Bioware’s Mass Defect
I’ll begin by saying this post will have some spoilers for the entire Mass Effect saga. This is your first and only warning should you choose to remain spoilerless.
March 2012. This is a month I’ll always remember. Not for reasons I want to, however, but because one of my favorite game developers, Bioware, announced they will be changing the ending to Mass Effect 3 after a serious bout of fan
misunderstanding outrage. In March 2012, Bioware decided that the thoughts of their “fans” of Mass Effect meant more than their writing process. This month, Bioware made the decision to forgo artistic integrity.
I originally designed this post to begin with the first half of it being the reasons why the controversial ending to Mass Effect 3 actually makes sense from a literary standpoint, but I concluded that would be like reasoning with a deaf chimpanzee. Instead I’ll answer the question that would follow that statement; why would it be like talking to a deaf chimpanzee? A few reasons, but the following stands out.
“Gamers” are no longer interested in respecting the developers’ product. Gamers believe they have the right to complain about their chosen form of entertainment, and demand that changes be made to a story that didn’t match up to their expectations or wishes. Thanks to the internet, gamers also believe they have a foundation to stand on that doesn’t involve “sheeple,” but like-minded intelligent individuals, and deserve to have their ideas and complaints treated in a higher regard than the people employed by the development company to actually write the story to a game.
I will admit that after those opening statements I sound a little biased. It’s because I am. It could be because I went to school for years to learn the writing craft, and to learn how stories work. Thousands of dollars and countless hours I’ve devoted to this topic, but this isn’t about me. This is about why I believe my chosen profession is at risk; risk from the people who don’t have the education or the patience to understand why a story works, but only know that they didn’t get enough “closure” with the character they have spent countless hours playing.
If gamers of the Mass Effect series paid attention to the trilogy’s tale, they would know that there are two glaring sub-themes in this work: unification and sacrifice. All of the big decisions that Shepard, the main character, made (which, consequentially, the player makes) dealt with these themes. Need to escape from a planet but need someone else to stay behind to assure the mission will be a success? Sacrifice. Need to unite entire races to fight a common menace? Unification. Those are two broad examples, and the series is riddled with countless more, but in the conclusion of the saga, we have our last big example of these themes: Shepard sacrifices himself to unify the galaxy. Granted, this was an ending I chose, but it was the only one that made sense from a literary standpoint from the decisions I made throughout the saga. I played a Paragon, someone who was always serving other people in order to change the galaxy for the better. I was “shepherding” the galaxy’s life, and my decisions, even if they appeared minor, had a “mass effect” on the galaxy as a whole, and were witnessed especially during the rising action of Mass Effect 3.
Here is where I think one of the more serious problems lies with the current issue at hand, regarding Bioware caving to “fan” demand for a new ending. Because the player makes the decisions throughout the game, driving the story’s plot, action, and character development, gamers think that they have the right to demand that their story have a better ending, no doubt due to the fact that they didn’t see themselves doing anything other than their Shepard walking off into the sunset, hand-in-hand with their love interest, with the Reapers burning in the background of a victorious Earth.
Think I’m wrong for summarizing the fans’ ideas for a better story? I have read a very good portion of “fan” ideas for a better conclusion to ME3 (before my patience ran out). I read them on the Bioware forums, I read them on news articles about this game, I read them on Amazon; they’re all over the place (I did hesitate to go on fanfiction websites, as I thought it would be beating the dead horse). However, I came across a common concluding statement to a lot of these ideas, as horribly depressing as it was to see it:
“It’s cliché, but it works.”
Think about that for a moment.
This was more than one person that said those exact lines. I believe out of the comments I read, I saw that line 10 times or more. These are “fans” of Mass Effect. Undoubtedly, these are the same “fans” that supposedly have gone out and told their family and friends about how deep and full of emotion these games are, and how the conclusion of the first two games was genre-defining. After getting a thought-provoking ending, the “fans” want an ending that is the direct opposite of that.
And now, we have Bioware stating that they’re listening to these “fans,” and will be changing the way the conclusion was handled in Mass Effect 3.
Maybe Michael Bay should have directed the game with Nicholas Sparks heading the writing helm. That certainly would have pleased the masses more, with their combined cliché powers.
