Mass Effect: The Story Is The Game

You’ve been fooled.

See, you thought the game portion of the Mass Effect series is that part where you run around and shoot synthetics or warp Cerberus soldiers in their balls, or the part where you fly from planet to planet launching your penetrative active scans in search of… I dunno, weird alien Bibles and lost Turian fleets.

That’s the game you thought you were playing.

Like I said: you were fooled.

Further, you probably thought, “This game has a great story. And wrapped around that game is a fascinating science-fiction tale — or maybe the game is wrapped around the story? ToMAYto toMAHto!”

BZZT. Wrongo.

Like I said: fooled.

The story is the game.

For added emphasis: the story IS the game.

All that shooting? All the planet mining and ammo gathering?

They’re just wrapping for the real game. The real game is how you, the player — in some ways, a collaborative author — arrange the pieces of the story to suit the outcome you desire. You desire XYZ outcome (“I want to save the Galaxy, I want to destroy the Geth-Collectors-Reapers, I want to bang Liara and my ship’s yeoman in some kind of cosmic asteroid hot-spring”), and then you try to direct events through your proxy in the game world: Commander Shepard. You make Shepard say things. You make her punch some mouthy fuck or play diplomat. You command her to let this character — or this entire race of characters — live or die. And in this way you’re moving story pieces the same way you might move one of those sliding block puzzles. Except this time with 100% more lesbian Asari sex.

This is what I love about Mass Effect. You carry your saved character through all three games. Choices made really matter. Play the game and poke through various forums and posts on the subject. You’d be amazed at how often you see other people’s stories varying wildly — “Oh my god, that person’s still alive in the third game? You can have sex with that robot? Nobody else was able to turn the Citadel into a giant space-bong?”

It gives oxygen to its characters and lets them breathe and bloom. It makes you care. It forces you into hard choices. It’s actually quite elegant how it makes the audience into a collaborative author.

And then the third game ends.

And by “ends,” I mean, takes a poop in its own mouth, then barfs that poop in your eye.

From here on out, there be spoilers.

Let’s Talk About That Ending

Seriously, last chance:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

Okay.

I’ve been sitting on the game’s ending now for a couple days. At first I was like, “Ehh, well, okay, whatever, it’s just a game, I mean, so what if it only made a half-a-lick of sense and didn’t really answer anything and reminded me of the worst parts of The Matrix Reloaded and I’ll just go to bed now and–”

And I couldn’t sleep.

I just kept thinking about it. Hovering over it. Nesting on it like an angry bird whose eggs were stolen by heinous green pigs. It was like a piece of gristle between my molars. Gristle I couldn’t reach.

It’s been like that over the last few days. Taking up intellectual space in my head, refusing to budge. I’m hoping writing this post will do some of that — it’s not that I’m angry over the ending, really. I’m not one of the many legions of fans who want to build a giant robot just to use its tremendous pneumatic grenade testicles to tea-bag the Bioware offices — no matter what the ending was or is or becomes, I still think the Mass Effect games (and the two Dragon Age games) are works of storytelling mastery. To use a theme from Mass Effect, this effort is a true fusing of the synthetic mode of games with the organic life of stories.

But that ending.

Man. What a fucking bummer. What a goddamn titty-twister.

Okay, let me break it down for you in case you have not or will not play these games: for three games we have been taught that our choices as Commander Shepard matter. Our decisions big and small — who we save, who we kill, who we fuck, who we love — actually change the story in each game. Each decision builds upon the next, a great big storytelling snowball effect, so that by the time the third game rolls around you’re really amazed at how the game still recognizes shit you did 100+ hours and two games ago.

And then you reach the ending, which breaks down to you meeting the… I dunno, Reaper God-Mind, and there the Reaper God-Mind is like, “Hey, I’ve boxed you into these two choices — no, no, I know people on the Internet say there’s a third choice but you don’t get that choice, Commander Shitbird, because you didn’t realize your Galactic Dickhole Score was critical to have at 215%, and so now because you missed some Batarian Widget in the Far Rim I give you two choices. One of them is to control the Reapers, the other is to destroy the Reapers. Both will probably kill you. Each will cause a different colored explosion and the same cutscene. And then we’ll blow up all the Mass Relays for no good reason and Joker will run off to some lusty jungle planet to either have robot babies with EDI or he’ll screw your own love conquest, Yeoman Traynor. Then, something about an old man talking down to his stupid grandson and oh! Don’t forget that shameless plug for downloadable content, which will jerk your chain right out of the story. So. What’s it going to be, Shitbird?”

Guh. Guh? Guh? (And why so much Joker there at the end?)

What the fuck, Mass Effect? Why you gotta do me like that? Without even the courtesy of a reach-around? All this time you’ve been teaching me how important my free will is both as a character and a player. How significant my choices are — except now the two (not three) choices I receive are the same choices every asshole playing the game gets? And those choices reveal functionally identical endings? And none of those endings give me one greasy lick of information about Garrus or Liara or the entire Krogan race or what the Geth are up to or how my Yeoman love interest responds to me getting burned to a crispy cinder?

I don’t mind that it’s a bummer ending. It’s not actually that much of a bummer. Shit happens and it is, as expected, a Pyrrhic Victory. I never expected differently. When I first heard the complaints about the ending I thought that was the problem — that’s certainly how gaming media framed it. “Oh, a cabal of pissy-pants gamers are upset because they didn’t get a happy ending. Get the sand out yer vaginas!”

But that’s not it. Not for me. Not for most.

