I don’t often write posts here about my gaming, either tabletop or video. Largely, it’s because this isn’t a gaming blog, so it only comes up in whatever way it might affect my mental health. But gaming has been a large part of my life, and one thing in particular has been on my mind a lot lately – a trilogy of video games by a company called Bioware – the Mass Effect series.
It first started in 2007, with the first Mass Effect game. It was originally published by Microsoft, but EA Games picked up the second and third. It was a third-person shooter /role-playing game, combined in what is called an action RPG. I mention it here because I was drawn into the game immediately, even though I tend to be terrible at shooter-type games. The characters really brought me into the story, which was of a human soldier called Commander Shepard trying to save the galaxy from a special galactic agent acting on behalf of a terrible inorganic intelligence called a Reaper. The characters – the naive archaeologist, the curious young engineer, the jaded alien mercenary, the rogue cop, the biased soldier, the unstable psychic – were all interesting, and they made me care about them – enough to try to keep as many of them alive as I could. I cheered when, at the end, we took out the renegade operative, killed the Reaper, and saved the galaxy.
The second game came out in 2010, and it changed a lot of things. Shepard was nearly killed, and recruited by a secret organization to ostensibly help save the galaxy. Many of the characters from the first game were in the second, as well, though only two remained as members of your crew. Instead, you gathered a new crew of characters for, eventually, what was termed a suicide mission to prevent a servitor race of the Reapers – revealed to be a lurking threat, one that cleared the galaxy of all sentient life every 50,000 years or so – from preparing a way for the Reapers to return. The young engineer was more experienced this time, and the rogue cop was now a Batman-like vigilante, and was joined by a somewhat psychotic psychic, an alien super-soldier, a genetically perfect secret agent, a conflicted former soldier, a feared assassin, a robotic infiltrator, the haunted scientist who had unleashed a plague, and an alien Justicar. You travel the galaxy finding ways to fight the bad guys – the Collectors – despite old allies being wary of your new affiliations. Eventually, you stage a suicide mission against their base – a mission in which it is possible for your entire crew to die, or for you to save them all. I put dozens of extra hours of play time in so that I could keep them all alive, because even the scary characters grew to mean something to me. My dog was startled when I jumped up and whooped in victory when I finally won, with no casualties.
Finally, the third game came. The Reapers assaulted the galaxy in force – hitting Earth first, and unsuspecting. Shepard had to flee to gather reinforcements as humanity was assaulted by terrors from beyond known space, terrors who were almost impossible to kill. Once again, you collected your crew – the morally unstable AI, the formerly naive archaeologist turned information broker, the engineer who was now a leader of her people, the vigilante-turned-general, the awakened last survivor of the Reaper’s last attack, and the idealistic soldier. Along the way, you meet former crew members – the mercenary who now rules his people, the scientist trying to correct his mistakes, the crazed psychic now rehabilitated and training others, the dying assassin, and the robot infiltrator turned martyr for his own people. You can play things a few ways, but the way I played, I had to watch three of my former crew sacrifice themselves to help me – and each time it was a gut punch. I actually cried as I watched each of them die – the assassin to save Shepard’s life, the scientist to correct his greatest mistake, and the robot to grant his people true individuality. Their sacrifice helped me to unite the galaxy against the Reapers, and make a final attack on Earth to save everyone.
Like many fans of Mass Effect, I was disappointed by the ending to 3, because it removed all narrative control, but up until then, I could not have been more drawn into the story and invested in the characters unless they had been real people. The video games, and my interest in the series, have inspired me to create conversions for a couple of tabletop RPG systems, because I thought the setting was just that compelling. I have the soundtracks for Mass Effect 2 and 3 cued up on my iPhone. It’s been on my mind a lot lately, though I don’t know why – maybe because there’s another Bioware game coming up soon, and their games always have compelling characters. Or maybe because their games were able to make me react emotionally in ways almost nothing else could.
In any case, I just thought that today, I would write about that. I still have all three Mass Effect games here, just waiting to be replayed – maybe by me, maybe by someone else. The characters were almost like friends, and I kinda want to see them again.