Life, The Universe, And Gaming — It’s Time For The Cavie Awards
Foreword: This column had a slightly different, more edgy tone to it when I first began but over time the decision was taken to change things up a bit and go for a more… eccentric style of expression. I basically just retconned my column, the irony of which will be made clear to you all, soon. Some time in the near future, I will link the original piece here for those who are interested.
Post Foreword: I should probably add that this column will mostly involve Mass Effect 3 related subject matter so the necessary spoiler alerts should apply, as well as the hope that by now this ‘dead horse’ still has some life left for me to beat out — BioShock: Infinite anyone? — while I make my points known. If not, however, at least stay for the pictures. Thank you.
Our eGamer Awards may have already happened but now I feel it’s time to have another set of Awards, all to be handed out in this here column based purely on opinion and subjective thought. Why? The better question is why not? But to answer, it’s because I feel as if the gaming world has earned a few well-deserved accolades that require presentation and I have humbly taken it upon myself to do so.
Shall we get started?
Okay, to the first award then.
And the award for Hypocrisy goes to: Gamers!
Yes, you guys.
I’m hoping you’re all here because you play games (or at the very least enjoy reading my columns) because if not then really, what are you doing here? Perusing pretty pictures perhaps?
A few months ago this game released called Modern Warfare 3. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Little old Infinity Ward released the game to massive fan backlash (even if it was critically well-received) with gamers claiming that there was no longer any innovation to be found in the series and gaming as art would be dead if the world continued to follow in the footsteps of Call of Duty. I of course attempted to defend the series by citing that it’s not fair to denounce a game that was at best a ‘popcorn action title’ rather than a serious art-house exhibition, however that most certainly flew over the heads of everyone else who kept on hating it because “lol cod suckz0rs lol halo ftw” or something.
Enter BioWare with Mass Effect 3, a game I truly adored for all of the entertaining, memorable and emotionally charged set-pieces and experiences, that somehow also received massive fan backlash nonetheless. Wait, what? Now I understand that I’ve acquired something of a reputation for being the BioWare fanboy of this site, and I know that Timothy, Alessandro, Rudolf and Duncan have all had their respective words regarding the game in some way or the other, with Azhar taking the so-called cake (I lie) for pointing a reaper-sized death-ray at the game because of its ending, but I’m not here to defend the game as a fanboy. I recognise the flaws that were discussed and I’m more than happy to accept them with adequate thought. I’m simply here to make a few points that I feel either have not been discussed or were glossed over and not touched on well enough, paedophilia jokes aside.
To that extent, how, just how can any of you hate on BioWare for attempting to do something different with their game after you just hated on an entire series for always doing the same thing?
Just kidding, guys. That defensive statement was totally accidentally on purpose. But the point is there.
See, BioWare opted to do something different with Mass Effect 3. The commonly known fact (okay so it’s just a widely held opinion) is that the third of anything is not necessarily the best. Yes God of War fans might argue this fact but I doubt many other fans of series that are trilogies would be able to hold up the third title as the undisputed greatest in every possible way. No, GTA III does not count because GTA and GTA 2 were top-down experiences and Vice City and San Andreas were not part of a “trilogy” of titles. No, Halo fanboys. Don’t even think about it.
So when BioWare opted to do something different — which actually wasn’t that different, but I’ll get to that soon — it ought to have been welcomed, even if it failed in execution. I mean, here’s a developer that’s making an honest attempt to innovate and be original and they get slammed for it. Why? Mostly because players didn’t get the happy ending with Shepard sipping Pangalactic Gargle Blasters on a beach with Garrus, that they all wanted.
At the risk of sounding somewhat pretentious, have any of you read Shakespeare or watched movies that were considered art? A fair few of them don’t end as you’d expect. In fact Shakespeare was somewhat obsessed with tragedy, to the point that even his comedic plays had some element of death and loss in them. Ever watched a science fiction film and sat there afterwards wondering what the fuck just happened? Seen the ending of Inception without Nolan killing it for you in that interview he did a while later? Unanswered questions and ambiguous conclusions are all over the place and we need only look at some of the better movies or books of previous years in order to find them. They’re a powerful means of ending something off. They get people talking about your story way after they’ve experienced it. How is that a bad thing?
