My little disclaimer for this horrendous TL;DR is as follows, and you can bet I'm going to employ my own stereotypes with a little humorous intent. I'm a girl gamer, (like everyone else here) a huge Mass Effect fan, an avid reader, a writer, a watcher of far too much TV and too many movies, and an English Literature grad student. Ergo, I write words. Lots of them. It's practically my job.
I'll probably bump this just a couple times, because I'd love for someone to read it.
If you really want to skip to the goodies, run to the bolded "And now for why I am still here."
Hello to all my fellow Holders of the Line, to the supporters of the Mass Effect 3 ending, and to the amazing people of BioWare. I really feel the need to express exactly why I decided to take up the banner to "Retake ME3," and spill the guts of my own personal Mass Effect love affair. The logical issues (ie, "plot holes"), lack of closure, deus ex machina argument, and the lack of happy ending have all been thoroughly covered at this point – as well as the various finer points of the "Indoctrination Theory" (and all its sub-theories and sub-divisions). I have little to no interest in arguing for or against any of those things, except to simply say that I find the seeming plot holes (for lack of a better word) insulting, the lack of closure sad but tolerable, the deus ex machina issue rather overused, and a happy "rainbows and puppies" ending pointless (not saying that I wouldn't love to see it though, of course). As for IndocTheory, it's impressive that people could graft it to what's there, it's quite elegant, but I also have a rather strong feeling that it is exactly that – a desperate (albeit intelligent) grafting of structure to a disappointing ending.
But back to the points I wanted to make.
I didn't get into the Mass Effect series until a little over two years ago, yet I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I have lovingly and obsessively logged well over four hundred hours (that's 400+ hours for those of you who need to see digits in this TL;DR) of gameplay from ME1 through ME2 alone. And all that time was spent almost exclusively with a single Shepard. So, like everyone else here, you could say that I fell hopelessly in love with the universe, story, gameplay, and most of all, characters of the Mass Effect franchise. Also like most, I knew what this ending entailed; I would be saying goodbye to Commander Shepard and the crew of the Normandy – I would be leaving the Mass Effect galaxy behind me (presumably) forever. I was already prepared to grieve for multiple characters, Shepard included. I knew that the Reapers were not a foe that could be defeated without a great sacrifice. Everything from Mass Effect 1 and 2 pushed this. But I also felt assured that, as they had before, the choices my Shepard made would make a difference and have far-reaching consequences – and I expected to see them.
Like my Retake ME3 brethren and comrades along the Line, I came to the final conclusion of Mass Effect 3 and I felt pretty near broken – betrayed by a game and a company that I had given so much of my money, time, and love to. The night my Shep took her last elevator ride to face a nonsensical hologram AI that looked like a kid she saw die, the night I sat in my desk chair in complete darkness and disbelief, the night I literally cried as my beloved wounded warrior limped toward the goal she had set out to achieve at the beginning of Mass Effect 1, and the night I watched in abject horror as everything I thought I had been fighting to save was apparently doomed back into the stone age (never mind the infuriating and painful sting of watching my Shepard's most trusted friends fleeing the greatest and last battle of all time only to be marooned on an unknown planet with a completely unknown future – without Shepard)… I literally cried myself to sleep in a pitiful little corner of my bed that night.
I can tell you without the slightest degree of hyperbole that the emotional blow dealt by those nightmarish last ten-fifteen minutes of the game left me a depressed and useless pile of self-loathing and tears only made worse by the discovery that each of the "endings" really amounted to the same "ending" – and still an ending that just didn't seem to make sense. Joining my exceedingly sad state of mind was a rather bitter anger.
Insert here images of me spending three days watching YouTube videos of the " endings," IndocTheory, reading BSN threads, reading reviews, discovering the Retake ME3 Facebook page – and of course, joining. Days later, surrounded by comics, demotivationals, and a veritable cornucopia of images of Yo Dawg, Kirrahe, Marauder Shields and the under-appreciated Three Husketeers, I'm still here, holding that line.