I think the saddest part about all of this is how hypocritical gamers are about this situation in general. One of the main issues that “fans” have had with this game is they believe they didn’t get proper closure. Most of these statements are zoomed-in towards Shepard’s relationships between all of the characters in the game. Regardless of the fact that Shepard and crew are fighting a big frakking war, and there’s not a lot of time for chitchat (actually, I thought there was too much fraternization at times, considering the situations at the climax), I never felt that the relationships I had with Shepard’s crewmembers/friends were mishandled or ignored. I saw all of the characters, including even the ones brought in just for ME3 that weren’t in the first two, have a satisfying closure.
Why did I see this then and nobody else did? Because I think my definition of closure is different than apparently most anyone else’s. See, Bioware could have told us what happens to each character after the finale, but they didn’t (originally, who knows what they’ll do now). Why not?
Because the characters’ conflicts and situations were resolved within the game itself.
We see Tali and the Quarian’s situations with the Geth and their homeplanet come to a conclusion, albeit bittersweet in the final moments of the game. We see Miranda’s final showdown with her evil father. We witness Thane’s last breath, and Mordin’s last hurrah. Heck, we even see if Joker and EDI come together, and James Vega (of all characters) solve his moral dilemma with the N7 arc. Even characters that didn’t matter much in the series, like Kelly Chambers and Conrad Verner, get a good writing treatment for their departures. This list, of course, is just a portion of the conflicts and conclusions that we see for all of the characters.
Many of the parts where conflict is resolved are optional in Mass Effect 3, and this may have been why some people did not like the ending (that’s what happens when you power through a game). Bioware could have shown a “happy” scene for each character, but ending the series on that note would utterly destroy the carefully crafted themes and tone. Mass Effect has never taken the “happy” road; again, the theme of sacrifice must be stressed. Bioware decided to make an ending that was deep and meaningful, and one that required “fans” to take more than ten minutes to think about it before one came to a final opinion.
Obviously, the symbolic ending that Bioware crafted didn’t work out the way they thought it would. It’s still there, but get it now while it’s live, because they’re going to change it. For the betterment of the “fans.”
I don’t blame Bioware for addressing “fan” thoughts about the ending. In the USA, we run on a false belief of democracy, that the majority knows best. This belief standard is apparently reasonable enough to be put in just about every facet of our society. I believe in the business world, they sum this up by saying “Money talks.” From where I’m standing, it’s quite depressing that a major company like Bioware has stooped to the level of their consumers. Depending on how the news about this in the coming months go, I’m fairly certain that Mass Effect 3 will be the last RPG I purchase for maybe ever. I cannot respect a company that devotes so much time and effort into making something, in which multiple sources that work within said company say is their best work yet, change said product because a majority of people who experienced their product don’t like it for arbitrary reasons.
Allow me put it this way: what do you think of an owner of a dog that lets their dog run the show by walking all over them, pooping in the house, tearing up the furniture, barking at all it sees, and eating pieces of everything lying around? With good deduction, you realize that this owner doesn’t in fact “own” the dog. The dog, in fact, owns them. We look at what that dog does and know that what the dog is doing isn’t right, and isn’t widely accepted. Same goes for the owner. It is a well-known fact that if you get a dog, you have to teach the dog (through sometimes rigorous training) to not partake in any negative aspect that would dismay others. However, if the dog is taught properly and with love, the dog, and said owner, will be respected by many. The dog will have unconditional love for the owner. You don’t have to give the dog everything in order for it to be happy. You don’t have to feed them that extra bit of bacon, because there’s a good chance they’ll just want more, and said dog will be upset when get don’t what they want.
The same will go for Bioware, and any company that goes in this direction. In the case of Mass Effect 3, Bioware presented a grade A game, and crafted one of the best stories in the history of gaming. “Fans” ate the series up, and at the end, were left wanting more. The issue here isn’t that Bioware didn’t succeed in delivering anything that people needed to enjoy their product, but because people wanted more; they wanted it to be what they wanted it to be. Just look at the damning reviews on Amazon and MetaCritic (most of which were written before most people finished the game; that should say something about “fans”). Most people say the game was 100% fantastic up until the finale, which they disagree with.
