Is Mass Effect 3 not a work of art?

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Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Mass Effect 3.

If you spend as much time on the internet as I do, you're probably already sick of reading about Mass Effect 3. To summarize what's going on: A lot of people didn't like the ending. I won't go into the reasons why, because they're irrelevant, and I also won’t tell you why the ending is good (even though I think it is).

There's something at play here that's more important than the narrative conclusion to a well-liked sci-fi video game. The real issue is that gamers apparently no longer consider video games to be works of art.

All the debating, the posturing, the spamming Roger Ebert's comment space with eloquent vitriol, it has all gone out the window because a few people can't handle a tragic ending. They can't stand having the illusion of choice ripped away in a story's final moments, for the hero to be confronted with three options that all lead inevitably to his or her death. The ramifications of each choice are staggering, but Shepard — and by extension, you — won't be around to experience them. The hero has to die for the galaxy  to live on.

See, now I've gone and done what I said I wouldn't do. Yet I maintain that the ending's actual merits are beside the point, which is this: the very vocal group of people who want the ending changed consider Mass Effect 3 to be mere entertainment. Those of us who accept the conclusion for what it is (whether we like it or not) acknowledge that it's a work of art.


It sends a specific message and elicits some particular response from those who experience it. The writers, designers, programmers, and dozens of other staff at BioWare created this game with certain goals in mind. It's a narrative journey that gives you a small amount of freedom, yet reserves the right to yank that freedom away whenever it sees fit…And boy, does it see fit!

But when you demand that art is altered to better suit your tastes, you devalue and trivialize it. You wouldn't write a letter to a museum asking them to paint something nicer over a portrait you don't like. No one's writing revisions where Romeo yells "Only kidding!" just before Juliet drives the knife into her chest. The woman who sued FilmDistrict because Drive was nothing like The Fast and the Furious was universally ridiculed. Now 50,000 gamers are a few steps away from doing the same thing.

Mass Effect was always BioWare's story. It was never your story. You were only pretending that it was. Is it "narrative perfection"? Hell no. But as Ben Kuchera wrote in the PA Report, "This doesn’t make the ending worthless or your choices arbitrary, it simply means that there was a specific story to tell, and it was your job to play a role in that story. How you acted was up to you, but Bioware always controlled the beginning, middle, and end of your journey."

If you want to dictate how a game ends, go play Minecraft. Or better yet, design a game. Write a script. Pen a novella. Hell, jot down a fanfic of your own. But don't waste the time of talented developers demanding what you have no right or cause to demand.

Some things are not what you expect them to be. If you pay for a phone and you get a piece of paper, you've got a right to demand reparation. If you buy a book and you don't like the ending, you can command the author to write a new epilogue and post it on your Facebook wall…but you'll look like an idiot. 

And that's exactly how those 50,000 people look right now.

Follow me on Twitter @RogueCheddar.

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