Mass Effect 3: The Ending


———- note: massive spoilers below ———–

I finished Mass Effect 3 last night at 3:30 in the morning, which is very much past my bedtime but I knew I was at the end and I wanted to see it through. In retrospect, the hours of sleep would have been a better investment.

I don’t mind that the ending was pretty grimdark. I expected my Shepard to die, to be honest. My bet going into the final battle was that Shepard, in fact, was the Catalyst through some Avatar of Vengeance thing and would have to sacrifice herself directly to save the galaxy. That would have been very sad, and very poignant, assuming it was written right, and that would have been fine.

Don’t mistake my complaints for those who demand that their space dramas be less gritty.

In fact there are two reasons why I hate the ending of Mass Effect 3:

1) It undoes everything you accomplished, and provides no closure for the player. In my game, Joker, Garrus, and Javik escaped to live together I guess on some space eden planet, lonely and unprepared. Garrus — my lizard boyfriend — will never see his family again. The quarians are stuck halfway across the galaxy from their newly reclaimed homeworld, with possibly not enough time and definitely not enough fuel to make it home again. The krogan army is stuck, flightless, in Sol and it’s looking pretty unlikely that they will ever make it home to their krogan ladyfriends again, so I’m really glad I cured that genophage.

Not only that, but I think Bioware somehow totally misunderstood what their players wanted. Yes, war is hell and things will never be the same again, but we have spent 6 years and a lot of money defending the current galaxy. While I appreciate some gritty realism, I don’t know how they thought we would be satisfied by seeing our beloved galaxy not defended, but basically smashed into something we no longer even recognize.

2) The ending goes against everything before it. During the entire course of Mass Effect 3 people are telling Shepard that she doesn’t have a choice in how to save the galaxy, and she has been telling them to stuff it. “Humans have free will” has been a message through the entire freaking series. And yet at the end some space kid tells Shepard that she MUST choose one of three terrible options and she’s just “oh, okay, thanks for laying out these incredibly stupid, limited options for me. I guess I’ll pick one now.”

It also comes up repeatedly in ME3 that past cycles have faced a conflict between those who want to destroy the reapers and those who want to control them, with the controllers being the bad guys. Then the space child gives you the EXACT same decision, but this time controlling is an acceptable choice too! Despite hours of quests about how trying to control the reapers only leads to madness! This makes perfect sense!

It boggles my mind that Bioware is the least bit surprised that people wanted to save the galaxy. Not blow it all up, not destroy life as everyone knows it, and not turn everyone into some kind of magic half robot synthesis species (really, what the fuck?). I expected (some) friends to die, I expected a truckload of civilians to die, and hell I even expected Shepard to die, but now it feels like it was for nothing.

In my mind, the game ended when Shepard and Anderson sat down, both dying, after docking the Citadel with the Crucible. It wouldn’t be a perfect ending, and Shep would still die, but it has a hell of a lot more closure than what I really got.

Confidential to Bioware: If you ever, ever try to make me spend money on a DLC to change the ending, I will find a reaper space ghost child and have him synthesize your brains.

Skipping Combat and Bioware Drama

Did y’all get a look at the Bioware “drama” yesterday concerning Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II, and SWTOR writer Jennifer Hepler? Some dude found an article with her from 2006, literally put words in her mouth and took other statements out of context, and posted it to Reddit. Reddit took the bait of course, and Ms. Hepler was slammed with a wall of enraged dude gamers on forums, on her social media accounts, and even on the telephone. She received death threats, and was called “the cancer that is killing Bioware”, “no better than human waste”, and of course those perennial favorites, a “fat bitch” and “obese cunt”.

What were Ms. Hepler’s horrible crimes? At the time of the interview she was pregnant and lamented that she didn’t have much time to play games. She said that she had a hard time getting into a game if it doesn’t have a good story. And most incendiary of all, when asked how she would change games to better attract a female audience Hepler said that sometimes players just want the story and might enjoy a “fast-forward” button to skip combat, like the button to skip dialog that is available in most RPGs. Said Hepler, “A fast forward button would give all players — not just women — the same options that we have with books or DVDs — to skim past the parts we don’t like and savor the ones we do.”

And that, my friends, is apparently grounds for being harassed. Well, that and the crime of being a woman with an opinion in the gaming industry.

I wrote a post here a few weeks ago titled “Maybe SWTOR Wasn’t Meant For You” which was my attempt at a feminist-tinged critique of general player reaction to SWTOR. Yesterday’s nonsense only strengthens my belief that Bioware’s insistence on not making the typical “gamer dude” their sole target audience enrages some players to the point of insensibility. I don’t even think they know or can identify the root of their anger, but only that Things Are Different and they don’t like it.

