Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Yes, More "Mass Effect"

WARNING! All links and everything after the jump carries a MASSIVE SPOILER WARNING!

"Bob, WHY do you keep talking about this??" Because it's still THE story in this particular realm, that's why.

In any case, Devin Faraci of BadassDigest is the latest web-personality to weigh in on the controversial finale of "Mass Effect" - apparently he didn't get the memo that movie critics' opinions on video games aren't to be taken seriously, either. He does, however, bring the thus-far rare perspective of someone who - whether he is officially a "true gamer" or not - has played through the entirety of "Mass Effect" and actually really likes the ending. It's an extremely thoughtful piece (I don't always see eye-to-eye with Devin, but he knows his shit) that gamers would do well to consider:

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT!
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

Money quote, from Devin: (boldface mine)
"In the end Mass Effect 3, like any other narrative video game, is a story being told to us. We have some control over the peripheral business but the meat of the story belongs to BioWare. This is the tale they’ve been telling. This is the culmination of what they’ve been doing since the beginning of Mass Effect. And I love it. This is true scifi, a story that examines the nature of conflict and humanity through the prism of imaginative, speculative fiction. I’ve never played a game where the decisions I made felt so powerful in the abstract; I wasn’t worrying about whether or not one choice would give me a better power up, I was worrying about the moral and ethical implications of the choices. And after all of that the final choice was so obvious, so true to what had come before, that I was kind of irritated at how slowly old Shep moved."

Now, let me get myself into a bit of trouble here: I'm wondering if it's more than coincidence that some (please, please, PLEASE note that I didn't say "ALL" or "MOST") of more interesting writing about video games coming out lately is coming from people - like Devin or FilmCritHulk - who come more form a film/literature background.

That's pretty close to blasphemy, I realize. Gaming has a fierce inferiority complex when it comes to movies - desperately wanting the visuals and narratives of games become more "cinematic" while stidently insisting that the interactivity of the medium makes it some kind of superior-evolution to stuffy old "passive" cinema. And I don't mean to suggest that one medium is innately superior on either the production or commentary side...

...BUT, a lot of the recent "big issues" in game-criticism ("Other M's" perhaps-unwittingly sexual-submission symbolism, "Arkham City's" casual sexism, "Mass Effect's" unusual ending, etc.) are actually narrative issues; and let's be real here: Film has been dealing with full-blown narratives for over a century and film writers have thus been dealing with them for their entire education and career; while gaming and thus game criticism has (with the niche exceptions of PC Adventure titles and JRPGs) barely been dealing with full-blown narratives for a decade or so. And even film didn't get there right away - it took a looooong time for a big-budget, wide-release movie to be permitted to end as abstractly as "2001" did; and even the magnificient "Psycho" is forced to follow-up it's intensely-awesome reveal with a horrible, clunky, dead-weight expository sequence where police veeeeery carefully lay out exactly what was wrong with Norman Bates, and why he is/isn't a transvestite, etc lest the audience go home without - what's that word? Closure?

What's the takeaway from that? I dunno. Maybe that gaming-culture would do well to not immediately dismiss criticism/commentary simply because it comes from outside "The Community;" I suppose.

37 comments:

Axle said...

A well written article, for sure. I even understand the reasoning behind why he likes it. Perhaps even accept it? Still don't think it's a good ending.

Tempted to complain/explain but I think I'll just leave it at respectfully disagree.

Josh said...

I'm glad to see some well-researched and well-written support for the endings from someone who actually played the games. A bit dictatorial, but well-written nonetheless.

I still respectfully disagree, but my disagreement doesn't invalidate Devlin's opinion. Or anybody else's, for that matter.

Unknown said...

SPOILER ALERT ON THIS POST:

To be honest, I'd really like to see Daniel Lloyd and the rest of the Extra Credits team break the ending down like they did with the Geth Extremists choice from ME2. There's a lot of ways to break down that ending, and people might like it once they sit down and think about the overall aspects of it.

