Binge Play: Mass Effect Series
Monday, January 1, 2018 at 8:32AM
Isaiah T. Taylor in BioWare, EA, Gaming, Mass Effect, Reviews

Humans are the least interesting thing in this game. Which is how it should be.

Playing the Mass Effect series intermittently for the past six months [summer & winter of 2016]. I believe, collectively I put close to 250+ hours into the series and I’m still debating if I even like what I played. I know I liked the Mako, but I didn’t like using it on every planet [Mass Effect 1]. I know I hated scanning, but I liked the feeling of a cursory search in a galaxy I had a middling interest in. Maybe if I’d chosen Jennifer Hale instead of the dry delivery of Mark Meer to voice my caramel-skinned Commander Shepard -- maybe I’d care to play through this series again. Unfortunately, that won’t happen.


Mass Effect 1 costed me my third PS3 fat [that’s the backward compatible version]. Once I ebayed a PS3 fat a week after starting the game, I was pretty pleased to see the series gain favor in my life. Mass Effect, in general, rubbed me the wrong way from the jump.


The convenient kismet wasn’t lost on me. Playing a sci-fi RPG[ish] shooter with political overtones of othering alien races for political gain … during an election year. “Isaiah, you could have played these games any other year, but you chose 2016? Good job.” I said to myself while watching the Earth burn during the loading screen of Mass Effect 3.


I wonder how many cultural prisms one could look through in order to see, “Nah, the Krogan’s are an allegory for the Tuskegee experiments on black folks.” “Nah, but then that’d make Salarians the white people, which would mean that the actual human white people are something else in this game.” These are a few of the nonsensical thoughts I mused over while watching a screen of ones and zeroes stitch together a tale I was more than happy to come home to after a work day of Hillary and Trump talk.


Thoguh I had misgivings on the decision-making in this series, the long-term ramification aspect -- I really dug.

 There is a chance that upon playing these games well after the hype cycle, that I’m taking a great deal of Bioware’s work for granted. I’m playing these games after the reinvigorated “adventure game” phenomenon that TellTale’s Walking Dead helped [for better or worse] kickstart back into gamings cultural zeitgeist. Transitioning from Mass Effect 1 to the subsequent sequels made me giddy, but not with some rabid fandom of the characters I grew to love. I merely wanted to see the cutscenes pause and hiccup when trying to remember a decision I’d made months ago in the previous game. I feel like a bad person for that. Or a person who is using this particular franchise as an escape from a dire reality.


To be fair, if I played these Mass Effect games during the Obama administration, there is a strong chance I would be connecting Obama’s legacy to the many allegorical instances of othered races in the sci-fi romp.


I’m looking at Ambassador Donnel Udina, my shady human spokesman, and yeah, he fits the mold for a lot of political leaders in my life right now. The funny thing is, he’s written so obviously crooked that I can’t tell if he’s intentionally written to be a cartoonish parody -- or some lazy archetype of a political trashman.


Art immitating life bruv.

Looking back on a trilogy well after everyone has had hot takes on it -- it gives me peace. It reminds me that it’s okay to miss things. Even if the circumstances of me missing out are for financial reasons. Also, it’s helpful to experience something when you can’t remember why it was suggested to you.


I really liked small touches of improvement as the series progressed. Elevators weren’t just for loading the next area of the ships you’re on. They were great for muzak. They fazed out the brief conversations your team would have. I enjoyed that flavor from Mass Effect 1. They really wanted this to be an RPG in space, at first. Their audience wanted a shooter with “RPG-elements” and … I gotta be okay with that. Because ultimately, every game post-Mass Effect and Borderlands, eventually saw the benefits in pushing the RPG-ness in the background.


Emblematic of the times. Mass Effect streamlined their tales to bend at the will of a fanbase that needed immediate satisfaction. To the point where they patched in an ending to their final chapter of Mass Effect 3. I found that fascinating when it happened. Playing the game years, after all of this mess, it all hardly seemed worth it. People wanting less nuance and simple signals in order to obtain a reality they haven’t fully dug into. Funny.


I came away from this series wanting to play another Mass Effect game. Whatever that was. I wanted to be in space. In a sterile-built silver and blue hallway. Figuring out Dr. Chakwas location and if she’d have one more drink with me. As critical as I’ve been about games in general, I found it really endearing that this series left me wanting. Maybe not something called Mass Effect, but something that bared its mark.


Like any art, games don’t have to primarily focus on escapism. Some are at their best when they reach for something more. And though Mass Effect ‘distracted’ me from daily new cycles of social injustices and political intrigue. I applaud these attempts of relationship-building and character development. Yes, even if most of these routes turned into dead-ends and half-baked at drawing allegories to social issues.


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