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.


Anonymous said...

Not to sound contrarian or anything, but what exactly are the issues ME3 ending tackles ?

Because to me, they all were extremely dry, cliched and shallow. The ending started off with a deus-ex-machina introduction of a magical child character who spouts some incredibly ill-thought out stuff (so, apparently organics are usually exterminated by the solution is to build synthetic Reapers that will regularly conquer organics and reforge them into a version of themselves, then wait for new organic civilizations to rise... seems inconsistent and self-defeating, in a darkly comical, "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it" way) but whatever.
Now, the player gets to the choices which... which do not happen to have much observable consequence beyond what it exactly says on the tin can, and two of which are rather poorly exposed.

Synthesis is a complete black box (what exactly does this "synthetics and organics hybridized" woo mean in terms of, shall we say, life quality for those poor imaginary sods upon whom we just unleashed it ?) and "control" fails to expose all the cool tacky moral and self-identity issues "destroy your body to "take over" space squid bodies" could bring to the surface.

Destroy is okay. Nobody could expect much thought from it, and it lives up to this expectation.

The whole thing with "responsibility over the millions of lives" is lost upon players because it is apparently lost on the writer at this point. None of the endings exposes, to any degree, what are the consequences for those and does not give the player, or any of the characters, any opportunity to reflect on that (it also gives the player and the characters little opportunity to reflect upon the ironic fact that two of those endings are exactly what ME series antagonists were working towards ;) )

Of all the issues, IMHO, the most annoying is that the endings provide little to no information as to consequences of the final decision. That makes them shallow and, might I say, dry.
There is simply not enough exposition to seriously highlight any philosophical "issues".

Armando Ezequil Gonzales said...

"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 does get it, most of his videos talk about the depth and subtleties of the franchises he likes (making a 3 hours video on Final Fantasy VI alone is sign of that). its just that he rather have that "Lord Of The Rings" ending than a failed attempt of "Artyness" that the ending was.

After being bitchslapped like that, who would want to take a step back and just settle for something simpler? like humble man that settles with breadcrumb for dinner. "That is enough. I just need to learn to enjoy what little i have. At least it doesn't make my mouth bleed."

Also, i was under the clear impression that an end of a journey is BUILT UP to that point, it doesn't just appear out of nowhere testing skills and ideas that the hero hasn't developed or had at all:

There is no foundation for the players to make an informed choice. If the point was that there ISN'T a choice at all, then the Refusal Ending should have been already in the game. But all we have is this original 4th "ending":

And even then, all choices are DOUBLE meaningless considering that Synthesis is the true ending, even on REFUSAL ending. The next cycle chooses to use the Crucible AND Synthesis. The new cycle didn't won by attacking by surprise or being better prepared. they subjected all the galaxy to "Reaperfication" and allowing Casper The Genocidal Ghost to win on HIS terms, not ours.

What is the point of having the dilemma of choosing here if there is no way to know here, and the enemy itself is giving us those options? Thus making it a NON dilemma since the solution is obvious (not to choose at all).

What is the point if having multiple choices if the author is going to play favorites on the endings? if the point was to having us talk about the repercutions, wouldn't it kill the conversation to flat out say that: "THIS is the real ending, anything else is flavor or wrong."

Armando Ezequil Gonzales said...

Was the comment posted? cause this pop up screen is confusing and doesn't tell me if i did. Delete the copied post if that is the case.

Dave Cesarano said...


It is interesting to go back and reread these. Time has given me perspective and although I still don't agree with the whole ReTake movement, I do believe that the ending was a train wreck. What the fans wanted (well, MANY fans) is rather shallow.

However, as time has gone on, I've come to a lot of the conclusions that you've described here. You're absolutely right that there is no foundation for an informed decision. Therefore, the decision itself is meaningless.

I still don't want the happy dancing Star Wars ending, but a meaty, intellectual one. Nevertheless, I've come to realize that the ending we got was neither.

Armando Ezequil Gonzales said...

Dave, first some music:

I am surprised that you believe that the majority wanted the Star Wars ending, when The Indoctrination Theory was (and for some reason still is, despite refutations) popular.

