Alright people, you knew it was coming. Given the amount of controversy that has surrounded this issue for the past month, you knew that I’d have to give my opinion and what little backing I have for it. So here it is.
WARNING: OBVIOUSLY A LOT OF SPOILERS!!!
So I finally passed ME3 last night/this morning. Though I had successfully avoided all spoilers, I was aware of the massive controversy surrounding the ending(s). So, after getting my chosen ending, I went to look up what all the fuss was about, and found this video by reviewer/Youtube user JeremyJahns. It does an excellent job of summing up the objections to the ending, and I give JeremyJahns credit for that. In fact, if you’ve somehow heard of this tiny blog and are watching, JeremyJahns, or fans of his, please don’t take this as flaming or looking to start an angry argument. I am habituated in the philosophic tradition, so criticism of anyone (even those we admire most) is meant to be strengthening and enjoyable, not simply a matter of attack (though it may often seem like attack at times). So, first I’ll talk about the major points the video makes, objections I’ve heard, and consider those. Then I’ll take a step back to look at the bigger picture, which is something I think we need to do, and the basis for the little bit I have to say in defense of Bioware. I realize this is long, so if you really want my core opinion on the issue as a whole, you can just skip to the “A Step Back” section.
What I got from JeremyJahns’ video and the bit of reading I did on the net, there are a few reasons for the displeasure with the endings. First and foremost is the lack of choice in the ending. Though there is the obvious choice between the three options Shepherd has at the end, there is nothing to show where the decisions you made throughout the past three games have made a difference in the end. Many people are upset that they were promised 16 unique endings, when really, the endings are all essentially the same, save for about 30-60 seconds at the end after the Normandy’s crash landing, and the color or the blast sent between the mass relays. Though I can understand the frustration with the similarity between the given endings, were people really expecting countless custom-tailored endings, all depending on whether or not they did X in game Y? There needed to be some overlap here, it’s just not reasonable to expect so many possible combinations. That being said, I agree with the suggestion of a few of the MAJOR decisions being made into different custom endings, even one from each game – Say, whether or not you saved the Rachni, and whether or not you destroyed the Collector base. I also agree with JeremyJahns’ desire for actual conversation in the last scene – at least something where I could ask more questions. However, I do believe that there are benefits to the cinematic style used, and they are related to the storytelling angle of Mass Effect. Personally, I consider the interactive part of the game to be over by the time you make the final charge to the transport beam. Or maybe after the conversation with the Illusive Man, since there are a lot of dialogue options there.
Going back to the claim that it’s really 1 ending with 3 choices in blast color and the 30 seconds after the Normandy’s crash (plus the optional 0.5 seconds of Shepherd’s breathing), this complaint is really only a complaint if you have the attitude that you can dictate how game developers should be working. I have had some of the most powerful experiences in videogames which took all of 5 seconds (Sephiroth/Aeris come to mind here), so don’t measure the difference between endings in terms of time. Each ending, if considered completely separate from the others, is a powerful ending, and the post-Normandy-crash scene makes a pretty big difference, especially if you chose Synthesis. More about the theme of the ending to come a bit further down, after the criticism listing here.
Another objection is that there is no real commitment to the idea that Shepherd dies at the end, even if you get the little “Shepherd lives” bonus stuff. The claim is that it’s just a teaser, meant to suck you in and keep you on the edge of your seat so you buy the next DLC or related game. This objection is rooted in the “greedy EA” theory, which will be considered soon, and is really nothing apart from it. Though frustrated from the suspense, I think if this were considered just as a story, there would be no rage over this ending (aside from this feeling of injustice as soon as we realize game creators want to make money).
The last of the complaints specifically about the ending that I will consider here are all tied to speculation about the ending. Wondering why the crew was fleeing the fight, positing that all of the forces which Shepherd gathered would now be stranded at Earth with no Mass Relays, the possibility of simply shutting the Reapers alone down (rather than all synthetic life) because of their different code, and similar speculations are all valid concerns, but they have no more substance than any standard debate about video game endings. We could argue forever about what would likely happen or what must could be the case, or what could be the case, in the time following the ending. That’s part of the fun about good fiction, we can speculate about what happens, and the really neat thing about video games specifically is that DLC allows us to possibly experience these extensions which were originally fan fiction. Talking about DLC brings me to the final part of my summary of criticism, the “greedy EA” claims.