It’s that the ending betrays the intention of the story.

It’s that I spent 100+ hours on three games expecting the same I’d always received: hard choices and a glimpse at how my hard choices paid off in ways both good and bad.

It’s that the ending doesn’t even make that much sense. It feels like it was duct-taped on, flapping half-loose in the wind, its amateur-hour esoterica boldly displaying its crass non-logic (“Yeah, so, to prevent you guys from getting murdered by synthetic beings, we’re going to murder you first. And yes, we are synthetic beings. I know, this is awkward. It doesn’t have to make sense. Just lie back and think of London, Commander Shitbird. Now here, dream some more of Joker, for no good reason.”)

It’s that this ending isn’t the ending that fits. Not philosophically. Not logically.

And worst of all, not narratively.

There. Blister lanced. Feeling better.

Oh, though, I’ll add — I have heard the so-called Indoctrination Theory, which suggests that this ending is purposefully bogus, because Shepard is Indoctrinated by the Reapers. It explains away a number of the logical inconsistencies that happen in the ending sequence and suggests that Bioware will release the “real” ending via DLC. Nnnnyeaaaaah.

If that’s true, it’s both genius and sinister as all hell.

Genius because, hey, bravo. That’s some tricky shit you just pulled.

Sinister because it’s like selling me a book with the last ten pages ripped out and then making me pay extra to get those ten pages back. Even though I bought them dead to rights to begin with.

Presuming such a theory is not true — should Bioware change the ending? I’m torn. Not because Bioware is the “author” here — anybody who plays games and these games in particular should divest themselves of the notion of a single author. Games are collaborative. I’ve long said the players are both author and protagonist (at least in part) and so I’ve no illusion about Bioware being the sole artist responsible. So, why not change it? Because it’s already out there. This ending already exists. It’s the ending on record, the ending I played through to get (for good or bad), and though it left a bad taste on my tongue, it’s still the taste I get.

Changing it now would just feel weird.

Then again, I’d also love an ending that fits the game I played.

Time will tell.

Anyway. Them’s my long-winded thoughts. Do with them as you will.

Contribute your own, if you’ve played the game.

59 comments

  • All I want to know is this: Why am I speaking to this godchild thing? Was Harbinger unavailable? He’d have made fine sense for the finale.

    Also, in my head, Shepard just told the Reapers, “No. Bullshit. See what we did? We fixed our fucking mistakes. We prevented a genocide. We ended a war of 300 years between synthetics and organics. The only fucking people saying we’re doomed are you. Go back to deep space. Leave us alone.

    “And understand: If you ever come back? We will fire this thing. We will kill you all. Regardless of the cost.

    Now fuck off.”

    And they did!

  • That’s how your ending went? Man, that must have sucked.

    My ending was Mordin Solus saying, “Had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong.” Then I pressed Alt F4. BEST GAME ENDING EVER.

    I didn’t do that. But that was a fucking ending. Had me in tears.

  • Chuck,

    You just nailed what I was thinking after having just finished the game. It’s not that it was a bad ending (as in unhappy), it was that it was badly executed and just didn’t make sense. Worse, you are left with no idea what happened to so many characters.

    And if that Indoctrination stuff is true, then that sets a worrying precedent for gaming. But the more I think about it, I reckon this is the way they’ve gone. Bastards.

  • I’m not actually sure that they were planning to resolve things with DLC. In Mass Effect 2 there was a big cliffhanger right at the beginning of the game. I wonder if they were doing the same thing with Mass Effect 3 but putting the cliffhanger at the end of 3 instead of at the beginning of 4. I think they might have been leading into a new game, not new DLC.

    That’s just based on how confused Bioware’s response to the feedback was, and their apparent rush to write a new/clarified ending.

  • I’ve been diarying my playthrough and writing up an RPG conversion to Silhouette (Currently on ME2) and I have a feeling that I’m going to end up writing my own ending/epilogue :)

  • Amen.

    What gets me, the more I think about it, is that they could have done a better ending even if they were caught for time. Even still frames of the various characters together with a brief paragraph of text would have worked (“After Shepard’s death, Tali… (built her house on Rannoch/travelled the galaxy rebuilding the Mass Relays/’s body was dredged out of the river”). Give us some hint of how things go afterwards, answer some of those questions as opposed to COLOURED EXPLOSIONS OF AMBIGUITY.

    Or have Diane Allers deliver a monologue on the Destroy ending, and Shepard-incarnated-as-a-Reaper give a speech explaining the new galactic order (“I have control of the reapers and I will *upper left* depart the galaxy *middle left* bring an end to war *bottom right* crush the enemies of the Systems Alliance).

    Or, really, ANYTHING other than what we got.

  • More or less exactly my point. Except my point was in French :) .

    Also, there are no 2 or 3 endings, but 3.5 endings with 3 added seconds where you can see a Shepard that may or may not have survived… (you know, if you take all the right decisions according to Bioware all along the 3 games to gathered enough war resources without doing multipayer…) In case there may or may not be a DLC, sequel or whatever bullshit to “change” this – obviously – first draft of an ending…

  • You hit the nail on the head. I’d lost my previous game saves last summer and hadn’t finished playing through again, so I thought I’d go with the default, create a new Shep, and see what happened (not realizing how badly penalized I’d be for doing that) because the default choices were so different than my own that it would be interesting to compare the two. So due to a lack of imported reputation points, I didn’t have enough to compromise with the quarians and the geth–I had no choice other than annihilate one of them.

