Sticking the Landing

Posted by patrickklepek (2207 posts) -

UPDATE: Make sure you read my story from last week, too: "When It's Over, It's Over." I consider this a compliment to that.

--

[Note: This story does contain spoilers about the ending to Mass Effect 3 and TV show The Sopranos.]

The conversation about Mass Effect 3 continues, albeit one that's died down in the past week. That's unsurprising, as players wait to hear about BioWare's next move.

Will the studio change the ending? I'm betting not. Will the studio release downloadable content that provides more context and closure, and will that probably have been the plan all along? I'd say that's likely, but remains unclear.

As part of my story last week about the intense, polarizing, and government-filled reaction to the ending, I spent 30 minutes on the phone with Entertainment Weekly senior writer Jeff Jensen, himself a fellow Mass Effect fan, devotee at the shrine of Lost, and a frequent commentator on pop culture. Much of our conversation did not make it into my piece, but it felt worth sharing, especially the discussions about the concept of fan "entitlement," the precarious nature of endings, and the design struggles of player agency.

Let's contextualize this a bit, too.

This chat happened just as BioWare made its first public statement to fans, and Jensen had not finished the game, though he had read about the endings. As such, we didn't dive much into the narrative misgivings players with the final moments of Mass Effect 3 (which, believe me, I'm with you on), and focuses on the bigger picture.

Hope you enjoy it. It's a bit talky.

-

Mass Effect 3 was the culmination of hundreds of hours of playing in a universe for many people.

Jeff Jensen: I’ll be honest with you, I only began playing Mass Effect 3 about a week and a half ago. I actually wasn’t really into it in the beginning, and I got distracted by other things, so I have to return to it, but catching up to the controversy is fascinating.

Giant Bomb: It’s interesting because, unlike other mediums, when there’s a television show, when theres’s a finale, or there’s a movie that’s a conclusion to some multi-part series, you can consume that in an hour-and-a-half, two hours. Mass Effect 3 took me 40 hours to finish. It’s not as simple as just booting it up one night so you can catch up, and find out what happened.

Jensen: You felt burned? Were you burned, personally?

GB: Not really. I was disappointed. They were going for something a little more audacious and bittersweet, and I do think a lot of the reaction has stemmed from that. A lot of people play these games to be the good guy that accomplishes everything, and video game endings, as a whole, the trope is that you’re the hero that’s unbeatable and everything turns out alright in the end. They went for something a little more mixed: things are out of your control. Bad things are going to happen no matter what you do, what choice you make. People have some real trouble processing that. Some wanted this “you saved the princess” ending that games have always have. Personally, as a player, it’s really important that they’re having this reaction. You don’t see that very often with a video game.

Jensen: A couple things about that. To prepare for this interview and other things that I’m working on, I actually went and read some sites and actually spoiled everything.

What I find interesting about what you're saying is that...it’s an interesting nuance that you’re talking about. It sounds like whatever scenario you choose, Earth blows up, right?

GB: Earth doesn’t necessarily get destroyed, but the mass relays do get destroyed. The thing that has allowed the universe to be unified, that goes away. In some sense, it’s the universe starting over. Some of them, Shepard dies, some of them, Shepard lives, but as far as I can tell, none of the endings I saw, and none of the endings I’ve read about, involve you saving the day in every capacity. There is no way, no matter what you do, that everything’s going to be alright for everybody. Bad shit happens at the end of Mass Effect 3, and there are consequences for that. I do think that’s part of the reaction--it’s an interesting reaction for BioWare to purposely provoke, but I think it’s an important one. In some way, it’s a commentary on the fact that these games are largely about player choice, and at the end, there’s a subversion of that. Part of this is out of your hands. Maybe that’s looking into it too much, but I do get a sense that there’s a purposeful subversion of the player to reflect that no matter what you do, bad things are going to happen.

Jensen: I really like what you’re saying. It sounds like what BioWare really wanted exactly the kind of dialogue that we are having here, which is, I think, they hoped we could get to the end and everyone that plays this game...it’s having exactly the kind of emotional experience that you’re having but also the kind of reflective experience that you’re having, which seems really worthwhile, and pretty quality. But instead, it gets unfortunately minimized into just the simple issue of satisfaction and catharsis and all that.

GB: Specifically, Lost was the first analogy that came to mind. I’m sure, as someone that writes a lot about TV and movies, you witness fan entitlement, or the sense of entitlement that fans feel when they’re on this long journey. Whether it’s a series of movies over several years or a TV show over several years, fans come to expect certain things. I’m curious what you’ve perceived over the years, whether from Lost or other shows and movies, how creators in those mediums deal with that sense of entitlement from fans, given the creators themselves have a vision in mind for how they want things to play out.

Jensen: What I would say that the controversies around the finales of Lost and Mass Effect and other examples, too, that we see in pop culture, like for example last year with the television show The Killing, which also kind of flummoxed a lot of people with how they ended the first season. What we are reminded of is that in entertainment, and especially in the mediums of television and video games, they are ultimately service industries. Which is to say the customer is always right, and that’s going to be frustrating for storytellers to hear because ultimately you exist, your product exists, at the whims and desire of your consumer base. If they’re happy, if they’re unhappy, they’re right. Even if they’re wrong, they’re right. You have to deal with it, right? You have to deal with it.

You look at BioWare’s response to this, the Facebook post last [week], and they are basically out there saying “We hear you, we understand your complaints, we’re looking at some possibilities about what to do, but we want you to know that we hear you.” This just goes to show that even if, behind the scenes, the creators at BioWare are like “Damnit, they didn’t get our story! To address the complaints represent a compromise of our artistic vision.” That sucks, but they’re right. You just have to deal with it.

The similarities between Lost and Mass Effect--there’s another similarity, too. Over the past decade in television, we’ve seen a creative medium come into its own and take some bold leaps forward, but there’s still some room to grow. I think after The Sopranos--or, more specifically, after Twin Peaks--I think a lot of TV storytellers became enamored with this notion that TV writing can be an art and I can be an artist, and I can have my own show and tell my own story and it’s my story, my world, my rules, and I’m going to tell you a story and you’re going to listen to it, and you’re going to follow it, and if I bring you to a certain end that is maybe not necessarily a happy ending or the ending that you want, it’s still my story. It has to be my story if it has any artistic integrity.

The audience push back is “no.” As much as the viewer benefits in this era of artist auteur television, in which the most interesting television is being made by singular creators with singular visions that are just telling their own story, viewers who become fans and who immerse themselves and give themselves over to it and devote so much time to thinking about it and talking about it and dreaming into it, they get a sense of ownership. Their agenda becomes projected onto your agenda. If you’re a writer, if you’re a television network, you benefit from that and you can’t run away from that because they’re keeping you in business. When you get to the end, sometimes what you have is this effect, this clash between shows that the artist, the writer, was creating and the show that the viewer, the fan, thought they were watching. When there’s no sync-up, there’s profound dissatisfaction. For the creators of Lost or the creator of The Sopranos, David Chase, that kind of sticks. At the very least, what you hope for is “Well, okay, you didn’t like my ending, but can you appreciate it? Or can we talk about it?” But, instead, that hopeful conversation gets swallowed up by the vitriol that comes with a more consumer orientation that’s more “I expected one thing and instead you gave me a lemon,” if that makes sense.

When The Sopranos faded to black without absolute resolution, not everyone was happy.

