This ‘honor’ goes to the ending of Mass Effect 3. Something that taught me a lot about a wide variety of subjects and most of them I hope to address in this or later blogs on this subject, cause believe me, I am not done.
Now this is still an issue worth blogging about for two reasons. First of all it has taught me a lot. About fandom, writing, and the human condition. In point of fact it has changed what I was going to do with the ending of my own series of books I hope to write and publish one day. And two, despite it being months later, despite ME 3 almost being a year old, it is still talked about. I still talk about it. Game magazines and media still talk about it and fandom continues to talk about it in one way or another. And while the issue has mostly quieted down there still seems to be a lot of hurt feelings from this.
This blog will be an attempt to address two things, the ending itself and the various things that went into it, and what I have learned about it.
First right off the bat there is a new theory going around the interwebs, a theory about ‘why the end is really a lot more ‘artistic’ then we gave it credit for’ theory.
The current theory basically says that the ending was meant to be kinda a grand statement on the utility of life and how your choices not mattering was actually the point. That no matter what you do, you can’t escape fate or, in this case specifically, the mechanical twistings of the cycle.
Now I myself wondered this within weeks of my finishing the ending. Because the world of Mass Effect is based, in large part, on the work of HP Lovecraft. Without going into too much detail Lovecraft postulated that the universe largely does not care about humanity and what we do, and can wipe us out at any second.
This rings true because of the Reapers, the Cycle, and forces beyond our understanding.
Yet I reject this theory and find it unlikely because even in the original ending the protagonist/ player was faced with threechoices. And contrary to popular opinion they had widely different outcomes and ramifications and actually were choices.
But if the above theory was true the player would not get a choice at all. He/She would gather the forces of the Galaxy, do everything right, and then lose the war. He/ She may then play the game again, do a bunch of different things…and lose the war.
There would have been no Crucible, (if there was it would be destroyed,) and no ending choice. Probably no Catalyst either.
Just it, the last scene would be a Reaper beam slicing the Normandy to ribbons…then you would be faced with that picture of the Galaxy Map before you were going to go assault Cronus station.
Now when people talk about the ending, even today, a large number of them bring up the same complaints:
The Mass Relays were destroyed and thus destroying all life.
Well yes, while it was shown in the Arrival that the destruction of a Mass Relay would lead to a Super Nova that would wipe out entire star systems, hence at the original ending, when the relays went exploding, naturally all of life around the Galaxy (or the vast majority of it since some races were not in the same system as a Relay) would be exterminated.
Now we can assume two things with this, either the original writers intentionally set out to exterminate the universe and make you a big monster, or they simply forgot. There responses would indicate they forgot…or they were a lot smarter than we give them credit for.
After all, who would wipe out the universe as the ultimate solution to a Galactic problem? Are we to assume that is what they set out to do? Pardon me for being skeptical but I do not think they would do this, I do not think anyone would do this. And without actual evidence to the contrary, IE cut scenes showing entire worlds burning, I chose to believe that the destruction, or the eventual damaging of the relays in the extended cut, did not destroy the Galaxy.
We just did not have enough evidence from the Original Endings to make a reasonable claim, which is one of the problems with the ending, but you cannot draw a bad conclusion on not enough data, that is still a bad conclusion.
Your choices weren’t reflected in the ending.
True, but they weren’t supposed to, you just spent the last 40 hours or so wrapping up plot lines full of decision makings.
Your ending choice was an arbitrary A, B, C, where the only difference was the color!
No, even before the Extended Cut it was clear that this was not the case. The three endings had very different outcomes and conclusions, they just looked the same. But anyone can tell you that two events that look the same do not have to be the same and human perception is often flawed…
The ending violated the themes of the series.
I think in all the ways that the ending did fail, this is still the most apt in some ways. Having everything boiled down to three choices? Right.
And then they were Control, Synthesis, and Destruction.
While all three options were presented throughout the series Shepard never, ever, had the opportunity to say ‘you know Saren…your idea sounds cool…I like it…but you go too far!’ Nowhere throughout the series, not one instance.
All it was defeat the Reapers.
Which meant that the ending came out of nowhere when it was presented to us. We were supposed to choose, two options, that we had been in fact opposition to for three whole games? All in the name of defeating Synthetics and Organics? Which was also out of nowhere?
So then what have we learned from this?
That people can doggedly stick to their perceptions in the face of millions of pieces of anecdotal and actual evidence. No matter what comes along to counteract their perceptions, they say, the ending sucks because the universe explodes!
No sorry it doesn’t.
There are millions of legitimate complaints to make about the ending…but really?
Do not introduce and dump a bunch of new stuff onto your audience at the end. Like the ending did with a new character, the Catalyst, who simultaneously dumped on everything from the Reaper origins to just the origins of life.
So for future reference…don’t do!…and neither will I.
And you can’t rush art.
Because even with the ending, if they had just one more day, a week, maybe a couple of months could have been improved drastically.
They themselves have proven it with the release of the Extended Cut which drastically improved on the content of the ending as it stood and added a lot more context to what was going on and showing your decisions mattering.
Because ultimately, and maybe this is the point, despite the ending, all the tragedies and the feelings of inadequacy, for me the ultimate tragedy, and the ultimate lesson is how much it could have been improved. Even using the premise of the original ending or starting over there were vast improvements to be made. Even the Extended Cut isn’t perfect, better yes, perfect, no.
But whether it was simple scalpels, or a bludgeon to rewrite the whole thing, it could have been done.
So take what you will from it, but it is important for writers to always check, challenge, and question…if what they are doing is right for their stories.