    I sat there for at least five minutes agonizing over this choice. It was brilliant and it was horrible and I loved the game for making me care that much.

    I should have had the same feeling with the end. The choice and consquences should have carried the same weight as the gut-punch I had when Tali threw herself over the cliff. Instead I got nothing. Justin Bieber presents me with two choices, and the outcome of the one I picked (destroy the Reapers) doesn’t even make sense and doesn’t change a thing as far as I can tell. No agonizing decision. No gut-punch. Nothing.

    I’ll play the new ending when it comes out, but it’s going to have to be truly spectacular to eradicate the hollow feeling of the first one.

  • After a while thinking about it, I’m completely convinced that indoctrination theory is true. There’s too much evidence for it not to be. (Look at the trees in the dream-forest. They’re not trees, they’re axons. You’re literally walking around in your own brain.)

    If not, then they ended something that was one of the most beautifully written games I’ve ever played, with something that makes no sense whatsoever.

    And it’s just not possible that the same writers can have done both unless that ending is a lie.

    Looking forward to waking up, and resolving this.

  • Rather than just tell you I agree with you or link you to any of the things I’ve said, I’ll put it this way.

    Mass Effect 3 was doing a pretty damn good job of kicking my ass, and I don’t mean in gameplay. It didn’t really start until I saw Palaven on fire. That kicked my ass. Mordin’s scene punched me in the face. Witnessing the fallout between the Quarians and the Geth kneed me in the gut despite it being in VR. The outcome of Rannoch had me on the edge of my seat for fear of another blow. And when the ending was coming, as we fought our way through London, I was braced for a final assault. I wanted to be emotionally bruised and beaten. How sick is that? I wanted this.

    Instead I got my hand held as I was walked slowly through a series of conversations and some pretty and meaningless explosions.

    It didn’t deliver on its promises. It didn’t finish the story. It didn’t give that knockout punch.

    There’s no on-the-slopes-of-Mount-Doom moment. No lowered-into-molten-metal-with-a-thumbs-up moment. No 1812-Overture-as-Parliament-explodes-with-our-hero’s-corpse-inside moment. No catharsis. No apex. No nothing.

    And that hurts more than any gut-punch you care to name.

    • As a sidenote, one of the thing that bites me about this whole conversation is the thing where “Art” and “Artistic Integrity” come into it. As if one group, company, or medium has a lock on What Art Is. Nobody would balk and say that improv comedy or performance theater are art (or at least artful), and yet those things allow for collaboration and are not defined the same way that other creative endeavors are defined.

      Art is not one thing and this discussion does not somehow invalidate the fact that games — these or otherwise — fit the bill.

      – c.

  • I agree with you 100%. Some people have said it’s similar to Fallout 3, where the game wants to force you to make a choice between two options, one Good, one Evil, despite the fact that they inadvertently give you a third option that you can’t choose. Because fans hated this contrived ending so much, Bethesda made the ‘real’ ending in a DLC called Broken Steel. The end to Broken Steel was much more satisfying than the original ending, especially since I picked Option 3 because it made sense.

    In ME I was prepared for Shepard’s death if need be. I was prepared to cry, as I had when Mordin and Thane and Legion sacrificed themselves for the greater good. But all I felt was confusion and frustration.

  • I was one of those who kind of liked the ending, not in a ‘that was great art’ manner, or a ‘respect the author’ type of way, more in the way that you often overlook the obvious narrative flaws in a movie or book that already has you under it’s spell. Mass Effect 3 was successful for me because it had moved beyond simply being the sum of its parts (and the parts themselves can easily be described as decidedly average, functional shooter sections, largely redundant planet searching etc), I was more invested in seeing what happened to these characters. The supporting cast, my supporting cast. Games are in a unique position where the story is partly mine. As you say, as a more collaborative medium, I am also invested in these characters. I chose who to be close to and who to have a difficult or contentious relationship with … ME3 was the story of MY commander Sheppard.

    I wanted to see how it ended, and felt that the end itself was perfectly fitting for the series. After all Sheppard died in the first game, the rest of the series has been about his or her second chance to have an impact and ‘save the universe’, I fully expected a bittersweet ending, and actually didn’t really care about the plot holes of the final act – and I think you could also argue they were not so much plot holes, as missed opportunities that were most likely cut due to budgetary restrictions. I too would have loved to have seen the Citadel move, and that should have been a chapter all it’s own, not a single conversation … whatever it’s flaws however I will have to agree to disagree with you a little, as I do feel that philosophically the ending was perfectly fitting for the theme of the series.

    For me the problem for people may more be in the rushed final acts. I’d ask those that disliked the end, if they actually disliked the end itself, or if they were put off by the gaps in narrative that were not ‘filled in’ in the final act. That never bothers we quite so much, maybe I don’t expect full exposition in my space opera (in fact I prefer a little mystery in which I can hide my own theories and ideas as to the why of the whole thing.)

    It also highlights the ultimate challenge facing games, and speaking as a developer myself, it’s a real challenge moving forward. Once the user starts feeling more engagement and that we start to offer meaningful choices, it quickly breeds the desires to have more and more options and control … something our technology and budgets may not be up to quite yet!

  • It’s like I keep telling my friends about the ending: I wasn’t mad, but I felt that they were a bit lazy in the finale (well, I tell them “lazy writer was lazy”). I would love to see an alternate ending be available, one that does match the tone and investment of the series, but to make it a pay DLC is really messed up. If the DLC were to be like what I’m about to describe in a moment, I’d be more inclined to buy it.