Really, at the end of the day, what’s the problem with a “skip combat” button in theory? I certainly would have skipped a few bits in Mass Effect 2, and both Dragon Age games as well. My motivation to reach the end of the game is wrapped up in the story and the characters, and sometimes I found myself getting frustrated with having to clear yet another long hallway of bandits to see that story. Whether you’d use such a button or not, discussing it as part of a theory of game mechanics seems entirely reasonable.

But no — apparently we must fight in our games, or we are no better than a horrible wasting disease that kills people. I’m not even sure that saying “chicks dig plotlines” isn’t a gross generalization in itself, but the mere suggestion that games change slightly to allow options that appeal more broadly across genders is enough to cause a gamer dude meltdown. Heck, there was more than one tweet from Hepler-bashers accusing her of forcing them to play gay characters in Bioware games, which wasn’t even brought up in the original article! The gamer dudes doth protest too much.

I doubt any of these gamer dudes read this blog, but on the off-chance that one does: suck it up, buttercups. Games are going to keep changing to appeal to a wider, more diverse audience through capitalistic desire if nothing else, and I suspect that this will makes games BETTER as more people and more perspectives get involved in the industry. Mass Effect 3, in fact, has a option to choose “story mode” with less combat, while folks who love fighting can choose a mode with extra combat. Looks like Hepler and her evil band of lady-gamers already won this fight.

UPDATE: Bioware has released an official statement about this mess and has made a donation to Bullying Canada in Ms. Hepler’s name. Also, if you’re on Google+ we have a pretty good discussion on this stuff going on there.

No Shirt, No Pants, No Group

Let’s get a little controversial all up in here!

There was a big todo in the blog world this week about skimpy gear on female characters, and it’s kind of been making me cranky. I feel like the conversation has unfortunately fallen into a common rhetorical trap, and I dislike it when things that are variable and complicated are phrased in very cut-and-dry, “us vs. them” ways.

The crux of the matter, as outlined in this article about “slut plate” over at Apple Cider Mage, is that “[c]hoosing to wear something skimpy in real life or World of Warcraft should be because someone wants to, because it makes them happy, and should not indicate anything other about a person’s personality or sexuality other than what they wish it to indicate.” Hey, swell. I can totally get behind that, and agree that the phrase “slut plate” is dumb and should be discouraged.

As usual, though, the ensuing conversation conflates the choice with the action itself. Women should be able to dress their characters in anything they like without others assuming they are “sluts”, and I will happily defend that choice as a feminist act. However, this does not mean that dressing your characters in revealing clothing is in itself a feminist act. The issue becomes skewed away from the issue of choice and becomes a message of “celebrate in-your-face-sexiness or you hate women”. In fact, under this paradigm dressing modestly is seen as patriarchal, unfun, and something to be avoided. The choice has yet again been taken away.

The point is not the plate booty shorts. The point should be the CHOICE to wear them.

Every day we are shown women being sexualized in the real world. From the moment I leave my apartment in the morning there are girl butts on taxi ads selling beach vacations and botox injections. I am shown sexy ladies all day long in advertisements. There are ladies in skimpy clothing as NPCs in my game, on login screens, dancing on my mailboxes. By the end of the day, I want to play a game and not worry about it. I’m tired of having sexy sexuality blasted at me all day, co-opted or not, which means that in my group you, Black Mageweave Elf, can sit this one out.

(And, like, what is the external difference between a 15 year old boy playing a mailbox-dancing nelf in her underwear and a woman playing a mailbox-dancing nelf in her underwear? Because if you’re just walking by, there is no difference. Can someone tell me if I should be offended or not? I DON’T KNOW ANYMORE.)

My point is: dress your character in skimpy clothes if you want to. Seriously. I will dress my characters in modest clothes if I want to, and both options are equally valid. No one should make any assumptions about your sexuality or personality from how your elf is dressed, but I am perfectly within my rights to think your outfit is tacky and to select a group member who chose to wear pants.

Worst boob window ever

Worst boob window ever

boobwindow Worst boob window ever

The above image was taken from the front page of the Firefall website.

You know, after years of playing video games and reading fantasy novels I’m used to inhuman physiology in related artwork. I can overlook the fact that this woman’s right shoulder doesn’t seem to exist. (Seriously, try and figure out where her right shoulder is. It hurt my brain after a while.) Her head also doesn’t seem to be attached to the rest of her body, but hey, space combat is perilous stuff.

