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.