Some of you might know that I’ve been *ehem* neglecting the editing of my novel in order to do a play-through of a game called Mass Effect 3, developed by Bioware (now a division of Electronic Arts). I’ve been a huge fan of their games since they released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I don’t play a lot of video games, but when I do many times they’re role-playing titles by Bioware.
I love the idea that gamers can make decisions that can compound and actually affect the storyline (and, in this case, even carry over into other games). Bioware thus far has done an incredible job of exploring the possibilities of this feature in their games, and Mass Effect 3 is no exception.
I’m not really here to do a game review, though. I just want to point out some of the highlights of my gaming experience with Bioware’s latest title and reflect on some things I can take away from it as a writer.
Mass Effect 3 Is Not Afraid To Explore Dark, Gritty Themes
There were missions in this game that really made me cringe and wonder thoughts like, “How can anyone do that to another human being?” It took me to places I’d, quite frankly, rather not go (were they real) and affected me on a surprisingly emotional level. The game portrays humanity not only at its best but also at its absolute worst, particularly when things go terribly awry with certain technological advancements. It shows a possible future that is staggeringly bleak and forces you to engage it head-on.
There were many a time during the game where things got so depressing that I truly questioned our hero(ine) Commander Shepard’s ability to unite a galaxy and defeat an overwhelmingly powerful enemy. The foes are mighty and the stakes are insanely high.
No picnics here.
Mass Effect Asks The Tough Questions
Should humans develop artificial intelligence? Do A.I. have the right to life? Just what are organics (humans, alien races) really capable of? What is the purpose of organic life? How far should we take genetic engineering–or any scientific process, for that matter? What is the next step in human evolution?
These are just some of the many questions that this game poses to players (very similar to Battlestar Galactica, actually) and asks them to make tough decisions about.
Mass Effect Makes You Care About What Happens To Characters
No small feat.
When I cry three times during one game (I’m not even kidding)…then I think the writers and creators have done something right.
Throughout all the games in the Mass Effect series players are given the option to cultivate relationships (both platonic and romantic) with other characters, and those can continue to grow over time. In a story about galactic war, it goes without saying that some of the characters players grow to love (or hate) will end up dying–and I, for one, felt it. The main ones, even some minor characters, all had their own personal stories and reasons for fighting, stories they’re willing to share if only the player takes the time to get to know them. This made the playing experience all the more personal.
Also, I’m Still Trying To Suss Out What The (apparently controversial) Ending(s) Means
I get the feeling that things aren’t really as they seem to be on the surface… The “ending” (the one I chose, at least) felt very haunting and eerie to me and leaves a lot to the imagination (see here *spoiler alert*), making me suspect there’s more to come. Whether in DLC (downloadable content) and/or another game, who knows? Either way, I plan to stick around and find out.
Anyway, What I Took Away As A Speculative Fiction Writer
- Be brave in taking players (readers) to places they haven’t gone–not just philosophically or as far as using one’s imagination goes but also emotionally. It may start in a foreign world/environment with exotic lifeforms but it really happens though characters who ultimately, alien or not, must feel human. (See #3.)
- Ask the “what ifs” and try to provide some answers. “How would a galaxy full of various alien races fare against a superior sentient machine race hellbent on annihilating and/or repurposing all advanced organic life?” The Mass Effect series is the answer to that question.
- Develop distinct characters who have their own personal motivations. If people can relate to their plights, then chances are they’ll actually care and the story will have more meaning.
- Endings are tough to pull off well; consider them carefully.
And…yeah, I think that about sums it up!
Anyone Else Playing This Game?
If so, what do you think about it? Or, if you aren’t, have you ever played a game from which you were able to take away some writing lessons or goals to be inspired by?