I've played Mass Effect 1 a couple of times through and Mass Effect 2 four times (Insanity difficulty No One Left Behind achieve run was fantastic), so I had a lot invested in my character. I'm glad the way she went out, but I'd like a few of the small details (WHY IS THE CATALYST A CHILD?) clarified. And to be honest, I don't think Bioware needs to change their entire ending to do that, just make a continuation (expansion?) with a new character that will get to experience this massively-changed post-Reaper-cycle universe.

Deadpool said...

Here's the contradiction. Everything he wrote about the ending, his entire second and third paragraphs (post spoiler warning) is negated by the last.

He follows the usual argument that "The endings are fine if you substitute Bioware's lack of imagination for your own and just DREAM the perfect ending." The cold, hard truth is that the Krogan did not suffer nor were they freed from the Genophage, the Geth didn't die, nor coexist with the Quarians, nor kill their creators and take their place in galactic politics. Earth, Palaven and Thessia weren't rebuilt, none of it happened.

What HAPPENED was he made a choice, the appropriate light shined through the universe, Joker crash landed with the appropriate cosmetic change and then it ended. Remember, this isn't real. This is a fictional universe. One that, according to HIM, "is a story being told to us." and "the meat of the story belongs to BioWare."

So which is it? Is it a story where the ending is your own personal utopian fanfiction tailored to you BY you? Or is it made by BIOWARE and completely devoid of meaning, reason, motivation, denouenment, catharsis, player input, thematic cohesiveness or internal consistency?

Pick one. Because you can't have them both.

Marcomax said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stickmangrit said...

so, here's the thing. obviously Devin's playthrough worked well with that choice, it led to a sense of narrative cohesion. that's great, good for him, i respect that. two things though:

1) how exactly is doing the thing you spent the entirety of the first game trying to stop Saren from doing(synthesis of organic and synthetic life) now the proper moral option? how is unilaterally forcing that decision on the entirety of galactic life in any way ethical?

2) i saved Wrex and Tali. i brokered a peace between organic and synthetic life. i proved that the starchild's argument was utter nonsense, but none of that mattered.

if this had been one of multiple endings, i'd be fine. if this had been better explained, i'd be fine. hell, if nothing changed and the Mass Relays stayed intact, i'd be fine. if the "indoctronation theory" had been correct and this entire starchild nonsense was a Persona-style early bad ending, everyone whose bitching now would be praising this as the single most brilliant game narrative ever. as it stands, we got handed a copy-paste job of the original Deus Ex ending in a context it simply did not work in.

Aiddon said...

gaming narratives in general are very odd. A lot of people keep harping about games' "interactivity" supposedly making a narrative more personal and possibly more evocative than films. Here's the thing though: it gets in the way of actually telling a story. I've never really felt emotionally invested in choices I made in games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, or even Bioshock (which was probably better off getting rid of that moral-choice idea). I always felt that stories that were told by the writers with the players as the audience were just better because they were more focused. Okami, Vagrant Story, Xenogears, the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Cross, Silent Hill 2, Persona series, etc had GREAT narratives that I'd put on the top of the medium and those had very little input from the player.

Xaos said...

@Unknown

"people might like it once they sit down and think about the overall aspects of it."

...you say that people hate the ending because they don't understand it.

I say people who like it are the ones who do not understand it.


I propose a challenge.

In ten exchanges or less, convince me to pick any of the three options for the Mass Effect ending. Control, Destroy, or Synthesis.

Because I have very good reasons to not pick any of them, due to a certain consequence that all three of them share.

There is one condition:

You do not get to say "The Reapers are going to kill all your friends if you don't do anything" so long as I can fall back on either of these two arguements:

1) Taking any of these options will kill them anyway.

2) Isn't the Star Child in control of the Reapers? Why do I even NEED a control option if he's willingly giving it to me? What does Control even do? Until I get a satisfactory answer, I am just going to sit on my ass and tell him "You call the Reapers off. If you don't, I have no reason to believe your 'options' are really that trustworthy."

I feel that we've been talking past each other. This is actually a seperate issue from the artist's right controversy.

