Mass Effect 3 Ending: Change Could Have Empowered Game Writing
So now we know: BioWare is releasing free DLC this summer that will “expand on” and “add clarity to” the ending of Mass Effect 3. The ending as it stands will not change, despite fan outcry asking for the contrary for weeks now, but in some ways, perhaps this is the only move BioWare could have reasonably made.
In Ray Muzyka’s comments given in BioWare’s press release, he says the company hopes to find a middle ground between giving fans what they want (or at least, what BioWare thinks they want — we did a whole analysis on this possibility) and “preserving the team’s artistic vision.”
We’ve already discussed the idea of “artistic integrity” in this case, and why it is in no way harmed by completing a new ending. Many fans (and a few of us here at Game Front) believe the ending of Mass Effect 3 qualitatively isn’t good enough, so that colors the artistic merit debate greatly.
Almost as widespread as the argument for the artistic integrity of the work as written is the discussion by many writers in games journalism (a great deal of them without having played the game, for some reason) about whether BioWare capitulating to fans’ demands will be the death of good stories in games. If fans can band together and crowd-source the story points of their games, forcing their own vision down the throats of developers, game writing is doomed! That’s the argument, anyway, and while it’s fundamentally flawed — it makes several false assumptions in just that one statement — it starts on a false premise: that letting fans ask for a new ending in this one case will forever tarnish game writing as a possible mode of artistic expression.
That’s horses–t. Changing the ending to Mass Effect 3 could have been great for video game writing. Here’s why:
Some developers think game story doesn’t matter. Ask David Jaffe or John Carmack about how important “story” is in a video game. They’d probably give you Carmack’s porn analogy — it’s a necessary component but it’s not why you walked into the theater or fired up the Pay-Per-View. These are two very prominent game developers who think game story is subservient to game design so much, they only include it because otherwise nothing would make sense.
Meanwhile, a giant fan movement just exploded in BioWare’s face because of a story element. Sure, there are precedents for fans being upset about a story and for developers to change them, but this level of outcry is unheard of. There are a lot of messages this could be telegraphing to the gaming industry, but here’s perhaps the biggest one: Stories matter. Don’t phone them in.
Electronic Arts and BioWare should be learning that not only are gamers concerned with story, they’re so concerned that when a story they’re invested in is made badly, they’ll react to it. You can’t slap a weak ending (for whatever reason you may have done so, be it an artistic choice, running out of time or having no idea for years how you were actually going to end the series) on a game players have purchased for the story, hoping that ending will be ignored or forgiven.
Perhaps not in all cases, but certainly in many, story is just as important a feature as anything else. That’s a great lesson for the gaming industry to learn.