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DIGITAL DEBATE WEDNESDAYS: Mass Effect and Hate

Every Wednesday, the staff of The Ace of Geeks will get our keyboards ready for a good, old fashioned nerd argument, and you get to hang out with us! Feel free to email us any ideas you might have for future debates, or let us know in the comments! Until then, here’s this weeks topic:

So Mass Effect Andromeda came out yesterday, after a solid half week of the internet talking about nothing but its lackluster facial expressions. Between that “controversy,” ME3’s ending, or the recent brigading of the social media of a woman who it turned out didn’t even work on the game, Mass Effect seems to bring out the rage in fans like no other game. What is it about this acclaimed trilogy that makes fans so possessive and quick to anger?

Tyler Dent Hayes: Three things:
1. It’s 90% of what everyone wanted it to be, but what the 10% is that is missing varies from person to person. Personally, I adored Mass Effect 3’s endings (though I agree the Extended Cut and the Leviathan DLC do give it some good heft), but I keenly felt the wandering ideas about the Reapers’ true motivations from game to game, and ME2 felt like a weird placeholder between the two halves of the main plot. For others I know, the endings were drek, but they loved ME2. But everyone feels like something was messed up and it was so close to perfect that we all get freaked out by any possibility that Andromeda will also hit that 10%-shy mark, and freaked out people with anonymity do terrible things.
2. It was the first game where we got to imprint ourselves onto a protagonist who nevertheless had strong life and character of their own; Shepard could be customized pretty heavily in appearance but also you got some latitude with her choices. The supporting cast are also very well-realized, and varied enough that everyone has a favorite (mine’s Wrex, with Legion and Tali close seconds). That makes the games feel personal in a way that BioWare’s previous offerings didn’t.
3. I’m just gonna leave this here…this was the first game I am aware of where people felt the female-presenting version of the MC was the superior portrayal (in terms of voice-acting), and the first big-name high-profile game where you could play an LGBT protagonist and where there was LGBT representation in the supporting cast as well. That is going to get passions burning brightly for the people for whom representation is (rightly) an issue, and for Gamergate.

Synthia Weires: I feel like ME’s curse has a lot to do with high and at times unrealistic expectations. It’s almost like this was supposed to be the millennial epic space saga. But it’s stuck never getting to live to its full potential because so many people are quick to pick at every little thing about the game in a way that I have never quite seen (despite being in the games industry for half a decade).

The conflict that gets stirred from this game is unreal, which is unfortunate because it’s really very, very good. Though I’m clearly a bias Mass Effect fangirl (named my boyfriends car EDI)

James Paul Lucky: The behavior of fandoms is a very complicated issue but in the case of Mass Effect I think that the primary driving force behind the negative (occasionally near hysterical) reactions to every gobbet of questionable information released about the game was that the original trilogy was fundamentally dishonest with it’s fan base.

Bioware began an industry trend of “choices matter across the series” with both ME and Dragon Age games, and while that was technically true (as they acknowledged each choice in varying ways) at the end of the third game everyone ended up in the same room with the same 3-4 choices in front of them and the same dialog spoken… in the grand scheme nothing you chose mattered.
Didn’t make it a bad story, just not the one that was on the original bill of goods sold to the fan base.

As an aside, I blame EA for these black spots on what was an otherwise rising star of the industry (Bioware).
DA2 and ME3 were both put out in the aftermath of the buyout and were noticeably different in the way they were developed.
Without a doubt I blame executive meddling for their hugely increased focus on “high octane” action sequences and polished graphics than actual depth of game play or story.
In an effort to reach broader market appeal they alienated much of their core audiences by failing to deliver on the original promises the series made.
In short, EA didn’t understand the IP they had purchased and enforced a mass market triple A paradigm where it didn’t belong.