It was the Arty ending that everyone though Bioware was going for: Indoctrination of the player. And that (for some reason i never understood) was so unique that it was the "POOF!11" (proof)that games are Art and something like that (not sure what is so different from other mediums that tricked the audience).

But alas, poor good writing. I knew it once Dave. The IndocT had more holes than the ones you find on the ground of a theater playing Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark (get it? cause they keep falling down to the...nevermind)

Lets have a moment of silence for the integrity of Bioware, the recently deceased. Even when they had fans willing to do their jobs for them, they still shot themselves in the knee:

....mnn? OH RIGHT! i still haven't finished.

I know that the fans are not elaborating more endings beyond what they wanted on an individual level (though i remember someone trying to at least make a text based game ALA "Choose Your Own Adventure" with Mass Effect, where all your choices mattered. It was on "production" and nothing final), but then again they have to stick with what they have.

Lets consider the factors that could have made people into doing just a Star Wars ending:

1)The Lore more or less says that Reapers CAN be destroyed conventionally, despite the actual story bashing us with "We cant defeat the Reapers without the Crucible".
This lead to people like Archengeia to have the endings dictated via EMS score, and by being REALLY well prepared ahead of time.

2)The audience is just too tired to think properly after being traumatized for like...what? a Googolplex already? Time and time again they act in the role of Daedalus, watching his son Icarus (the work of Art in question) plummeting to its doom for being too close to the Sun (Arthood), that they cant take it anymore. Just when they think its going to get more close to the Sun this time, the wings fall off again aaaaaaaand hello Post Traumatic Stress Disorder...again. How i missed thee.

With that kind of trauma going on, may as well settle down with whatever and look for something else that could fill the void of souls ASAP(or keep looking for that supposed work of Sublime Art that Schopenhauer keeps rambling about, so we can stop The Will-To-Live permanently)

I always believe that THAT is one of the reasons why normal people do not like when a work tries to be Art, cause they know its going to disappoint them and may as well not delude oneself that it could reach the Sun this time.

Its like a weird combination of these 2 tropes into something new, and Arty related:

In the other hand, the reason they could be avoiding things that are Art related is not because they dont like to be lectured or be challenged, is because when it DOES happen it ends up being horrendously pretentious or alien. Bonus points if the artist refuses to elaborate on his work, accuses the audience of "not getting it" and pull the entitlement card.
These kind of incidents gives such a bad impression that its no wonder that the audience doesn't want to be near close to "Art". If "Art" means i get someone to scream on my ear for 2 hours, get told that i suck at life and my choices do not matter without going further than that, and then get told that i dont get it when i call out on its laziness, then why should i bother?


Armando Ezequil Gonzales said...

Who shoot first? the entitled audience that just wants to have its way on the things they want to see, indulging in the good old Confirmation Bias of selecting things that agree with their own ideas already and not be challenged, and thus making Artist die inside knowing that they would never achieve anything unless they shove their ideas in the throat of the audience for their own good?

Or was the Prima Donna Artist, who burned people who didn't do the scene correctly, scared women into becoming paranoid breaks so they act in a believable way for the horror movie (i am looking at you Stanley Kubrick), getting 500 malnourished children in a pool of water with low temperature with the risk of dying; just for a scene of a city being flooded (i am looking at you Fritz Lang), who then screamed at the audience for their stupidity; when they didn't "get" the grand vision that he/she/it wanted to convey with an Apple Pie made with the skin of 11 pregnant women? (i dont know of any artist who did that.....yet). Who most likely reassemble Franz Liebkind from the movie "The Producers"


Maybe if, i dont know, the Artist EXPLAINS whats the deal with his work, maybe people could start to actually think he/she/it is not full of shit and knows its stuff, instead of being stuck in their ivory towers made of Soylent Green (and Doritos)? I mean, why people like Hideo Kojima and Casey Hudson CANNOT just simply talk to the audience and say "This represent this, this i did it for this, blah blah."? is there one of "those" unspoken laws that Artist cannot break? do you get less Arty points for breaking the law?