It has been suggested by many people that the endings given (and even the possible solutions to the fan outrage) have been poor and mysterious on purpose to foster interest in future DLC and more cash for EA. Personally, I think people need to stop bitching about DLC. Day-one DLC is not a ploy to get you to spend more money or buy the CE of a game – it’s because the time between main game completion and launch day allows for a little bit of extra content to be pumped out and placed on the DLC market. It’s even offered for free sometimes. It seems to me that DLC in general is now met with hostility, with people feeling like they’re being robbed with extra content. I like having the option of extra content if I want it. It’s a nice way of revisiting the game after you’ve passed it, to keep you enjoying it. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Now, of course, the claim against ME3 stands away from that last argument, because the claim is that the ending which we already paid for has been purposely left poor in order to support DLC. If this were true, it would be troubling, sure, but really I think we’re all getting a little carried away with postulating the maliciousness of EA (and the subordination of Bioware to EA, for that matter). Good game developers know what Bioware has proven since Baldur’s Gate – what makes a game company grow is a good game, not scams. EA surely knows this as well, and if we stop being so damn prone to this feeling of injustice as soon as we’re unhappy with something, we would be able to accept the ending of ME3 as an ending, not an advertisement.
A Step Back
Ok, that’s a summary of the objections to the endings, and a little bit of critique of them. But what I think is really important here is for us to take a step back and look at the context of the video game industry, and what video games really meant to us when we started getting hooked on them. The truth is, I see videogames as a storytelling tool. Maybe art, maybe not, but certainly a form of expression. A game is not just its plot, there is much more to it, and yes there are games which have no story at all. In those cases, games are fun and interactive entertainment, they are hobbies that people take a break from life on. But the story-driven games, indeed the games that Bioware is best at making, are essentially literature, in my opinion. They are meant to affect you at a deep level, you are meant to feel with the characters and experience a type of catharsis. Thus, I relate them to cinema, or literature, but with the exception that games are even more affective because of their interactive content. So, forgive me when I make these comparisons many times from here on out.
The real issue here is the laughably oversized sense of entitlement that gamers tend to have over game developers. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard over the past few months of “fans” threatening to sue developers, making a scene of their returning games, starting petitions, etc. - Battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3 come to mind primarily, though. I think fans tend to forget how much hard work and money goes into making a game. It’s not just something offered up to a fan casually, saying “hey what do you think of this?” It’s a matter of serious resources being invested, and hard work. As with any from of expression, the developers pour their very souls into these games, writing what they think expresses what their message and story the best. And then, after that (at least in choice-based games), they pour even more into it, attempting to reflect the player’s own soul, giving consequences to choices, real content which will allow the player to resonate with the fiction that much more. And here are “fans,” looking and this and not only saying “no thanks,” but rather giving a big “f-you” to them, claiming that it’s an injustice and that they’ve been wronged in some way.
In other forms of fiction, such as cinema and literature, we don’t expect to have choice in endings. We are able to experience the story told as something told to us, rather than created with us. But this is where video games stand apart from the other forms – we can interact with them, and some developers (especially Bioware) take this as another dimension to add into their story-telling. Thus, we have this expectation of a choice-consequence experience which has, unfortunately, reached such heights that it’s not really a matter of storytelling anymore, we expect it to be a matter of us creating our own games, essentially. But then realistically, this is expecting developers to create an infinite number of games. We don’t realize how ridiculous this expectation is, and while we’re happy so long as the story goes in places that we like (we feel it’s driven there by us), we get too upset when it goes in a different direction.
However, note an interesting consequence which results from this level of identifying with the hero. When the story ends, the hero doesn’t know everything that happens for the rest of time after his/her death. S/he is expected to make a choice, the choice s/he thinks best, without knowing exactly what will come of it, or how every possibility would result. The ME3 ending places the player in that position. Yet we, as fans with high expectations, just need to see what every possible ending could be, and we get upset when we see how similar they are. But really, the difference in the endings should not be considered in critiquing the game, for it is really meant to tell a story (or give you the opportunity to slightly steer a story), not be an infinitely-paged “choose your own adventure” book.
In short, I loved the endings of Mass Effect 3. Yes, my gut reaction was that they were too similar, but when I considered them as individual stories, I was happy with them. However, I do agree with the one criticism that there should have been more reflection of the player’s choices. I can hope for the best and claim that these reflections are actually most suited for further installments of games (whatever those may be), rather than simply an ending cutscene, but that would be speculating too much. Thus, going off of the assumption that this will be the last ever Mass Effect game, I would have liked to see a little more consequence from the largest of my decisions in the previous games (other than just a “War Asset” number determining bonuses to endings). However, this objection isn’t so strong in me that I feel we are entitled to demand free DLC, that the endings should be “fixed,” or God forbid, a court settlement. I think people need to calm down, shake their senses of entitlement, and enjoy the story for what it is: an amazingly well-told story which you partially steer, and you experience to see what happens, but not an alternate reality where every choice must be reflected and attended to by some God-like creators.Add-on: I also realized I should note how amazing the game is as a whole. We must not lose sight of that. The game is beautiful, and not just visually. The characters are well-developed, the story heartfelt and really involved. To go into detail would require a full game review, something I may do later, but for now I just want to say: to discount this entire amazing game on the basis of the last half hour of it is akin to dismissing an great novel solely because of the last 10 pages. Such a notion is ridiculous, so give Bioware credit where it’s due.
