Born in Buffalo, the northeast edge of the rustbelt, Pure Sophistry’s latest contributing writer Thomas Nelson has exhausted almost two decades as an elitist PC gamer. His interests include history, writing, philosophy, politics and spending an obscene amount of time staring at a computer screen. He holds two degrees but is currently between colleges.
Last Call at BioWare
It’s almost hard to believe that it was three months ago when so many of us were disappointed by the last few moments of the wishy-washy Mass Effect 3. The coincidence is almost funny in a way – just like in March, I am sitting at work feeling tired. This feeling isn’t from a lack of sleep, caffeine shortage or tedium, but from the gaping hole left in the logic behind Mass Effect 3. Early comments regarding the “extended” endings have proven that some of us are reliving that old familiar feeling of despondence over a video game.
There was a time back in March when I wasn’t one of the people who were seriously up in arms over the ending to Mass Effect 3. The ending never angered me (and honestly, it still doesn’t), but what it demonstrated to me was the lack of concern from the development team about the quality of their work and the community’s sycophantic need for fulfillment. When a Facebook group was formed to oppose the ending, I didn’t join right away. The focus of the group seemed a tad off from where I thought the crux of the issue was and I honestly didn’t want a new ending to such an average sequel. What I wanted was understanding, a purpose for my time and spent money. The largest issue with Mass Effect 3 and the debacle that followed doesn’t simply involve Casey Hudson or BioWare in general, but includes the events that have transpired over the last few months. Even though I won’t be delving into the ending as much as I could I’d like to remind everyone that water is wet, the sky is blue and the ending to Mass Effect 3 still doesn’t make any goddamn sense.
Every story begins somewhere and this one starts the day after I finished Mass Effect 3. As petty as it sounds I found myself in a sweaty, energy drink-induced haze after witnessing the travesty that was the ending to Mass Effect 3. It wasn’t about Shepard or companions or pixilated love interests or lore but the absolute removal of choice and understanding from a series that was founded on those very principles. The most pathetic part of this story was the realization I had after the energy drinks eventually wore off: the fact that I cared this much. Prior to this incident I never considered myself such an obsessive fan but my overreaction prevented any and all denial.
However, I want to make it perfectly clear that at no point was I angry. I never felt entitled or betrayed or anything else the apologists out there generalize every fan-reaction to be. Mass Effect as a franchise was never something I ever considered perfect, nor do I want it to be perfect, but I expect a storyline that is understandable. The idea that the ending was accurate quickly diminished after a friend of mine introduced me to the Indoctrination theory, and my hope was that even if it the theory was irrelevant BioWare would at least attempt to explain this clearly nonsensical ending.
It only took a week of outcry by the tens of thousands within the Retake Mass Effect Facebook group, the Hold the Line group and thousands of unassociated fans before popular gaming websites began a smear campaign to label every dissatisfied fan as scum that plagued the video game community. Two particular websites made it into a witch hunt by relentlessly insisting that these fans were a mixture of entitled brats and soapbox idiots. Article after article was posted demonizing every fan that refused to grovel at the feet of the Mass Effect development team over such an unquestionably-mishandled ending. Anyone who read the incredibly vague reviews given by many of the top video game websites were exposed to a system that was disingenuously loyal to EA. It is my opinion that Mass Effect 3 as video game did not deserve poor reviews (as it isn’t a horribly made title) but the thing that was ultimately lacking was fair criticism over the obviously mystifying last ten minutes. When questioned by readers over the lack of coverage there was a disproportionate number of websites that quickly claimed “artistic integrity” over player understanding. The defense for blatant advertiser-reviewer bias quickly devolved into wholesale activism against fans with opinions opposite of the critics. Critics and apologists slammed dissatisfied fans for being too inept to understand the ending.
As a longtime BioWare fan, loyal customer and degree-holder of the exact same major required to become a professional critic, I was extremely offended by this elitist attitude. You didn’t need to be a member of Retake Mass Effect in the eyes of these sellout critics, you only needed to be dissatisfied with a single part of an entire game. The worst moment of the entire situation was when people like myself (non-members of the Retake movement) asked BioWare to put an end to this. This indiscriminate, insult hurling, carpet bombing of the entire Mass Effect fanbase was one the lowest points for me as a BioWare customer and I wanted it to stop. As a person who eagerly accepted Dragon Age II’s flaws and grandiosely praised Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker as the best DLC ever made I didn’t deserve this generalizing whitewash, and none of us did. Plenty of us were deeply-caring fans who loved these games, loved these characters and wanted nothing more than to be constructive, but that apparently wasn’t enough. Not a single member of the Mass Effect development team, BioWare or EA lifted a finger to halt the bombardment by the critics. Someone should have (at the very least) made it a point that every single fan had the right to constructively judge the game. They instead chose silence. Every single employee at BioWare should be ashamed for their inaction.