This is not Bioware’s fault. This is the consumer’s fault.
Our society has changed. No longer are we just simply “entertained.” We demand more and more out of the things that we don’t need. Some people get a smart phone, and are thoroughly upset that they didn’t get an iPhone. When they get an iPhone, they’re upset their connection speed is “sucksville.” When their speed increases, they’re upset because an app they want is too expensive or isn’t available on their phone. When they get their app, they’re annoyed that it’s not the full version. When it’s the full version, they’re annoyed with how slow it is, etc.
To put it bluntly, Bioware is wrong in their decision to please their “fan”base. The wildly discussed issues regarding the game are not impeding the game’s performance, which is something that I believe is the job of the developer to fix. What Bioware is dealing with isn’t an error on their part. They’re being asked to answer to the emotions of the gamers that play the game, and that’s something you can’t just patch with a different ending. You can either go back to the dog analogy I offered, or remember the famous proverb, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Either way, this is the beginning of a very, very slippery slope; for the story of Mass Effect, for the overall arc of the history of video games, and maybe even for modern storytelling.
When you ask a gamer what their favorite game is, or what game they feel defines the subject, they’ll probably give you answers along these lines: Super Mario Brothers, Pokémon, Ocarina of Time, Grand Theft Auto, Goldeneye 007, Mortal Kombat, Portal, World of Warcraft, Tetris. Just to name a few. The common thread through all of these games is that you cannot choose your own adventure. There isn’t a grand story arc that you can change as you play, or debate about when you finish. They were point-to-point adventures or 1 goal action games. They’re simple. Most of these games were created in a time where there was minimal fan input. The internet wasn’t as widespread and rampant as it is now, and developers were left to develop games within their companies. They relied on themselves to make their product, and not people that were unqualified to make the same decisions. All of this, without user input, and we call them the best games of our times. I hear all sorts of “hipster” gamers saying “they just don’t make games like they used to.” Well, there’s a reason for that: gamers now believe they should make the games. And by all means, if a gamer can make a game, then go do it. If someone thinks they can write a better story or conclusion or whatever, do it. Go. Get published. We’ll see what you have. But know this; not everyone is going to love your work. Why is that?
Because we’re all different.
Perfection is not only an illusion, but extremely relative. I believe the conclusion to Mass Effect 3 was brilliant, and thousands others disagree with me. That’s fine by me. I don’t have a prayer in changing the minds of people who think the entire game sucked just because they didn’t understand the ending. What isn’t fine by me is the fact that Bioware thinks that the majority rules on this situation, and has decided to change things around. If this comes out as DLC, I’ll be fine with that, because I won’t buy it. But if this is a freebie update, one that will update without us choosing, well… Isn’t that similar to what the “fans” are arguing about? “Lack of choice?”
The saga of Bioware’s submission to “fan” demand will be felt throughout the industry, and maybe it will even spread to other forms of storytelling. Storytelling by the loudest voices… I can’t imagine that going wrong at all! It works so well for running everything else, it’ll work just as well for this medium!
Sarcasm aside, I honestly do believe that this is the end for thought-provoking video games. No longer will developers feel safe in crafting a saga only to have angry hordes launching death threats to developers on forums. The arguments over video games becoming too casual will disappear, because that will be the new norm. RPGs without direct input from “fans” will begin with a story map, letting the player choose what path they want to take right from the beginning, to ensure that they get the ending they want. Some RPGs will offer one ending, in which they will inevitably change because of “fan” outrage. Some RPGs will have polls on their websites or Facebook pages while they write the story for their upcoming game, letting the popular vote become the final say on how a story will play out. Other RPGs will offer no endings at all; just hope for future sequels and prequels. If you don’t believe me that changing the ending of Mass Effect will have repercussions felt throughout the industry, well, it’s already happening. Hope you love your indoctrinated gaming future.