With video games, it’s interesting because I think video games are on a similar creative trajectory. Video games, the art of video games, has grown by leaps and bounds, I mean, ever since its introduction. The entire history of this medium is defined by radical innovation every other year, it seems. The exhilarating part of watching this industry is watching a medium of entertainment grow and blossom before its eyes, and there’s another aspect to it, too, which is very different from watching any other entertainment medium blossom over the past, you know, 100 years of pop culture, which is...I don’t know if people who were fans of movies or fans of rock music during the golden age of those periods said things like “it’s really cool now, but just wait 10 years from now, because we can all be where it’s going.” Video games are different. The best video games not only are really, really good, but as of right now, they capture your imagination for what they could be 10 to 15 years from now. We have this weird dilemma where we’re exulting what the medium can do, even as we’re bucking up against its limitations here and now. And that brings me to Mass Effect.

The interesting thing about Mass Effect is that it’s on the cutting edge of this whole idea of player choice. There’s a sort of choose your own adventure kind of thing. My dilemma playing Mass Effect is usually, as much as I really appreciate the idea and I understand what they go for and I understand how it affects the story, at the same time, I’m always keenly aware that it never really does what I really want it to do. There’s some kind of creative, artificial intelligence within the game that is constantly changing the game in robust, profound ways in response to your choices, instead of just shunting you to one, two or three other options that don’t feel dramatically different from each other. They’re not choose your own adventure games, it’s choose your own nuance games. It seems like Mass Effect 3 butts up against that, especially with its ending, and also butts up against something else, too, which is...hearing about the controversy about Mass Effect 3, it makes me wonder if the artist creators of the game over at BioWare, how much control over their storytelling do these artists really want to seed to the player?

At the end of the day, one of the exciting storylines that is emerging out of the past 10 years of video games are these creators who see video games as a means of artistic expression, a way of telling a story that expresses ideas that they want to challenge people with, that they want to get people talking to. And the most impactful way to do that is to limit potential interpretations and choices in a story, instead of opening it up open source like and making it everything you want it to be.

It seems to me that these possible endings that Mass Effect 3 gives us at the end of the game are like “Yeah, your choices throughout the game have affected your fate in terms of whether you live or die, they affect, to some degree, your character, but we still want a certain [set] of pre-determined endings that are designed to facilitate the certain point that we have about the world, certain ideas that we want you consider, certain conventions that we want to debunk, and pursuing an artistic agenda like that is tricky when you also want to create a game in which the player, in some ways, is being lead to believe they are the defining artistic decision maker in the game, if that makes sense.

GB: There’s definitely that rub between the player and the creator. An unintended consequence of BioWare’s player choice model was an end where players felt like they were gonna have more agency over that conclusion. And maybe it's not so much that they had written their own ending in their mind, but they’d made all these decisions along the way. Knowing game development, a lot of this is largely just a function of they have 18 months to produce a thing, so there’s only so many outcomes they can produce in X amount of time, but my large takeaway from all of this is that it’s a positive thing, showing how much players can care about a story.

But you’re right, once you’ve handed over the keys of the kingdom to the player, they also expect certain things. You can fall back to the passive entertainment experience excuse with TV and movies because the interactive part happens on the periphery and the creators can always retreat back to saying “at the end of the day, what matters is what’s canonical in the television series--that’s a passive experience that we’re writing and presenting.” But games aren’t that way. Mass Effect is definitely totally separate from that--it’s not just you shooting from the beginning of the level to the end of the level. You’re choosing which characters live and die, which races live and die, which planets survive and don’t. Once you’ve given people that power, you’ve opened the box, the genie is out of the bottle. Players feel like they should have this unique impact on this world and how it plays out, and it’s what makes the world "entitlement" feel...it doesn’t seem to work as well for the reaction. Entitlement’s a really easy word to apply to it, but in some sense, players should feel entitled when they’ve been told they’re the ones who are entitled to make these decisions.

When they get to an end that isn’t satisfying, an end where BioWare says they want to make a statement, that goes directly contrary to the player and the agency they had during that experience. I imagine, as a developer, that’s really tough, especially as games try to embrace this whole cinematic appeal and trying to take what lessons they can from other mediums. Games are inherently interactive, and when you start to take steps further to involving player in the story, you’re going to have consequences for the player’s emotional reaction when you take that away from them.

Jensen: There’s something that you’re also touching on here that I really like, which is a really good point. Regardless of your story, whatever medium you’re experiencing a story, what do we want from endings is a really big picture topic here. Some of the themes that you talked about at the beginning of our conversation here come into play, things like the video game experience offers you the chance to be a hero, and hero stories are all about taking their fate into their own hands and are able to impose their will on a world. They may succeed, they may fail, a lot of that depends on skill, but they get to impose their will on the world for better or worse. You go into a very long journey in which you are executing this kind of heroic function--you expect the opportunity to save the day. You think that should be an option that’s available to you, and, in this case, that’s not. In that way, a traditional ending, or what we want from an ending to that kind of story, is subverted. In other ways, just in general, what we want from endings is catharsis, especially a series finale.

When BioWare opened the box with players choices, it opened itself to this kind of reaction.

Even though my guess is we may not see the Mass Effect the franchise, it seems to me what was being presented to us was that this is the end, this is the last game at least with this character, in a really involving, immersive, creative endeavor. Here, we really do see analogs to things like Lost or The Sopranos, where a fan base that’s large and rabid and loyal and passionate and really, really invested--they’re not only getting what the final game or final episode, the end of a story, they’re getting the door slammed on a huge part of their lives, a significant thing in their lives. To that end, an ending, then, must give you something more. There’s an expectation of something more. There’s something like a massive emotional catharsis. The ending of Lost really tried to go for that, they tried to win on emotion. “This is the end for all of us, my friends, and we’re all going away, in more ways than one. It’s been a long journey--bittersweet, sad, wonderful, joyous.” And they send us out with tears and a surge fo emotion. Lost completely triumphed int hat regard, but in other areas that people were expecting, the more intellectual areas, payoffs of certain storylines that people were invested in and mysteries that they were really invested in, the storytellers never said “We’re not necessarily as interested in that.” For a lot of people, that was a huge part of that entertainment experience, and they didn’t get it. The catharsis was incomplete.

There seems to be a similarity here with Mass Effect 3, with a fan base that has gone through these games and come to the end, and they want the full meal catharsis--they want everything. They want a heroic end, or the possibility of a heroic end. They want an emotional send-off, they want resolution of certain mysteries, and they all want it to be coherent and skillfully done, and all that. It sounds like Mass Effect just didn’t nail that landing.

GB: When I watched the end of Lost, the emotional arc worked perfectly fine. Yes, I was there for the mysteries and that was the fun of the week-to-week nature of that show, but at the end, I got the emotional closure with each of the characters. It’s different from player to player, just as with each viewer of Lost or any other television show. But with Mass Effect, what they brought to the end was, yes, the mysteries were important, and, yes, the resolution of the conflict with the Reapers was important, but it was the player’s agency. People talk about it in terms of the ending, but it was really just about these very binary choices presented in front of you that didn’t seem to reflect the agency that players had brought in throughout this entire adventure. As a result, they didn’t get get closure through their own agency, which was the motivational factor for these three games, which is why they brought their saved games from one game to the next. It’s interesting to see BioWare run into that as they start to contemplate how they address the reaction.