“What we wish, we readily believe, and what we ourselves think, we imagine others think also.”
Cue Mass Effect 3 players who previously — and I know it’s not all of you but since when do you guys stop at generalisations? — clamoured for innovation in their games, hating on BioWare for the ending that was presented to them. And why? Because the developer left questions unanswered and introduced some pretty epic plot-holes? I will agree that there are some plot-holes, some really huge ones, but the beauty of the game’s ending is that (much like Inception) it is up to your own interpretation, at least for the moment.
This then leads up to the next award.
The award for Artistic Expression goes to: Mass Effect 3!
I’ve read quite a few articles that offered various interpretations of the ending — guys, this is where that spoiler alert I mentioned in the foreword comes in — and I have to admit that some of them have solid ground to stand on, whereas admittedly others do not.
One of the better articles found here via Penny Arcade, attempted to reason with criticisms of the game’s ending and offer some explanation as to why some aspects were omitted. There are others that went straight out and defended an ending that was initially also hated by the writer. I read one that explained exactly what was good about the game’s ending, with another via the Extra Credits guys that also attempted to justify some of the complaints fans had a few weeks later, after the initial fervour had died down. Finally, I read this article which brings me to my next point; that of symbolism.
My initial plan was to quote excerpts from each of those articles that backed up my own opinions but I figured if any of you really cared for them then you’d just click through and read the entire article in context anyway, rather than just my little quote. The point is that not many people have defended the game’s ending or offered some proper thought over why we got the ending that we did. Many of you have been content to simply hate on the series for presenting you with some ten minutes out of three forty-hour-plus experiences that you were not happy with.
Tell me, what was it about the ending that you disliked so intensely? Was it that Shepard dies in two out of the three endings, possibly all three if you didn’t get your war assets high enough? Was it that you only got those three endings and your choices leading up to that point ended up with little to no significance whatsoever? Was it that you had no closure regarding your squad mates and the various species that had travelled to Earth to help take it back?
Most of the articles above are required reading as far as I’m concerned, but if you really don’t want to then at least check out that last one I linked because it’s going to come in handy for what I’m about to say.
For me, the game’s ending wasn’t as final as I’d hoped for. However, it’s a sci-fi series from a developer that is reputed across the industry for having excellent writing, so I didn’t really mind that much. The ending confused me at first; why was this little child I’d been dreaming about suddenly speaking to me as if some deus ex machina had taken over? Why was The Illusive Man shown taking charge of the Control terminal when it was clearly coloured blue and as we know, blue is the game’s standard colour for Paragon choices. Why also was Anderson shown shooting at the Destroy terminal which was coloured red, typical of a Renegade choice. Where had my squad mates disappeared to? How the fuck was I breathing in what seemed like outer space, without a helmet?
Many questions arose, and I was presented with the great choice, each that signified a major character (salute) of the series; The Illusive Man (control), Saren (synergy) and Anderson (destroy).
But why did I have to make this choice in the first place? Why was it necessary?
It was only until I considered for a moment that perhaps everything after the final scramble towards what looked like Harbinger, on Earth, was actually not to be taken as reality — in a manner of speaking. Even the now infamous Marauder Shields could well have just been the effect of indoctrination, a hallucination or some even stranger post-death phase.
Each of these brings with it an entirely new set of questions, certainly, but who’s to say that it’s a bad thing to have questions? I mean, it definitely would explain certain other core themes of the game such as the tension between synthetics and organics, or why every light-emitting object in the game regardless of colour, did a blue lens flare (indoctrination?) on your screen. Of course, there’s also the whole “Your demise is inevitable” thing that first Sovereign and then Harbinger spouted.