The ending isn't "Deep", its broken. You say "Change", I say "fix".

Anonymous said...

Once again, Bobby has proven that he'll only care about your opinion if you have your own web show or column on a major website. No wonder he doesn't want Joe public complaining about ME3, he expects us proles to treat him the same way too! Talk about an ego problem.

Mads said...

I'd never dream of disregarding a piece of criticism based on it's source.

Even though I think film critic hulk is a hipocrite elitist who doesn't seem willing to communicate with consistency on the issue of art, and probably knows this an is being manipulative and polemic by choice, even with all of that prejudice against him, I'd still give his criticism the same shot I give all criticism.

Which is to say, I read what he wrote, and I'll certainly give it some thought.

Here's my main issue: This was Star Wars, the original trilogy. Mass Effect is more seven samurai in space than anything else. To say that it was something else is confusing, and, frankly, preposterous. To say that it even approaches Hard Sci-Fi...well about as much as star trek voyager maybe.

But lets say for a second that it was fundamentally high concept sci-fi. What Deadpool wrote still goes: If Bioware owns the endings, you don't get to headcon things around like this critic does. Furthermore, they also own this kind of reaction:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQgIVNCI61I&feature=youtu.be

And you know what? This isn't what this girl was promised implicitly with the story. Her visceral reaction is not what you're supposed to have at the end of any narrative...And frankly, if Bioware owns this? They should be fucking ashamed.

Anyways, in regard to the reaction to the controvercy, here's another little argument for letting the retake movement live.

Suppose all of the critics of the movement end up pulling through. Suppose their public action ends up killing the movement, and the countermovement gathers so much momentum that Bioware cannot change the endings without public outcry.

What then? Because then the fanboys, this time ones who call themselves critics, belonging to the counter-movement have suddenly had an impact on the medium. Then suddenly everybody will be like "remember mass effect! You cannot change or fix anything because the critics will kill your reputation!". Bioware will end up being just as beholden to the countermovement as they would ever have been to the retake movement. The industry itself would no longer be able to follow up artistic visions of changing the product (even though artists are supperior and should therefore be allowed to).

This is the fundamental logical disconnect of the countermovement. The inherent contradiction: Even supposing the critics of the retake movement achieve making bioware not change the ending, if this result can in fact be subscribed to the counter movement, they've failed even in their success, because they've ultimately influenced the artists works just as much as the retake movement ever could have.

This is, of course, assuming that the counter movement are arguing against the retake movement out of fundamental belief, rather than because they like the ending. If they criticise the retake movement because they like the ending, then there is no such inherent contradiction.

But that's not Bob's and a lot of the other counter-movement critics position, and they are the people I'm targeting here.

Anonymous said...

I'm still so glad I've never bought any of the mass effect games, they really are terrible pieces of crap. Bioware's games are just getting worse and worse as the years go by.

Pirate before you buy people, it saves you from much of the crap that's out there.

JPArbiter said...

Quick side question...

Why do people insist Bob's opinion on the fan reaction to ME3's ending is invalid because he has, by his own admission, not completed any of the ME games yet?

his commentary was NEVER about the games or the endings themselves, but at fan over reaction. the only difference between this and his commentary on H.E.A.T. is that this time it is done in pseudo real time as opposed to being a retrospective.

taken in that context I think his criticism of the fan outcry is spot on.

oh and Anon, If I could contractually obligate every Pirate to buy later what they Pirate today I would agree, otherwise you are still a thief.

Deadpool said...

To be fair, THIS post is a link to an article that talks about the quality of the ending, NOT the fan outcry...

So NOW, his lack of personal knowledge with the game kinda makes him less capable of judging the validity of the article...

Kyoraki said...

@JPArbiter
His opinion is invalid because knowledge of the ending is absolutely neccesary to understanding the fan outcry. Calling it 'artistic' alone despite huge amounts of evidence to prove otherwise shows how ignorant Bob was coming into the debate.

Aiddon said...

@JPArbiter:

You're asking gamers to be LOGICAL???????

