By Jeremy M. Zoss in Features
Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 10:00 am
By Jason Helton
It's finally time for me to weigh in on the Mass Effect 3 debate. To be fair, I need to paint the picture of where I stand with the series. I liked ME1, loved ME2, and I am currently playing ME3. I do NOT know the ending that has caused so much controversy, mainly because I haven't had time to play the game through. Being the completionist that I am, it's going to take me some time before I get to this allegedly horrible finale, but it's safe to say that I am a fan of the Mass Effect universe. But I don't need to know the ending of the game to have an opinion about the controversy, because this isn't all about Mass Effect.
There is a scene that stands out in my mind from Tim Burton's Batman film, where Joker and his gang "fix" the art in the Gotham Museum. This rather funny scene features Jack Nicholson and his crew seeming to have a hell of a good time cutting and "editing" fine works of art, all to the tune of Prince's "Partyman." The scene later takes a turn for the twisted, with Joker showing off his "masterpiece": his girlfriend Felecia's acid-damaged face. The idea of Bioware, driven by a group of very loud and pissed off fans, editing their work for the sake of popularity seems similarly disturbing, like painting over a Picasso.
There have been tons of things in the entertainment world that didn't work out quite the way fans thought it would. A perfect example of this is the backlash that SyFy channel received from the ending to Battlestar Galactica. While I too was upset at first, upon repeated viewings I came to accept it and now find that I like it. The fact of the matter is that there is always going to be someone who doesn't like the way things end. I remember years ago watching a weeping woman demand her money back from a movie theater after having seen Titanic, because "The boat shouldn't have sunk at the end." She went into the film with the expectation of a heartwarming love story that transcended early 20th century social class structure, all while averting a crisis started when the boat struck an ice burg. Her argument was that she didn't' want to see a movie where just about everyone died. She wanted romance amid crisis, and at the end everyone could sit around in the lifeboats eating ice cream, saying how lucky they were to get away. The sad thing is she indeed got her money back.
We've gotten into the habit of screaming and crying for things, similar to my 3 year old. If you don't like something, yell loud enough and maybe you'll get your way. You see it all the time; at Best Buy and Wal-mart, people have been trained to give the squeaky wheel the grease. You know it happens, you may have done it before. Hell, as embarrassing to say as it is, even I've done it before. It's one thing to complain about a car, customer service, or in my case most recently, some jewelry. It's another thing entirely to demand the editing of a work which in some camps could be considered a piece of art.
The long debate as to whether games are art has supporters on both sides, but I feel it's safe to say that they can be lumped into the category of media, like books, paintings, movies, TV shows and music. They all take some type of creative skill to create, much of which takes artistic talent. The idea that Bioware is going to cave into the demands of some of its players and alter or expand upon the ending of the game feels to me like they've just unleashed the Joker on the Gotham Art museum. Mass Effect 3 has been in development for a good number of years, with hundreds of workers spending their 40+ hour (likely more) work weeks devoted to the final adventure of Commander Shepard. For some gamers to come out and say that the vision Bioware had for the finale of the third game ruined the entirety of the series is a complete disrespect to those men and women whose lives were consumed by these games. Many of these people spent more time at their desks with the crew of the Normandy then they did with their families during the development, and to say that their time was wasted because of the ending is disturbing. While it's certainly not everyone out there criticizing harshly, there is a small group of gamers who have taken this to extremes, and it's become totally inappropriate.
That brings me to the actions of Bioware. We've seen what happens when someone goes back and tries to fix product that isn't necessarily broken. I'd say 99.95% of the "geek" community knows in their heart of hearts that Han shot first, Renegade +3. George Lucas felt that Han shooting first made him seem like an unscrupulous bastard in the first Star Wars film (News flash - HE WAS!), and made Greedo shoot first so Han could seem more heroic, or in this case, Paragon +5. I don't know if it was public outcry or Lucas's own inner monologue which spawned this change, but it's pretty safe to say that the "geek" community disagrees with him.
What gamers don't realize is that this potentially opens up a huge can of worms for the industry. Say something tragic happens in the real world, shortly after the release of Grand Theft Auto V, which mirrors something within the game. What's to stop the developers or worse, censors, from making changes to the game? If a particular mission, like Call of Duty's "No Russian" is offensive, just cut it out! Even better, they could modify the offensive sections of a game to teach a lesson or do something friendly. Imagine if, instead of gunning down helpless Russian citizens in an airport, you shot t-shirts at them from one of those arena shirt cannons. You could spread love instead of machine gun fire. The possibilities are endless.
If Bioware decides to take white out and a paint brush to Mass Effect 3, it will be hard to both agree with and respect the decision. No matter if you feel like video games are art or just time wasting pulp, there is no doubt that the artistic and technical talent necessary to create a universe like the one in Mass Effect is a labor of love, and it's original vision shouldn't be discarded for the sake of public opinion. To do so would open a door that could never be closed: software able to be edited, censored and twisted away from the original visions of its creators.