If Art is supposed to act as a tool of Enlightenment to make us better humans, then Artists have the responsibility of TELLING US what they wanted to do. Wouldn't you tell a doctor which parts hurts you, so he can cure you properly? why can't he audience exchange why this work Art didn't work, so the Artist are more close to finally making something that will improve us? unspoken rules are nothing compared to the greater good.

Sure, there are fans of Kojima that "figured out" what he wanted to say with Metal Gear Solid 2:
..but why cant he just stop being ambiguous and SAY something on record. One day he is going to day, and ANY valuable information that could have been useful for humanity is going to be lost forever.

Even Friedrich Nietzsche had problems explaining WTF was his deal, because of his constant use of koans and irony that made his writing impenetrable. And JUST when he wanted to make an explanation of it, guess what? he died before it could do it.

Maybe if Hudson had the actual balls to deal with the fans upfront instead of "Artistic Integrity", people wouldn't be dicks towards artists and art in general. I am not saying that we NEED authorial intent to have a work of Art BE proper Art (we certainly dont know the intent of The Mona Lisa or the Venus De Milo, and we consider that Art), i am just saying that Artist need to disprove this:

..before people consider Art a liability, rather than the blessing that Schopenhauer keeps rambling about.

Dave Cesarano said...


DARN! You've given me a lot to think about, ESPECIALLY since I've kind of left this entire debacle behind me and (thanks to perspective) have a bit of a different opinion on it.

I can't say I disagree with anything you're writing here. You've obviously thought this thing through a heck of a lot more than I at this point (getting a second Masters has taken up a LOT of my time, energy, and thought).

Armando Ezequil Gonzales said...

Dave Kaiserano,

Since i have NO way to contact you beyond this blog, i will leave you with this to see if you can find inspiration for a topic.

Folding Ideas made a long time ago the "Man Media Movie Month" (Also know as M.M.M.M), in which he more or less does a "Tropes Vs Men" (so to speak) but much more tolerable. My only problem with is is that he doesn't give any sources to know what is the name of the effect Fiction does in this case. And asking him about it in Twitter didn't work out, still same vagueness:

Here are the videos in order of release:

Armando Ezequil Gonzales said...

I think i found WHY Archengeia finds the idea of defeating the Reapers conventionally as feasible. Its because he thinks there is a chance to defeat them, at least compared to The Borg who he thinks they are unbeatable.

Think of that what you will.

Armando Ezequil Gonzales said...

And like i said before, fixing Mass Effect 3 into an artistic achievement takes time. Even when the fans try to rush things out and fix it, it STILL leaves gaping plot holes:

And smudboy response to it:

How can you expect the fans to try and elevate ME3 to Art status when even the basics, the building blocks of this world, are so broken that cannot be worked on. The only sane solution is starting when things went wrong. And according to smudboy and others, its ME2 when the thing started to collapse.

Armando Ezequil Gonzales said...

And as a cherry on top of the Mass Effect 3 fiasco, here is Professor Drayfish (the writer of "Thematically Revolving: The ending of Mass Effect 3" and many more giving another lecture for the upcoming 2 year anniversary of ME3, and as a response to Phil Owen and its revisionist attempts on making sense to Casper The Genocidal Ghost ramblings:

Lets just say that Phil raises more questions than the ending itself (if that is even possible to believe):

Armando Ezequil Gonzales said...

Holy shit. I just NOW noticed that grammatical error:

"One day he is going to DIE, and ANY valuable information that could have been useful for humanity is going to be lost forever."

When i get into Ramblinger mode my brain just goes to the Madness Place and says "Fuck grammar, and Art, and morals, and the Common Comma, and... "

Dave Cesarano said...

Tell ya what, Arnaldo, although I've been awfully busy, post a comment with your email address and I'll get you mine, as well as NOT post your comment to ensure your privacy.

Armando Ezequil Gonzales said...

In recent news, Smudboy has started and invited people to help fixing ME3:

Hopefully it wont suck as Vindicator.