    Bethesda redid the Fallout 3 ending when they released the DLC “Operation Anchorage” to make it more appropriate to the story. While I never did beat Fallout 3 (a problem I have with open world games) I feel that doing something like that, if it enhances the game through deep storytelling, can be good. Operation Anchorage also adds additional story to the game outside of the change to the ending, which makes it even more worth it (well, in reality it wasn’t a great story: a group of the BoS need you to run a combat simulation to open a locked vault of advanced weapons and equipment; but it was a great thing to do right after escaping the vault).

    Okay, now back to our original discussion. For all we know BioWare was stuck trying to come up with an ending for Mass Effect 3 up until they hit crunch and this was the best they could come up with. If that were the truth I’d give them some leeway, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not the case. For the time being I’ll be playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, which has an amazing story for each class and has plenty of cooperative gameplay besides a “horde mode”. Sure, it’s by the same game studio (sort of), but it’s still enjoyable.

  • The more I revisit and think about the ending, the more I like it. I do subscribe to the Indoctrination Theory. I don’t think that everything has to be easy to understand. (2001: A Space Odyssey? Remember when that came out?) Certainly fighting one last big boss would not be a proper finale for this trilogy. Something else had to happen.

    However, there are lots of unanswered questions, as everyone has already pointed out. What’s super weird to me is that after the game is over, you return to the Normandy, standing in front of the Galaxy Map. Like nothing has happened. This is “free roam” mode or whatever, but for fuck’s sake, did anything really happen?

    The rest of ME3 had some great scenes, some great fights and some great choices. The weird ass ending didn’t take that away from me.

  • Doyce,

    Your Tolkien analogy to the ending of ME linked to by Chuck above is great stuff. Kudos to you for laying out your thoughts in such entertaining and accurate detail.

    Dave

  • Lots of things get tangled up in the larger instance of this debate and watching people pull on a thread that is at best tangential to the business at hand is proving agonizing.

    I haven’t finished ME3′s single-player, but I’ve had it spoiled for me already, and so my position on the ending is at best only partially informed.

    One thing that gets me, though, is the fact that I keep hearing this weird expression get tossed away: 98% of the game is great. Both of the other two games are, to varying extents, great. But all of that doesn’t add up, I guess, unless the ending is right.

    Is the ending the most important thing? I ask because all the choices you made during ME games did successfully change the story along the way. They did get you invested, they did define your relationships and your journey. Anyway.

    My big question is this: Why the need, in so many venues (not so much this post, Chuck, but definitely in yours, Doyce) to extrapolate so much from one game’s unsatisfactory ending? The ending failed you. Full stop. How does that reveal what this game—or all games—owes you as a player, or as a customer, or as an arguable collaborator?

    I’m interested in both the question of what satisfying endings to ME3 can look like and the question of the relationship between creator and user in gaming. I am not interested in conflating them.

    • @Will –

      It’s tricky. I don’t think a game OWES anybody anything, because what that means has 80,000 possible permutations. (“It owes me a good ending! Fun gameplay! Great graphics! ROBOT VAMPIRES, which are sorely missing!”)

      I do think that any story out there puts up over the course of its experience a promise — Star Wars is about this, Ulysses is about that, Team Fortress is this other thing — and then creators can run into a problem when parts (particularly the last component) of that story do not fulfill the promise. Or, worse, fulfill an entirely different promise.

      The ending to ME3 does not feel like the ending the story earned.

      It made certain promises in story and gameplay, and the ending failed them.

      And the ending is, if not everything, a large bucket of stuff. You dick up the ending, you run the risk of dicking everything up before it.

      Consider eating a wonderful meal and the last bite is a spoonful of sewage. Consider a gymnast doing an amazing flurry of flips and ninja kicks and then when she needs to stick the landing she falls flat on her face and, I dunno, pees her leotard. Consider investing 100+ hours in a game series building to a moment you cannot wait to see, and then that moment is a puzzling, unearned ending.

      The problem is, all that stuff you talk about which involves changing story and investing you in characters is rendered dubious. As if to say, “All those things that mattered in the game now no longer matter. Whatever you care about is not a thing that we care about. You are no longer collaborator, you are once again an audience member firmly rooted to the chair. This is our ride, not yours.”

      Except, it was our ride. It was our ride all along, and to have that taken away — or, at least, limited — is a bit jarring. To me, anyway.

      – c.

    • I’ll also add, @Will, etc — that I think here conflating user/creator and proper ending is not unreasonable. The ME series (and Dragon Age) does a thing very well and that’s letting the player pivot the story. The lack of that at the ending — where the user is removed from being collaborator — is part of the ending’s trouble.

      – c.

  • (And, to be clear, I don’t think they’re being conflated here, exactly—but conflated they’re being, and I’d like to look at the conversation that’s bigger than just this post, if that’s okay.)

  • Thanks, Dave. Glad you enjoyed it. My only problem with either that or the follow-up piece I wrote the next day is that I have so much to say that didn’t get said, it doesn’t feel like I really finished it.

    Oh, wait: that’s ME3 I’m thinking of. My bad.

  • It took me a while to find something that really summed up my feeling regarding the end, I kept arguing about theme, and logic and mood but I think I was just describing the symptom rather then the cause. This helped me focus and was pretty entertaining to boot:

  • (I’m thinking out loud here.)

    It wasn’t your ride, though. Not to the extent that you might’ve thought. You collaborated on your instance of play, but the magnitude of your collaboration is somewhat illusory. It’s a trick of scale.

