Last week-end, I finished playing Mass Effect 3. It is the final instalment in a trilogy of video games, which I would attempt to summarise here except that I’m not sure where to start, and I’m sure there are better explanations already on the internet. In basic terms, it’s a game in which you play as a character named Shepard, who has to save the galaxy from various evils.
It is very much like a “choose your own adventure” book but in game form — at various points in the game, you have to make decisions that will affect what happens next or what happens further along in the game. Even when your Shepard talks to other characters, you choose between different dialogue options to shape your character as more friendly (paragon) or mean (renegade). I suppose this makes it very easy to become personally invested in the game, as it feels like a unique experience shaped by your own choices, which are likely made based on what you would do if you were in Shepard’s situation.
At the very start, you also have the option to customise the appearance of your Shepard, who can be male or female, and choose a background story for them. It is an opportunity to create a protagonist you relate to or, at the very least, someone you like, and this adds to the personal touch.
Overall, it’s very different to games that I’ve played in the past, where you have to play as the main character that they give you, or you have a choice between, for example, a warrior and a mage, but there is no option to customise appearance other than buying new armour throughout the game. Mass Effect is also very much a story that progresses and slowly reveals itself throughout the trilogy. It’s not just about running around shooting and killing the bad guys, and there isn’t always an obviously “good” or “bad” choice.
I started Mass Effect 1 earlier in the year when the remastered “Legendary Edition” was released. Over the course of several months, playing only on week-ends, I finished ME1 and the subsequent games. The time spent playing Mass Effect is not dissimilar to my average timeline for reading a novel (although, to be fair, I suppose that timeline has been blown out a bit by War and Peace, which I’m still reading, but I’m on the last volume now, so I’m not too far from the end…)
And, like a good book, finishing the Mass Effect trilogy left me with a “hangover” effect — that feeling of needing to sit with your thoughts and feelings for a while after finishing a book (or, in this case, a game) — the feeling that something profound has happened, and you cannot move on to the next book (or game) for several days or weeks until the feeling has settled.
It might just be my tendency to find philosophical ponderings in everything, or it might be that reading Tolstoy really brings out the philosopher in me, but Mass Effect left me with a lot to think about. I find it funny that a video game — something that a lot of “adults” might consider frivolous and childish — has made me reconsider the value and significance of everything. I suppose once you’ve made a lot of tough calls while trying to save the galaxy — decisions that forced you to consider what is the most “right” thing to do, where there’s no obvious answer, and people will die either way — after making these decisions, you start seeing things differently. So called “first world problems” seem really petty compared to the things Shepard faces.
But, as Mordin Solus, the great scientist Salarian said, in his signature rapid fragmentary speech, “big picture made of little pictures”. Mass Effect is far from being a straight-forward story. An enemy in ME1 might become an ally in ME2, and someone you thought was on your side in ME2 might turn against you in ME3. What you thought was true suddenly isn’t, and you question what else you could be wrong about.