If you’ve been on the internet at all in the last two weeks, you’ve probably noticed the outrage certain fans are expressing towards the ending of Mass Effect 3. After reading countless articles, posts, and rants from both sides, this is what I’ve gathered. Those who are upset with the ending want to ensure we all know they are not upset with the dark tone of the ending. They are not upset that Commander Shepard dies. They are also not upset with having to come to terms that the series is truly over. What they seem to be upset with is that they feel the choices they made over the three games have little or no impact on the actual conclusion. They feel that there is not a true sense of closure to the story. They also feel that the ending itself had too many plot holes, and was far too Deus Ex Machina-y.
You may have also read that several thousand fans have been petitioning Bioware to change the ending of the game. Some fans have gone so far as to report them to the Better Business Bureau. And one extremely special little guy has actually sued Bioware and EA.
These fans are quick to insist that they are not whiny, entitled little shits. I’m not quite sure how demanding a new ending to a video game can make you anything but.
Are there things about the ending that could have been done better? Of course. If you’re not happy with the ending, even that I can understand. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I can respect an opinion. There are even a few well-thought articles that have been quite articulate in explaining why they feel slighted. It’s when you get to the point that you demand – fucking DEMAND – that an artist change his work because you don’t like it that I start to have a really big problem.
Look, I’ve been dealing with shitty Rob Liefeld comics for over 20 years now. I’d love to drop off a huge stack of X-Force comics on his front door and say, “Hey, dickhead. How about you do these again. And learn how to draw fucking feet while you’re at it, for Christ’s sake.” What I actually can do is actively choose to not purchase Liefeld books. If Liefeld happens to be drawing a book with a story I want to read, I can either choose to buy it or not. What I cannot do, and have absolutely no right to do, is petition Marvel or DC to redo the story and make someone else draw it. Trust me, I really wish I could. But that’s not how art works.
Rather than go on an extremely long rant about how much I disagree with the people who dislike the ending, I will try to remain civilized and explain why I enjoyed it.
I felt that my choices were accurately represented throughout the course of the story. I didn’t need a 20 minute epilogue explaining the ramifications of curing the genophage, or showing Garrus and Tali’s blossoming romance. All the decisions I made over the three games were for the sole purpose of stopping the Reapers. That was the game’s main conflict. No matter what choices I made, I was always heading for a showdown with them. I mean, Saren basically lays the whole thing out in the first game.
No, I wasn’t kidding.
I feel like most people, whether they realize it or not, became upset when it became apparent that Shepard’s tale was so fatalistic. The constant talk of choice leads me to believe that they were assuming it was Shepard’s destiny to stop the Reapers. His actions were actively shaping the world he was participating in. In the last 20 minutes of the game, it becomes apparent that it was never Shepard’s destiny. It was his or her fate. The choices made weren’t necessarily irrelevant, but they were never going to alter the course of events that were unfolding. No matter what I did, who I saved, and who I sided with, I was always going to end up on the Citadel, at the Crucible, talking to the Catalyst. That doesn’t mean my decisions had no consequence. It only meant that they were tied into my fate – or co-fated, if you will. One could not happen without the other. I needed to do those things, one way or another, to get to the point where I would be able to stop the Reapers.
I can actively see the consequences of my actions throughout ME3. Through my choices, Wrex is on Earth for the final battle. Through my choices, Conrad Verner is helping refugees on the Citadel. Through my choices, the Geth and Quarians have called a truce to their centuries-long war. These are things that are actively happening throughout the game, and they are no less satisfying to me because they happen during rather than after.
I also got a good sense of closure that apparently a lot of people were missing. I’m not sure what game everyone else played, but I spent a good 30 minutes at that comm terminal basically saying goodbye to every friend I’d ever made before going into the final battle.
I don’t need Jack to say, “You know what, Shepard? After spending all that time with you on the Normandy last year, you helped me regain a little piece of my humanity. I found out that life isn’t meaningless, and that there are things worth fighting for. In fact, I even found my purpose in life. Becoming an instructor for these kids has completely changed my life. They’re what I fight for now. They’re the reason I’m going to take a final stand with you on Earth. Thank you, Shepard. You have irreparably changed me for the better. Now I will say something extremely vulgar, just to show you that I’m still the same old Jack you remember from before. Go fuck yourself.” I don’t need that, because I’ve come to know Jack fairly well, and understand that “Yeah, yeah. Maybe your little suicide squad taught me something about teamwork.” is her way of saying just that.
I’ve fought being insulting as much as I possibly can, and have re-written this about four times now, but this is how I feel. I have a high school education. I read books. I understand things like subtext. I appreciate subtlety. I don’t need to have things spelled out for me like a child, because I’m fairly capable of putting two and two together on my own. I actually find it insulting when a book, movie, or video game tries to forcibly explain to me how I should be feeling or what I should be thinking.
That may actually be the issue. I’m not insinuating that the people unhappy with the ending are dumb. I do think a good portion of them, however, are high school and college kids who spend more time playing video games and posting on forums than they do studying and developing comprehension and critical thinking skills.
Don’t worry guys. When I tell you it might do you some good to put down your controller, turn off your computer, and go read a book, there’s no subtext. I really mean it will do you some good to read a book every once in a while.
This is being written a good week after I finished the game. A small part of the delay was due to procrastination. Another part was wanting to spend some time with the multiplayer. The main reason it took so long, however, was because I really wanted to sit down and piece together what the overall game experience meant to me. Believe me when I say I could spend another 5000 words analyzing what I think truly happened with everything, why I believe things happened the way they did, and the rationalizations and motivations behind everything that occurred. The beautiful thing is that I don’t have to. Bioware gave us a beautiful game with a rather deep, philosophical conclusion. Maybe their folly was assuming that people wanted a video game to evoke introspection and soul-searching. Then again, isn’t that what we would expect from any other piece of art?