I’m not saying it was BioWare’s intention from the start but perhaps there were answers to some of our questions to be presented as post-game DLC? We already knew that the game would be getting post-game DLC, certainly. As Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect did before it, Mass Effect 3 was always going to be getting some sort of story-related DLC. But now of course, even if it was on purpose, it’s just too late for BioWare to redeem themselves, yet still they try, which brings me to my next award.
The award for Copping Out goes to: BioWare!
The articles I quoted above weren’t all entirely positive and defensive of Mass Effect 3′s ending but they stood out as some of the only legitimate opinionated pieces online that attempted to not outright hate on the game for the ending it presented us. The thing is, if you’re happy about a game then you’re not going to go onto every internet forum, gaming website and blog in existence and sing its praises — unless you play Halo of course — because that’s just silly. Why then do we do it for games we claim to hate? Is it entitlement, or just an unwillingness to accept something that is unfamiliar to us, ie. a non happy ending scenario?
Mass Effect 3 has sold millions by now, and I would put a conservative estimate of fan complaints at around fifty thousand, with perhaps a bit more that disliked the game but opted not to share their thoughts. Yes it’s enough to flood BioWare’s Social Network forums but it’s a mere drop in the ocean of gamers who actually played the third game in its entirety.
How do fifty thousand gamers get their way over a few million? Is it really as simple as going onto a forum online and cryfacing for a while?
Chances are BioWare had already planned some sort of post-ending DLC but with the fan furore that erupted post-release, there simply was no way they could have got away with it. In fact, it is my belief that this is all EA’s fault. We already know Electronic Arts to be somewhat money-hungry, introducing such atrocities as Origin and Online Passes in order to further their own agendas, so why not force BioWare to leave some valuable story elements out of the game itself, for post-release DLC?
“Assuming Direct Control” indeed.
I’m not saying that BioWare are blameless though. In fact, it saddened me to have to see quotes from Casey Hudson prior to the game’s release that said there will be no “A, B or C” style of ending, and it made me even more bleak when I saw Ray Muzyka’s announcement that BioWare would be changing the ending to provide more closure.
More closure, now?
Copping out level: BioWare.
If they had just stuck to their guns and went about their business, all would have been well. I’m sure any post-game DLC would have been charged but now that it’s considered to be ending-changing DLC because fans asked for it, of course gamers are going to be upset at having to pay for it. And that it even exists in the first place. BioWare basically took the wrong choice here, as I did the first time I played through the ending of Mass Effect 3.
The thing about the story of Mass Effect 3 that many don’t understand is that although you get to craft your character within the universe and make a certain amount of choices that affect said universe, it is ultimately still BioWare’s story to tell. In the first game you made certain choices that, regardless of what they were, culminated in a battle in the Citadel against the reaper Sovereign and his pet; Saren. Yes, you could have persuaded him to commit suicide instead of battling you but it wasn’t that much of a difference. In Mass Effect 2 you died, were brought back to life and then tasked with heading up a suicide mission against the Collectors, the former prothean race enslaved by the reapers. Regardless of your choices throughout the game, the ending was the same and your only choice thereafter was whether or not the destroy the Collector base right at the end, however leading up to that point you were following a somewhat linear progression of events; recruit some people, Horizon, recruit some more people, acquire loyalty of first batch, Reaper IFF, acquire the rest of the loyalties, Omega Relay.
Mass Effect 3 actually brought some game-changing choices with it, which brings me to my next award:
The Longest Ending In Existence award goes to: Mass Effect 3!
See, the way I look at it Mass Effect 3 in its entirety was the ending of the series. Many criticisms levelled at the game involve the lack of closure with regards to the various major aspects (salute) in previous games. I ask you now: Did you not deal with the genophage, at long last? Did you not deal with the quarian war with the geth for their home world of Rannoch? Did you not discover the true plans of Cerberus and stop them?
I will admit that the game wasn’t entirely conclusive for everything. I personally would still like to know why the star in the background of The Illusive Man’s base changed colour depending on your choice at the end of Mass Effect 2 over whether or not to destroy the Collector Base. I would like to know why the star on that mission in the second game where you recruited Tali was expanding at an accelerated rate, something I thought had some tie-in to the story. I would like to know what happened to the geth Colossus unit. I would like to know what that insect-like creature in the second game that I thought was harbinger, actually was.