Jensen: I’m reminded of that whole idea of the observer effect, as well as schrodinger's cat. There’s a world of possibilities inside that box, until you get to the end and you get to the action of opening that box, and looking at it, and in that moment, then, all possibilities collapse and one remains, and only that option remains. Ultimately, then, this experience that was defined by the romance of mystery and possibility suddenly now becomes only defined by this one concrete resolution.

I’m reminded that with Lost--this is a show, week after week, captured your imagination and allowed you to dream into it an infinite number of possibilities and they were really good and clever about it. “What is going on? What is going on?” The interesting thing that happened about the end of Lost is that I honestly think the ending of Lost was an attempt by the show runners to actually communicate a specific point that they had, but while retaining, for the viewer, the quality that they identified as the defining characteristic of Lost, which was mystery, which was should the legacy of this show be one in which we’re still debating and still wondering and theorizing and still speculating years afterwards. I think they thought that by not being clear and concrete and definitive on many of the mysteries that people wanted resolved, they felt they were remaining thematically and artistically true to their creative enterprise and the entertainment experience that we had, which was the conversation about it, the debating about it, the comparison of theories about it, the arguing over it. They tried to thread that needle right at the end with an ending about, “how can we give closure and how can we end the story on our terms that is also satisfying to the audience but is true to the greater whole of this show?” Tricky, tricky. Because it makes you aware that you fundamentally usually watch something and endings usually come to us.

When we get an ending to a story or a final chapter of a story or a final shot, you realize that they’re fundamnetally different animals than the entertainment experience that preceeded it as a whole. The entertainment experience that preceeds an ending is all about sustained tension and sustained mystery, and that final thing is just resolution.

Colored endings may have seemed clever on paper, but players did not respond very well.

Endings often just can’t win. Most screenwriters will tell you the hardest part of any movie, any story to tell, is just the end. It’s the thing that changes the most, it’s the endings that are the most fought over among collaborators, they’re the things that are just the hardest to land. Some people get it really, really right, some people get it really, really wrong, and some people land anywhere in-between and our attitudes about them can change. The thing about controversial endings, though, is this: five years from now, my friend, we will all say that the ending of Mass Effect 3 was genius! We’ll catch up to it.

I’m not going to say that people feel that way about Lost, but I would say that people feel that way about The Sopranos. Many, many years after the ending of The Sopranos, The Sopranos just ignited a storm of “oh, that was genius! Genius!” “Genius? Are you kidding me? They wimped out! They didn’t have the guts to tell us what they wanted!” Which is the final fate of Tony Soprano. Defenders of that finale said “Yes, they did. Don’t you get it?” and the people who hate it go “Wait, you’re saying that I’m stupid?” And you go into that downward spiral. Years later, the truth of the matter is, the people who hated it then are probably no greater fans of it now, but in the cooling of it all, the cooling of the vitriol, there is some appreciation. There is grudging appreciation in that camp of “I get what he was saying. I get what he was going for.” And, ultimately, what you remember is that “I defined my enjoyment of that series not by that final moment, but by seven, eight seasons of the greatest television show even written.” That’s how we remember The Sopranos. I think that’s how that’s the fans of Lost are going to remember that show. I think that, for better or worse, the final season of that show will be remembered as something of a cautionary tale. I happen to love it. Do I love it as much as the five seasons before? No, but I really respect and like and was moved by what they did. I think, the further we get away from Lost, it will get more defined by the things that it did right and revolutionary versus the issue of audience satisfaction.

I think Mass Effect as a franchise, these three games taken together, I just can’t see how it’s not regarded as anything less than a landmark. There’s so many things to enjoy about these games and this world and the creative accomplishment of this series than just those final moments. When I played those first two games, the narrative arc of it is maybe one of the things I like the least. I love the way it looks, I love the character design, I love these worlds--there’s so much to really enjoy and love about it. Given some time, people will remember all of what they loved about this thing and now the resolution of it all.

#1 Posted by patrickklepek (2207 posts) -

UPDATE: Make sure you read my story from last week, too: "When It's Over, It's Over." I consider this a compliment to that.

--

[Note: This story does contain spoilers about the ending to Mass Effect 3 and TV show The Sopranos.]

The conversation about Mass Effect 3 continues, albeit one that's died down in the past week. That's unsurprising, as players wait to hear about BioWare's next move.

Will the studio change the ending? I'm betting not. Will the studio release downloadable content that provides more context and closure, and will that probably have been the plan all along? I'd say that's likely, but remains unclear.

As part of my story last week about the intense, polarizing, and government-filled reaction to the ending, I spent 30 minutes on the phone with Entertainment Weekly senior writer Jeff Jensen, himself a fellow Mass Effect fan, devotee at the shrine of Lost, and a frequent commentator on pop culture. Much of our conversation did not make it into my piece, but it felt worth sharing, especially the discussions about the concept of fan "entitlement," the precarious nature of endings, and the design struggles of player agency.

Let's contextualize this a bit, too.

This chat happened just as BioWare made its first public statement to fans, and Jensen had not finished the game, though he had read about the endings. As such, we didn't dive much into the narrative misgivings players with the final moments of Mass Effect 3 (which, believe me, I'm with you on), and focuses on the bigger picture.

Hope you enjoy it. It's a bit talky.

-

Mass Effect 3 was the culmination of hundreds of hours of playing in a universe for many people.

Jeff Jensen: I’ll be honest with you, I only began playing Mass Effect 3 about a week and a half ago. I actually wasn’t really into it in the beginning, and I got distracted by other things, so I have to return to it, but catching up to the controversy is fascinating.

Giant Bomb: It’s interesting because, unlike other mediums, when there’s a television show, when theres’s a finale, or there’s a movie that’s a conclusion to some multi-part series, you can consume that in an hour-and-a-half, two hours. Mass Effect 3 took me 40 hours to finish. It’s not as simple as just booting it up one night so you can catch up, and find out what happened.

Jensen: You felt burned? Were you burned, personally?

GB: Not really. I was disappointed. They were going for something a little more audacious and bittersweet, and I do think a lot of the reaction has stemmed from that. A lot of people play these games to be the good guy that accomplishes everything, and video game endings, as a whole, the trope is that you’re the hero that’s unbeatable and everything turns out alright in the end. They went for something a little more mixed: things are out of your control. Bad things are going to happen no matter what you do, what choice you make. People have some real trouble processing that. Some wanted this “you saved the princess” ending that games have always have. Personally, as a player, it’s really important that they’re having this reaction. You don’t see that very often with a video game.

Jensen: A couple things about that. To prepare for this interview and other things that I’m working on, I actually went and read some sites and actually spoiled everything.

What I find interesting about what you're saying is that...it’s an interesting nuance that you’re talking about. It sounds like whatever scenario you choose, Earth blows up, right?

GB: Earth doesn’t necessarily get destroyed, but the mass relays do get destroyed. The thing that has allowed the universe to be unified, that goes away. In some sense, it’s the universe starting over. Some of them, Shepard dies, some of them, Shepard lives, but as far as I can tell, none of the endings I saw, and none of the endings I’ve read about, involve you saving the day in every capacity. There is no way, no matter what you do, that everything’s going to be alright for everybody. Bad shit happens at the end of Mass Effect 3, and there are consequences for that. I do think that’s part of the reaction--it’s an interesting reaction for BioWare to purposely provoke, but I think it’s an important one. In some way, it’s a commentary on the fact that these games are largely about player choice, and at the end, there’s a subversion of that. Part of this is out of your hands. Maybe that’s looking into it too much, but I do get a sense that there’s a purposeful subversion of the player to reflect that no matter what you do, bad things are going to happen.

