Why Mass Effect 3 Wrecked My Relationship With Video Games

First, I should mention the community stuff for blogging is making a lot of sense right now. I asked a question, gave my position, and got some feedback that helped me refine my thoughts – and answer my question.

So for getting the word out, I linked in on Facebook as well, which got me my responses. Not all of them ended up on the blog, but, to wit:

Ben Fotovich To answer your article titles question: no. ME3’s ending is, unfortunately, similar to life: one decision, independent of everything else, decides what happens to you and to the greater populace. With regards to your Rachni/Reaper section: yeah, it was a bit weak, but then again, even great movies have weak moments and people just… gloss over them. 😉

To which I replied…

The Rachni was one example. Wrex… Ash or Kaidan… The whole cast of ME2… Everyone has a replacement character in the plot. So that the same story is followed regardless.

So then…

Rich Martin As I tried to get at in my comment on the blog, having wildly different storylines depending on who lives or dies would have been: 1) revolutionary, b) unprecedented, and γ) practically impossible. So I’m willing to cut them some slack, because most of the replacements were reasonable, and some were completely enjoyable in their own right (ex. Padok Wiks)

Thanks for the thoughts, they got me thinking a lot, and wishing I could be home blogging instead of working… anyway. We have to start from the thought, I like interacting with things for their story. Not all I enjoy, but it’s what I seek out. I even love albums that tell a story (I wish I could have been cliff-hung by Cygnus X-1, when Rush had a character fall through a black hole in-between albums…). So the first quote up there got me thinking. How do the different mediums tell a story?

Music tells a story with poetic lyrical fun, broken into small chunks often… I still listen to albums like The Hazards of Love by the Decemberists or Scenes from a Memory by Dream Theater trying to figure out what all happens. Sure, I could look it up online I guess, but I don’t read Cliff’s Notes either. So not the point.

In movies, as Ben pointed out, we sometimes (always) have to at some point excuse them some plot point or skipped logic or something. It makes sense to us: there is a time limit, there is a budget, there is only so much content they can include, and they try to achieve their specific goal within that allotment. For instance, I love the movie Sucker Punch, but I think it only makes sense if you’re thinking of it as Inception-style dreams within dreams. They did not take any time in the movie to explain this. Whoops. But they work with their time and hope everyone holds on for the ride.

TV shows we have to make excuses for. They often have the opposite problem: too much time on their hands. The perfect (geeky) example is Battlestar Galactica. Every season had several “filler” episodes, which really basically could have been cut, but they had an allotment of episodes they had to make, contracts all around, and they had to do it. They did it. We forgive them. The good stuff was so good. I could name other examples (like I think every episode of House should be shorter… seriously, if the guy is so good, why does it always take so long to figure out the case. Make it a half hour show, make two a week, whatever…) but you get the idea.

There are constraints to each of these media. Even written fiction, in comparison, is constrained to your own imagination and understanding, whereas a movie or show or video game has someone else interpreting things for you as well (call it good or bad). And Rich did a good job of pointing out all the limitations of the medium of video games that Mass Effect literally hit the wall of, and pushed at every boundary. And I think why I am upset, and why Mass Effect wrecked video games for me, is because I agree with Rich: if they had done what the fans wanted (expected), they would have done something:

1) revolutionary, b) unprecedented, and γ) practically impossible

In other words, they had the potential to finish creating an entirely new form of storytelling. Instead, they ended up with one we know, recognize, and make excuses for. Video games have the unique space of really letting the player be involved in the story, but traditionally this has been in the sense of playing between major scenes in a movie. Mass Effect had the opportunity to give us a huge variety of possibilities, with awesome graphics and gameplay and what-have-you. And honestly? I already bought the Collector’s Edition. They could have charged more and I would have paid. They could have taken another year. Blizzard took 10. The graphics could have been lower. Less cutscene. Four discs. We would have played it. Then replayed it. They could have made more DLC for the older games. We would buy them. Play it all again.

I just… it could have been so much more. It could have, for real and true, made video games their own story telling style. But they fell short.

So, if my point here is that something new would have been nice, I should mention I have seen something new recently. The BBC Sherlock. Sherlock Holmes, modern London. The show itself is an hour and a half, three episode seasons. Now, that timing is like a miniseries. But it’s not a miniseries, each episode stands alone. But they’re not movies, definitely more the feel of a show, an ongoing story. But the amount of content they fit seamlessly into  one episode… they have done something new and different (okay, maybe there are other BBC shows which match this, but I don’t know about that. British television is more frequently a roughly six episode season, like Battlestar Galactica could have been and wasn’t). And it is exciting. You should check it out. Here, have a trailer!

Now, off I go to play some Skyrim, and by play, I mean haul treasure back out of halfway through a dungeon, because I cannot carry enough. Just… doesn’t feel very story-like.


About CompGeeksDavid
Co-founder, editor, podcaster, web comicer, forum moderator, and writer for Comparative Geeks. Father, husband, geek, nerd, gamer, librarian, Christian, Libertarian, Science Fiction philosopher, and probably a number of other descriptors.

2 Responses to Why Mass Effect 3 Wrecked My Relationship With Video Games

  1. Brikokujin says:

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on how FFXIII-2’s “ending” structure informs your feelings on the subject of ending variability and player choice.


  2. dbcox says:

    I have not forgotten this comment, I am trying to decide if I want to answer with a full blog post or just here in the comments. I will say I think FFXIII-2 did far more innovative stuff than Mass Effect 3 pulled off. Some of the most innovative was with saving, because with time travel you save every location you have been to – at the same spot, at the same moment. So your save is not one saved spot, it is all saved spots. At once.


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