    Everything you did was facilitated through the work of people who made the permutations you employed. You collaborated in one or a handful of play-throughs, but all of that is encompassed by the work the designers did.

    That they did the preceding work so well—that you are so invested in your instance of play—means that they probably should have concocted one million endings, a disc full of endings, to accommodate even a portion of the possible permutations that need their landings stuck. It’s a shame, it sounds like, that the ending, instead, tries to bring all of that scope together under an ending that everyone shares.

    I get it, everyone says the ending sucks. Full stop.

    So say it, y’all: You think you could do better. You have an ending you’d prefer, full of satisfying connections and inevitable but perfect surprises. That’s fine.

    You didn’t actually expect BioWare to deliver that ending you thought of, right? You were hoping they’d deliver something that surprised and satisfied, something better. You were hoping for them to play the part of the designer and concoct an ending that was just right. You wanted to be the audience and the collaborator, there. But you can’t—the tech’s not there yet. You have to choose one.

    I mean, should BioWare have taken a poll before they finished the game? You say, Chuck, that the ending was a moment you couldn’t wait to see—which sounds like you wanted the ending to be skillfully delivered to you (and rightly so!) and didn’t want it spoiled—which makes it sound like you wanted the satisfaction of a narrative ending delivered to you, not built with you. Were they supposed to check with everyone before they devised the finale since we’re all collaborators? (That’s not sarcasm!)

    I think there’s cake being both had and eaten here. We wanted the endings—30, 50, 100 of them would’ve been amazing—to satisfy us as audience and collaborator without spoiling ourselves in the process. Is that even possible? With the tech and the development cycles that exist right now?

    The ending you got failed you on both counts. That’s bad. But the fact that you felt like a more integral collaborator than you were means they did that other 98% of the games so well. Let’s not forget that.

    The mistake is that the designers delivered an ending to an audience, but our mistake was forgetting how much closer to audience than collaborator we actually are, I think.

    • @Will:

      I’d say the mistake is underestimating an audience. And I disagree here that it was all a craft, a trick — I’ve seen that criticism a few times (or, the criticism of the criticism) — “Oh, it’s their story, we just get to tweak a few things, it’s more an illusion,” but I find that seriously limits the art of what Bioware actually accomplished. Which is deep and sincere on my part — it was awesome. This criticism rarely holds water since half the time those dismissing the critics then go on to say things like, “Whoa, what, Mordin can live? Miranda can live? My Kaiden died in the first game — he’s still around for you?” We’re talking divergent game experiences.

      To ask that they uphold that level of divergence through the ending isn’t the same false flag you’re flying — I don’t know that anybody is asking for 100 different endings. I don’t think anybody’s asking Bioware consulted with them before providing the ending.

      I will admit that some are asking too much from the company — asking for a new ending is maybe okay, but demanding is not.

      Still, all this goes back to how you shouldn’t underestimate an audience (and that cuts both ways, good and bad). Bioware the entity is not creating art in a vacuum. They’re also cultivating an artistic product — in fact, a series of products — that people can buy. Further, it’s a product with loose and manageable narrative pieces that gives audience investment. Investment that is for me real and is for you a trick, but whether it’s true or false doesn’t change the *feeling* of investment.

      And that feeling matters.

      – c.

  • And remember that none of this says you’re wrong to reject the ending—that’s your right as an audience member—and I’m not invested enough in Mass Effect to be as passionate about the specifics. But it’s the next step where things get tricky.

  • I’m not other critics. I’m me.

    When I say it’s a trick of scale, I don’t mean to say that anyone is exactly tricking someone else. I’m not diminishing BioWare’s work, believe me, when I say it encompasses all the various tales within in, I mean that’s huge. There’s so much emerging from that fruitful sea they’ve made!

    I’m confused about how you’re a co-collaborator but also you should be treated like the audience. If it’s BioWare’s accomplishment and they’re underestimating you as audience, then, as I was getting at, all this stuff about collaboration is an other issue.

    There’s still a great disparity in your position to me, Chuck, which is that I don’t see how you can create just a handful of endings that do, then, address the sheer multitude of stories that different players have built using the Mass Effect blocks. Is Mass Effect a vast collaborative enterprise where your choices should be read by the devs and culminate in an ending that you collaboratively create? Or are they supposed to devise one (or three, or five) endings that respect you as an audience and appear to build on all the decisions you made but also give you the audience’s experience of a satisfactory ending that you didn’t craft yourself?

    Of course one shouldn’t underestimate an audience. I think that’s obvious. That’s relevant to the question of whether the ending let you down, but I have not been arguing that point. Yes the feeling of investment matters. Again, not arguing that point.

    Get past the ending. It sucks or not, whatever. How does that have to do with whether we’re audience or collaborator? (Note, I’m not saying “It doesn’t!” I’m actually asking.)

    If the game didn’t need to poll you—directly or indirectly, by exporting data to the devs, for example—then you were failed as an audience, and all of the co-collaborator talk is a separate thing. That’s my point. I think they should be addressed separately. As you say, it’s one thing to ask for a new ending (a new thing, a fucking milestone in my opinion—we’re not the focus group) and another to demand one.

    Understand, please, why this is hard for me as someone who has regularly argued that gamers are and should be both audience and co-collaborator in their specific play experience. A player stands on a Venn diagram, with one foot in each circle, for their own experience; they are both things, not a new thing borne of both. Not until we get holodecks, maybe.

