If you’re a fan of video games, you’re likely to have heard the rumbles from the few disenfranchised Mass Effect fans who feel that the ending(s) of Mass Effect 3 failed to live up to Bioware’s promise. This week it was announced that Bioware will be issuing DLC that will potentially expand on the ending, although no concrete details were given because those are promised for April’s DLC reveal.
That, however, isn’t what this post is really about. What this drama brought to mind, rather, was how gamers perceive games and how they themselves want to be perceived.
Gaming has taken a long and treacherous walk up a slippery slope, from it roots as a pastime for children to its heights as mainstay of modern culture and adult entertainment (not that kind of adult entertainment). The debate over the ending of Mass Effect and the developers (potentially) succumbing to this pressure to change the ending could have long-reaching and, in my opinion, disastrous effects on the industry as a whole.
The debate about games in general of late has focused on whether or not they should be considered an art form and therefore be protected under the banner of free speech. Today’s games incorporate incredibly complex storylines, amazing visuals and often robust musical soundtracks, which is often what you would say of the latest, greatest film on release. Only, games have something you can’t really get in any other medium: you.
That’s not to say that great music and amazing films don’t draw the audience in, but games put the viewer in control of the title character, or sometimes several characters, and increasingly often, give the player a series of moral choices that dictate how the story will play out. The most notable of these is the one that stands in question today: the Mass Effect franchise. These are the type of developments that people love to cite when they claim games are a form of art, but, when a group of gamers collectively decides it does not like the outcome of the game, they forget that it’s art and reduce it to the lowly title of commodity.
Treating games strictly as a bought-and-sold products can, and will, have disastrous effects on the industry. One of the most apparent will be a lack of interest from the developer in trying new things and stretching the set of rules that govern what a game is and could be. As most other art forms tend to be, the games industry is a business as well as an art form, which means companies will balk at taking risks that could hurt their return. This will lead to us, the gamers, being treated to the same tried-and-true formulaic games we’ve been playing since the medium was born.
The other terrible side effect, if the ending of ME3 is altered, will be that this group of gamers, and others like them, will have had their sense of entitlement indulged and will subsequently demand changes to other games.
More often than not, games we didn’t know we wanted are the ones that end up pleasing us the most. If we demand a say in what games are created or how they’re handled, start, middle, or end, we limit ourselves to our own imaginations and the industry will stagnate in response. Just think: if game companies hadn’t been willing to try new things, we might not have experienced half the games we know and love today.
Someone down the line decided a first person shooter could have a leveling system and the loot-dropping mechanic of a typical dungeon crawler. If they hadn’t been given free reign to experiment and try new things, it’s likely we would never have seen Borderlands released. Some of the greatest games of late are mash-ups of the genres we know and love. Never in this industry have the lines between genres been blurred so heavily, gifting us the great games of the generation – Kingdoms of Amalur, Arkham City, Deus Ex, to name a few.
Sure, there are probably a fair few examples of artists who changed their final product to suit the consumer mood, and they may have been right to do so, but, for every one who caved, there are many more who didn’t, and the world of art is the richer for their decision.
I want to say for the record that I do not care that people were upset by the ending of ME3. Good art will always, and should always, create some sort of dialogue that is part of its appeal. We should respect the decisions of the game development team and have faith in what they’re creating. At the end of the day, we don’t have to buy their product. If we already have, we can sell it on to a used game dealer. If you love a series like ME3, be vocal about your approval/disapproval but don’t be a dick about it: don’t drive this industry back into the realms of being nothing more than a consumable product and put its hard won legitimacy as an art form back into question.