And now for why I am still here, because of my respect for BioWare, my love of Mass Effect, and my pride in being a part of a movement that – for the vast majority of its constituents – is made up of people who are not raving fans with low IQs but reasoned individuals who have a genuine passion for what ME meant – still means
to me – and despite their disappointments, turn their frustrations to noble goals (exhibit A: the thousands of dollars donated to Child's Play).
My issue with the ending remains, even as it seems increasingly apparent that the ending we received was the ending BioWare intended. Thinking of the ending as completely intentional, and taking the final "Stargazer" scene into account, I can only come to agree with what many BSN users here have already stated: that we, the players, are to understand that the entire Mass Effect series has been a story told by an unreliable narrator to a little boy on some unknown planet, some unknown number of years (eons) after the supposed occurrence of the legends of "The Shepard."
As a lover and student of literature, I must say that, should this be BioWare's intent, it is a very brilliant move. It is a massive twist to throw at "readers" of their story at the final ten minutes of potentially hundreds of hours of
dedicated "reading." But that's just it. We players are indeed "readers" of a kind, but even if we try to see this game as a book, it's really three books that filled up half a decade of some of our lives. Even if we can "excuse"
the number of dropped threads of plot, gaping holes, incongruencies, etc etc etc… as simply the failings of our aged unreliable narrator, to hurtle this trope (which is, technically speaking, always present in any story in the mind of a good critic and therefore not quite so original as it might seem) at us at the very end without having included even the slightest hint, evidence, or marking of it from the beginning of the franchise is perhaps the biggest, if not the only, deus ex machina that we should all be up in arms about. In the colloquial, this is my beef.
I can almost – almost – live with viewing the entire Mass Effect trilogy as a story being told to me (or by me, as the case may in fact be). From the standpoint of a literature scholar, this idea combining perspective, interaction, story, and the act of storytelling does indeed take storytelling to a new place in the interactive medium of the RPG (even farther than DA2 takes it – which, I'll admit, is a game I have neglected to finish – yet, you'll remember I'm sure, DA2 declares itself from the very beginning as an unconventionally told tale with a highly unreliable narrator, and we had no such surprise at the end of DA: Origins). If th is is what BioWare intended, I cannot help but applaud the brilliance. It is an intelligent storytelling twist. But it seems to me that this hugely consequential decision was made retrospectively. Nowhere, to my knowledge, do we have any indication that we were ever operating under this mode of storytelling. We were led to believe, over the course of three games and hundreds of hours, that we were experiencing a story, being told a story, even acting out a story through our Shepard. As some have said, we were indeed "indoctrinated" – and I would almost say to those people "fair point." But I would only do so if it did not seem so painfully, depressingly apparent (to me, at least) that this twist to the storytelling mode (not the story itself, mind you) was only invented over the course of the creation of Mass Effect 3 – if not only in the mind of whoever wrote that "Stargazer" end clip. It's a stroke of genius that came too late.
Instead of revealing itself as a carefully crafted and subtle code in the DNA of the entire Mass Effect epic, instead of "God" revealing himself at the end and saying to us all, "Look here, do you see the details I left for you? Did you not see my pattern?" and welcoming into his arms those few who did indeed see and half-suspected this day would come, we all received a sucker punch to the gut, a knife in the back, the rug pulled from under our feet, and our emotional attachments ripped from our heartstrings. The biggest deus ex machina of them all – the BioWare writers – decided to express their brilliance only at the end, and in doing so undercut everything they had nurtured in the fans of their work. It was an amazing move worthy of the brilliance of the characters and universe they had created, but it was a move made too late: rather than simply force a round peg into a square hole, they attempted to force what had been designed as a beautifully perfect cube to become a tesseract. But they didn't seem to realize – or perhaps thought we wouldn't mind – that the nodes and edges of our cube hadn't been designed or made ready to transcend into that fourth dimension.
Instead of creating a new something brilliant and beautiful, they broke what was already brilliant and beautiful – and well loved by many.
This is why I feel betrayed. This is why I Hold the Line.