Jensen: I really like what you’re saying. It sounds like what BioWare really wanted exactly the kind of dialogue that we are having here, which is, I think, they hoped we could get to the end and everyone that plays this game...it’s having exactly the kind of emotional experience that you’re having but also the kind of reflective experience that you’re having, which seems really worthwhile, and pretty quality. But instead, it gets unfortunately minimized into just the simple issue of satisfaction and catharsis and all that.

GB: Specifically, Lost was the first analogy that came to mind. I’m sure, as someone that writes a lot about TV and movies, you witness fan entitlement, or the sense of entitlement that fans feel when they’re on this long journey. Whether it’s a series of movies over several years or a TV show over several years, fans come to expect certain things. I’m curious what you’ve perceived over the years, whether from Lost or other shows and movies, how creators in those mediums deal with that sense of entitlement from fans, given the creators themselves have a vision in mind for how they want things to play out.

Jensen: What I would say that the controversies around the finales of Lost and Mass Effect and other examples, too, that we see in pop culture, like for example last year with the television show The Killing, which also kind of flummoxed a lot of people with how they ended the first season. What we are reminded of is that in entertainment, and especially in the mediums of television and video games, they are ultimately service industries. Which is to say the customer is always right, and that’s going to be frustrating for storytellers to hear because ultimately you exist, your product exists, at the whims and desire of your consumer base. If they’re happy, if they’re unhappy, they’re right. Even if they’re wrong, they’re right. You have to deal with it, right? You have to deal with it.

You look at BioWare’s response to this, the Facebook post last [week], and they are basically out there saying “We hear you, we understand your complaints, we’re looking at some possibilities about what to do, but we want you to know that we hear you.” This just goes to show that even if, behind the scenes, the creators at BioWare are like “Damnit, they didn’t get our story! To address the complaints represent a compromise of our artistic vision.” That sucks, but they’re right. You just have to deal with it.

The similarities between Lost and Mass Effect--there’s another similarity, too. Over the past decade in television, we’ve seen a creative medium come into its own and take some bold leaps forward, but there’s still some room to grow. I think after The Sopranos--or, more specifically, after Twin Peaks--I think a lot of TV storytellers became enamored with this notion that TV writing can be an art and I can be an artist, and I can have my own show and tell my own story and it’s my story, my world, my rules, and I’m going to tell you a story and you’re going to listen to it, and you’re going to follow it, and if I bring you to a certain end that is maybe not necessarily a happy ending or the ending that you want, it’s still my story. It has to be my story if it has any artistic integrity.

The audience push back is “no.” As much as the viewer benefits in this era of artist auteur television, in which the most interesting television is being made by singular creators with singular visions that are just telling their own story, viewers who become fans and who immerse themselves and give themselves over to it and devote so much time to thinking about it and talking about it and dreaming into it, they get a sense of ownership. Their agenda becomes projected onto your agenda. If you’re a writer, if you’re a television network, you benefit from that and you can’t run away from that because they’re keeping you in business. When you get to the end, sometimes what you have is this effect, this clash between shows that the artist, the writer, was creating and the show that the viewer, the fan, thought they were watching. When there’s no sync-up, there’s profound dissatisfaction. For the creators of Lost or the creator of The Sopranos, David Chase, that kind of sticks. At the very least, what you hope for is “Well, okay, you didn’t like my ending, but can you appreciate it? Or can we talk about it?” But, instead, that hopeful conversation gets swallowed up by the vitriol that comes with a more consumer orientation that’s more “I expected one thing and instead you gave me a lemon,” if that makes sense.

When The Sopranos faded to black without absolute resolution, not everyone was happy.

With video games, it’s interesting because I think video games are on a similar creative trajectory. Video games, the art of video games, has grown by leaps and bounds, I mean, ever since its introduction. The entire history of this medium is defined by radical innovation every other year, it seems. The exhilarating part of watching this industry is watching a medium of entertainment grow and blossom before its eyes, and there’s another aspect to it, too, which is very different from watching any other entertainment medium blossom over the past, you know, 100 years of pop culture, which is...I don’t know if people who were fans of movies or fans of rock music during the golden age of those periods said things like “it’s really cool now, but just wait 10 years from now, because we can all be where it’s going.” Video games are different. The best video games not only are really, really good, but as of right now, they capture your imagination for what they could be 10 to 15 years from now. We have this weird dilemma where we’re exulting what the medium can do, even as we’re bucking up against its limitations here and now. And that brings me to Mass Effect.

The interesting thing about Mass Effect is that it’s on the cutting edge of this whole idea of player choice. There’s a sort of choose your own adventure kind of thing. My dilemma playing Mass Effect is usually, as much as I really appreciate the idea and I understand what they go for and I understand how it affects the story, at the same time, I’m always keenly aware that it never really does what I really want it to do. There’s some kind of creative, artificial intelligence within the game that is constantly changing the game in robust, profound ways in response to your choices, instead of just shunting you to one, two or three other options that don’t feel dramatically different from each other. They’re not choose your own adventure games, it’s choose your own nuance games. It seems like Mass Effect 3 butts up against that, especially with its ending, and also butts up against something else, too, which is...hearing about the controversy about Mass Effect 3, it makes me wonder if the artist creators of the game over at BioWare, how much control over their storytelling do these artists really want to seed to the player?

At the end of the day, one of the exciting storylines that is emerging out of the past 10 years of video games are these creators who see video games as a means of artistic expression, a way of telling a story that expresses ideas that they want to challenge people with, that they want to get people talking to. And the most impactful way to do that is to limit potential interpretations and choices in a story, instead of opening it up open source like and making it everything you want it to be.

It seems to me that these possible endings that Mass Effect 3 gives us at the end of the game are like “Yeah, your choices throughout the game have affected your fate in terms of whether you live or die, they affect, to some degree, your character, but we still want a certain [set] of pre-determined endings that are designed to facilitate the certain point that we have about the world, certain ideas that we want you consider, certain conventions that we want to debunk, and pursuing an artistic agenda like that is tricky when you also want to create a game in which the player, in some ways, is being lead to believe they are the defining artistic decision maker in the game, if that makes sense.

GB: There’s definitely that rub between the player and the creator. An unintended consequence of BioWare’s player choice model was an end where players felt like they were gonna have more agency over that conclusion. And maybe it's not so much that they had written their own ending in their mind, but they’d made all these decisions along the way. Knowing game development, a lot of this is largely just a function of they have 18 months to produce a thing, so there’s only so many outcomes they can produce in X amount of time, but my large takeaway from all of this is that it’s a positive thing, showing how much players can care about a story.