Anonymous said...

"Maybe that gaming-culture would do well to not immediately dismiss criticism/commentary simply because it comes from outside "The Community;" I suppose. "

Too bad most of the half baked criticism/commentary came from 'professional journalists' at IGN and Kotaku and others within the community. People like Devlin who actually researched and played the games I'll pay more attention to, even if I disagree with him or not.

At the very least he is not out there yelling about how we are sending the medium back a decade.

Anonymous said...

@JPArbiter

Bob's overreaction over the fans overreaction was equally whiny and immature. His tweets on the matter were a flood of the most ignorant statements I had ever read. Fans sending cupcakes in demand over a change is just as stupid as saying that if they did change it that no writer worth his salt would ever write anything in the medium again because of those scaaaaaary fanboys.

Zubat said...

http://consumerist.com/2012/04/congratulations-ea-you-are-the-worst-company-in-america-for-2012.html

Good going fanboys, way to set back the business world a decade with your entitlement.

Sylocat said...

@Zubat: Wow. Just... wow.

It's now official: I can say with 100% certainty that the Retakers are... well, I could go to thesaurus.com and copy-paste every synonym for the words "stupid," "myopic," and "spoiled," and it would be accurate.

And they can no longer say that it's just a few outliers pulling this trash. The Consumerist's contest had, literally, well over a quarter of a million votes, and the Retake movement vote-bombed it to span EA to the title of "worst company in America," ahead of not just Comcast and Ticketmaster, but Wal-Mart and Bank of America.

If enough of you are seriously convinced that EA is a worse company than the one RESPONSIBLE FOR THE MARKET CRASH WE'VE ALL BEEN SUFFERING THE CONSEQUENCES OF FOR HALF A DECADE, then you can take your precious game franchise and shove an entire box set of it up your pasty bloated asses.

Anonymous said...

Sylocat

What evidence do you have that the Retake crowd vote bombed it?

I demand evidence! until then I'll file you away as one of the most immature and reactionary twats on the internet.

Hyperme said...

@Sylocat
Oh man worst company of the year now involves past unchievements? I better vote Valve as company of year for Portal series.

Of course, EA still isn't as crappy as the people it beat. Yet?

@MovieBob:

Oh man being civil. Now I can be civil back, because I feel less insulted.
Anyhow the ME3 ending sucks from an entirely narrative point of view due to poorly executed Deus Ex Machina*. If this was Book or Film, it would be the same climax killing thing only with actors or text. I mean at least the Indoctrination theory deals with that as well as making the ending clever subverting of player choices, ala 'Would you kindly'. Which would be a clever use of the interactivity side, and still allow a build up to a single conclusion. Oh man, player choice and traditional narritve structure can be compatible all along.

Moral of the story: Be civil, and I'll post thoughfulness instead of rage. But I guess pseudo-stoner eh doesn't strike the same ego chords or something?



*Can there be well executed Deus Ex Machina? Maybe.

Deadpool said...

High concept, little player input, bittersweet, little information on what happens to characters afterwards ending that were WELL received by players.

East: Xenogears

West: Planescape Torment

Problem isn't people not GETTING the ending, it's the ending being BAD.

Sylocat said...

What evidence do you have that the Retake crowd vote bombed it?

The fact that many of them have been posting longwinded "defenses" of their decision to do so, on Reddit and a couple of them on The Escapist. I didn't realize it was so widespread until now, though.

But really, the fact that they won at all should be proof enough.

Oh man worst company of the year now involves past unchievements? I better vote Valve as company of year for Portal series.

I'll forgive them when we are no longer suffering from the consequences. They're still harming us, we're still trying to clean up their mess, it's still relevant.

Oh, and if you want some antics from the past year, just Google 'Linda Green foreclosures.'

You're seriously comparing video games to THAT?!

Xaos said...

@Sylocat:

Yes, but what has Bank of America done THIS YEAR?

Maybe those companies deserve a golden poo every year, but there can only be one. And every single one of those companies had the sense to not actually betray consumers on a personal level.

