Pathetic Supplication: BioWare and the Ending of Mass Effect 3
When did we get like this? When did we develop this sense of entitlement? Did something happen while I wasn’t paying attention that made video game fans believe they – not developers – should get to choose how art is made then given to them? Must have. Because since the release of Mass Effect 3 we have witnessed a very depressing and extremely regressive outcry from fans.
[While I won’t go into specific details about Mass Effect 3’s ending(s), I will be discussing its structure, so I issue the requisite SPOILER WARNING.]
You may have noticed that some people were a touch disappointed by the ending of Mass Effect 3. They felt, for a series famed for its promotion of individual player choice, the conclusion of the third entry was intolerably restrictive. As I said, I won’t spoil anything story-related, but the ending plays out like this: Shepard reaches the game’s climactic moment and is offered three choices (not so-subtly colored to indicate which is the Paragon, Neutral, or Renegade option), each of which will end the game differently. So, regardless of whether you have built your Shepard as a rebellious asshole or selfless hero since 2007’s Mass Effect, the ending you experience of Mass Effect 3 comes down to this. If you’re willing to play the last level three times, you can see each ending on one play through.
Ardent Mass Effect players, expecting an ending based on decisions made in the previous two games, rose up and collectively cried “Foul!” at this cop-out. (One passionate fanboy brought his complaints to the Federal Trade Commission.) Apparently, BioWare and publisher Electronic Arts have heard these complaints. BioWare co-founder Ray Muzyka released this official statement:
“I believe passionately that games are an art form, and that the power of our medium flows from our audience, who are deeply involved in how the story unfolds,” Muzyka wrote, “and who have the uncontested right to provide constructive criticism. At the same time, I also believe in and support the artistic choices made by the development team. The team and I have been thinking hard about how to best address the comments on ME3’s endings from players, while still maintaining the artistic integrity of the game.”
This and the rest of his letter can be read as simple, politically worded surrender. He went on to acknowledge the hard work that went into creating Mass Effect 3, the effort that will go into balancing this tweaked ending with BioWare’s existing DLC plan, and to decry destructive criticism from fans.
So there it is: the people have spoken, and BioWare is changing – sorry, adding additional closure to – their game. Many of people might be wondering why I think this is a bad thing. It’s a bad thing because this is not how artists should treat their art.
You were disappointed by the ending of Mass Effect 3? Really? I’m sorry. But here’s the thing: tough titties. You don’t get to choose how it ends. The ending of Lost disappointed me. Did I write Damon Lindelof and Carleton Cuse to tell them how much I invested into their show only to be left with a bunch of half-answers to many of my questions? No, I was quietly disappointed, and I – and a number of others – voiced our concerns. Did anybody ask them to go back and change it? Many people were disappointed with the conclusion of the Matrix trilogy. Were the Wachowski brothers asked to retread the Matrix Revolutions? The Star Wars prequels were disliked near-universally. Would anyone ask even George Lucas, a man notorious for not respecting the sanctity of his products, to go back and remove Jar-Jar Binks from The Phantom Menace? No, no, and no.
JTM’s eminent leader Jan Hutchings said this to me: “If BioWare changes the ending it’ll be a very different industry.” It might seem like a small thing for a developer to throw fans a bone right now, but this is a slippery slope, and perhaps a massive mistake on BioWare’s part.
You made the game. It disappointed some people. That sucks. Own it. Stand by your creation. Fans don’t have authorial control of your game. You do. Creating art is intense and should come from a personal place, whether it’s Shakespeare or a shooter. Yes, getting criticism from people while you’re making it is wise; but molding it post-release to fit the whims of your audience is pathetic supplication.
One final note. There is only one reason this decision can be considered even remotely respectable (and it’s the same reason I’m surprised fans are so pissed off): while the Reaper saga must be considered finished, I sincerely doubt BioWare intended Mass Effect 3 to be the last game in the franchise. (Project director Casey Hudon agrees: “This is not the last you’ll hear of Commander Shepard.”) In other words, fans were probably going to get a continuation of the story regardless. Now we have this obnoxious drama to contend with. I sure hope people are happy with the new ending.