  • Kyle Johannessen: I think James here has hit several nails on the head. I’m willing to bet that the animation issues (overblown but still somewhat valid) are probably due to the forced use of the Frostbite engine. Frostbite might make for some awesome FPSs but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s great for everything or is as customizable as, say, the Unreal engine.Bioware also seems to be heading dangerously close to Ubisoft territory constantly reusing the same gameplay mechanics in all of their games. I made a snarky remark that Andromeda was just Dragon Age: Inquisition in space, but in my limited time with Andromeda, it really does feel like a very similar game. More so than Mass Effect 1-3 and Dragon Age 1-2, which played and felt like drastically different games.

    And I think that’s where some of the outrage comes from. I’ve never been a fan of Internet fandom and the “gamer” culture in general can demand a lot of this that are unobtainable, but there has been a noticable drop in quality in Bioware games as of late, and it is troubling.

Korbl Klimecki: I think in general, the big reason is that it’s a big title that doesn’t cater to either the dominant culture (being full of generic grizzled presumably straight white dudes like the military game du jour) *or* conform to the dominant culture’s stereotypes of various minorities while letting them feel manly (GTA). Mass Effect is full of aliens with only a few humans, the protagonist can be any sex or race(?) and there are both hetero- and homosexual romance options. I’d point out the interspecies romance options, but Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remake just revealed that bigots have way more of a problem with homosexual relationships than interspecies relationships.

  • James Paul Lucky: With respect, I disagree.
    The situations you’ve described above have existed in the series since the first game. It was only with the release of the third game in the trilogy that we saw any major backlash to the series.
    If the games were being panned due to bigotry I would assume that we would have seen that trend from the beginning. Unless of coarse you’re saying there was some sort of cultural shift between ME2 and ME3 that caused bigots to become more vocal or for there to simply be more of them produced.
  • Korbl Klimecki: Well. I mean, something major did happen last year that did embolden bigots…
  • James Paul Lucky: Sure. I don’t deny that it could play into part of what we’re seeing with Andromeda, but it is far from a tidy explanation of all of the outrage surrounding ME3 (well before the events your alluding to) and controversy of MEA. Presumably bigots would make complaints centered around their particular brand of bigotry and not the other factors mentioned (bad animations, glitches, writing, etc).
    If Westboro were standing outside EA/Bioware picketing then I’d have to give you this point, but I just don’t see it.
    *shrug*
  • Korbl Klimecki: To be fair, I don’t play a lot of games when they actually come out, and I’ve played literally no Mass Effect. So I’m very much hypothesizing on this.

Jarys Maragopoulos: As people have said, Mass Effect is a Triple A game, with a very wide audience. Within that audience is a lot of different groups to please, many with contradicting sets of values, such as diverse, under served groups and the GamerGate players who do not want to share a fandom with the former. A game that attempts to create a choice-based experience is under even more pressure to have something for everyone, and GamerGate adherents often define what they want by those they see as less deserving not getting what they want. This leads, I think to a lot of complaints when the designers take risks, as well as pressure on the designers to give the game tangible stereotypical “crowd pleasing” elements, such as Miranda’s design and cut scene cinematography, for example. Additionally, I think Mass Effects excellence in some areas leads to a unrealistic demand that they excel in all areas, while designers are trying to make each game a noticeable improvement on the last. Every change advances the experience of one gamer and diminishes the experience of a gamer with opposing tastes. What it comes down to, I believe, is that Mass Effect is a game that makes us feel, and with its wide audience, this gives people with diverse values having a powerful emotional stake in the game, leading to fighting among fans, and grief of fans being lobbed at designers. I am all for critiquing or even protesting a designer’s decision, but harassment is unjust.

Korbl Klimecki
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Korbl Klimecki, professional warlock, is also a writer, baker, slacking artist and inveterate games tinker who occasionally actually plays the games they tinker with. When not lurking in gaming forums or throwing together their latest ill-advised D&D class, they may be found rampaging through the streets of Steelport, or the wilderness of Skyrim. Or possibly pursuing yet another major as if they were trading cards.

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