One of the characters I was always intrigued about in the first Mass Effect was Ashley Williams. In ME1, if you choose to get to know Ashley’s character well enough, she opens up with Shepard about how she believes in God. Although she has strong religious beliefs, she’s hesitant to discuss it with Shepard because she’s worried about the uneasiness it may cause in others. Whether we share Ashley’s belief in God or not, I think we can all empathize with this in some form or another. We’ve all been that person in a group that holds an ideal that nobody else thinks is “worthy,” “relevant,” or “right.” The original ending of Mass Effect 3 was more than likely created with the intentions of letting the players discuss the many conclusions, because of all of the possible interpretations that they can each can have. Now, instead of being able to talk about the ending(s), gamers believe it is their duty to go to the forums of the game developers and let them know just how “wrong” their ending was, and how they should change it or else they’ll boycott the company, or file FTC complaints, or donate to charities in protest (?) (But they’ll complain over $10 DLC? Thank God they stopped this nonsense.), or whatever. The “fans” of the the series, to me, seem like a rather unimaginative lot, don’t they?
It is extremely hard to write a story, especially a huge saga. It’s even harder to write one that is as widely praised and commended as the Mass Effect series. However, as with any story, you need an ending, and you need the ending to be the commentary on the overall themes of the story you have crafted. It’s not about “what happens after.” It’s not about “who lived or who died.” It’s not about answering every single question one has about the ending. The finale of Mass Effect taught us something. That something is most definitely up to the player, as you get to choose what happens in the final decision, but I believe each of them is quite the commentary on how the player has played his or her Shepard, and on the themes as a whole. No, I don’t feel like I need to describe what each of the commentary is, because it’s all there. If people stopped raging because their questions weren’t answered, maybe they would see too.
During this post I’ve always put the word “fan” in quotations. There have probably been many of you who have figured out what I meant by that, but for those who haven’t (and just can’t live without me clarifying that aspect), I’ll state why. I believe wholeheartedly that most people complaining about the ending to ME3 (again, I can’t say everyone, that wouldn’t be fair) are not fans of the saga. They’re fans in the sense that they love their story that they have created, but don’t respect what the actual storyteller gives them in the end. This is the equivalent of supporting a painter and then slamming his work when he puts the finishing touches on the canvas, ripping the brush from his hand and putting strokes where there don’t need to be strokes. This is the equivalent of someone loving the lines or measures of a song, and then rewriting the last lyrics or measures because they don’t believe the songwriter knows what their work is really about. This is the equivalent of someone deciding that Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece “Pulp Fiction” was too confusing because it didn’t show the story in the order of which it happened, and forces Miramax to get Tarantino to re-edit the film to please the viewers. These “fans” aren’t fans at all. They’re fans of themselves. This form of selfishness is the worst form I can think of, because it impedes on someone else’s experience. It’s because of this that democracy has no place in art.
Sure, it may be fascinating to read about; all of this controversy over an ending, and the writers giving in to the fan demand for a better one. But it’s fascinating in the same manner as watching a train wreck: it’s horrible to watch, but you can’t turn away. As someone who hopes to publish fiction in the near future, I’m looking at this with a fearful gaze. When I write, I never once feel that I have to submit myself to the hive mind. I know and understand that for each story out there, there is someone that can relate to it, and even more that can understand it. It’s those people that I’m looking to touch base with, not the people who would just as soon throw me under the bus if it meant that they’d get a better story out of it. The elitist mentality of the “fans” of a series will kill storytelling as we know it if companies can’t learn how to stand up to the consumer. So people didn’t like the ending to Mass Effect? Life goes on. They can pick another game to complain about, that’s their choice. If I don’t like how a story is going, I stop reading. If I don’t like how a story ends, I don’t read the next installment. If I disagree with a writer’s decision on how to handle a character’s final moments, I don’t write death threats to said writer. We all have choices. We all choose what to spend our money and time on. It’s not the fault of the person who makes whatever it is that you want to spend time and money on if you disagree with something arbitrary about it. If you loved 99% of the game, but didn’t like the ending, do you really deserve your money back?
The saddest thing about all of this controversy is that it has already been decided. Bioware has listened to the feedback, and will be making changes to the ending. An ending that, from a literary standpoint, was just about flawless. But I suppose that doesn’t matter as much as it should. I won’t get the DLC (if it is DLC) for a new ending, because I already saw what truly happened.
In my mind, the reapers have won the battle, and Bioware has become indoctrinated.
Please be respectful and sensible in your comments and I will more than likely unscreen them, regardless of your stance on the topic.