And truth be told, I didn’t even blink at the robot halftop. Sure, it covers her arms and legs yet leaves a wide expanse of open skin over the part that carries all our important organs. It does kind of serve as a giant “insert pointy thing here” advertisement, but at this point I am quite used to croptop armor.

But that BOOB WINDOW. Look at it. It is, in fact, the most ludicrous boob window I have ever seen, and I do not say that lightly. It doesn’t even look comfortable, much less sexy. Maybe if they hadn’t spent the time and resources lovingly manufacturing boob windows in armor they would have already won the damn war against the aliens 200 years from now in the dystopian future. Yeah.

Maybe SWTOR Wasn’t Meant For You

This post is pretty much entirely speculation and thinking out loud.

I think at this point no one can deny that SWTOR has been incredibly polarizing. Quite a few people are enjoying it and will defend the game, and the folks who don’t like it… well, let’s just say they really don’t like it. I’ve seen people call SWTOR the “worst game ever made” and predict that it will be completely dead within six weeks of launch. They don’t just dislike the game, they hate it with a zeal that to my mind borders on fanaticism.

So why the strong feelings? Certainly part of it is just disappointment after a prolonged period of hype. Part of it, I think, is burnout with WoW-likes. But my hypothesis here is that maybe — maybe — part of the problem is that Bioware never intended WoW’s core audience to be the exact same as SWTOR’s core audience, and that makes people unconsciously angry.

Who is WoW’s target demographic? This, of course, is hard to pin down exactly, but I think you can make some assumptions by looking at Blizzard’s advertising campaigns, the features they bring in, and their corporate culture at events like Blizzcon. WoW’s target audience is straight white dudes, probably college-age, who are the Achiever and Killer types of players. Blizzard has emphasized things like raiding and competitive PvP over features such as an appearance tab or guild housing. In fact, they’ve always been pretty dismissive of guild housing as unnecessary twaddle, and until the recent downturn in subscriptions acted the same way about an appearance tab. Please don’t mistake any of this as derogatory — the straight white raidin’/PvPin’ dude market is large and historically critical to a business’ success, and I in no way blame Blizzard to trying to target them.

However, the unfortunate Cannibal Corpse video at Blizzcon last year just showed that Blizzard hasn’t put a lot of thought into their GLBT players. (I don’t attribute the video to maliciousness, just terrible cluelessness.) The company’s surprise at the reaction to RealID shows that they’re not good at thinking beyond their target audience, not to mention the fact that apparently as a female NPC the more important you are, the less likely it is that you’re wearing pants.

Okay, so: who is the target demographic of Bioware RPGs? I think it becomes a little more clear when you read Bioware writer David Gaider’s official response to a complaint that Dragon Age 2 was ignoring the “straight male gamer” demographic. (You probably read about this when it happened last March. The part most relevant to my post is this: “[Our games are] for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention.” Bioware is pretty commonly considered to have a diverse playerbase, and to cater to some of that diversity. Part of the success of SWTOR is predicated on the company turning some of their diverse RPG audience into a dedicated MMO audience.

Perhaps SWTOR was designed with some of this in mind. The game shipped with personal housing (your ship), NPC romance, and appearance controls (orange moddable items), all things that Blizzard has written off in the past as being too frou-frou and not something their target market would enjoy. There are humanoid NPCs who are not white. Storytelling is definitely emphasized in SWTOR during the leveling process, and players are encouraged to create a bond between themselves and their character. Even I, someone who is usually far too cynical to truly role play, find myself coming up with little stories for Panacea’s background, or turning down a dialog option because it just doesn’t “seem like something she would do”. The game even launched without damage meters or a competitive PvP meta-game. People who play MMOs for the serious raiding or PvP experience (most Achievers and Killers) are unlikely to receive satisfaction on this front.

So why are people so angry about SWTOR? Perhaps it is in part because without even realizing it, they are angry that a game is not entirely oriented to their market and their playstyle. Perhaps the makers of SWTOR wanted to create a game meant to appeal to the Bioware target audience, who is arguably more diverse than the Blizzard target audience and who enjoys different activities. That’s not to say that there are NO straight white raidin’ dudes who play and enjoy SWTOR (this is absolutely not the case), but it is not a game that caters to that market almost to the exlusion of others.

Maybe, blogosphere of mine, when you sit down to write that rant about how SWTOR is the worst game in the whole history of the universe, you should take a moment to reflect that it might not be meant for you.

Enough With the Casual Homophobia in Gaming!

