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Moving Past Mass Effect

First, I apologize in advance for another “blank” entry.

As someone who typically plays games that are old and on Steam sales, I can appreciate the frustration of people who are waiting on ME3 and yet are inundated by spoiler-laden posts on their Readers/blogrolls. In fact, I do not even like friends telling me they liked or disliked an ending to anything – my mind immediately starts analyzing the kinds of things my friend likes/dislikes (“Hmm, he wasn’t a fan of FF7’s ending…”), and extrapolates possible ending scenarios from there.

If you are such a person, or don’t want ME3 spoilers generally, last chance to bail.

Yeah, we kinda do.

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us… We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”
–Franz Kafka

Since finishing Mass Effect 3 Monday night, I have been in turmoil. Post-game depression is fairly typical for me, and endings like this one are a sort of double-whammy.

Rohan described the break as being “pre-beam” and “post-beam,” but it actually started earlier for me. The invasion of Earth itself was curiously… off. What should have been a momentous emotional occasion was, well, not. Where was the stirring music? Fires and Reapers and silence. For a while, I was actually worried that there was a bug preventing any music from playing.

Once back aboard the Normandy, things started feeling right again. This was Mass Effect, this was what it was about. In fact, it was not until ME3 specifically that I even felt I knew what the series was about. Interstellar war was one thing, but what I cared about was landing in a situation, and being the right man at the right time. Shepard was not setting out to dictate galactic policy, Shepard was not some god-figure who arbitrates which species lives and which dies. He (or she) simply happened to find himself in that position, at that turning point in history, and does the best that he can.

It is in that context that I felt the post-beam sequence was fine, for what it was.

Through the prism of the ending, I felt that Shepard the character got the closure he needed in the hours leading up to the end. The romance section put it in sharp relief: I was so worried about getting “locked-in” too soon that I accidentally past the point of no return without anyone at all. When I reloaded and made my choice, the stark difference between my feelings of the game – based simply upon those two scenes, one alone and the other with Liara (sorry, Tali) – drove home the fact that I love this series, no matter what happened.

Ever read The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan? As of today, the series is one book away from completion, and I have become so invested in the final outcome that I can barely stand it. But… what kind of ending should there be? The one I want, or the one I deserve? What if the ending is simply terrible, like how I felt ME3’s was at the time I was experiencing it?

With Wheel of Time, that answer is largely moot. There was one point in Winter’s Heart (book 9), one perfect moment, when everything in the narrative came together for me; a great character catharsis, independent of any kind of grand action event. I remember sighing, and a tension I did not even know existed, releasing. No matter what happens in Book 13, no matter what the Wheel weaves, they can never take that moment away or cheapen it.

I am coming to understand the same with Mass Effect.

Bioware cannot take away the feeling of immense depth with Mordin, when the Salarian stereotype fell away to reveal a reservoir of guilt for necessary evils; a doctor moved to inflict harm, faced with impossible choices. Bioware cannot take away my own feeling of guilt when I heard Kaiden’s “Belay that order!” command repeated in the forest dream sequence; a sacrifice I readily accepted at the time to save a woman I had feelings toward and ultimately passed over. Bioware cannot take away EDI and Joker and all the other hilariously poignant moments in the entire series, but ME2 in particular. Bioware cannot take away the bromance with Garrus, or the absolute struggle I had in choosing whether to intentionally miss that shot or not.

Here, here.

So, if you struggled as I have, or struggle still, I have a recommendation. Listen to To Build a Home by The Cinematic Orchestra. Listen to it again. Then read this Kotaku article. Then remember every time you felt this way before – maybe Cowboy Bebop, maybe End of Evangelion, maybe Saving Private Ryan – and try to remember the last time you have felt so wounded by a video game. Have wanted something different so bad you could taste it.

And then… try to let go. If you are anything like me, I am having an exceedingly difficult time wanting to.

Good game, Bioware. Good game.

P.S. Epilogue: For what it’s worth, I still believe Bioware should have handled the ending better (and I am aware of the “secret ending”). The tone and recycled outcomes were one thing, but the incongruent Normandy bit was quite another. At first, I railed against the notion that Bioware was planning on going the “if you want the true ending, it’ll be $9.99 DLC” route, and the implicit dream/indoctrination sequence that implies. But the precedent already exists: Bethesda did just that in the Fallout 3 “Broken Steel” DLC.

The difference being, of course, that Fallout 3 was immensely cathartic in wrapping things up at the end, straight out of the box.