But you’re right, once you’ve handed over the keys of the kingdom to the player, they also expect certain things. You can fall back to the passive entertainment experience excuse with TV and movies because the interactive part happens on the periphery and the creators can always retreat back to saying “at the end of the day, what matters is what’s canonical in the television series--that’s a passive experience that we’re writing and presenting.” But games aren’t that way. Mass Effect is definitely totally separate from that--it’s not just you shooting from the beginning of the level to the end of the level. You’re choosing which characters live and die, which races live and die, which planets survive and don’t. Once you’ve given people that power, you’ve opened the box, the genie is out of the bottle. Players feel like they should have this unique impact on this world and how it plays out, and it’s what makes the world "entitlement" feel...it doesn’t seem to work as well for the reaction. Entitlement’s a really easy word to apply to it, but in some sense, players should feel entitled when they’ve been told they’re the ones who are entitled to make these decisions.

When they get to an end that isn’t satisfying, an end where BioWare says they want to make a statement, that goes directly contrary to the player and the agency they had during that experience. I imagine, as a developer, that’s really tough, especially as games try to embrace this whole cinematic appeal and trying to take what lessons they can from other mediums. Games are inherently interactive, and when you start to take steps further to involving player in the story, you’re going to have consequences for the player’s emotional reaction when you take that away from them.

Jensen: There’s something that you’re also touching on here that I really like, which is a really good point. Regardless of your story, whatever medium you’re experiencing a story, what do we want from endings is a really big picture topic here. Some of the themes that you talked about at the beginning of our conversation here come into play, things like the video game experience offers you the chance to be a hero, and hero stories are all about taking their fate into their own hands and are able to impose their will on a world. They may succeed, they may fail, a lot of that depends on skill, but they get to impose their will on the world for better or worse. You go into a very long journey in which you are executing this kind of heroic function--you expect the opportunity to save the day. You think that should be an option that’s available to you, and, in this case, that’s not. In that way, a traditional ending, or what we want from an ending to that kind of story, is subverted. In other ways, just in general, what we want from endings is catharsis, especially a series finale.

When BioWare opened the box with players choices, it opened itself to this kind of reaction.

Even though my guess is we may not see the Mass Effect the franchise, it seems to me what was being presented to us was that this is the end, this is the last game at least with this character, in a really involving, immersive, creative endeavor. Here, we really do see analogs to things like Lost or The Sopranos, where a fan base that’s large and rabid and loyal and passionate and really, really invested--they’re not only getting what the final game or final episode, the end of a story, they’re getting the door slammed on a huge part of their lives, a significant thing in their lives. To that end, an ending, then, must give you something more. There’s an expectation of something more. There’s something like a massive emotional catharsis. The ending of Lost really tried to go for that, they tried to win on emotion. “This is the end for all of us, my friends, and we’re all going away, in more ways than one. It’s been a long journey--bittersweet, sad, wonderful, joyous.” And they send us out with tears and a surge fo emotion. Lost completely triumphed int hat regard, but in other areas that people were expecting, the more intellectual areas, payoffs of certain storylines that people were invested in and mysteries that they were really invested in, the storytellers never said “We’re not necessarily as interested in that.” For a lot of people, that was a huge part of that entertainment experience, and they didn’t get it. The catharsis was incomplete.

There seems to be a similarity here with Mass Effect 3, with a fan base that has gone through these games and come to the end, and they want the full meal catharsis--they want everything. They want a heroic end, or the possibility of a heroic end. They want an emotional send-off, they want resolution of certain mysteries, and they all want it to be coherent and skillfully done, and all that. It sounds like Mass Effect just didn’t nail that landing.

GB: When I watched the end of Lost, the emotional arc worked perfectly fine. Yes, I was there for the mysteries and that was the fun of the week-to-week nature of that show, but at the end, I got the emotional closure with each of the characters. It’s different from player to player, just as with each viewer of Lost or any other television show. But with Mass Effect, what they brought to the end was, yes, the mysteries were important, and, yes, the resolution of the conflict with the Reapers was important, but it was the player’s agency. People talk about it in terms of the ending, but it was really just about these very binary choices presented in front of you that didn’t seem to reflect the agency that players had brought in throughout this entire adventure. As a result, they didn’t get get closure through their own agency, which was the motivational factor for these three games, which is why they brought their saved games from one game to the next. It’s interesting to see BioWare run into that as they start to contemplate how they address the reaction.

Jensen: I’m reminded of that whole idea of the observer effect, as well as schrodinger's cat. There’s a world of possibilities inside that box, until you get to the end and you get to the action of opening that box, and looking at it, and in that moment, then, all possibilities collapse and one remains, and only that option remains. Ultimately, then, this experience that was defined by the romance of mystery and possibility suddenly now becomes only defined by this one concrete resolution.

I’m reminded that with Lost--this is a show, week after week, captured your imagination and allowed you to dream into it an infinite number of possibilities and they were really good and clever about it. “What is going on? What is going on?” The interesting thing that happened about the end of Lost is that I honestly think the ending of Lost was an attempt by the show runners to actually communicate a specific point that they had, but while retaining, for the viewer, the quality that they identified as the defining characteristic of Lost, which was mystery, which was should the legacy of this show be one in which we’re still debating and still wondering and theorizing and still speculating years afterwards. I think they thought that by not being clear and concrete and definitive on many of the mysteries that people wanted resolved, they felt they were remaining thematically and artistically true to their creative enterprise and the entertainment experience that we had, which was the conversation about it, the debating about it, the comparison of theories about it, the arguing over it. They tried to thread that needle right at the end with an ending about, “how can we give closure and how can we end the story on our terms that is also satisfying to the audience but is true to the greater whole of this show?” Tricky, tricky. Because it makes you aware that you fundamentally usually watch something and endings usually come to us.

When we get an ending to a story or a final chapter of a story or a final shot, you realize that they’re fundamnetally different animals than the entertainment experience that preceeded it as a whole. The entertainment experience that preceeds an ending is all about sustained tension and sustained mystery, and that final thing is just resolution.

Colored endings may have seemed clever on paper, but players did not respond very well.

Endings often just can’t win. Most screenwriters will tell you the hardest part of any movie, any story to tell, is just the end. It’s the thing that changes the most, it’s the endings that are the most fought over among collaborators, they’re the things that are just the hardest to land. Some people get it really, really right, some people get it really, really wrong, and some people land anywhere in-between and our attitudes about them can change. The thing about controversial endings, though, is this: five years from now, my friend, we will all say that the ending of Mass Effect 3 was genius! We’ll catch up to it.

I’m not going to say that people feel that way about Lost, but I would say that people feel that way about The Sopranos. Many, many years after the ending of The Sopranos, The Sopranos just ignited a storm of “oh, that was genius! Genius!” “Genius? Are you kidding me? They wimped out! They didn’t have the guts to tell us what they wanted!” Which is the final fate of Tony Soprano. Defenders of that finale said “Yes, they did. Don’t you get it?” and the people who hate it go “Wait, you’re saying that I’m stupid?” And you go into that downward spiral. Years later, the truth of the matter is, the people who hated it then are probably no greater fans of it now, but in the cooling of it all, the cooling of the vitriol, there is some appreciation. There is grudging appreciation in that camp of “I get what he was saying. I get what he was going for.” And, ultimately, what you remember is that “I defined my enjoyment of that series not by that final moment, but by seven, eight seasons of the greatest television show even written.” That’s how we remember The Sopranos. I think that’s how that’s the fans of Lost are going to remember that show. I think that, for better or worse, the final season of that show will be remembered as something of a cautionary tale. I happen to love it. Do I love it as much as the five seasons before? No, but I really respect and like and was moved by what they did. I think, the further we get away from Lost, it will get more defined by the things that it did right and revolutionary versus the issue of audience satisfaction.