As always, feel free to drop me a line and further discussion with the “Spark Discourse” link or supply an answer below!
P.S. - Sometimes I have the option to allow comments/replies on the entries, and sometimes I don’t. Anyone want to explain to my tumblr-newbie self how that works?
My mind-destroying work researching a controversial aspect of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason has made me wonder what marks a successful philosopher. I don’t mean “successful” in the way we normally mean it when we say things like “He’s successful” or “I successfully ___ed.” Though it is related, the question of the successful philosopher in that sense is something I have an opinion on, and I will have to attempt a writing on it another time. Rather, for this entry I’m talking about success in the way we mean when we speak of someone who has met a very high standard in his/her field. So the question has been on my mind as to what that standard should be for philosophers.
I have been primarily entertaining two possibilities, each with benefits and drawbacks which could also be considered standards. Either way, we might say that the successful philosopher is one who makes a significant contribution to the field of philosophy, and this is commonly measured by how long of a time we discuss their theories. But should that duration come from a clear, well-understood doctrine/argument or should be be due to hopeless confusion over what a particular philosopher reallymeant? We may want to say that the clear arguments are the best, because they invite discourse and are accessible for elaboration. However, the simplest arguments are usually the most easily dismissed. I found Plato’s work to be easily understandable (at least I did for the short while I studied him, maybe that was just due to my naivete). Yet I have noticed that much of Plato’s work is simply dismissed - though we still discuss him at length because he led the way for further inquiry, many of his actual claims have been dismissed as misguided. It is easiest to argue against someone who states something outright and clearly. At the same time, it is difficult to argue against someone who speaks in riddles, or in such abstract and difficult language that it’s difficult to say for certain what exactly they are claiming. Kant comes to mind here, or Hegel. Yes, this may just be because I am currently in classes studying Kant and Hegel, but it seems to me that both are widely regarded as…difficult to read/comprehend. And yet, one can easily find loads of work debating the various claims of these philosophers. There are many possible interpretations, and thus we still argue over them, trying to find one which allows all of the claims of a particular philosopher to flow together.
Don’t get me wrong - all of these philosophers were geniuses in their own right. They have all made significant contributions to our understanding of the way things are. But my question is about how they went about it. Personally, I favor what I believe is a part of the Socratic tradition - I value discourse and discussion with others about things, and so I like to state claims and explanations in as simple and clear a manner as possible (though this does usually require very lengthy descriptions). Though this practice would benefit a philosopher who uses it in that he is more likely to be understood in his time, there is the downside of being more easily dismissed and quite possibly forgotten. And though such a philosopher is still vulnerable to being misunderstood, the fuzzy claims of the difficult philosopher give a greater allowance for people to argue with each other about their interpretations. And if such discussion is really the goal of philosophy, is it possible that they make a greater contribution to the field if they leave so much room for disagreement?
I figure it’s about time I actually post something other than a link on here, and so I’m picking a topic related to a game which is far behind most of us already: L.A. Noire. I’ve been thinking about this topic since I’ve played the game when it came out, but recently I’ve been asked for my opinion about the game by a couple of people, so it came to mind again. The topic concerns the role of critical thinking in video games and placing dialogue as the central mechanic in video games, and L.A. Noire illustrates it most clearly.
First, let me be clear about one thing: I loved L.A. Noire. As only a semi-fan of the noire genre, it wasn’t only the setting and style that made me love it. The facial motion capture was something I had never seen executed so well before, and even now, only Quantic Dream has come close (admittedly, doing better in my opinion) to such quality with their recent ‘Kara’ video. The storyline of L.A. Noire was excellent, and despite peoples’ complaints, the conclusion fit perfectly with the whole feel and style of the game. Most importantly, it’s a well-written, story-driven game which focuses on the use of one’s intellect, critical thinking, or ability to piece things together. This is something which often isn’t awarded in the most popular video games, and puzzle games usually lack story and get repetitive. It’s this focus on critical thinking, however, which leads me to this article, which I believe is a serious problem on the rise in the best video games.
