Online discussion about Mass Effect's ending seems fixated on the lack of "player choice."But there's much more reason to complain. Angry gamers are upset that Bioware created an ending that throws out logic, narrative themes, and established lore. By complaining, upset consumers who care about the artistic integrity of the medium are holding the industry to a higher standard of storytelling.
In his most recent installment of The GameOverthinker, Bob “Moviebob” Chipman argues that, by complaining about the ending of Mass Effect 3, disappointed fans have trampled on the artistic integrity of video games. He actually states on Twitter that it has set the medium back by a “DECADE.”
I disagree. In fact, I feel the complete opposite is true: By complaining, fans are forwarding the movement of games as legitimate pieces of artistic narration and I congratulate the angry consumers for holding their ground. And let me make that point clear: We are not “fans” of the video game industry. We are CONSUMERS. Our voices and our money matter.
The Rest of the Story
In Bob’s movie and in countless forum threads/blogs, it seems like those who face palm in response to the ending controversy simplify the argument as “fans are upset because their choices didn’t matter and they feel entitled to something different.” And, though the lack of player choice in the ending is indeed a valid and significant complaint, it is far from being the most important. The debate has centered on this one point because it’s the most “spoiler-free” and easiest to understand to outsiders who haven’t played the game.
Without spoiling anything, the ending of Mass Effect 3 breaks the established lore of the game’s universe, contradicts thematic elements that have been omnipresent throughout all three games, and throws logic out the window. In other words, it isn’t just unsatisfying or “not what we expected,” it’s sloppy and, quite frankly, disgraceful to the brilliantly-crafted world and expertly-handled stories that came before it.
Let me hammer this home, because, honestly, it’s hard to understand if you haven’t played the games or done the research yourself: these are not nit-picky errors. THESE ARE LARGE, GAPING PLOT HOLES THAT FUNDAMENTALLY UNDERMINE THE GAME'S PRIMARY THEMES AND NARRATIVE. To top off the ending’s complete disregard for everything that came before, you’re immediately treated to an advertisement for DLC content post-credits. THOSE are the main reasons the endings deserve this much ire.
Maintaining a Higher Standard
Bob states, “How the hell can we insist that the broader culture take games seriously when we refuse to take them seriously.” But that is exactly what this movement is doing. It is holding Bioware and EA accountable for their story, calling them out for neglecting to stay factually and thematically consistent with the narrative they’ve established. It’s not setting us back ten years. Quite the contrary, it’s calling for a higher standard. It's asking a company that has proven itself capable of elevating the medium over three games and 100+ hours of gameplay to finish strong in its final and most crucial 20 minutes.
These aren’t “entitled fans” destroying the artistic credibility of the medium. These are people invested in the narrative expecting the authors to adhere to the rules of their own creation. Gamers who didn’t take this medium seriously wouldn’t bother trying to “Retake Mass Effect.” When Ghostbusters on the NES ended with a “Conglaturations” for having “prooved the justice of our culture,” there was no backlash. Our medium has evolved since the days of “A Winner is You,” and Bioware’s space opera served as the shining example of that evolution.
Bittersweet player-choice endings or deterministic palette-swap disappointments aside, we just want the authors to take their work as seriously as we do. In the case of the Mass Effect ending, it seems like they didn’t. And that’s what the rage is about. NOT complaining about it would set us back ten years.
Yours In Theory,
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