I think Mass Effect as a franchise, these three games taken together, I just can’t see how it’s not regarded as anything less than a landmark. There’s so many things to enjoy about these games and this world and the creative accomplishment of this series than just those final moments. When I played those first two games, the narrative arc of it is maybe one of the things I like the least. I love the way it looks, I love the character design, I love these worlds--there’s so much to really enjoy and love about it. Given some time, people will remember all of what they loved about this thing and now the resolution of it all.

#2 Edited by TheSpoonyBard (57 posts) -

"Endings often just can’t win. Most screenwriters will tell you the hardest part of any movie, any story to tell, is just the end."

Yup. If it's tough to end a two hour movie with one or two main characters and some supporting cast, imagine how tough it would be to end a three-game series that spans dozens of hours.

I, however, loved the ending of The Wire and that series lasted like five seasons.

#3 Posted by MrKlorox (11209 posts) -

Holy crap, there are WAY too many people in Lost.

#4 Edited by XNaphryz (76 posts) -

From what I understand, people are upset about the ending because:

- It gives no sense of closure to anything in the game

- It ignores all of your previous choices and essentially gives you one ending

- It forces characters to break from their personalities in a very contrived manner

- It raises numerous questions and creates serious plot holes

- It does not fit with the themes and ideas from the rest of the game and series

I don't think a lot of people would've minded a depressing ending or whatever, as long as it was presented well and provided closure. They just want a well produced ending, not necessarily a "happy" one.

So in a nutshell:

#5 Posted by crustwheel (28 posts) -

In all fairness, who ISN'T a devotee at the shine of Lost??? Gotta keep that show shiny.

#6 Posted by CornBREDX (5965 posts) -

Darn, I cant read this yet. I havent finished ME3 yet. Guess I'll wait- gonna try to finish this week end anyways.

#7 Posted by pweidman (2362 posts) -

This dude's take would've been more interesting if he'd actually played through the whole game before this conversation.

His last generalized comments I agree with though for the most part.

#8 Posted by Aegeri (110 posts) -

Really the statement in here that says it all is "Endings are the hardest part to write", which is why you don't let two of your writing team just whack out the ending by themselves in a room

#9 Posted by DefaultProphet (551 posts) -

The idea that players are mad because it's a bittersweet ending is missing the point entirely. Most players are mad because nothing gets explained, every single thing is left hanging. There's no resolution, no closure. A proper epilogue would have been fine.

#10 Posted by 2HeadedNinja (1765 posts) -
A lot of people play these games to be the good guy that accomplishes everything, and video game endings, as a whole, the trope is that you’re the hero that’s unbeatable and everything turns out alright in the end. They went for something a little more mixed: things are out of your control. Bad things are going to happen no matter what you do, what choice you make. People have some real trouble processing that. Some wanted this “you saved the princess” ending that games have always have. Personally, as a player, it’s really important that they’re having this reaction. You don’t see that very often with a video game.

I'm sorry, but I stopped reading there ... with all due respect Patrick, that is not at all the point ... that the ending is not unicorns and ice cream is NOT why people are upset. If, after all the controversy, you did not understand that you should probably stay away from writing about the subject.

#11 Posted by JAVK (61 posts) -

Same old "game journalist" circlejerk.

#12 Posted by patrickklepek (2207 posts) -

@2HeadedNinja said:

A lot of people play these games to be the good guy that accomplishes everything, and video game endings, as a whole, the trope is that you’re the hero that’s unbeatable and everything turns out alright in the end. They went for something a little more mixed: things are out of your control. Bad things are going to happen no matter what you do, what choice you make. People have some real trouble processing that. Some wanted this “you saved the princess” ending that games have always have. Personally, as a player, it’s really important that they’re having this reaction. You don’t see that very often with a video game.

I'm sorry, but I stopped reading there ... with all due respect Patrick, that is not at all the point ... that the ending is not unicorns and ice cream is NOT why people are upset. If, after all the controversy, you did not understand that you should probably stay away from writing about the subject.

Stick with the story, that's not my only observation. I know that.

#13 Edited by Aegeri (110 posts) -

It's been pretty amazing seeing the gaming media (and pretty disappointing seeing GB do it) miss the entire point of why people hate the ending. It's a rushed, plot hole filled mess that doesn't take into account anything you did before and literally falls into an "ABC" choice, which Casey Hudson a few months before release said wouldn't be the way the game ended. Of course he might have confused choosing a color as being different to simply choosing ABC, who knows. Personally, I never felt that ME3 should have a happy ending: But it should have had an incredible one instead of the weak, obviously rushed and supremely lazy one in the game.

#14 Edited by Sooty (8082 posts) -

The endings and run up to said endings of Lost and The Sopranos are still far superior to what went down with Mass Effect 3, I don't think they make for good comparisons, and holy shit am I sick of hearing about this game.

Mass Effect 3 tried to finish off the trilogy in the space of 10 minutes, Lost and The Sopranos didn't take this route and it shows in the quality of their final episodes. (I'm by no means a huge fan of the Lost ending but it fit well for the show)

#15 Posted by Aegeri (110 posts) -

@Sooty If you're sick of it now, imagine what it will be like when the announce the DLC to change the ending will cost money. It's going to be hilarious.

#16 Posted by mutha3 (4986 posts) -

A lot of people play these games to be the good guy that accomplishes everything, and video game endings, as a whole, the trope is that you’re the hero that’s unbeatable and everything turns out alright in the end. They went for something a little more mixed: things are out of your control. Bad things are going to happen no matter what you do, what choice you make. People have some real trouble processing that. Some wanted this “you saved the princess” ending that games have always have. Personally, as a player, it’s really important that they’re having this reaction. You don’t see that very often with a video game.
 
 


I'm sorry, but no. Nonsense. I have played plenty of videogames(Nier, Red Dead Redemption, SMT:Nocturne  to use a handful of examples) and consumed plenty of other media that had bleak, hopeless endings.
 
The ending of Mass Effect 3 is fucking stupid, that's my problem with it. The "moral dilemma" it foists on you is not a dilemma at all. I was seriously rolling my eyes at the starchild, when it explained the motivation behind the reapers. And I'm not talking about the "YO DAWG WE MADE SYNTHETICS TO KILL YOU TO SAVE YOU FROM SYNTHETIC!!!!"-bit either. I'm talking about the concept that AI will inevitably kill their creators. You are 2 games too late in establishing that concept, Bioware. 
#17 Posted by aceofspudz (935 posts) -

@CornBREDX said:

Darn, I cant read this yet. I havent finished ME3 yet. Guess I'll wait- gonna try to finish this week end anyways.

Hey, one half of the conversation here hasn't finished ME3 either, but that didn't stop them from talking about it!

#18 Edited by mutha3 (4986 posts) -
@patrickklepek said:

@2HeadedNinja said:

A lot of people play these games to be the good guy that accomplishes everything, and video game endings, as a whole, the trope is that you’re the hero that’s unbeatable and everything turns out alright in the end. They went for something a little more mixed: things are out of your control. Bad things are going to happen no matter what you do, what choice you make. People have some real trouble processing that. Some wanted this “you saved the princess” ending that games have always have. Personally, as a player, it’s really important that they’re having this reaction. You don’t see that very often with a video game.