By the second week of April I joined the Retake Mass Effect Facebook group – despite the fact that I didn’t want a new ending – since I was already typecast as an entitled crybaby due to the fact I still remained dissatisfied. I honestly felt like there was no other choice but to join, the lines in the sand were drawn and I was neither a sellout critic nor an apologist. Around the same time, I started working on a video for my YouTube channel in which I would touch on every probable hypothesis on the ending but I planned on citing two as being possible theories. After spending two weeks collecting video, finding music, scripting dialogue and then recording it I scrapped the entire project. My reasoning broke down back into the defeatist conclusion that all of the effort was pointless. Even with all of my sources, facts, arguments and quotes I still lacked a clear answer.
It shouldn’t be news to any of you folk out there that Mass Effect 4 (just like death and taxes) is inevitable. Speculators still claim it will be about the Commander ,but I highly doubt it. The related theory is the Futurist theory or the explanation of the ending being unexplainable without the next sequel. While there hasn’t been any direct conformation about Mass Effect 4 being made, I would bet money on development starting up in early 2013. The issue with yet another sequel is that despite some of the improvements the overall quality of the series is rapidly deteriorating. Several other well-articulated arguments have slammed the developer for continuing to treat sexuality in an abnormal fashion. The awkwardness of the hetero-to-homo pony show prior to release was notably bad, the treatment of Thane discouraged many (female) fans and the introduction of Edi as a fembot from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me might not have been the brightest decision made. One example that (apparently) I alone find to be one of the most horrendous failures against female character development involves Liara specifically. The details of this issue hearken all the way back to the first of the series, continues to build in the sequel but the latest addition to the franchise wrapped all this character development up into a blanket and metaphorically tossed it into the nearest dumpster. The depth of this issue far outweighs the mistreatment of Thane, but I’ll leave it for another day.
Besides the fact that the Indoctrination theory is far better written than the canon ending, the “extended” ending doesn’t even address half of the game-breaking plot holes and at times makes them even worse. Just when you think the entire theory has been put to rest they add the indisputable fact that Star Child/Reaper Kid is actually Harbinger himself in disguise. Shepard isn’t speaking to some mystical space God, he is speaking to Harbinger and the extended ending makes it undeniable. Am I now supposed to assume that all of this is purely coincidental? The kid whose death no one else witnesses, and the same kid in Shepard’s night terrors, also happens to be the avatar that Harbinger takes? That’s all purely coincidental? Harbinger’s explanations for control and synthesis remain deceptive and he still insists on lying about Shepard’s death should s/he choose destruction without any explanation. We see our love interest put our name on the death plaque directly after leaving earth (we then must assume they had this pre-printed for such an occasion). Once this scene takes place, and only if we chose destruction, do we see a body rise from the rubble gasping for breath. My answer is a resounding “go fuck yourselves” to Mac Walters and Casey Hudson for perpetuating this god-awful enigma with constant contradictions.
There exists a big group of fans who won a small victory by letting BioWare know how important closure is to everyone and they responded. The so-called “extended cut” to Mass Effect 3’s nonsensical ending arrived this week and it didn’t satisfy my lack of understanding. The problem remains that this extended ending doesn’t help someone like me – knowing how my team got off Earth doesn’t help my situation and I couldn’t care less about my love interest.
“Interpretation” be damned, some of us are beyond that by this point. The only way to end this is with an absolutely clear, highly detailed and factual explanation of what the hell happened. From there is the longtime public relations recovery that BioWare requires to win back support from the customers they abandoned to be beaten down by sellout critics. I said it back when I stopped playing Call of Duty: Black Ops and I’ll say it right here, right now as well; I won’t forgive such treatment again. I’m not a walking wallet, I’m not some sycophantic schmuck, I’m not entitled to anything but what I paid for and I won’t be treated like a dog by scumbag critics for the sake of your hubris. Tell your team to get its shit together Mr. Hudson, or soon enough the majority will abandon you just as you once abandoned us.
Have you played the new Extended Cut endings? Vote and tell us what you think!