New England Gamer
To some degree at least, I am a writer.
It's ironically one of the things about me that has been most consistent. From about the first
grade on I've been jotting things down (with gradually improving spelling and grammar), and
told people proudly that someday I wanted to be a writer. There was a brief time in the second
grade that I wanted to build robots, and during my high school years I had visions of myself as
the front man of a 1980s metal band, but through all of those flights of fancy, my desire to put
pen to paper has remained consistent and strong.
It's not an easy thing to do. As cliché as it sounds, you put a lot of yourself into the words you
write, something evidenced to me by the fact that some of the best regarded pieces I've written,
here and otherwise, have been things that incorporated my own personal experiences, stories,
and insecurities. I can tell you that there have been occasions where I've almost considered not
submitting an article or sharing a story because it delved into parts of myself that I wasn't quite
comfortable venting to the world.
Criticism, in turn, can be one of the scariest and most painful things a writer goes through. Take
all those fears about exposing your work to the world and then imagine someone coming back
and pointing out the mistakes you made. "Your comma usage sucks." "This article blows." "This
guy has no idea what he's talking about!" I've heard countless professional writers talk about the
necessity of tuning out those negative voices, but it's something I have yet to master. It's hard
and no matter the level of your talent (mine being exceptional, of course), it hurts.
It's for this reason that I have a lot of sympathy for Bioware.
One of the most talented game development studios of our time, Bioware released Mass Effect 3,
arguably their magnum opus, earlier this month. Capping off the incredibly highly regarded
Mass Effect series, it wouldn't be too far off to call it one of the most highly anticipated games of
the last ten years. It was a title of unparalleled ambition; incorporating two prior games worth of
player-choice driven narrative into a finale that tied up all of the loose ends and brought to a
close a franchise that, in many ways had become as important to gamers as Star Wars was to
And people hated it.
Well, the ending at least. The general consensus amongst many hardcore fans has been that until
the last ten minutes the game is an absolute masterpiece. It's just absolutely powerful, painting a
picture of a total galactic war that feels serious and poignant. I've played games in the past that
have elicited an emotional reaction, but this would be the first game that I would say outright
Then, in the last ten minutes, it completely switches gears. It's the equivalent of if, at the end of
Star Wars, instead of Luke destroying the Death Star he's pulled out of the battle by God and
told to pick a button to determine the fate of the universe. It's unsatisfying, contradicts
established story points and lore, and just leaves you feeling empty inside.
Suffice it to say, fans weren't happy. Bioware's official forums exploded with angry
conversation about the ending. Some went so (too) far as to harass Bioware employees. Others
even established petitions and charities with the aim of raising awareness about the ending and
hopefully convincing Bioware to change it. One customer actually attempted to report Bioware
to the FTC for false advertising.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are people -- many of them gaming journalists -- who
find it outrageous that consumers, who didn't lift a finger to make the Mass Effect games, would
even suggest that its creators should change the ending just because the fans don't like. Some
have compared to changing the Mona Lisa because you don't like her smile. Others have simply
looked at dissenters and stamped them with the increasingly popular label of "entitled."
I stand somewhere in the middle.
I will confess that my initial reaction to the game's ending was the complete and utter rage that
many felt. I never agreed (and will never support) with the harassment of Bioware and its
employees, but I still watched with relish as fan efforts organized and began petitioning Bioware
for a change. I was disappointed, and not in a "the store was out of Cake Batter ice cream" sort
of way. I felt betrayed; like the dozens of hours I'd spent playing the three games and the
emotional investment I had in the characters and choices were all wasted.
Because despite what some have said in the game's defense, the ending to a story does matter
and a horrible ending can ruin an otherwise fantastic experience. It doesn't have to (Bioshock
was a great game with a bad ending), but under the right circumstances a last minute narrative
misstep can invalidate everything else that's happened. For instance, I might have called The Life
of David Gale a solidly made movie until the twist that takes place in the last thirty seconds of
the movie. Such is the case with the ending of Mass Effect 3.
And while I would agree that many fans have overreacted in their response to the ending, I
would say that many of Bioware's supporters have succumbed to similar kneejerk reactions;
albeit for the opposite reason.
After two weeks of debate and controversy, the heads of Bioware announced that more content
was coming that would "[provide] more clarity for those seeking further closure to their
journey." At once there was a chorus of people proclaiming that Bioware had set a dangerous
precedent that had forever doomed creative freedom in video games. The same people, who had
days before trumpeted Bioware's freedom to choose their own ending, revolted when Bioware
supposedly "caved in." Never mind that "providing clarity" is hardly akin to changing the
No one held a gun on the Bioware staff and told them they had to change the ending. It was a
choice they made for themselves. The fact that their fan base was in a state of outrage may have
worried them, but it wouldn't be the first time a popular franchise had fallen under the gloom of
unhappy fans (cough Star Wars cough) without the creators cracking. And even if Bioware did
break down under the pressure, who's to say that means anyone else has to do the same in the
future? Why are the actions of one developer the end-all-be-all of the storytelling in video
Add in the fact that it seems more and more likely that Bioware had something else planned all
along and the entire controversy seems even sillier. Granted, the creators of Mass Effect probably
didn't want their game to be lambasted the way it has been, but the more people delve into what
actually happens at the end of the game and the more they look at Bioware's own comments on
the subject, the more it seems like they intended the ending to be incomplete with the intention
of continuing the game via downloadable content later on down the road. If this winds up being
the case then not only will a fair segment of the gaming community have made asses out of
themselves, but they'll have done so in the name of something that wasn't an issue at all to begin
Even so, it will do little to quell the turmoil. In fact, such a revelation would likely only fan the
flames even further as fans will suddenly be able to angrily say that Bioware (or more likely,
their publisher Electronic Arts) intentionally sold an incomplete game because they knew people
would buy whatever they put out afterward to find out what really happened. For many, it will be
the moral equivalent of selling someone a book and on the last page telling them they need to
give you another dollar before they can know how it ends.
It's not a good position to be in for Bioware, but the way things look, there isn't a good position
left for them coming out of this controversy. Whether they've the scorn or not, there is a portion
of their once dedicated fanbase that will never trust them again. It's a shame because Bioware is
genuinely one of the most talented development studious out there. They're one of the few
developers that truly understand the importance of good writing, and at the end of the day Mass
Effect 3 was still a fantastic game. To have peaked on such a high note wouldn't be a bad thing.
It's just sad that the note has been so off-key for so many.
Read more by Stewart Shearer