Friday, May 11, 2012

The Mass Effect Debacle: My 2¢, PART THREE

Finally, The Rock has come back to Mass Effect 3's ending!

So, after finishing this semester's work, I've decided to finish what I've started regarding the ending of the Mass Effect saga.  I review the debate in Part One and I analyze the endings in Part Two.

Well, I'll begin with the statement that I've rethought a lot of what I had originally said in Part Two.  Indeed, I've come to the conclusion that I was wrong on several points, especially the point that the sameness of the ending invalidates the idea of choice being one of the major thematic elements of the game.  It doesn't.  No, the sameness of the cut-scene endings is not ideal.  Yes, it is lazy.  However, it does not ruin the experience nor does it invalidate the idea that choice matters.  I also withdraw my statement that Mass Effect and its ending fail as art.  It was a hasty conclusion.

After reviewing the climax of Mass Effect 3, discussing it with a few people, and refining my own ideas, I believe that the biggest problem with the Mass Effect 3 finale is how the dialogue with the Star Child fails to really explore the various complex themes with which the series wrestles.  However, these ideas are still touched upon in the dialogue, albeit ever-so-briefly.

However, even before I had rethought my statements and positions regarding Mass Effect 3, I still felt that the ReTake Mass Effect movement was extremely flawed and wrongheaded.  Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I end up agreeing with David Faraci of BadAssDigest.  Although I don't feel the ending is superb, I think that it does a good job of closing the story of Shepard.

See, Shepard's story is BioWare's story, not the players' story.  The player has some narrative input, making the tale more interactive.  However, at its core, the story does not belong solely to the player.  The players that want a new ending (or endings) absolutely do have an attitude of entitlement.  The more I consider it, the more I realize that the climax of Mass Effect 3 simply soared over their heads.  What they're asking for is totally and completely unnecessary.  As it stands, the Mass Effect saga is over, Shepard's story is complete, the thematic ideas regarding free will, determinism, existentialism, and dialectic are all resolved the moment the player chooses which path they will take, Green, Blue, or Red.  What matters here is not the consequences of the decision, but the decision itself.  At the resolution of each ending, the galaxy will be irrevocably different.

The problems of continuity (why doesn't the destruction of the Mass Relays destroy the systems they're in, why is the Normandy fleeing from an explosion, what happens to all those stranded in the Sol system, etc.) are all nit-picky nerd-rage that fails to see the big picture.  The forest is lost for all of the trees.  I'm reminded of MovieBob's review of Cabin in the Woods and the viewers' reactions demonstrating their inability to really think at all.  Who cares what happened to the characters?  They're only part of what's going on!  The ending broadens the focus onto the big, complex, philosophical ideas that underpin the entire series of games.  If you want to see everybody dancing and the ghosts of warriors past gazing on approvingly, go watch Star WarsMass Effect, on the other hand, is striving to be good, meaty, complex science-fiction by dragging your attention from the nuts-and-bolts details to the immense, cosmic problems.  It puts the arbitration of those gigantic issues into the hands of one, single, human being and bids us judge.  That, by itself, should make us sit back and say, "Whoa!"

The people who want to ReTake the series have no appreciation for what's been done.  Even if I agreed that the entire thing was a train wreck, I'd want it to still stand as an example of how not to screw up an ending.  But now that I've realized just how elegant, though not perfect, the entire ending is and how it faces up to the big, complex existential issues it raises, I can't help but have very little respect for the ReTake movement.  They missed the point entirely.

NOTE:  Although he's not stupid and he's got some interesting information about the original script outlines, this guy is a great example of someone who just doesn't get it.  He's totally hung-up on having this long, detailed ending that takes attention away from the big questions.  He's absolutely focused on the characters and their interactions and completely missed the deep, existential and dialectic issues that the ending has raised.  He wants a typical "good video game ending."  As I listened to him describe his ending, I just put my head in my hand and sat in disbelief.  His ending is mundane, pedestrian, prosaic, and ultimately what everybody wants.  But it would absolutely ruin Mass Effect worse than what everyone thinks the current ending does.  If this is what the Mass Effect players want, then I honestly think they 1) truly do not understand narrative and storytelling, 2) do not understand how to think about a narrative, and 3) have tastes that are totally ruined by Hollywood.