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Why you're wrong about Mass Effect 3's ending

Posted by: Nathaniel at 3/14/2012 2:55 PM
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke
"Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God." - Michael Shermer 

Have you finished Mass Effect 3 yet?  If no, read no further.  Go finish the game first lest you be spoiled.

If yes, did you like it?  If that answer is no, then you surely must be aware by now that you are not alone.

However, what you surely don't know is that you are dead wrong.  You are dangerously wrong, in fact.  


I love science fiction stories.  Many of us do, but for me it's more than a simple affection for aliens and spaceships.  All my life I have felt a strange need for science fiction.  The aliens and spaceships fill some hole in my soul that I can't explain; I've just always been this way.  And much like an addict might bounce from one destructive addiction to another, I've spent my life bouncing from one science fiction (and lately even fantasy) "future history" (or fake past history in the case of fantasy) to another.  Star Wars was the big one for most of my life, but as I've outgrown and become bored with Star Wars (the Prequels didn't help), I moved on to Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space trilogy (Mass Effect fans should really check it out), then it was Mass Effect.  Today Mass Effect has to share the hole with George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.

What I'm getting at is that I become deeply invested in these fictional universes, so I'm coming at the argument I'm about to make from a decidedly positive prospective.  Something else I would call it is "pro artist."  What I mean by that is I fully submit myself to the whims of the author/creator.  Their word is law, and I'm just a passive spectator whose job it is to react to the author/creator's machinations rather than judge them.  Because of that, I feel that I am uniquely qualified to see things in those universes for what they are without being distracted and confused by what I want them to be.

So here goes...

This is why, on a very fundamental level, you're wrong about the ending of Mass Effect 3:  It follows the same template followed by some of the most beloved and creative works of science fiction that have ever existed.  Let's start with Stephen Spielberg.  Is there a man in Hollywood that's more money than Stephen Spielberg or has been stretching all the way back to the 1970's?  If you can't see his influence on the ending of Mass Effect 3 then you're just not paying attention.  All his science fiction films and most of his non science fiction films just ooze the same kind of religious mysticism and meta-physical ass-pulls we get at the end of Mass Effect 3.  It's an established technique that goes all the way back to the birth of science fiction.  Go find the source material for the film John Carter.  In that 100 year old novel written by the author of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burrows, John Carter got to Mars just because that's what happened and in later novels, he's able to simply dream himself there.  That series arguably forms the basis for all modern science fiction.  Compared to that, the ending of Mass Effect 3 is positively mathmatical.  

And it's not just big budget movie directors influencing Mass Effect 3 via the whole history of science fiction either.  Think about the book/film Contact.  None other than Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan told a story that ended with an alien deity that appeared to the protagonist as a familiar face to explain what was happening.  Does that sound familiar?  ME3 pulls the same "an alien deity did it" stunt.  If it was good enough for Carl ******* Sagan, it's good enough for Mass Effect 3.  Even the ending to the aforementioned Revelation Space trilogy, which is awfully close to hard science fiction, and awfully similar, story-wise, to Mass Effect, forces the reader to just accept that they are just along for the ride - a ride being controlled by forces they just can't control or understand.  

Simply giving yourself over to the author in much the same way a story's protagonist often must give him or herself over to forces beyond their control and understanding to prevail is such an old and ingrained element in science fiction that it largely goes unnoticed in books and movies.  Yet for some reason it's completely unacceptable in Mass Effect 3 for many people.  Those people might argue that it's not a movie or book and therefore isn't beholden to those mediums' established conventions.  But I say that's incorrect.  Mass Effect may technically be a videogame, but it has always been 100% thematically tied to the science fiction conventions of yore and through those, modern science fiction cinema, television, and books.  To not follow those conventions would violate the very spirit of the game itself and that would be far more tragic than not knowing if EDI and Joker ever consummated their relationship.

Yet despite that, gamers want to spit in the faces of the whole history of science fiction just because the version of Mass Effect 3 they've spent the last five years writing in their mind wasn't what BioWare gave them (as if that was even possible), and they feel so strongly about it there's a petition currently floating around the web to get it changed with 13,000 "likes" on Facebook.  To quote that article's author, "That's not how art works.  The audience doesn't get to pick the ending."  That guy has the right of it.  He has the right of it so hard he probably needed a personal mass effect field generator just so it didn't rip a hole in the universe when he wrote it.  

So cut it out you guys.  You're damaging the legacy of the first videogame that rightly belongs in the pantheon of classic science fiction simply because you can, without thought, without logic, and without a clue about what BioWare was trying to accomplish.  Now if that offends anyone, I do apologize.  Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but someone has got to try and bring some non-hate driven perspective to this issue and stand up for that side of the argument, 'cause right now we're taking a beating.

Normally, I'd just leave something as potentially inflammatory as this on some anonymous message board so I don't personally have to catch the blowback, but since it would be either ignored or flooded with claims about my questionable lineage or my mother's chosen line of work, I'm putting it here because the point I'm trying to make is important - to important to be given over to the digital rabble to do with whatever they please. 

So feel free to leave you thoughts in the comments.  If anyone has an argument to make that I'm wrong other than "you're a stupid fanboy and you were probably paid by BioWare to write that," I'd love to hear it.   

And finally, If you want to read a less one-sided treatment of this particular issue, check out this article on 1up.com.  Be warned, however, it's full of specific spoilers.