A poem before dying
MASS EFFECT 3 SPOILERS
I had planned to write a full review of Mass Effect 3 — which is weird in and of itself since I’m not playing it; I’m watching a full play walkthrough of the game. The relationship content in this game is frakking astounding (no pun intended). They have a lot of gay content in the game. That’s not a euphemism nor do I mean anything untoward by that. It’s set in the future and in this future, no one seems to think anything strange about gay relationships and there are a lot of single-sex relationships and marriages mentioned. I wasn’t expecting that in what’s basically a third person shooter. I mean, I know I showed up for high-tech explosions and shit like that. I’m surprised Bioware would risk alienating their audience with this content.
Shepard passes this conversation on the Citadel and it plays over again every time he passes. It’s between “Wife” and “Mistress.” The first time I heard it I thought “Holy shit–this guy’s off to war and his wife and mistress are having a civil public conversation.” And then, maybe the third time or the fourth time I got that she was the wife’s mistress and the wife was leaving her husband for her. Which sucks, cause, you know, the poor bastard’s out saving the galaxy and all.
I misread their play of romantic relationships entirely. The Mass Effect games let you make decisions and then those decisions have consequences — not only in the game you’re playing but in subsequent games. It was this “morality engine” that caused me to want to write a review of the game in the first place. These guys used to do the Star Wars Knight of the Old Republic games and had the old “Light Side Points” and “Dark Side Points” mechanic. And they’ve brought it over as “Paragon” or “Renegade” points. And I entirely disapprove. The Mass Effect universe is a very grey universe and they give you some very controversial decisions to make and to include grey moral content and controversial issues and then empower you by giving you the choice, only to tell you if you decide to do something they don’t agree with that you’re just WRONG cause you get Renegade points instead of Paragon points — that’s just a dick move. (And yes, gamers, I know it could be seen not as ‘making the wrong choice’ but as making the choice that’s perceived by others a certain way but it’s still quantified as being in one of two pools and it’s still a dick move.) Case in point — at one point, a man asks you to pull the plug on his life support system and if you do it, you get Paragon points. The other option, to simply call over the nurse, is the Renegade option. So if I literally decide “hey — I’m not a doctor or a nurse, I’m just some guy off the street and I shouldn’t be deciding if people should live or die, let me call the nurse over here,” I’m a bad person. And the guy playing the walkthrough just flips the Paragon option and says, “Well — there you go. Bioware officially supports assisted suicide” and goes on. One last point on this before I shut up about it. The most damning thing I’ve seen against the Paragon/Renegade system is the walkthrough guy’s attitude about it: “I want to be a Paragon so I almost always pick the Paragon option whatever it is.” No matter how controversial, when he flips the Paragon option he’s okay with it. Whenever he chooses the Renegade option — as what he would himself choose to do as the morally correct option even — he feels the need to defend himself.
Anyway — I noticed that in all of Shepard’s close relationships, there was a subtext that if you chose to read it as such, you could see the groundwork being laid for a romantic relationship. I thought this was a brilliant move on the part of the game programmers. I figured that keeping up letting you make major plot choices and having those choices play out differently in game after game after game had to reach a critical point at which it would no longer be viable. You can’t have fourteen options based off which character you got involved with or didn’t or which guy you left behind to guard the rear and got killed, etc., etc. So I figured they came up with the brilliant shortcut of having close intimate conversations with all your important friend characters and doing it in such a way that you could imagine for yourself that they were a couple if you wished. But it was just smoke and mirrors. Or, more accurately, foreshadowing.
Kaiden, a man, makes an outright play for Shepard’s affections. And the top choice (usually the top choice in any moral decision is the Paragon choice, but not always, at least according to the guy doing the walkthrough) was to go ahead and enter the romantic relationship. The bottom choice was “Let’s just keep it professional.” And I’m watching the walkthrough and I’m like “uh–let’s just keep it professional” and the guy doing the walkthrough not two seconds later is like “Um–yeah… Let’s just keep it professional, Kaiden” and I start laughing cause we both got weirded out the same way at the same time. And I guess this was just the “romantic culmination” part of the game because RIGHT AFTER THAT, Shepard runs into Liara and the conversation there leads to a choice where she says “You’re a good friend” and one of your response options is “We could be more than friends.” Which I would have chosen and which the walkthrough guy chose and come on — she’s a blue-skinned alien chick slinking around in a white catsuit and she has tentacles for hair. Fanboys, gamers, they’re going to be all over that. The guy doing the walkthrough has been crushing on her the whole damn game so it was even sort of a relief that we wouldn’t have to hear about it any more. He likes her so much he keeps taking her on ground missions where she gets her ass kicked. I know that sounds strange. What I mean is that even though she doesn’t seem to be combat effective (or combat effective in the way he uses her — so please don’t scream to me about that, gamers) he still brings her every time on missions just because he likes having her around.
So anyway — you find several people’s dying messages to loved ones throughout the game and return to the Citadel to deliver them. And this happens often enough that the guy doing the walkthrough complains that all he does is ruin people’s day. “Oh hi — you seem to be having a good time — by the way — here’s a message from your dead spouse… “
At one point, you deliver this message from a dead Krogan soldier and this is why I’m writing this. Krogans are brutal, ugly, froggish looking thugs who care only about killing people and taking a lot of other people with them when they die. And when this message from this dead Krogan plays, you’re expecting “It’s bad honey. I’m outgunned and low on ammo. I don’t think I’m going to make it out of this one.” What I got was a poem. A love poem and a beautiful and touching one and I’m tearing up a little just thinking about it, it was SO frakking beautiful. And some Krogan thug wrote that! It was so beautiful it’s changed how I want to die. Now, when my time comes, I hope I have time to write that someone special one last poem before I go. That’s not supposed to be how you’re affected by a frakking video game.
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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.