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The Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut – An Assault on Writers’ Freedom in Gaming

By
Posted on July 12, 2012 AT 01:39pm

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut

Not many games in the short history of gaming have the innate ability to tug at the player’s heartstrings while spinning a narrative worthy of both dissection and deep reflection, yet we live in the age where games like Mass Effect 3 exist. Storytelling through the medium of gaming has been sparse, to say the least. Many of us grew up under the simple pretenses of a linear point A to point B narrative; save the princess, jump your way to the end of the level, defeat the boss.

We didn’t need a lot of background or motivation, because we were simply playing a game. Games didn’t need a rhyme or reason to make the player want to play, they just needed to be fun. Since June 26th, Mass Effect 3’s Extended Cut DLC has been available — for free — for those that own Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut was a product of entitlement and outrage from gamers who felt that BioWare and EA did not live up to their promises of giving them the ending to the series that they rightfully deserved.

The sheer attention to the narrative that Mass Effect 3 has received is proof enough that the medium of video games has come a very long way from the simplicity of a game like Donkey Kong where you braved a maze of steel girders while avoiding barrels and baddies on your quest to save the princess from the giant ape. The Mass Effect series is one of the best-selling series of this generation of consoles, if not all time, and is actually quite unique in that the gameplay was so little of the focus by fans, the media and even the developers when selling the game. The gameplay itself was a brilliant mix of third person shooter and RPG with BioWare’s branching dialogue style intertwined, but what really pulled players into the game was the creation and subsequent living of the adventure that was Commander Shepard’s story.

Fans were so taken by Commander Shepard’s story that the way that the creators chose to finish the story was deemed as not only unsatisfactory, but revolting. There were campaigns, conspiracy theories and internet petitions. All of this added up, it even helped EA to make Forbes’s “Worst Company in America” list in the very top slot. When the game came out, I was excited. This was veritably the only game I was truly excited for in 2012, and while I was playing through it, I kept seeing stories about how much of an outrage the conclusion to the game was. What felt wrong to me was that while I was playing through it, I found the game to be quite touching in a way. It was clearly the bookend to the narrative of Commander Shepard; filled with tearful goodbyes, shocking and heart-wrenching misfortune, and building action that truly made me want to do the very best that I could to save the galaxy.

The ending came, and it felt as bittersweet as I had imagined it would; but I wasn’t angry with the creators and didn’t want more from them. They told a compelling story about a larger-than-life character, one that I was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice with because that is what Commander Shepard would do for the people that Shepard loved and fought for. I was satisfied, much in the same way that I was satisfied when I finished watching Apocalypse Now for the first time. I laughed at the petitions, the complaints and demands that gamers everywhere were launching, because it came off as a sense of entitlement and disrespect for the artform. Clearly, this is how the creators envisioned their series ending, and their job as storytellers was to take you, the player, along for the ride and hope that you are invested enough to truly care by the end.

Odds are that you were invested, or at least the hordes of gamers that took to the internet with their complaints were. They wanted more, they wanted better for the character that they had grown to love, and that is perfectly alright. What didn’t sit well with me were the demands that the story be revised by the creators to make them happy. The “Extended Cut” was announced shortly thereafter and it felt like a mortal blow to the art of storytelling in such a new medium as gaming. We’ve only really been seeing deep, fully-formed narratives in the past fifteen years or so (of course there are a few exceptions). Games have moved from beyond the arcade game trolling players for their quarters or forcing them to sit in front of their television for hours straight in hopes of completing the game. Now they have become dense and heavy with fully-realized characters, plots and worlds, borrowing more from popular fiction than the old idea of games being simply a challenge to overcome.

I’ve yet to download the Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut, and not just because I don’t have a save file in the designated place in the game to be able to play out the full new ending, but because it is my way of protesting what I feel to be a shakedown by gamers on the artists who worked hard for years to bring them a character and story that they grew to love. Part of telling a good story is the intent and execution, and when the execution is in line with the intent, something magical happens. Should the ending of The Dark Knight be modified so that Batman is revered by the city that he serves because we, the viewers, care about him and want him to be rewarded for his good deeds? Of course it shouldn’t, so why should a game be seen as a malleable form of art that should crowdsource its ending and sacrifice the creators’ original vision?

At some point, I made the conscious decision to not download the Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut, and I will continue to hold out as long as I can. Not because I don’t want to revisit the galaxy of Mass Effect, not because I don’t want to go on those same adventures with Shepard, Tali, Garrus, Ashley and the whole gang again. No, but because much like a good film or a good book, I’ve experienced it in the way that it was intended and have no desire to endure the creators’ shame of giving in to popular opinion when it comes to their art and their vision. This feels less like a “director’s cut” and more like forced fanservice, and I’m not sure that I’m ready to face that reality just yet.

–Dave Walsh



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