I'm sorry, but I stopped reading there ... with all due respect Patrick, that is not at all the point ... that the ending is not unicorns and ice cream is NOT why people are upset. If, after all the controversy, you did not understand that you should probably stay away from writing about the subject.

Stick with the story, that's not my only observation. I know that.

You eventually adress the lack of catharsis/closure, but I'm not seeing you acknowledging that a lot of people just think  the ending is stupid and poorly written.
#19 Posted by Sackmanjones (4761 posts) -

Dont we have enough of these threads?

That's a joke… kinda

#20 Posted by Aegeri (110 posts) -

@mutha3 Not to mention, that ME3 and ME2 actually spend a good chunk of their story SUBVERTING the concept that AI will always destroy their creators - especially for a Paragon Shepard. This makes the final part of the game even more pants on head stupid.

#21 Posted by GinjaAssassin (159 posts) -

What a great read.

#22 Posted by SupernormalStep (210 posts) -

that was a lot less interesting than I thought it would be.

#23 Edited by jingy (4 posts) -

I am seriously doubting... Giant Bomb do you read your user comments at all? All these comments in all your mass effect 3 ending articles (not just this one) state it is NOT because of the bittersweet ending people are upset. Just read any of these comments and you'll soon see the most common reason coming up again and again.

Hell, even Jeff Gertsmann himself in Mass Effect Quick Look stated, "yeah the ending is disappointing, it basically invalidates all your decisions from previous games" (paraphrase). How can you guys keep on believing it is due to bittersweet ending. I think GiantBomb is a really cool place and a great hub for gaming in general. But this ignorance of your own user comments making me lose confidence in you guys.

#24 Posted by Impossibilium (687 posts) -

Lost and ME3 do have something in common but it's not the pretentious waffling expounded here.

The ending of Lost failed because it jettisoned four seasons of detailed mythology to come down to two magic beings fighting over a magic light in a cave which was introduced at the last minute.

The ending of ME3 failed because it jettisoned three games worth of decisions to come down to a Deus Ex Machina over-simplistic plot device introduced at the last minute.

It's amazing how many of these journalists think the problem was nihilism. No the problem was the arbitrary way the game threw away your efforts (Building fleet strength? What was the point of that?) to lazily assemble an ending scenario based on pushing three buttons constructed around a really weak raison d'etre.

If my Shep had been blown to pieces by a Reaper gunship because the fleet strength was inadequate that would have been fine. If my Shep had sacrificed himself by ramming the Normandy into the Crucible that would have been fine too.

Because both those outcomes would have been consistent with the story told for 99.9% of the game instead of the bolt-on scenario that Bioware chose and then colorized for effect. Instead of playing through as a renegade or paragon just adjust the color balance on your television to receive the same outcome and save some time, because what happens in the game and how you play it makes almost no difference at the end.

#25 Posted by bhhawks78 (1207 posts) -

Patrick at this point I have to believe you are trolling.

"GB: Not really. I was disappointed. They were going for something a little more audacious and bittersweet, and I do think a lot of the reaction has stemmed from that"

Having an "unhappy" ending is not even in the top 5 biggest issues with the ending, it's plotholes filled with nonsense space magic. Why even post a story about this if you can't even spend 5 minutes reading people's issues with the actual ending? Red Dead had an awesome depressing ending, so did the greatest tv show ever the wire. I wanted/expected shepherds death, not space kid magic covering up a swiss cheese ending.

#26 Posted by FieldCommanderRick (55 posts) -

Agreed. More self-indulgent videogame journalist wankery. Reducing fan complaints to the ending lacking catharsis or a heroic ending reveals how little game journalists have actually thought about the ending.

The problem with the ending was not its artistic vision. It was its lazy execution and failure to communicate any coherent ideas at all. It was thematically inconsistent and nonsensical -- thus prompting theories (indoc theory, etc) outside of the "text" of the game to give it some semblance of meaning or coherence with the rest of the series.

Also: the rest of ME3 felt very lazy and contrived as well. I think game journalists are out of touch with their readers and feel overly superior with their supposed greater perspective on things. Really they're just in the pockets of big publishers and don't even realize it.

(End of rant.)

#27 Posted by bucky (116 posts) -

@jingy: Did you not read the article? "GB: Players feel like they should have this unique impact on this world and how it plays out, and it’s what makes the world "entitlement" feel...it doesn’t seem to work as well for the reaction. Entitlement’s a really easy word to apply to it, but in some sense, players should feel entitled when they’ve been told they’re the ones who are entitled to make these decisions.

When they get to an end that isn’t satisfying, an end where BioWare says they want to make a statement, that goes directly contrary to the player and the agency they had during that experience."

#28 Posted by donkeyscrotes (69 posts) -

@TheSpoonyBard: The ending to the Wire was just so goddamn perfect.

#29 Posted by zombie007 (102 posts) -

LOL Patrick. Next time at least figure out why people are upset OK. Worthless article, a rare one for you.

#30 Edited by Nephrahim (1156 posts) -

You know what I'm more tired of then the fanboys clamoring for a new Mass Effect 3 ending? The gaming press articles making light of them. Seriously, The anti-fanboyisim is getting almost as bad as the fanboyism. Write articles on some real news.

Online
#31 Posted by HadesTimes (827 posts) -

First, I don't really value someone's opinion who hasn't played the whole Mass Effect series before passing judgement. Second, I really hated the end of Mass Effect 3, Third, I don't need them to change it, Finally, I don't want to talk about this anymore or at least until the next piece of Mass Effect whatever comes out. At this point all this speculation and discussion really aren't getting us anywhere. Get back to me when you do an interview this in-depth with Casey Hudson.

#32 Posted by JLF1 (33 posts) -

I have zero problems about every ending being either humanity is screwed to humanity is almost screwed. I have a problem that my Shepard, the Shepard I created and played as for three games weren't present at the end of the game.

It's sad that in the end Binary Domains very shallow, brief moral choices had the same impact as the choices I did in Mass Effect 1-3. Which is to say non.

No problems with the dark endings though.

#33 Posted by fusrodah (95 posts) -

I loved the ending of Mass Effect 3

#34 Posted by bhhawks78 (1207 posts) -

Honestly this is probably the first time I'm actually embarrassed to come to this site. herp derp they wanted a happy ending! That's the exact opposite of reality if anything. Brb posting an article saying ms is making ps4 and Sony is making Wiiu because it makes just as much sense as that bullshit strawman.

#35 Posted by Funkydupe (3321 posts) -

@MrKlorox: They could start their own civilization right there and then they wouldn't be lost.

#36 Posted by IBurningStar (2190 posts) -
@2HeadedNinja said:
A lot of people play these games to be the good guy that accomplishes everything, and video game endings, as a whole, the trope is that you’re the hero that’s unbeatable and everything turns out alright in the end. They went for something a little more mixed: things are out of your control. Bad things are going to happen no matter what you do, what choice you make. People have some real trouble processing that. Some wanted this “you saved the princess” ending that games have always have. Personally, as a player, it’s really important that they’re having this reaction. You don’t see that very often with a video game.

I'm sorry, but I stopped reading there ... with all due respect Patrick, that is not at all the point ... that the ending is not unicorns and ice cream is NOT why people are upset. If, after all the controversy, you did not understand that you should probably stay away from writing about the subject.

