of outlets, from the most obvious ones asking BioWare to change the ending, to efforts like the conspiratorial "Shepard's Indoctrination" theory. Certainly people are free to express their anger over the ending, but I think that in doing so and saying things like their entire Mass Effect experience has been ruined proves that we still have a long way to go. Disappointment shouldn't be the status quo of course, but we need to learn to accept it and move forward while still appreciating all the good that came from the series.


I think that Chuck Jordan said it best when he spoke about the ending in a PC Gamer article that asked game writers about the game's ending:

"Essentially, BioWare created the problem for themselves by, to be blunt, promising more than they or any other developer could deliver. They’ve sold the Mass Effect series on the premise that the player can completely customize his character and his character’s story—entire planets with complex storylines that some players will never even see! (And also sex with aliens). But even the largest team of writers and content creators won’t be able to deliver an indefinite number of conclusions that all have the same level of impact, satisfying enough to conclude a multi-year, multi-game epic series."

I fully believe that nothing could have been entirely satisfying. That being said I also believe that the people deserved something more than what they got. Still, it's hardly the first time that an ending has left a bitter taste in the mouths of fans, and it certainly won't be the last. I think that it's important not to lose sight of what's wrong, but even more important to never lose sight of what's right.

I know that I've been sort of waxing philosophic here, but as I said, to me this just proves that we've come a long way, but there's still plenty of road left to travel. Here's to being there for the journey.

1 comment:

  1. I'm Voltech, and this is my favori- oh wait. That only works for Shepard, doesn't it?

    Anyway...I haven't beaten the game yet, so I can't speak for the apparent badness of the ending. But for what it's worth, Mass Effect is about more than just its ending. Even if your choices don't necessarily materialize in the end, the fact that you made them every step of the way and can reflect on them -- internally, without the game telling you "Choice X created Result Y" -- has to mean something.

    So yeah. I'm with you on appreciating the good in the series. I just wish more people felt the same way.

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