A couple journals ago I gave my review of Mass Effect 3. I love the game actually and I've been streaming it whenever I had free time. However, my rage cage can't take anymore. I am sick and tired of the vitriol surrounding the ending and I want to talk about it at length.
Enormous spoilers contained within. You have been warned.
Whenever I mention that videogames are art to any of my peers or teachers I am met with a wave of condescension. The general opinion of the internet over Mass Effect 3 is such that it has led me to believe that that condescension is justified. It's not that the ending is good. Certainly, there are poor elements to it. What bugs me is that no one seems to get it. No one.
This isn't to say that everyone is completely mindless. There are some who are saying that 2 of 3 choices are indoctrination, and that the events of the final choice are all within Shepard's head. I acknowledge this hypothesis because it's the only one with some modicum of thought behind it. Every other response is basically "I didn't get the ending I wanted... waaaaaah!"
Lets start off by discussing what Mass Effect is about. When I say that I don't mean what it's about in terms of narrative, but what it's about in terms of meaning. Art, real art, is about the communication of an idea. It isn't about making a pretty image. If it were about making a pretty image, then John Carter, Transformers, and Avatar would be among the best films ever made.
Unlike movies or books, the strength of videogames as an artistic medium is the ability to communicate ideas by putting you in to a role, by allowing you to inhabit a psychology. So, what idea is Mass Effect trying to communicate? Overall, the three games are a discussion with the participant (gamer) about the idea of choice. Now, this saying this conjures the idea of total freedom of choice. This isn't what Mass Effect is about. Rather, each game in the series is a discussion on a specific choice.
Think about it; if this were a game about total freedom of choice, then why, in a galaxy full of millions of stars, can you only travel to a handful? Why can't you save both Ashley and Kaiden, shouldn't there be a way? Why can't you go to Illos first? Because the game isn't about freedom of choice.
So if it's a game about choice, but not freedom of choice, then what are we talking about here. I'll go through each one and try to be concise as possible.
First, Mass Effect. Mass Effect is about choosing who lives and who dies. It communicates this idea in several ways and some are more overt than others. The Rachni Queen, Kaiden or Ashley, Wrex, the Council; these are the decisions that the game places weight on, and they are all about whether or not someone lives or dies. Hell, there are life and death decisions that the game places virtually no weight on, like killing that fugitive that Garrus was after. It's an idea that permeates the game. Even within the story, there are more subtle nods to this theme. Just look at Illos. When you meet the Prothean V.I. it blatantly tells you how the Protheans in the Pods died. With energy reserves running low, it sacrificed the less important pod inhabitants in favor of the more important bod inhabitants. This notion of choosing who is worthy to save is the central theme of the original Mass Effect and it plays a part in the entirety of the series.
Honestly, I think it's the most interesting idea of the three games, and I think that's what people attach themselves to, whether they realize it or not. Mass Effect, as a game, is fucking terrible. Sticky cover, oblong leveling system, useless inventory full of useless shit, terrible as a shooter, and not quite up to par as an RPG. What makes this game worth your time, is the overall theme of the game itself. THAT is what makes it compelling. You can easily find a better shooter. You can easily find a better RPG.
Next, Mass Effect 2. The entirety of Mass Effect 2 resolves around two choices. It asks you to convince someone to make the choice to trust you, and then asks you to make the choice as to whether or not to justify that trust. You can choose to ignore both choices, but it drastically affects the outcome of the narrative.
It's strange how much the gameplay is improved over Mass Effect, and yet there are those who gravitate to the original. Having played Mass Effect 2, I can't stand the original. All of the glaring issues of terrible design just stick out like a sore thumb. I would argue that anyone who ignores these issues is more enamored with the ideas presented in Mass Effect than it's gameplay. This isn't a bad thing. In fact it's good because it shows that the idea is more important to the gamer. Mass Effect 2's theme is the weakest in the series.
Mass Effect 3 is about the choice of sacrifice. It's similar to the first game insofar as choosing who lives and who dies, but it is more related to the individual making his/her own choice. This game asks you, "How would you end your own life?" In several instances within the game certain characters make the choice to essentially commit suicide. Some of these instances you have no affect on; Mordin and Legion die no matter what. However, there are others whom you do have an affect on. Other possible instances of sacrifice include; Grunt, Tali, Samara, Cortez, and I'm sure there others, but those are the only one's I remember at the moment. Mordin dies to correct a mistake, and save the Krogan people. Grunt, if you choose to save the Rachni Queen, sacrifices himself to make sure that you and the queen escape. (He lives if he was loyal to you in Mass Effect 2.) Tali kills herself if you side with the Geth and the Quarians are killed as a result. (She won't if she was loyal, you went through the Geth Server, and rescued the General on the planet.) Samara attempts to kill herself to protect her last daughter. Cortez dies protecting you with his shuttle. (Though I've heard there's a way to save him.) Over and over, this game gives you examples of people killing themselves for an idea or a cause. Some even kill themselves because of what they've lost or what they might lose.