Yes. Its stupid. Yes. Its unfair. So the fact that we can't send a golden poo to all four of those companies you listed plus fucking Blackwater every single year. But it is the natural outcome of everything. EA rushed an ending that should never have been pushed to one side to make room for fucking multiplayer. The Golden turd is based on public opinion.

EA got a lot of votes. Of course it did.

What I want to know is why Bank of America got so few. Did you really, REALLY depend on Mass Effect gamers to constitute such a significant vanguard?

TL,DR: ME gamers (and EA haters in general, lets not forget all of EA's OTHER crimes) have no reason to feel the slightest shred of shame over other peoples inaction.

I mean, did YOU vote in this Golden Poo award?

Anonymous said...

Forbes, once again, on the issue.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/04/04/ea-is-the-worst-company-in-america-now-what/

Just saying EA is the worst won't mean diddly squat if people keep buying their crap.

Sylocat said...

@Xaos:

Yes, but what has Bank of America done THIS YEAR?

It was a contest for 2011. We're only 3 months in to this year. Now who's getting their calendar mixed up?

And every single one of those companies had the sense to not actually betray consumers on a personal level.

I'm sorry, you consider making a video game with a shitty ending to be a sin on par with unlawfully throwing people out of their homes? What is wrong with you?

What I want to know is why Bank of America got so few.

There were a quarter of a million votes cast.

TL,DR: ME gamers (and EA haters in general, lets not forget all of EA's OTHER crimes) have no reason to feel the slightest shred of shame over other peoples inaction.

How about your enabling of other people's action? I said it before: When you excuse bullshit like this (and death threats and lawsuit threats) by saying, "Well, this just means they care deeply about this!" then you are complicit. And you could have done your part to cool your jets, but no, you wanted to work up a lynch mob.

Thank you for proving every negative stereotype about the fan reactions.

And of course, as that Forbes article (and Andy Chalk) point out, you've all proven time and time again that no matter what bullshit EA pulls, it's never actually going to get you to stop buying their products.

ACKarzun said...

Here's the thing Bob, do you want games to be taken seriously as ‘an art form’ or as its own form of art? Basically, do you want it to be judged by the values of already established art forms or on its own merits? There was a time when movies were not viewed as art because the medium was being judged by the values of the then established art forms, until Auteur Theory, a theory specific to movies. This is, in my opinion, what games need if you want them to be taken seriously as an art. (Personally I don’t care, I lump them in with movies, books etc. under ‘entertainment’.) Chris Melissinos has talked about there being three distinct voices in a game: the designer/artist, the game itself and the player. So maybe that is what you should be looking at, Three Voices Theory. And this is why I think it’s a bad idea to put so much stock in what people primarily interested in, and knowledgeable of movies have to say about games, they are judging the medium by the values of the wrong art form.

Jannie said...

Firstly, just an aesthetic thing, but that is the worse damn website I've ever seen. I'm sure the people on it are fine folks, I know nothing about them save for ALLCAPS HULK but they generally seem like inoffensive movie nerd folk so this isn't a swipe at them but Jesus Christ that is the most obnoxiously designed and offensive to look at thing...

Anyway, I think this guy is putting way too much thought into an ending as cliche and trite as the one in ME3 but then again movie critics tend to find cliche and trite things overly impressive anyway so I'm clearly not the intended audience here. I have one very major complaint:

"There was never going to be another ending, no matter what."

No see there totally was and it got scrapped for reasons unknown and then the head writer left the series and now we have three explosions all with different colors. So yeah there was totally a whole 'nother, separate ending, like that's an empirical fact.

More so none of the things he said were actually, you know, relevant because it still doesn't change the fact that Bioware misled people about the ending, that it disregards previous canon including Sovereign's characterization, and that it is deeply flawed and full of plot holes even IF it weren't self-contradictory. I mean you have to have been exposed to the comics and novels and such too to really get the sheer breadth of how hard this ending fucked canon but yeah it's pretty dire folks.