    Admittedly, I also feel for the designers, who are now met not with nuanced questions and analysis, not with multifaceted criticism but with hyperbolic Internet venom. Remind me never to end anything I write ever, just in case. :)

    • @Will –

      I don’t think we’re really syncing up, here. You seem to think I’m suggesting that Bioware follow a specific course of action. I’m not. Would I do what they did differently? Of course. Every story I read I can conjure a different ending because the way I do things is not the way anybody else does. And yet I am satisfied with many endings to many stories, and I remain unsatisfied with Mass Effect 3′s conclusion. But I’m not prescribing a specific course of action. I’m not asking for 100 endings. I’m not asking they poll the audience. I’m wishing (not asking) only that they did what they had done through the series.

      Getting past the ending isn’t the point. The ending is the point — it’s the literal point of the argument and the mountain on which this entire question dances.

      You seem to suggest that gamers are audience and co-collaborator, but then also force the question of whether we’re audience OR collaborator? You answered your own question: we’re both.

      In the specific play experience of Mass Effect’s universe, we were given three full games that gave us narrative options and made us care about characters. In Mass Effect 3, the ending changed that — our narrative options were existent but false, and it failed to deal with any of the other things we’ve built to over the course of 100 hours. It is both troublesome as a story conclusion and concerning as a model where the story was the game. That’s it. That’s where it missed. For me, anyway.

      I’m not clear where there’s cognitive dissonance. Perhaps I’m just not making my point clearly enough.

      – c.

  • Anyway, this is as much time as I can devote to this for a while. Thanks for giving me a venue to contemplate this stuff, Chuck. I’ll look forward to your reply if you get a chance! Cheers. :)

  • Not to be antagonistic, seriously, but I tried to move us past the ending because I don’t understand what the role of the player has to do with this unless it’s being used to underscore one’s authority to (a) hate the ending or (b) draw larger conclusions about the role and duty of developer relative to player. You don’t want to move past the ending and discuss any of the issues otherwise attached to this here. Okay.

    So your point is that, as audience and co-collaborator both, you felt the ending failed you. Yes? That’s all? You don’t want to talk about what you would do differently—like the volume of endings—so I don’t know what else there is to do but say, in Sorkin fashion: Okay.

    My point was that a lot of people are seeing this as the start of the something else. “We felt the ending failed us and therefore…” You don’t want to discuss that here. Okay.

    I’m pretty sure it’s my writing that’s the culprit in this thread, rest assured.

    • No, @Will — I want to use the ending to act as an emblem of the discussion at hand.

      I’m not here to tell the world about The Chuck Wendig Mass Effect ending. I’m just using this blog space to eject some of my mental noise about the ending. As in, I didn’t like it, and here’s why.

      I’m really not sure why that’s a problem.

      – c.

  • I’m warn out on sharing my 2c elsewhere, but ultimately, the most compelling post-ending theory for me is this one – the Indoctrination Theory:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ythY_GkEBck

    It’s ALMOST as if BioWare had an ending that threaded itself throughout the game, only to pull a fast one when publishing time came and go with the ‘Simple Ending’.

    Also, agreed on The Matrix and the stupid sunshine scene similarity. That was one of my first thoughts.

    • @Will:

      No worries and certainly no need to apologize — tone is, as noted, tricky on the Internet and I’m sure I could’ve gauged mine better.

      I think a lot of what we’re talking about separate from the ending deserves its own post and discussion that is… erm, separate from the ending.

      – c.

  • The ending made no sense what so every, I’m fine with the game being short about half the time as ME1 ME2, I can stand the fact that you dont get that many good choices, you get a lot of luke warm choices and some great ones.

    Heck im even fine with the mmo part of the game BUT give me a ending that makes sense right now as the ending stands. Everyone that came with you to earth will die or at lest most of them do to starving to death, remember no gate travel so where they going to get food?

    Or what about the fact that all the choices you make to save the galaxy seems to of made it worst now that you blowed up all the gates? Like i said the ending dont make sense, as for the Shepard to die why?

    I’m not saying that he should live either but IF i spend a lot of time and get the bulk of the universe backing me, I expect a good ending because that what i worked towards.

    Although it is funny i was messing with gamestop in usa and asking about a refund, i was not going to get one but i was interested in what they said. They said this too me, “As long as the game functions we dont have to give you a refund”

    I told them that is the first time someone told me it my fault for buying something

  • Yea Ryan G, that what im thinking too i heard the ending was leaked and they just rick rolled there customer because of it. BUT I dont seem them doing something stupid like that, I just wished they took there time/energy/money to create a ending instead of that thing.

  • @Will/Chuck — I’ve appreciated the discourse the two of you are having on the issue of a player’s agency over the story they are interacting with. For what it’s worth, I think both of you have valid arguments. On one hand, Mass Effect is very much a scripted tale; sure, Bioware has given us many branching paths from which the gamer chooses, but it’s them (the creators) that ultimately decides which direction those branches head. We, the gamer, may be given many choices, but they are decidedly the choices that Bioware has provided us with.

    On the other hand, video games and the video game industry, more than any other artistic medium that I can think of, fosters a close relationship between the creator and the consumer. Thanks to conferences, forums, social media, and beta testing, gamers have a tremendous amount of input/influence in the production of a game. I don’t think the same could be said about a book or a movie.

    Perhaps its this level of connection, between game creator and game player, that fosters the so-called “entitlement” that some critics have been labeling the most ardent of Mass Effect’s fan base. When Bioware has been so fantastic in the past about soliciting fan input, why wouldn’t players cry foul when they feel there has been a serious misstep in the game? When you stretch the development of a game series over the course of 5 years, and during that process constantly engage your fan base to discuss the creation on a multitude of levels, it’s only natural that people develop some sense of agency over that product (right or wrong).