The final decision within Mass Effect is in keeping with this theme, and thus fitting. It poses to you this same question but adds a dimension to it. It doesn't just ask you to sacrifice, but specifically asks you what
are you willing to sacrifice. Do you choose to sacrifice your body to take control of the reapers? Do you sacrifice your soul by choosing to kill the Geth and EDI in additions to the Reapers? Do you sacrifice your life, everything that you are, everything that you want, in order to reach a pragmatic solution where everyone is happy? These decisions are supposed
to be gut wrenching. You aren't supposed to like your options. The fact that you aren't given an ending where you saunter off is smart and no one acknowledges it. Some are even demanding a stupid ending like that.
As I said, these games aren't about freedom of choice. Mass Effect 1 didn't give you the choice to not kill Sovreign. Mass Effect 2 didn't give you the choice to not attack the collector base. The premise that "I should be able to do what I want." is not only petulant, but ignores the game you've been playing for the past half decade.
Those are the thematic elements, but what about the specifics within the narrative. Some people really hate the idea of the crucible. While, I don't think it's the best idea, it's a damn sight better than "the merged might of all the races in the galaxy defeat the reapers." That's stupid beyond belief.
There was a post on the Bioware forums where someone said that there should be a fourth choice, the choice to refuse. If you have enough forces, the Reapers are defeated and if you don't the Reapers win. Nevermind that this undercuts the motivations that have been driving Shepard throughout the game, it completely pisses on the established canon of the reapers.
The reapers "harvest" civilizations every 50,000 years, right? Do you have any fucking clue how old the milky way galaxy is? The oldest known star is little over 13.2 billion years old. That means that if the reapers had been doing this since day one they would have wiped out galactic civilization 264,000 times. Obviously, they haven't been doing it since day one, but they have done it many many times. This evident in exactly how many reapers there are. There are thousands at the end of Mass Effect 2. You're actually going to sit there and tell me that in all of those millions of years no one posed a militaristic threat to the reapers until the Turians, Humans, Asari, and Salarians? Give me a break. The Protheans technological skill far exceeded any race in Mass Effect 3. They actually learned how to build mass relays for gods sake. The reapers were built up as gods and winning the war militarily is even more stupid than the crucible.
Now, you may be reading this and assume that I'm 100% a-ok with the entirety of the ending. This isn't true. I don't like the AI God child. The dream sequences in addition to choosing to make that AI take the form of the child he couldn't save is distastefully heavy handed. It's common for narratives to include ghosts as means to drive a character forward. However, making this random child the embodiment of Shepard's guilt is completely out of left field and does nothing to drive the player towards making the choice of what to sacrifice. In fact, it makes the idea even more repugnant. You don't care. Instead, it should have been Ashley or Kaiden, someone who mattered to the over arching story of Mass Effect.
Additionally, your squad mates being on the Normandy, and the Normandy going through a relay makes no fucking sense. If this were a movie I would say that there is an expository bit of dialogue or scene missing. Your squad mates saying "hey I'm going back to the Normandy." after Shepard takes it in the face from Harbinger would have been better. Joker seeing the explosion coming from the citadel and saying "oh shi-- We need to get out of here" would have been better. There's just something missing, and the confusion is evident of poor story telling.
The ending isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and my condescension doesn't come from an unwavering support of Bioware. Hell, I don't have unwavering support for Bioware. What I despise is that no one has given a real reason as to WHY the endings are bad. They just are bad, because... they're bad. The real reason why many see ME3's ending as bad is because they didn't get their ego dicks jacked off by Bioware with some cliche bullshit. No one, in their anger over being separated from their waifu, took the time to actually think, and that really really pisses me off. I'm not that smart. Hell, this entire thing is probably filled with typos and grammatical errors. I acknowledge that my mind is average at best. If I were truly smart I'd be a mathematician, an engineer, or a doctor; not an artist. If I were truly smart, I would have spent more time on school projects instead of playing Mass Effect. If I were smart I wouldn't have spent the 3 hours it took to write this. If I were smart, I wouldn't be starting the inevitable argument that comes with disagreeing with the masses. If I were smart, I wouldn't be so condescending about it. Yet, dumb as I am, I was able to figure this shit out.
In fact... here's a shoe homepage.mac.com/gapodaca/digi…
. Now you have something to throw at my argument.
Like, I said, if you want a bad ending, read Samuel Coleridge. Kubla Kahn doesn't have an ending because he was like "someone knocked on my door, and I couldn't get my mojo back." The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner ends with a bullshit moral out of left field. Get some literature, some art under your belt, before you wax intellectual on a minorly flawed but ultimately compelling ending.
*phew* Ok, I've said my peace. Now to ignore the surefire anger and insults that will come; draw some pretty girls, get some paintings done and play through the entirety of Mass Effect. I'm gonna enjoy the fuck out of all of it, ugly beginning to controversial end.
The Korra art jam is by no means over. These are all of the entries I am currently aware of. If you gave me an entry and it's not on here, tell me. I lose messages real quickly if I take a day or two off from Deviant Art.
I look forward to seeing more work and posting it. Remember, you can do anything you want as long as Korra is in it, and it can be posted on DA without getting taken down.
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