The problem is essentially with problem-solving in video games, and it is illustrated best in the dialogues of L.A. Noire as an issue some had with the game which has actually been made fun of already among some people. The issue, stated simple and at face-value, is this: Cole Phelps is a short-tempered dick sometimes. When feeling doubt about someone’s statement, I would select the ‘doubt’ option, thinking that I want to tell the game that I doubt it, and that Phelps should not believe the statement given to him, yet should not flat-out accuse the person of lying. However, far too often, this selection would result in Phelps being extremely rude and offensive to the witness, pretty much accusing him/her of lying and ruining the opportunity for further civilized conversation. Had I known that this was the route Phelps would take in the conversation, I would have rather chosen ‘truth,’ which often seems to mean ‘I believe you, until you say something which is blatantly false.’ This mixup, due to the vague decision options of ‘Truth,’ ‘Doubt,’ and ‘Lie,’ pulled me completely out of the otherwise-immersive game for a while, and is really one of my only gripes about the game.
Though the problem may appear as an issue with script-writing - after all, the conversation must have some sort of track to follow, and if having Phelps blow his lid over a doubtful statement is the best way for a conversation to actually continue in the game, then what’s the problem? However, I think that the problem I have lies in the focus of the game. If this were a shooter, and my character reacted in an unexpected way, I wouldn’t care too much, simply because my ability to do well in the game isn’t determined by the dialogue, it’s determined by my ability to place bullets between sets of eyes. And though I still care about the dialogue and plot in such a game, I consider conversations to be more like interactive cinematic sequences, rather than the very forging of the story. However, since the very focus and measure of skill in L.A. Noire is your ability to reason well and interrogate effectively, one feels that much more attached to the dialogue and there is a lot riding on ‘doubt’ really means in a given context.
You can see how this issue opens up to really any story-driven game with multiple dialogue options. I am currently having the same syndrome in Mass Effect 3 as I did in ME1 and ME2, trying to figure out exactly what Shepherd will say and how he’ll move the flow of the conversation based off of an approximately 5-word summary. Note, however, the the problem is less pronounced in the more traditional-style dialogue of other games, such as the original Dragon Age, or really any other game which allows you to select exact dialogue options and usually doesn’t have the main character voiced. When I’m able to read exactly what my character will be saying, I can play that character more effectively, and move the conversation in the direction I wish. Yet with this issue aside, the dialogue clearly flows much better and is more immersive in games like Mass Effect where the dialogue choices are voiced and written in such a way that they allow for flexibility, making the conversation sound more natural. Thus it seems that the more a game tries to give a realistic flow to its conversations, the more it runs the risk of working against the player’s wishes.
This issue doesn’t only pertain to conversations in games, either. It applies to any aspect of a game wherein a player is expected to make a decision for his/her character. The only times I was pulled out of my immersion with Heavy Rain were those times where I thought out a decision seemingly more than the writers (or at least my character) did, choosing an action while one possible remedy to the resulting problem (“Oh I’ll do x which will cause immediate conflict y, but that doesn’t matter because z will take care of y), and not receiving the character’s realization of the remedy in-game (my character didn’t realize that he could z). Come to think of it, it’s the same sort of frustration you get in a show where you realize an obvious possibility that none of the characters seem to realize, and the notion isn’t even taken up despite its ability to solve ALL of the problems they are experiencing. It’s much worse in a video game, however, because you feel more attached to the character, almost as if s/he is an extension of you, and you’re also much more involved in the storyline. This is the “critical thinking” flaw I was trying to get to, and it’s most clear in games which involve a lot of decision-making.
A similar problem also exists with moral choices in games. I have been saying that I think I’ll start naming my characters after famous philosophers, because that is usually how I make my moral choices in games. There are so many aspects to consider in the context of one moral choice, and very often the aspect that one chooses to base his/her decision on is an aspect which the writers don’t seem to have given the same weight. For example, I often play a character whom I think is a Sartrean (in a very hard sense), forcing NPCs to make their own decisions and live (or die) with those decisions. Sometimes the game regards this as cold, while sometimes it’s regarded as liberating. Thus every character who I’ve played realistically winds up smack-dab in the middle of the moral scale of the game. This is why ME3’s “Reputation” system is excellent. The term communicates that it is a measure of how others see your character’s actions, not how your character is inherently or what your character thinks. It also avoids penalizing those players who make decisions based off of context and think through the situations thoroughly, for they usually end up with balanced Paragon and Renegade scores.
What the Dialogue, Critical-Thinking, and Morality problems all have in common is that they are all due to allowing the player more decisions which have consequences, and they all have the counter-intuitive result of distancing players from their characters and the game. Don’t get me wrong - given the choice, I’ll take “tons of decisions with some unexpected results” over “no decisions or consequences whatsoever” any day. However, this does seem to be a fundamental problem with giving more and more story control to the player - writers need to be boundless in their creativity and imagination, allowing for a countless number of potential motivations to be acknowledged, and this is an expectation which is simply impossible to meet.
As will always be the case, I emphatically invite you to share your opinion and further this conversation using the “Spark Discourse” link!