Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Stranger than fiction

This week’s post feels almost inevitable. In a lot of ways, I am looking forward to whenever and whatever the next big game release shall be, because most of the gaming press have been sucked up into a vortex of recent. In a lot of ways, it’s almost inconceivable to consider thatMass Effect 3 is not even two weeks old yet. Read that again. That’s right, this game has been on general release (and only in terms of the United States, remember) for 12 days. Within the space of those 12 days, it looks as if everyone who has played the game has been compelled to state their position on the great gaming debate of March 2012: Should players be allowed to tell developers to change their stories?
This argument needs to be pared down a touch. Whilst we can sit back and wax philosophical about what the endings really meant to us, or whether or not we feel as if all of those individual do-or-die key decisions that we all made throughout the franchise were respectfully catered to by the time we reached the end-point, none of that is something that particularly interests me. However, the aspect that strikes me the hardest brings it all back to that grand old other cause that most of us seem to feel quite passionately for: Can games be considered as Art?
art critic 300x214 Sunday Sidebar: Stranger than fiction
Imagine this guy telling you about his thesis 'Snaaake! Hideo Kojima and the American Hero through a Japanese lens.''
If we want our beloved little billion-dollar industry to ever be taken seriously by folks with the halfmoon spectacles and velvet jackets with leather-reinforced elbow patches, if we ever want to see high society proudly displaying a coffee table book with a title akin to ‘Molyneux’s God: A Personal Journey through the Mind‘ then we need to accept that this stuff that they’re selling to us is art (and it is, by the way). In other mediums, there are countless debates over character ambiguity and how plots progress. In literature we have, for example, Macbeth’s demise, unfortunate since he’s such a fearless and successful warrior up until Macduff kills him. In film, people love to delve into the whys and wherefores regarding Rick Deckard possibly being a replicant in Blade Runner. People may be unhappy with the way a story winds up finishing, but it doesn’t give them any right to change it. Not one. Not a single one. Nuh uh.
I choose these two examples completely out of the blue yonder of my mind. Whether or not they relate to Mass Effect 3‘s outcome is irrelevant, particularly at this point. The final events of that game, if you haven’t finished it by now, are so thick with the hype and fuss that so many have expressed over them that you may find yourself, as I did, playing it and constantly asking yourself ‘Is this the bit I’m meant to be annoyed about? Wait, maybe it’s this bit?’ For a particular stretch, I thought the vitriol was actually over the fact that it didn’t even end, amusingly because I just happened to be having a particularly tough time with a final section and I began to wonder if the game was rigged to never properly finish at all. That’s an ending I could really get behind for controversy, and even if BioWare had gone for it, this backlash to Mass Effect 3 would still remain invalid.
rick deckard 300x225 Sunday Sidebar: Stranger than fiction
Does Commander Shepard dream of electric sheep?
But the game doesn’t end like that. It doesn’t take spoilers to tell you that there is an ending to this game. Not onlyan ending, but multiple possible endings, just like every other important milestone in the game. It’s not even as if BioWare leave you powerless at the end. You get a choice, and you make a choice, and that’s it. It’s over. Or is it?
One particularly interesting little nugget is that the game doesn’t actually finish at this ending sequence. I’m not sure how many people have missed it, but there’s a cutscene after all those credits that seems to pretty clearly state how the story is going to continue. Not only that, but it’s got Buzz Aldrin in it too. It’s nothing awe-inspiring, but it’s a poignant bookend to the story that I have the feeling a number of people may have actually missed.
If you happen to have donated to the impressive jar of money currently being raised for Child’s Play in some kind of peaceful passive-aggressive protest, then I think you’ve done a very good, if misguided, deed for this week, but you still don’t deserve to get what you want. And glory be, if you think that sending the message ‘we will give you money to get what we want’ is an encouraging one, then we’re going have to have a serious, serious talk next week. Project Ten Dollar pales in significance to this. If you’re willing to sell your stories to the highest bidder, then you’re turning art into soulless business. Let’s not do that.

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