Before I get all ranty and/or rambly, I need to give a bit of personal history where you see where I’m coming from. Some of you know that I’ve just recently returned to console gaming after roughly a decade playing only PC games. I’ve never stopped being a gamer, but for a long time, I couldn’t afford to be a console gamer and still pay for book covers and other writing related services. Actually, I still can’t, but since I’ve scaled back my writing operations, the cost of consoles is now within my meager budget once again.
I’m a gamer in more than one sense. Before coming over to the Xbox360 and PS Vita, I’ve had an original Pong console, an NES, a SNES, three Game Boys, a Game Gear, and a Playstation. During my childhood, I sank a lot of tokens into arcade games, and I was always picking up new Tiger LCD games. In addition to these varied electronic diversions, I’ve been a role-play gamer and have played in many fantasy and sci-fi settings. I’ve been an ongoing fan of Magic cards, and briefly got caught up in the Pirates card game before they got stupid with the constant updates. I can even be talked into playing board games if there’s enough players around to make it fun. (I don’t care if the box says two can play. Two players for any board game usually makes it a “bored game”. Add just one more player, and the whole dynamic changes because “cutthroat” behavior begins popping up somewhere around the middle of the game.)
What I’m saying is, I’m not some neophyte approaching gaming for the first time. I’m just getting back in touch with my nerd roots, even if some of my roots are turning grey by now. So I hope other gamers will not take this as an outsider talking down to them, but as a fellow gamer expressing their opinion.
So, if you’re a gamer, you know that Bioware made a “polarizing ending” to Mass Effect 3. Fans would use other words, possibly something like “crap ending.” I went online to watch the various endings, and wow, that is some truly shitty shit right there. Even the good ending is shit. In a game where the player is given so many choices that affect the plot on a fundamental level, the lack of choices for the endings is disappointing people, and rightly so. But this wouldn’t be so bad if at least one ending didn’t foster an instant WTF reaction. But even the good ending is a major WTF for the sheer impossibility of it. So that lack of choice and the multiple lousy endings is like a one-two combo punch to fans.
I’ll agree with players that the endings suck. I also want to say that I think Bioware has failed to grasp why people were playing their games. When you come to the end of a game trilogy this expansive, you want to have some sense of accomplishment to counter your melancholy that it’s finally over. You want to beat the bad guys, get the girl, and ride off into the sunset. But without giving spoilers, most of the endings seem to be Bioware’s way of saying, “Fuck you for spending $200 on our series.” This sum is assuming you just played the games and didn’t buy all the DLC expansions, books, and the comics. If you shelled out dough for the extras, you’re out for a much higher sum to get this middle finger shoved in your face. On top of this, the Bioware executives are saying, “We HAD to finish the series this way, or you might forget about us.” What a crock of shit.
I haven’t spent a dime, and I’m already pissed at Bioware for this attitude. So I totally, 100% get fan anger over these lousy endings. What I cannot get behind is this push to change the game to suit the players. It’s one thing to say the ending sucks and that you won’t buy the next Bioware game, even if such a statement is unlikely to be true. (Lots of gamers say they won’t support a vendor, only to switch stances as soon as a new game has teaser screenshots come out. Gamers have the same resistive willpower as a pothead does against a batch of freshly baked brownies.) But to suggest that Bioware owes you a better ending is a level of fandom entitlement that sets my teeth on edge. (Assuming I’m wearing my dentures, of course.)
The fact is, Bioware doesn’t owe you a damn thing, aside from the product that you already voluntarily paid for. It’s not like you didn’t know this was coming, with the game script having been leaked ages ago. To suggest that they owe you some missed gaming pleasure is to suggest that all stories should only being emotionally satisfying, and that anything less should be changed to reflect the audience’s desire for maximum satisfaction. And really, why would any creative team cede that much control over to the audience?