I nearly stopped reading there too. Why do people keep on insisting that the lack of a happy ending is the reason people are unsatisfied? We are totally cool with having a bitter sweet or downer ending. I know A LOT of people that love the piss out of the ending to Metal Gear Solid 3. It is actually my favorite game ending of all time. That ending is depressing as hell and people love it! 
 
This article had some good parts, but there was a lot of stuff that seemed way off base. I'm also starting to understand why some people aren't very fond of Patrick.
#37 Posted by MankyScotsGit (6 posts) -

Yeah as others have said it's a little frustrating that no site has seemed to really look into the reasons why people disliked the ending besides that it's not happy. I'm sure that may be the issue for some people but most of the complaints I've seen are far more about the plot holes, unexplained/illogical character behaviour and the ending being basically exactly what Bioware PR said they would NOT do prior to release.

#38 Posted by strangone (179 posts) -

The idea that people's complaints are about wanting a happy ending are such an irritating strawman. Why will nobody in the gaming press just acknowledge that the ending was badly written and had massive, glaring plot holes? It really doesn't deserve all this analysis - Bioware botched the ending, that should be the story.

#39 Posted by mabber36 (129 posts) -

I never played mass effect, but the ending just sounds like a complete ripoff of the end of hyperion

#40 Posted by defcomm (396 posts) -

This is article is disappointing; I like Klepek and this article would be fine if the criticisms weren't warranted. I thought the ending was awful and here I am being told I'm self entitled because ???
 
Yeah, this is great. Thanks, games journalism.

#41 Posted by Distrato (66 posts) -

This entire debacle has just caused me to stop taking gaming journalism seriously.

Here are two reasons why I'm upset.

1. Reviewers are blind to the fact that the game is riddled with horrid dialog, forced drama, and ridiculous plot. If you honestly wanted the medium to be considered "art" you would raise your standards. To even compare Mass Effect to truly masterful works is just insulting. I hate to say but I don't view that as an opinion. Mass Effect is on par with the Mona Lisa? No, its not and to say something like shows the people who you want to convince so much that we are all still immature and uncultured.

2. This whole thing has made me see that developers and reviewers are far too close to each other. As David Jaffe said, "you get paid by the advertisers, you get paid by actual salary, you don't get to be a fan. You are a journalist first." No one is critical in this industry. Gaming sites appear to be nothing more than a catalog for gamers to browse through. Its just unfortunate that no one but Erik Kain seems to understand the fundamental problems with the practices Bioware and EA are doing. I applaud actual journalist like Patrick Klepek who uncovered things like the Infinity Ward/Activision incident. Now it seems as though integrity is dead and nobody wants to question or call out any developers for their bullshit. No one speaks for the gamers.

http://www.forbes.com/games/

Do you see that? That is far more journalistic than anything I've seen since I've started going to video game websites. If you are a real journalist then find stories and be critical of the industry.

#42 Edited by AndorianBlues (1 posts) -

This is a very interesting discussion, but I have to be honest I think it misses the point. This entire debate feels like a manufactured controversy to me. If a weapon in the game were severely unbalanced and this adversely effected gameplay, would we be reading articles discussing the artistic merit of what the combat designers intended vs. the demands of the fans? No, it would just get patched and it would get absolutely no attention whatsoever. Not because combat designers aren't artists, but because that's just how video games work. So why is it any different when it's the work of the writers that's going to get patched out? Bioware released a game that has a problem, fans complained, now they're going to fix it. This is only the most normal thing in the world.

#43 Posted by WiqidBritt (580 posts) -

@Aegeri said:

@mutha3 Not to mention, that ME3 and ME2 actually spend a good chunk of their story SUBVERTING the concept that AI will always destroy their creators - especially for a Paragon Shepard. This makes the final part of the game even more pants on head stupid.

Except for the part where Shepard is asserting that it doesn't have to be that way... why do you assume it's true just because the Reapers believe it's true? You spend the whole game trying to prove the Reapers aren't all knowing unbeatable mechanical gods, so why do you take what the catalyst says as absolute fact? Control the Reapers, make them go away and let the peace you established between the Geth and Quarrians exist (and the romance between Joker and EDI) if that's what you believe will happen.

#44 Posted by Dany (7887 posts) -

@mutha3: Read the article, Patrick goes back to that point.

#45 Posted by iceferret (1 posts) -

I think a lot of these articles are missing the point, especially considering the vast majority are comparing the ending of ME3 to Lost and The Sopranos. Ending a game in the same fashion as either of those two shows is a no go in my opinion when that game belongs to a franchise that the publisher expects to continue milking. Polarizing their audience in such a way is a mistake, especially if they want you to then dish out for DLC a month down the road. Those developers need to be a lot more conscious of how they treat their audience, as the relationship they have to their players is very different to a show/viewer. Whereas Lost or Sorpranos are done, all wrapped up with the vision the show-runners intended, like it or not. They are artistically complete units, with no intention of revisiting the setting and requiring the viewer-ship to be maintained, so they can afford to piss a large group of the fan-base off in the end with a non crowd pleasing ending. A franchise developer cannot, hence why they "should" do something about it.

#46 Posted by Phatmac (5726 posts) -

Great another article that calls us entitled babies! Thanks Klepek!

#47 Edited by Xeteh (52 posts) -
"fo emotion. Lost completely triumphed int hat regard" Typos!

Most people aren't pissed about the fact that Shepard doesn't ride off in to the sunset, most are pissed (as mentioned) about the lack of closure. The story of Mass Effect has you interacting and caring about so many different characters and the game ends without touching on any of them. You don't know what happened and you don't really understand what did. For instance the Arrival DLC has you destroying a mass relay which results in an entire system being destroyed... why is it that when the relays are destroyed at the end the same thing doesn't happen?

Then there's the whole indoctrination theory which can be explained really well here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QT4IUepvrU1pfv_B95oQj0H84DlCTUmzQ_uQh1voTUs/preview?pli=1&sle=true which if you buy in to it (I didn't at first but I've come around) is basically saying Control/Synthesis have you succumbing to the indoctrination of the Reapers while you overcome it by choosing Destroy... which is why this ending is the only one where you can get that clip of "someone" in N7 armor waking up and if that is the case then the game ends with Shepard passed out somewhere on the streets of London while a battle rages on around him/her. Indoctrination means the writing for the ending was just as amazing if not better than the rest of the game but it also means we got an incomplete ending that we're likely going to have to shell out more money for; considering Ashes it isn't too much of a stretch.

#48 Posted by Dany (7887 posts) -

@purplethoughnotquite said:

This is article is disappointing; I like Klepek and this article would be fine if the criticisms weren't warranted. I thought the ending was awful and here I am being told I'm self entitled because ??? Yeah, this is great. Thanks, games journalism.

Read the damn article, that is not the purpose that Patrick makes.

#49 Posted by Supermarius (1196 posts) -

Yep. Patrick really messed this up. He is presuming that mass effect fans who are upset must not "get" it or are too simpleminded to appreciate a sad ending. The reality is that Patrick is the one who doesn't get it.

#50 Edited by S0ndor (2716 posts) -

Man, I was kinda pissed at the end of Mass Effect 3. Not because my Shepard was incinerated, but because the ending seemed completely detached from everything that series taught me. In contrast, I feel like I was one of the few people who absolutely loved the ending of The Sopranos.

Tony probably died, but who gives a fuck. The Sopranos remained The Sopranos till the end. The same cannot be said of Mass Effect.

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