So, tonight, after almost a month of play, and after completing all missions on Hardcore difficulty, I am now onto the final mission of Insanity difficulty. That, in itself, is probably not the biggest statement, however, this is coming from a guy who traded a burger for the first title in the series, and then subsequently broke his computer multiple times to try and complete it, he fell in love with it that much (I finally completed it when I simply didn’t turn my computer off or exit the game at any point during my play through), who pre-ordered the second title in the series as a Collector’s Edition months in advanced, and ended up buying a second copy anyway because I couldn’t get it fast enough. So, I suppose, tonight was the completion of a long and galactically fraught journey that started almost five years and hundreds of hours of play, ago. As the credits rolled, I felt a heavy weight in my heart, it’s kind of the weight you feel when you’ve heard about the loss of a friend. (Keep in mind, as you read this, if you haven’t finished the game I may accidentally roll in a spoiler or two).
And this is probably an appropriate time to talk about Mass Effect 3’s ending(s), and the furore that currently surrounds it (well… singular because they’re all basically the same). Hehe, smooth segue…
You would probably expect a gamer, like me, no less an amateur scholar of the medium, to immediately pan the lack of diversity in outcome, but, as a film-maker, I can also see the narrative and ethical depth of that single (modified for each of the three outcomes) ending, and I can respect the intention of the developer.
I think one of the most glaring issues that arises from this debacle, and, no, when I refer to the debacle I am not referring to the ending itself, rather the rancorous reception by the game’s playing community, and media coverage, alike, is how it detracts from the image of the “stereotypical gamer” (I know, problematic), how it further ingrains into society that, while we are, on average, chronologically at age 28, we are, mentally, all aged below 13.
Here is the thing. While cinema is not an interactive medium per se (although, some would disagree with you, what I am trying to get at, is that it does not use interactivity as a primary means of conveying a message, although how that message is received is a story for another time), it is an expression of art. And, in the expression of art, whether it be literary, filmic or fine, the audience is often made to confront the ideas they find most uneasy within them, with this tension creating that inexorable engagement (like watching car crashes). We view art in this way to further explore these dark corners of our mind, in the safe knowledge of being within an escapist parameter, and through this uncovering of deep seated inhibitions, new and radical ideas are allowed to flourish, our minds are able to expand, be reinvigorated and grow. Art is a safe path to enlightenment.
In that vein, I see Mass Effect 3 as Bioware’s attempt at enlightening the average gamer. But many gamers will cry, “But, ahhhh! What about my choice?! What about my wants?! What about the money I paid for this?! What about my notions of idyllic grandeur?! I want to have my cake and eat it too!!!” And here lies the other side of the coin (or our minds, should I say).
Subscribing to any kind of dogma, whether it be fundamentalist religion, radical secularism, extreme capitalism, naive socialism, or, in this case, selfish and elitist gaming conventions (and, yes, there are conventions, automatically dictated by the extreme reliance on quantitative scoring outcomes, the dichotomy of the gaming public, “play” and what is “fun”, and the incessant juvenility of the industry and the media that surrounds it) automatically narrows the mind. The rules and messages portrayed as lifestyle conformation only serve to deprive the mind of independent thought, for a given situation, the dogma dictates a given response, there is no thought for consequence, there is no thought for improvement, and, most importantly, there is no thought for the situations and thoughts of others, nor yourself. The only way for a mind to be invigorated and active is to open it to abstract thought, and unstructured medias, the most accessible of which, is art.
Gamers may decry that games are not art, nor are they technical works – that they conform to no other medium. However, as said above, in subscribing to the dogma of being a “gamer” (problematic terminology, I realise), there is (probably, and this is an unfortunate blanket statement) the need to be unique after such unceasing scapegoating the video games industry and its proponents have endured within society since its inception over 50 years ago (depending on how you define video game. Modern video games are popularly viewed as having started with PONG (1972)). I see games as a medium of convergence though, as both at the cutting edge of technical brilliance, and, yes, the most fantastic expressions of art (you have to ask yourself, if they were not to be interpreted as texts conveying artistic expression, the most obvious question is, why the massive art departments on triple A games? (I agree, the answer is also as obvious)).
Returning to Mass Effect 3, viewing it as a brilliant and technical text of artistic expression, the latest zenith within the genre of recent epic narratives, I can see it as a fundamental critique of human society, of the inevitable cycles of war that occur with disparate class grading, and of the self-destructive nature of basing societal structures on the very worst aspects of the human psyche: perpetual and absolute destruction (refer the Krogan, actually, haha, just realised, the entire history of Krogans could be an analogy and future vision of our own), and the corrupting power of absolute control, neither of which are warranted, no matter the cause.
In the end, the right choice is unification, and the end of disparities. It is only through finding common ground that we can all create an understanding of co-operation. However, as indicated by the furore surrounding this (nuanced, and provoking (only my opinion)) ending, human society is not ready, and too blind to accept this outcome as it does not present the best outcome for either party (game theory and a story for another day).
What a deliciously ironic truism.