    Unfortunately, the end result of the fall out surrounding Mass Effect 3 may be that game developers withdraw from the community and fan base they cater to. This would be a tragedy, because I feel it is in this interaction, not when a players chooses path A, B, or C in the game, where the consumer interacts with the creator and truly has influence over the product.

  • All of my “opinions that are my own opinions” aside, it comes down to a single,inalienable fact:

    Mass Effect 3 pulled a bait and switch. After telling me, showing me, setting me up to understand that every choice I make has consequences, shapes the world, changes the story around who my Shepard is through my gameplay, the ending stripped all of that choice and consequence from me. It didn’t matter. None of what I did mattered.

    It didn’t matter that I’d already brought peace to organics and synthetics, it didn’t matter that we knew for a fact that blowing up a mass relay destroys planets in the system, it didn’t matter that I’d spent weeks pushing through ‘you can’t’ and ‘you shouldn’t’ and persevering through doubt and hard choices…. Nothing mattered.

    Instead, despite all evidence to the contrary in previous games and consequences, Shepard meekly accepted three options that all resulted in the same consequences: she “dies”, the mass relays blow up, and somebody gets raped. Either I force the Reapers to be destroyed (mass relays blow up, system explodes), or I force the reapers to do what I say (mass relays blow up, system explodes), or I force organics and synthetics to fundamentally change their very DNA so that they aren’t who/what they used to be (mass relays blow up, system explodes).

    Bioware made me care about these characters, made me care about all of them. And in the last 15 minutes, none of the characters proved to be what they’d seemed to be until then. Shepard became a meek little yes man with a god/martyr complex, my love interest became a coward who magically showed up on the Normandy in time to get away, my crew apparently decided to abandon me when I vanished into the Citadel (how else to explain their departure on the Normandy?).

    Bait and switch. You gave me choices that mattered, and then you took them all away for the canned version of what Bioware wanted.

    If I didn’t spend over 300+ hours falling in love with these characters over the course of all three games, I wouldn’t care so much. But I did, because Bioware made it that good, showed them growing, responding to the things I did for and with them.

    Only it didn’t matter.

  • I played ME3 without loading up my previous character because I wanted to do a full, back-to-back playthrough of all three games and I just couldn’t wait to slide ME3 into the Xbox and start playing. So I took a default character through.

    I was hooked from the first moments, just like I had been with ME1 and (especially) ME2. I was immersed in this vividly realised world with characters that had become like old friends: Gruff, sarcastic Garrus, Innocent-no-more Tali, sultry Liara. They were real to me because, despite some sterotyping creeping in, I knew them from my real-life friends, from TV shows, movies and books. From stories. We generally don’t expect this kind of depth of character in video games because they are rarely seen as a legitimate medium for stroytelling.

    So, the ending. I was like you, I suppose. I didn’t mind too much initially, but on closer inspection there are flaws. It’s not that it isn’t a happy ending – I couldn’t care less about happy endings – it’s that it isn’t SATISFYING. It doesn’t live up to the promise of the story. It’s as if you reached the end of Return of the Jedi and Luke has to choose to destroy the rebel fleet and crash the Death Star into Endor for NO GOOD REASON!

    Why do the Mass Relays have to explode? And more to the point, how is Earth going to support the fleet consisting of MOST OF THE FUCKING GALAXY? Especially after being enthusiastically buggered by the Reapers for however long Shepard has been flying around the galaxy drumming up support.

    The Matrix analogy is an excellent one. It’s as if they reached a certain point in the writing and though “Fuck it. That’ll do” and buggered off down the pub, leaving the tea boy to finish up the script.

    Will I buy the DLC, even after forking out for the game?

    Of course I will. It’s Mass Effect. I’m a junkie, jonesing for my next fix. I just wish it got me as high as it used to.

    • Will I buy the DLC, even after forking out for the game?

      Of course I will. It’s Mass Effect. I’m a junkie, jonesing for my next fix. I just wish it got me as high as it used to.

      Yep. That.

      *sigh*

      – c.

  • phil, i agree and it possible that the developers will stop listen to the fan base as much but it also possible that the customer of the product will say the same thing and decide to just rent the game next time.

    or worst yet, become a pirate of the game which makes no sense

    with that said i also agree with this at lest as far as this masseffect game goes, readanddestroy/TM (Will I buy the DLC, even after forking out for the game?
    Of course I will. It’s Mass Effect. I’m a junkie, jonesing for my next fix. I just wish it got me as high as it used to.
    Yep. That.
    *sigh*)

    will i play the next bioware game? or put money down for masseffect dlc (the true? ending is suppose to be on free dlc) I dont know i really dont know

  • Yeah, people here have summed up my thoughts after that ending. I’ve been a Bioware fan since before the original Knights of the Old Republic, and they have consistently not only raised the bar as to what the medium can do with storytelling, but raised the bar with feedback and input from the fans. I remember when one of the lead writers (David Gaider) actually…asked female gamers about what they wanted to see in a love interest storyline/quest. In a medium where a hundred thousand clams can be spent on tweaking the physics so that the barmaid’s polygons bounce with just the right squish, having someone give half a ratshit about ladygamers blew my freakin’ mind.