And no I don't expect him to psychically "just know" something granular about the series like that, since he's probably not OCD about it like I am. That's not a swipe at him that's just me pointing out that he's wrong and possibly should educate himself about the actual backstory to this debacle.

This isn't about people thinking the ending was unsatisfying. The ending of Gears 3 was widely considered unsatisfying but no one cared because:

A--it didn't rape canon

B--it made sense even if it was stupid and cliche

C--Cliffy B never said that Gears would have several different endings and then gave you just one

D--it didn't rip off Deus Ex 3

And finally due to the fact that this ending's very existence seems to be more about the internal politicking and power struggles at Bioware and EA's insistence on shovelware DLC being included than any sort of overt or subtextual meaning, so whatever you felt or THINK you felt about it is most certainly not what the creators intended since one of them got kicked off the series in the first place and it's openly saying "we intend to sell you DLC so this isn't REALLY the ending, sorry guys" after the game is over.

Jannie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Well now that Bioware has 'confirmed' ME3 extended Cut (very movie like title there) we can all shut up about it and wait till it actually comes out before we start arguing about it again.

Anonymous said...

Ummm. one thing that bugs me about people saying that Bioware shouldn't change the ending as a result to Fan outrage...

Well Didn't they already DO that before. The ending that we see in the game is in fact the Second version. The original ending got leaked and people complained so they changed it to the one that we got.

What happened was that the ending that the original writing team worked to build up to for the two previous games got scrapped with four months to go and they had to rush to make a new one.

That's why it seems rushed. IT WAS!

Anonymous said...

Ummm. one thing that bugs me about people saying that Bioware shouldn't change the ending as a result to Fan outrage...

Well Didn't they already DO that before. The ending that we see in the game is in fact the Second version. The original ending got leaked and people complained so they changed it to the one that we got.

What happened was that the ending that the original writing team worked to build up to for the two previous games got scrapped with four months to go and they had to rush to make a new one.

That's why it seems rushed. IT WAS!

Anonymous said...

Ok sorry about the multiple posts it wasn't showing up for me.

Also Bob I've been following you for a long time agree with you on many points. But here I just have to say that I disagree. Changes and revisions after a work of art has been completed are something we've been doing in Film, Television, Books, and Videogames for years, you cannot set a precedent if people have allready been doing it.

Anonymous said...

"1) how exactly is doing the thing you spent the entirety of the first game trying to stop Saren from doing(synthesis of organic and synthetic life) now the proper moral option? how is unilaterally forcing that decision on the entirety of galactic life in any way ethical?

2) i saved Wrex and Tali. i brokered a peace between organic and synthetic life. i proved that the starchild's argument was utter nonsense, but none of that mattered. "

1) There is a huge difference between Saren and you. Saren choose to work with the Reapers, in hopes that they would have mercy on him and let him retain his individuality. But the Reapers will not let organics retain themselves, they will enslave them and save only data. You merged organic and synthetic life, they became something else but didn't lose what they were.

2) Sure, you stopped them from fighting... for now. But how long until they start fighting again? Or some other synthetic life form is created and then rebels?

Anonymous said...

Ah, how sad. You insult a large group of people, stay away from anything they correct you on, and desperately trawl for supporting arguements. Always a shame to see someone who is otherwise insightful and witty fall into the traps laid by pride and hubris.

TL;DR: Stop trolling Bob, you're better than this.

Anonymous said...

Woah woah wait am I reading this right?

People here and Moviebob actually agree that being a consumer who isn't satisfied with a product they paid for, don't have the right to complain and just brushed off as ""entitlement issues""

If you believe this. Fuck. You.

You'll never understand the true value of money, ever. No surprising an argument like this came from Moviebo who proberly never had a real job outside of his computer.

Joe said...

BioWare fans have played The Entitled Jackass Who Cried Wolf so often in the past couple of years, it's completely understandable that a lot of journalists and pundits would write off Retake ME as more of the same, whether they had a legitimate gripe or not. I personally have no interest in Retake's opinions at this point, and will form my own conclusions about ME3 when I finally get around to playing it.