Sunday, July 15, 2012

In Defense of Mass Effect: Growing Up with Shepard

For the past 5 years I've been saving the galaxy in my spare time.  Intermittently of course.  Saving multiple civilizations is a tall order, and I couldn't just do it in a few days.

I finally completed Mass Effect 3.  I was one of the ones that waited.  I had heard all of the nasty things about the game and I decided I would wait for a price drop.  The day 1 DLC fiasco helped solidify my decision.  I would wait for a brand new/sealed copy off of eBay for half the price, and then buy the From Ashes DLC.  As I waited, I heard rumors of the ending controversies.  People were saying that what you did throughout the last 3 games didn’t really matter.  I was able to avoid the discussion and the ending wasn’t spoiled for me.  Due to the controversy, Bioware released the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut endings.

I timed my purchase so that when the game arrived, the reworked endings would be available to me.  Finally the game is complete, and I was able to choose my ending.  In the end, I can see how people would say that your decisions didn’t affect anything.  I just didn’t feel that way though.

As the credits came to a close, I reflected.  I realized that a lot has changed in the last 5 years.  I remembered picking up the first Mass Effect.  I needed something to help kill the pain I had been feeling.  A relationship I was in had just ended, and I was starting a new one.  I was confused, conflicted, and a 20 year old college student .

Enter Commander Shepard, a soldier battling for the sake of humanity. As a 20 year old who was going through a lot, I guess the game appealed to me because I could control fate.  The game promised that what you did in the first game would affect the outcome of the final game.  As I carefully made each decision, I look back and realize that I fumbled through a few of them.  I was 20 and the decisions I made back then affected my Commander Shepard of today.

By the time Mass Effect 2 arrived, I was trying to start anew.  I had graduated college and reluctantly had to enter the workforce.  I had moved in with my girlfriend at the time.  The relationship was shaky, but what you could expect from two people figuring out how to live together (and with 2 other roommates).  I had graduated from college 6 months prior and was a 23 year old trying to start his career. Competition for jobs was fierce.

Mass Effect 2 released. It gave me a bit of a break.  I was worn out from all the struggles I was going through.  This time, Commander Shepard was in conflict. Things had changed for him.  He was no longer with the Alliance and reluctantly joined up with Cerberus.  His relationship with his crew had changed, and he had to find a new path. Looking back on Mass Effect 2; my decisions matured beyond the previous installment, but were by no means completely ideal.

Now, at 25, it was time for Mass Effect 3.  I look at where I am today.  I’m a year into my career.  I’m specializing myself.  I’m working hard every day to make sure that work is taken care of.  My last relationship ended about a year ago.  I’m a single bachelor living on my own.  Sure there are hiccups, but everyone is human.  It’s a little hard to analyze where I’m at though, since I’m in the moment. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Mass Effect 3 shows a grounded Shepard.  He’s back with the Alliance, but paying  for decisions from the previous game.  Within the first few minutes, the Reapers attack Earth (the threat he has been warning everyone about since the first game).  Shepard escapes Earth to prepare the galaxy for war.  He is the only one that can save humanity.  That’s his career.  That’s the path he’s on.  He’ll have to make some tough decisions, but the trust of the mission is in his hands.

I look back at all of this.  As an adult, I grew with Commander Shepard.  I watched him become a hero, as I was becoming a man.  In the end, the player is presented with the same thing that they are presented with throughout the entire series; the same thing that has keeps all of us going throughout our lives.  Choice.  The ability to determine what comes next.  To me, that’s not a poor ending.  While the decisions the player had made don’t affect the immediate ending, they do shape the state of the galaxy throughout the game.  The end gives the player the final end all decision, for me, that’s closure, because the fate of the galaxy is in my hands, in the same way the fate of my life is mine.

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