I’ve been thinking a lot about the ending to Mass Effect 3. In fact, I’ve been able to think of little else. For the next week after completing it I was unable to sleep properly. Granted, about three of those days were because I’m a design student and had a lot of projects due, but part of it was definitely that ending.
That bleak, seemingly universe shattering ending.
Spoilers, obviously, but I’ll try to keep them minor.
There have been a LOT of very insightful posts on the BSN about why the ending is frustrating – posts about violating the reader/writer contract, posts about the definition of tragedy and why Mass Effect isn’t one until it abruptly ends like one in the last ten minutes, posts about the emotional connection we have with the characters and the universe…
I have a gut feeling about why the ending might be the way it is, and I’d like to share it here. But before I do, just a reminder: this blog is protected by trained owlbears, and they eat rude comments and produce sarcasm.
Anyway, on to my thoughts.
Essentially, my thought is that the problems with the ending feel very strongly of a phrase that I have come to loath as a comic book fan (and a regular viewer of Atop the Fourth Wall).
That phrase is: Editorial Mandate.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with that phrase and all its loathsome implications, editorial mandate is what happens when editors take it upon themselves to dictate the course of a story instead of, you know, doing their own job and letting the writers write.
Often it results in extraordinary levels of character derailment, world breaking changes, and large amounts of handwaving or A Wizard Did It. Or, in the case of the most loathsome Marvel offender, “it’s magic; we don’t have to explain it.”
Yes, I’m still upset about that DON’TYOUDAREJUDGEME. Ahem.
One of the problems with editorial mandate is that it often forces writers to write against their own storytelling instincts and more often than not, they really, really, REALLY don’t want to. “We need you to kill off X,” and so on. Or, in this case, maybe, just maybe (I have no proof of any of this mind you), “We want you to blow up the Mass Relays.”
It also often results in stories that are poorly written, because the writer has no real investment or ownership of the forced course of the story; he just phones it in. This happens in comics, and when it does it becomes pretty easy to pick it out from the contrast with the rest of the writers work.
See: the Ending.
Now, can I prove this? No, of course not. Heck, I’m still trying to decide if I think the ending was a giant hallucination that was intended by the writers to show Shepard fighting indoctrination (and indoctrinate US, the players, in real time). But assume for a moment that the endings were meant to be taken at face value (doubtful).
In all endings, the Mass Relays are destroyed*. The Normandy runs away from the fight*, crash lands on a garden planet*, and (improbably), characters who couldn’t possibly have been on the Normandy get out*. And in somewhere between 2 and 3 endings, Shepard dies*.
Assuming any of that actually happens, it must have been mandated to happen. Which is INCREDIBLY annoying in an RPG that centers on player choice, because honestly, we didn’t realize we were being railroaded.
Now, the problem with all this is one little spoilery fact.
If you take the Destroy All Synthetics ending and have enough preparation, Shepard lives. Probably.
There’s a little problem with this, though.
If the weird little godling was to be believed, the Destroy ending would have killed Shepard, because, and I quote, “even you are part synthetic.” Ugh, now I have to wash out my mouth with bleach because I quoted that horrible plot contrivance. Give me a moment.
This is worse than Lost. And we were promised it wouldn’t be like Lost.
So if the god child lied about that… what else did he lie about?
And this is the part I find most annoying. Because we don’t know. And if the ending were left as is, we’d have no way of knowing. And since for most of us, the goal wasn’t so much “destroy the reapers,” as it was, “save the galaxy we’re emotionally invested in,” having an ending that refuses to answer the important questions AND fails to provide emotional resolution… well, for lack of a better word, sucks.
I was promised answers and resolution. Not a giant mind screw.
I want to believe it was all a lie… but at the same time, I don’t, because if it is, that is an incredibly mean thing to do to your players.
Now, I asked the question in the title: what does this mean for gaming?
A movement has been going on to get the ending changed. This movement, Retake Mass Effect, raised over $80000 for Child’s Play, and now supports a new charity drive, Full Paragon. There has been an amazing level of love for Mass Effect shown, and Retake Mass Effect has done a great job of keeping it (mostly) positive.
The basic thrust of the argument is this: we were not given the endings we were promised. We want BioWare to make them and provide the series with an ending it actually deserves.
Over 60000 players have voted in at least one poll, with something like 97% of them wanting the ending changed in some fashion. If this is a ‘vocal minority,’ it’s a statistically significant one.
There have been some arguing that if Retake gets the ending changed, it will “set a bad precedent.” Actually, it wouldn’t set any precedent – games have changed their endings before. What would set a bad precedent is if the fans just rolled over and took whatever a game company makes without complaint, even if it’s not what we wanted or were promised. That sets a bad precedent for capitalism.
There have also been a lot of smear pieces written by review sites like IGN, Gamasutra, and Kotaku (who apparently has writers on both sides of the issue and is chasing page views). None of these sites included the ending in their review of the game. None of them bothered doing any research on what the disgruntled gamers disliked about the ending. None of them are worth the server space they’re taking up, apparently – too busy publishing fluff opinion pieces instead of communicating the facts. Just my opinion, but hey, this is my blog. If you didn’t want my opinion, you’re in the wrong place.
Yes, I see the irony of that statement. Remember the owlbears, smartypants.
Forbes, meanwhile, has been overwhelmingly supportive of the movement (as well as well researched and insightful), and GameFront wrote an article that proved they’d done their research. Guess which one looks more important?
We have learned that we cannot trust the majority of paid reviewers, and we must instead look to our peers – our fellow gamers – and to ourselves for honest reviews.
(And yes, Angry Joe counts. The man speaks the truth. Angrily.)
And we have seen that BioWare takes us seriously. If not, there would have been no statement – even if that statement was worded oddly and could be taken as marginalizing the movement.
We were promised an announcement in April. What form that announcement will take, we have yet to see. But there is hope. Hope for awesomeness. Hope for Mass Effect.
I should go.