Why Retake Mass Effect is important to gaming

I think when we look back on the year 2012(so far, that is), we'll recognize two events in video games that changed our medium forever. One would be the Double Fine Adventure extravaganza, and the other is the Retake Mass Effect 3 movement.

The movement to change/clarify or provide more closure to the Mass Effect 3 ending is currently a subject devouring the Internet. If you somehow don't know about it, I'll spare you the details and trust that you can fill yourself on the matter just fine.

I wanted to write this because of the resounding negativity about the movement. Both groups that are in favor of it or not are very vocal, but almost every major game website I go to has an opinion piece currently up outlining why changing the ending would be a mistake. I wanted to write something to offer a slightly different perspective.

I'll try my hardest to avoid spoilers if you haven't played the game yet.

If you were to ask me if changing the ending would be a good/bad idea, I couldn't tell you. It's really an issue that doesn't have a clear solution, in my opinion. On one hand, out-right changing the ending would be costly, time-consuming, it would compromise BioWare as story-tellers, and most fans would demand it to be a free download. On the other hand(and this is the direction I swing toward most of the time), the Mass Effect 3 ending is pretty terrible.

So lets compare here. One sounds like childish bitching and moaning, and the other sounds like a lackluster ending to a video game. What exactly is so different here? Plenty of games have had terrible endings, and no one made a fuss like this in those situations, right? What makes Mass Effect fans so special to the point they think they can demand an essential do-over for a product they slapped down(at least) sixty dollars for?

I'll tell you. Mass Effect is the most involved and intimate gaming experience in history. For five years, players have crafted their own Commander Shepard, that thinks like them, talks like them, and looks like them. They've guided this character across the galaxy, making friends and enemies, performing merciful and vengeful deeds, and falling in love. Games have done these things these things before(sometimes better), but none of them have done it to the scale of Mass Effect. Or at least, the promised scale.

The problem is that despite all the talk about how much your actions would affect the outcome of the climactic final chapter, none of them did. Instead, players were thrown a couple of cheap, lazy, pre-fab FMV cut scenes with choices that: A. Didn't fit what their Shepard would do, B. Made barely any sense.

So maybe I've telegraphed my opinion about this a bit too obviously, but my opinion of the ending isn't the topic of this blog.

BioWare deserves to have this blow up in their face. The industry does.

The very nature of our medium makes the participant...no, the pilot very invested in whatever experience is given to them. No matter what game it is or how much control you REALLY have over it.

When you deliver the final gunshot to Zakhaev in Modern Warfare, you feel it. You feel satisfied, and you feel accomplished, even though the game was designed to put you on a straight-and-narrow path to that moment no matter what, you feel like you achieved something because YOU CONTROLLED IT. This is the inherent advantage that no other mediums for storytelling have, and it's what makes gaming special.

So when Shepard and you, the pilot of him or her, gets all of your efforts thrown into your face for nothing, you feel it. We're talking about Mass Effect here. For a medium built on interactivity and personal investment, Mass Effect 3 should have been the mother lode of all of that. No matter what ending you earned over the course of the series, you should have felt the impact of it because you did it. You are supposed to be The Shepard. Instead, it all falls flat.

People are pissed because despite all that was said, the ending they got didn't do justice to everything they've accomplished as Commander Shepard.

To me, this controversy is important to our industry because it illustrates the strengths of video games, and how much of a cluster-fuck that will result when one of the most esteemed developers in existence underestimates those strengths.

This should serve as a wake-up call to everybody. Gamers take games seriously. We're not okay with half-assed and rushed conclusions, especially to one of the most beloved franchises in history. BioWare for sure needs to pay attention. The Mass Effect 3 fiasco is beyond repair, no matter what DLC comes out in April, people will still be pissed. Instead, they need to focus on making sure they don't repeat this fatal mistake in the future. After all, Mass Effect 3 isn't the first time we've been burned by them in recent memory.

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