As a writer, I certainly wouldn’t change the ending to any of my stories just because what I wrote upset readers. Sometimes, my whole point is to get under your skin and upset you. I frequently market this dark facet of my writing, so I’m not trying to trick you into thinking you’ll be reading Mary Poppins only to pull a bait and switch over to Amityville Horror. (Also, my intros are usually pretty blunt about what you’re walking into, so the endings shouldn’t be a surprise.)
I see some folks making a petition to change the ending, and they are saying on their site “We are not acting entitled.” Yes, you most certainly are, and frankly, it’s pathetic to watch, even if you did generate $28,000 for a children’s charity. That was a nice touch, but you coulda donated that money without attaching it to an entitled request that Bioware make a do-over to please you. Plus, it’s kinda scummy using sick kids as a shield for your cause.
Based on the fan reaction to the various Mass Effect 3 endings, I will not be buying any of the series. I see no reason to invest in a story when the conclusion is guaranteed to be unsatisfying. So in this regard, Bioware has cost themselves gamers like me who might have invested in the older games, bu now won’t because we know the company can’t be trusted to deliver a satisfactory ending. But then again, I’ve not seen anything from Bioware that got me excited enough to plunk down my money. My stance isn’t a boycott based on one game so much as my continuing “meh” reaction to the quality of writing in all Bioware games. For all the pretty graphics they spend millions to develop, it feels to me like Bioware hired a monkey to shit in a typewriter, and whatever dried shit flecks resembled words, that’s what they used.
In fact, it’s the shitty writing I see used in most games that makes me wonder how companies can continue to push the myth that the gaming market is maturing. It’s even more frustrating to watch the bubble that game executives live in, as in the assholes responsible for Skyrim gushing about the arrow to the knee line becoming an internet meme without acknowledging that the meme was criticism for their unimaginative and repetitive writing methods. And to some extent, because of this, I really do understand gamer rage over this lack of accountability. A game company releases a game to howls of outrage, and then can’t admit that they’ve released a dog. Or if they do, it’s long after play testing is done, as with the lousy bosses in Deus Ex: Human Evolution. The best we can hope for from some game companies is “Ooops, sorry about that.” And the worst we can get is, “Thanks for all the kind feedback! We’re glad you’re so vocal about our game!”
But you can’t go back and unfuck a lousy game just by changing a few lines of the script or the code. What fans are asking for is a major retooling of the game and the script, requiring new voice acting sessions as well. That’s a few million in salaries and studio fees to change the game to suit you, and you folks will expect that update to be free. Plainly put, there’s no incentive for the company to make that update for you. It’s better for them to move on and hope the next game will be received better by fans.
So, what can you do about this? Don’t buy Bioware’s next game. Put them out of business and teach everyone involved that it is not wise to burn fans with a shit ending to their trilogy. All those people who get fired will remember this as they move to new studios, and they’ll worry more about whether the story is as satisfying as the graphics.
This, obviously, won’t happen. Remember, gamers have little resistive willpower, so all it takes to break a boycott is a little mea culpa and a few new shiny screenshots of their next game. Voila, all is forgiven, and the company will continue to produce crap writing and call their lipstick-decorated pig a masterpiece. You can’t change this by demanding a do-over on past games, and you cannot punish a company without first giving up on their next titles. If you can’t resist Bioware’s next title, it isn’t their fault for giving you more of the same shit. They’re operating on the simple guidelines that if this shit sold well last time, it should sell well in a new game too. And they’re right, because gamers never give up on a company.
You want this shit to stop? Then close your wallets and don’t buy the next Bioware game, no matter how awesome and shiny it looks. Be sure to write to the company and make it clear that you are a past customers who is boycotting their next game for their past mistakes. Make them aware of their shortcomings in a civil manner. But don’t whine that you want a do-over. It’s no more likely to happen in gaming than Hollywood is likely to re-shoot the ending to a film due to poor audience reception. This kind of demand is a sign of massive egocentric entitlement, and nothing you say will change this fact. So if you can’t boycott Bioware’s next game, stop whining about the ending of Mass Effect 3 and get on with playing something else. Life is too short for you to waste breath talking to people who live in a bubble.