The Mass Effect 3 Controversy: One Year Later
It’s been over a year since Bioware released Mass Effect 3 to the world, and in doing so they invited a firestorm of criticism from fans, critics and even the Better Business Bureau. If somehow you haven’t heard, the ending to Mass Effect 3 was vilified and hated by longtime fans of the franchise and they took to the Bioware forums to vent their hatred. In response Bioware released a special download called “the extended cut” which sought to improve the original ending by adding extra content to the original game. While the exact numbers are difficult to determine, I estimate that less than 50 percent of players are satisfied with the extended cut. Regardless of how anyone feels about Mass Effect 3, the release of the extended cut was an unprecedented event not only in gaming history, but in entertainment history. Never before had a product of entertainment been so swiftly altered in response to its fans. As someone who has invested hundreds of hours into each game, I think it’s long overdue that I talk about the controversy. I’m not going to talk about how Mass Effect 3 should have ended; I simply want to express how I feel about the controversy and more importantly what it says about the industry.
When I completed Mass Effect 3 for the first time, my initial response was confusion. I had heard a lot about the fan response to the ending but I hadn’t had anything spoiled for me. I asked myself “is this really what people are so mad about?” However over the next few days I slowly realized how unsatisfying the original ending was. Leading up to Mass Effect 3’s release, Bioware made a lot of claims about how the game would end. They promised multiple endings that were all different and that every question would be answered. These are just some of the many promises that original ending broke. For this reason, I think that the initial response to Mass Effect 3’s ending was justified (at least partially) based on the fact that Bioware blatantly lied to their customers. Then Bioware released the extended cut the following June, and I (for the most part) was satisfied with the new endings. I have absolutely no problem with people expressing their opinions but I noticed very quickly that on the topic of Mass Effect 3, I disagreed with a lot of people.
One of Bioware’s responses to criticism of the original ending was that it fit their “artistic vision” of how they saw the Mass Effect trilogy. This one statement was probably the most mocked and ridiculed quote during the months following Mass Effect 3’s release. Fans believed that the idea of artistic vision meant nothing and that Bioware owed their fans an ending that they could appreciate. Looking back at this statement, I realize that hardly anyone understood what Bioware was trying to say and it saddens me because it’s symbolic of what is truly wrong with the video games industry: people who play video games.
Right now, video games are looked at as products of entertainment, as electronic toys.This limits what games can or can’t be and the reception to Mass Effect 3 is a prime example of this. Bioware sees themselves as artists, and art is an entirely subjective concept. You can’t assess the numerical value of art, you have to decide what it means on your own. Because art is subjective it means that not everyone is going to understand the meaning of a particular piece. A true artist knows that they have to stick with their instincts and create something that they are happy with. Bioware had an idea of how they wanted their game to end and expressed it.
Unfortunately players see Mass Effect 3 as a product that they purchased. Gamers are consumers who see themselves as consumers. People mocked Bioware for valuing “artistic vision” but I think that fans campaigned for an equally ridiculous concept called “product justice.” According to these people, all that matters is that any message the game delivers has to cater to the lowest common denominator. This means that anything that doesn’t make immediate sense is rejected and this is what happened to Mass Effect 3’s ending. I think very few people made an effort to understand what Bioware was trying to say. Most people rejected Bioware’s vision and claimed that they owed them a “good” ending.
The idea that Bioware “owe” their fans is nonsense to me. It’s true that Bioware misled customers and they were rightly criticized for this and probably lost a few fans because of their dishonesty. I draw the line at the fact that Bioware see themselves as artists and as artists they are entitled to write an ending that they are satisfied with. I think a lot of people missed the possibility that the ending that they wanted simply wasn’t one that Bioware would have been happy with. I get that people are going to disagree with this, that’s fine. It frustrates me however, when people mock an artist for standing behind their own decisions.
I see video games as a growing, fledgling art and I think that there is little merit in simply catering to your fans in comparison to an artist creating something that they are pleased with. I wouldn’t mind so much but this controversy affects the entire industry. The reaction to Mass Effect 3’s ending wasn’t just heard by Bioware, it was heard by every game developer. A message that told developers that if they don’t cater to everyone they will suffer the wrath of their own fanbase. This can only weaken the industry.
Just about every issue regarding the games industry that I’ve talked about on this blog stems from a mindset that this controversy reinforces. I think the Mass Effect 3 controversy was a step backwards for video games becoming an art. It’s true that gamers are not solely responsible for how games are perceived, but they are a significant part of it. To anyone reading this who plays video games, it might be time to ask yourself why you play them. To anyone who still hates Mass Effect 3’s ending one year later, if you haven’t already, it’s time to move on to something else. I think that games becoming an art benefits everyone who enjoys them, but if it’s going to happen it’s time that we grow up a little.
Posted on March 28, 2013, in Editorials and tagged artistic vision, Bioware, controversy, ending controversy, Extended Cut, fan response, Games, gaming, longtime fans, mass effect, Mass Effect 3, unprecedented event, Video Games, videogames. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.