Editorial: Mass Effect 3 Controversy Good for the Industry

In a new editorial on Games Industry International, Matt Plotecher, a game designer at casual and social studio Arkadium, argues that BioWare's "Mass Effect 3 game ending controversy could be a "watershed moment" for the growth of the medium. His overall point is that games have moved past the argument of whether or not they are a valid form of expression.

Mass Effect 3, in other words, is receiving the same kind of criticism a popular book, television series, or a movie might get from angry fans:

"I'm not here to debate the actual qualities of the endings. I'm also not here to over analyze the question of "author creative control" vs. "responsibility to the audience." Rather, as I mentioned previously, I see a larger underlying issue that I think Mass Effect 3 has illustrated better than any other game to date.

Mass Effect 3 has run aground on an issue that has long plagued other media. Books, movies, and television shows have all gone through the exact same issue: what should one do when an ending fails to resonate with the audience? While many would grant the creators the right to finish the story as they see fit, many creators have also changed their mind about the original ending they made."

It's an interesting point and the ME3 controversy is not the first time a creative work has been changed by an author in other mediums. Just one example is Stephen King's book The Stand – many years after the original was published he released a new version with a different ending. Another example was the film adaption of Stephen King's The Shining. King disliked Stanley Kubrick's film so much that he recreated a TV movie mini-series in the 1990's. Sure that is a little different from letting your fans dictate how an ending should be, but the point is that creative works have been modified throughout history to appease creators and the public.

Games are unique, as Plotecher points out later in his article, because they require the player to spend dozens of hours doing things and driving the direction of the plot (in some cases). In the case of Mass Effect 3, you can't tell the player that everything they've accomplished in the last three games will culminate in a grand finale and then make that ending virtually the same for everyone: different colored explosions are not enough.

Plotecher closes by saying that video games seem to have a higher standard than other forms of entertainment:

"The current discussion about the Mass Effect 3 ending, however, and its lack of acknowledgement to the choices the player made throughout the trilogy, reflects a higher standard for video games from the players. Unlike most books, movies and other forms of media, video games are inherently built to allow for different choices that the player can take, and the Mass Effect series has run with this idea more than any other video game series to date. Its strong success with critics and fans (and profit margins) has shown that video games are already at the point where you can have thought-provoking fun, and robust games where the interactivity is part and parcel of the emotional investment. Once the majority of players start thinking about video games in this manner, the general public is likely not far behind."

You can read the entire editorial on GamesIndustry International.


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  1. 0
    Longjocks says:

    I can agree with most of that article. Although it serves more, in parts, point out that there were some substantial plot problems with the entire game, not just the ending necessarily. This was probably used as a tool to point out the apparent hypocrisy of many complainers, but in a way it's like justifying some aspect of your own bad behavior because someone else did it.

    The "Clarke's law" part is somewhat valid, however the example of Biotics as a point to illustrate fan hypocrisy may be a poor one because there's plenty of material in the game to attempt to explain it. It's all a load of crap that you're forced to suspend your disbelief for, but at least an attempt it made to incorporate it into the game's lore. Unlike the 'Synthesis' ending, which is a huge leap. The Reapers have effectively been merging biological and synthetic life for billions of years in what seems to a long process using giant, complex machines and factories. The 'magic' green beam seems indicate all this was quite redundant.

    One thing I can certainly agree with is that I don't see the need for a 'happy' ending. I do think that an ending for a series like this needs to reflect some of the significant choices made throughout by the player. If every choice is just short-term gain of a particular character that remains alive then I don't think this is quite enough. Small decisions concerning which characters live or die really shouldn't affect the ending – although they're very important in context of a player's investment in their personal story they create as they play the game – but some of the bigger choices in the game probably should to make the ending satisfying in context to a player's story. Having bigger events play a role entirely for the player's sense of personal achievement seems like a wasted opportunity from my perspective.

    With the article out of the way, I'm personally mostly fine with the endings (although I use the plural loosely, and the Synthesis ending obviously just doesn't work for me). I'd catagorise it as somewhat disappointing and move on. It didn't diminish what was a good series which had no more or less in the way of plot holes compared to any other major works out there. I admit where I was looking forward to playing through again with an entirely different character and choices, now I don't have the motivation because it'll end the same way no matter what I do. However, if you haven't played this series and you're interested, you really have to do yourself this favour and play. TV and movies are doing very little for satisfying sci-fi these days, so we may as well get it from games like this.

  2. 0
    Prof_Sarcastic says:

    I dont really want to read that page if theres major spoilerage, so perhaps you can tell me if they also address what I think is the only objective complaint: the fact that you get to choose one of exactly three endings, when previous statements led people to expect the opposite.

    I'm still playing my way through a back catalog of games so I havent bought ME3 yet, but out of all the complaints over the ending, feeling misled by public statements would be the most annoying one to me.

  3. 0
    black manta says:

    The problem people seem to be having with it is its vagueness.  Some feel it doesn't give enough closure to the various characters you've met and interacted with through all three games.  And that could be a valid point; though I think it'll probably be remedied in the upcoming "Extended Cut" DLC.

    Other people have complained about the percieved "Deus Ex Machina" ending, though any longtime ME player will know that the technology of the Protheans and Reapers was incredibly ancient and barely understood by the younger races.  Clarke's law of "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" applies here.

    Still others complained that the endings were essentially all the same, but Bioware's been doing this for years, actually.  KOTOR, Jade Empire, Dragon Age: Origins and even the previous ME games all essentially ended the same way with some differences depending on the actions you took.

    A great article on the Penny Arcade Report did a great job of explaining why the ending was perfectly serviceable and worthy of the series.  Though it is a bit spoiler-y if you want to read it.  Essentially, it drew the same conclusions I did.


    So don't let the naysayers try to sway you.  If you've played the other 2 games and you liked them, go for it.

  4. 0
    Kamendae says:

    Just finished the game last night, actually.  The controversy is basically stated in the article:  all your choices, through the entire series, end up changing the color of the explosions at the end of the game.  There's some story/plot assigned to the different color explosions, but you don't really get to see much at all of the effect on the galaxy, just the FX on your screen.

  5. 0
    HilaryDuffGta says:

    so i have to ask what is wrong with the ending?? i have yet to play ME 3 Mainly since im banned at a friends house right now cause his old lady doesnt really like me and i have no 360 or ps3 right now


    is it a weak ending or are there multiple endings or what?

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