Some other topics were only slightly glossed over, with the rachni queen (or a rachni queen if you killed her in the first game) being shown in a single side-mission and nothing else. Some topics completely contradicted the game’s ending — if you remember the Overlord project’s assertions that synergy is necessary for cooperation to be achieved, but then you actually manage to do just that on Rannoch if you take the necessary paragon choices anyway.
So BioWare were lazy with some of their design choices. The exclusion of a krogan squad member for example was a particular annoyance for me. Yes James Vega is every bit as strong as a krogan but at least let it be known to me, somehow? It would have been really awesome to watch the man take on a krogan in hand-to-hand combat and win. Why was that not a thing? It’s almost as if the focus on telling the big stories stole the limelight from the smaller ones, such as the implied awkwardness between Shepard and his human ally from the first game or Liara’s shadow broker ties.
Regardless, this is still BioWare’s story to tell and you as the player should not be demanding they appease your every whim, always. In fact, that’s almost impossible. I’m not saying you have no right to demand satisfaction here, of course you should be satisfied with what you play, but answer me this and answer honestly: Prior to the last half hour or so, were you not entertained?
The truth is that regardless of what direction BioWare took with Mass Effect 3′s ending, not everyone was going to be pleased with it. So is it fair to criticise them for this and demand a new ending? Your ending? No, of course not. But by all means, criticise their laziness and bad design choices.
My final award then, that of Most Passionate, goes to all of you: BioWare Fans!
If there is anything to be said about the reception of Mass Effect 3 so far, it’s that the game has an astoundingly passionate following. In fact one could even assert that no game has ever been able to boast this kind of proper fanbase. Not even you Halo fanboys out there. The outrage over the ending is one thing, but the amount of people who are willing to put out YouTube videos, do lengthy features (cough) on gaming websites and visit every forum on the internet in order to express their disliking of said ending, is staggering. Even more so, the amount of people who are willing to do exactly those things in order to defend the ending. There are even Mass Effect 3 memes out there now, some far funnier than Skyrim’s old “arrow in the knee” one.
It’s telling of just how loved this franchise is, that fans would go to such lengths for it.
And it’s an amazingly heart-warming observation to make, even though some fans are the equivalent of ravenous bugblatter beasts in their hatred and denouncing of all things Mass Effect 3. Quick sidebar: If experiencing Mass Effect 3′s ending is something that “kills the entire series” for you, you’re doing it wrong.
I was recently emailed by a friend who wanted to, now that the series has concluded, do a full series playthrough starting from the first Mass Effect with all squad-mates surviving (where possible) and all missions done through all games (fetch-quests aside) and see who manages to finish it first. My immediate response: Challenge accepted!
It’s this kind of love for a series that is going to take gaming really far. It’s unfortunate then that developers cop out and perhaps even cede to their publishers who then aim to hurt us as consumers in order to allegedly heal us.
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is, good on you all for being so passionate about a gaming series. Certainly one of my all-time favourites — yes I still wholeheartedly believe that objectively, Mass Effect 3 is an A+ title that might well go on to be this year’s Game Of The Year — along with the GTA series, Dungeon Siege prior to the most recent one and of course Warcraft, I would like to see the Mass Effect series live on further even if it would be difficult to envision the series without its primary protagonist of either gender, in Shepard. Hell even there, we’ve got something different in that for once we have a non-sexist style of game that allows for females to be every bit as powerful as males instead of just booty-shots — Miranda aside.
In the end, do I think that the last few weeks of hate for Mass Effect 3 was worth it? Hell yes I do. It’s shown us that as gamers we are finally reaching the level of passion that is common for many readers and film-viewers, and as an industry we might well be maturing. Yes publishers are trying to take advantage of us and yes we’re hating hypocritically, but even still we’re showing that we are as emotionally invested in gaming as anyone could be in anything else.
I think that we all deserve an award here, for being proud and passionate fans.