I had a really facinating discussion on Google+ earlier this week about the use of casual homophobic slurs in gaming and why it should be actively discouraged. It made me think about this blog, and how I am hugely into the “politics” side of gaming but I rarely bring it up here. In retrospect, it seems dishonest of me to believe in something related to gaming so passionately and yet not ever mention it.

So, enough. For an inaugural political-ish post, let’s debunk some popular defenses of casual homophobic slurs in gaming.

No one cares if I use it.

I do. My friends do. Lots of people do, in fact, but they may not have the self-esteem and motivation to say anything to you. This to me is the most obvious argument against hurling slurs around. Isn’t life crappy enough? Do you actually intend to bully people, or are you just not thinking about it? Because you are. I cannot stress that enough: whether you choose to believe it or not, someone is hearing you and someone is hurt. It alienates people of all orientations. It drives them away from games. Smooth move, ex-lax.

For me, when I hear someone use “gay” as a perjorative I don’t actually think that you’re homophobic, although you might be. What I think is that you sound like an ignorant hick. I imagine you as someone who is poorly educated and possibly who has a loving relationship with a farm animal. Everything you say to me from that moment on for the rest of your life will be tinged by my image of you as one of the hillbillies in Deliverance. Maybe you’ll never see me again, but if you keep making that impression on those who cross your path.. one day it’s gonna catch up to you, Jethro.

I met a gay dude at a party once and he said “gay” derogitavely!

Cool story bro. Believe it or not, gay people can be homophobic too. But beyond that… the minute you become a member of the LGBT community, this might be a valid argument. Until then, shut it.

Gay means (kindling, happy, annoying), not gay like people.

As a wordsmith and writer, I think this excuse makes me the most sad. Yes, language grows and changes over time. Your intentions aside, however, it’s safe to say that lots of people still use “gay” as an insult to mean “gross like a gay man”. I’ve heard that plenty of times before (oh, trade chat) and I am hardly looking out for it. Given that, let’s look at the word’s usage:

Homophobic Dude: “That fucking gay rogue stunlocked me until I died!”
You, subverting the vocabulary system: “That fucking gay rogue stunlocked me until I died!”

Huh. Looks the same to me. Sounds the same to me. What is the difference? IS there a difference? Because I do not see one. What I see and hear are two people using slurs. There is a saying in the social justice community: “Intent is not magic.” I cannot read your mind, and if it looks like a slur and quacks like a slur, it’s a slur. It doesn’t matter what you meant.

(Honestly, I am pretty sceptical of the whole “gay means annoying now” argument anyway. If you meant “annoying”, why didn’t you say it? No, you used a slur because it is a word with a lot of power and you are REALLY angry about that rogue. Stop pretending that you’re just on the forefront of the English language and admit that you chose it specifically to be a showstopper.)

They shouldn’t bring their sexual orientation into the game anyway.

This excuse is really just plain homophobia, but I find it interesting because it’s a jumping off point to examining just how heterosexual most games are. I think sometimes straight folks don’t realize how much of our sexual orientation is in almost every game, even if we’re not jumping up and down and shouting about being straight. How many games have a quest that involves a male and female in a romantic relationship? That’s hetero. There’s our sexual orientation, right there, hanging out, forcing others to acknowledge it.

Remember when 4.3 hit in WoW and we all attended the Space Wedding of Space Thrall to his Space Woman? Talk about rubbing your nose in it! It is almost impossible to play a game that doesn’t feature heterosexuality in some way. Straight folks are pretty good at putting our sexual orientation in everything we do! Let’s stop being so hypocritical with the whole, “But stop flaunting YOUR orientation!” argument.

Get over it, it’s just the internet.

And this is the most frustrating excuse of all. I don’t even really understand it. It tends to go hand in hand with someone saying, “People are too sensitive now,” which I also don’t get. Is sensitivity some kind of non-renewable resource? 150 years from now, will future generations grow up callous and cold because we used up all the raw civility? (Huh. Be right back, writing sci-fi novel…)

There is something particularly unsavory about someone insulting you and then telling you to like it. If you insult me, I’m going to be upset! I’m going to think less of you. I may or may not call you an asshat. If you don’t like that, maybe YOU should get over it.

In short, using casual gay slurs while gaming makes you appear uneducated and cruel. It hurts people around you, whether you see it or not, alienates your fellow gamers, and brings up bad memories and sad feelings.

And if you see someone use a homophobic slur, call them on it! I am bad about this myself on occasion, but making things socially awkward for the slur-er is the best method of enacting change we have.

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