    So to see that non-choice of an ending made me (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ After I flipped the table back over, I couldn’t believe the team at Bioware could have dropped the ball so badly. Even as the Mass Effect games have drifted steadily towards more-shooter, less turn-based, they’ve still acted as proof-of-concept that high-action games can have interesting, engaging, choice-based story. To have all that distill down into one ending (Adam & EDI and Space-Jesus Shepard) where nothing you did mattered feels like Bioware didn’t just betray the story with an undeserved ending, but it betrayed its core brand. It takes a lot for a company–especially a creative one–to betray its core brand, so that leads me to speculate on just what kind of pressures were being applied to key arteries, and by whom.

    Other than that, I loved the game. All the little details that revisited your past decisions and the people you met (Charr and Ereba…so heartbreaking ::sniff:: his poetry finally got better and…sigh…) in different circumstances based on

    I mean, for a game where there’s expected DLC, I have to ask–with no more mass relays, what’s the DLC going to be? Joker and EDI learn to make fire by rubbing two sticks together? An all-Elcor remake of “Gilligan’s Island?”

  • This is absolutely why I’ve had to turn to fanfiction to get an experience worthy of the Mass Effect universe. After Bioware crapped all over us with that abortion THEY called an ending, I’m not even sure I trust them to get a fix right – especially with their statement that they’re working on “clarifying” the ending.

    News flash: If you have to “clarify” your story, You. Fucked. Up.

    Thanks for confirming that I’m not the only one who feels like Bioware pissed in my face and tried to tell me it was raining.

  • I have played the Mass Effect series from game 1, six times. I have only finished 3 once. When I first beat Mass Effect 1 my mind immediately saw all the work, and all the potential that Bioware’s Galaxy has. And so I began work on a table-top RPG to allow players to explore that galaxy as more than Commander Shepard, Savior of the Citadel.

    As I played through the second game I felt my heart ache even more than in the first, I saw the story-telling potential and emotional power that Bioware can evoke. I felt for my characters that died in the suicide mission, so much that I cried a bit when Grunt was shot and killed. I played through the final fight with the Proto-Reaper with anger in my heart and rage in my soul.

    I awaited the third game, knowing that with a successful playthrough of it I could truly begin work on my RPG. I saw heroism on Menae. I saw a great scientist die on Tuchanka to repay the galaxy for his mistakes. I chose the fate of two great races, one to live and one to die, on Rannoch. And I failed on Thessia. I trudged through the trenches of a broken Earth. But then I was punished. I was punished with a lack of catharsis. I was forced to live with all the energy, hope, and despair that these masterpieces had invoked in me.

    I FELT all those missions, I didn’t just play them, but truly FELT them. Throughout that playthrough I saw the world building before me, and I saw my entry into that world. A tabletop system that would allow any gamer to enact any part, or time, of the great galaxy Bioware has spawned. I was intending to build my system and present it to Bioware in hopes of having it officially licensed and being able to truly mark my creation as part of theirs. Now I’m not so sure…

  • Magical spinning roller coaster ride with shooting flames and friggin laser beams has an inexplicable splash mountain finale into a sewage holding pond

  • I didn’t feel like it was a shitty ending. If taken at face value, I can understand the uproar. But if you actually paid attention to the series, you had to know that everything is not what it seems during the last mission. It’s a huge swerve that fits right in with the Mass Effect story and is hinted at throughout the final game. Indoctrination.

    I think it’s ingenious. If you played all 3 games, then you spent 150-200 hours trying to accomplish a certain goal. You finally reach the end game and you are compelled to choose against that goal–hell, I even chose against the goal even though I knew better. I did what I thought would give a nice, happy ending as opposed the finishing the job (I replayed the ending and chose Destroy to repent for my sins). Pure Brilliance.

    At least this ending better be a huge swerve (Indoctrination Theory) or else that means Bioware hired an illiterate, high school intern who barely had a basic grasp of Mass Effect lore to write the ending on construction paper with a crayon hanging from his ass. I gotta hope that isn’t the case. I’ve been a Bioware fan back from the Baldur’s Gate days–they know what they’re doing when it comes to storytelling.

    http://angryjoeshow.com/2012/03/indoctrination-theory-proof-of-me3-ending-dlc/

  • That’s pretty much how I felt about it, and I sat through all three identical endings. The only thing worth adding is that with the ‘destroy the Reapers’ ending, if your War assets are high enough Shepard actually is shown surviving, taking a breath while buried in rubble.

    As for Joker, that one I’m willing to forgive. Yes it’s very out of character for him and the crew to be fleeing Earth but the reason to me was simply narrative convenience. The writers wanted to show someone fleeing the explosion and they wanted it to be someone we knew and would (presumably) be emotionally invested in.

    As far as I’m concerned the games are still just as valid. I don’t like how the ending did effectively take choice away from us, but that doesn’t change how our choices did have an impact throughout the rest. Yahtzee said it best, the game starts at one point, fans out based on our actions, and comes back to a single point at the end.

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/extra-punctuation/9511-Mass-Effect-3-Gets-An-Ending

    I’m not upset Shepard (for all intents and purposes) dies. I was kind of expecting it with how things were building up. I am worried about an alternate ending as paid DLC. I wasn’t happy with the day one DLC and I don’t want to have to pay for an ending for a game I already bought. Actually I’d rather there not be any changes to the ending, I don’t want to see Bioware cave to pressure from people who have no say in the product. This is their artistic creation, we’re simply making use of it. If they make an epilogue or something that’d be fine and I’d enjoy that. But unless they were planning for the whole Indoctrination Theory I don’t think any other ending would be worth it.

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