On Mass Effect, Part 2: Collaborative storytelling and the end. (SPOILERS)

Yes, this post contains spoilers for the Mass Effect series. All titles are fair game. You have been warned.

Mass Effect 3

In part one of this reflection on the Mass Effect series, I retold the games’ plot as I saw it: an epic love story set against a galaxy’s struggle for survival. It’s not a prerequisite for reading part 2, but it does serve as the basis for much of my argument presented here.

Let’s cut to the chase: there is no possible ending BioWare could have devised for Mass Effect 3 that would have pleased everyone. The beauty of that series — something that has been reaffirmed by the outrage surrounding the finale — is the unique narrative each player builds throughout their 90-hour experience. It’s all thanks to collaborative storytelling, with both the player and developer working to build each Shepard’s story.

But that’s only true to a degree. The greatest trick BioWare ever played was making you think you were somehow writing this story. While there are near infinite combinations of story beats and outcomes across the entirety of the series, each momentary decision is just as trivially presented as the final one: you stand at a crossroad with two, three or maybe, if your lucky, four possible paths. Take your pick.

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On Mass Effect, Part 1: A hopeless romantic (SPOILERS)

Yes, this post contains spoilers for the Mass Effect series. All titles are fair game. You have been warned.

I’ve been thinking about Mass Effect a lot; about what the series means to me, why its ending has been so controversial and what separates it from similar games. I’ve come to a couple of conclusions and this is my attempt to lay them out.

I’m starting with a reflection on my Mass Effect experience. This is the story of Commander Shepard as I saw it. All of that surface level stuff — the battles with Saren and the Reapers, Cerberus’ constant meddling, the siege of Earth — is ultimately unimportant. This series is great because it allows the player to inject their own humanity into Shepard. You determine which losses are the most painful. You choose Shepard’s motivations. The choices you make within the game aren’t nearly as interesting or important to crafting your Commander Shepard as those you make outside it.

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