Thursday, March 29, 2012

The False Dichotomies of Mass Effect

My latest PopMatters article is now live: The False Dichotomies of Mass Effect.

Amidst the fractured sentiments regarding the conclusion of Mass Effect 3, I really wanted to write an article that was not actually about the ending in any significant way. From the beginning, Bioware has done an increasingly good job complicating their own binary system they established in the first game. It's actually a bit of a shame that the first game established such strong expectations regarding the Paragon and Renegade system. If they were given free range today, I do not think they would tie the series so closely to such a stark dichotomy, even if they did successfully problematize it in the end.

To talk a bit about the ending, I am genuinely surprised so many have raised issues about the Paragon or Renegade system as pieces of the argument for a better altered ending. Some have claimed that being forced to make a Paragon decision is a betrayal.  I completely disagree that this is even possible, but I understand the sentiment comes from Bioware's unfortunate decision to associate particular ends with each approach to decisions. If community management is about the management of expectations, than a core system built into the very first game set the studio up for failure in many regards in its conclusion. If anything, I admire their admittedly last-minute attempt to truly complicate the binary they established early on.

The multi-colored ending has also received ire for associating certain characters or decisions with the Paragon/Renegade system. In the mind of many players, the color red is permanently associated with "Paragon", and Paragon is permanently associated with "Bad", therefore their final decision is colored to give them the opposite response they were given. I chose the "green" ending, so maybe I would have had a more visceral reaction if my Paragon-ish Shepard received a "renegade-red" color scheme.  But if anything, I find the reversal fascinating. It forces players to question the outcomes of decisions they believed led to predictable and easy-to-read outcomes. If anything, Bioware should have completely abandoned the color scheme at the games end entirely. Blue and red have a meaning that does not correctly align with the true malleability of the Paragon/Renegade system. If they wanted to avoid color-fueled antagonisms, they should have hammered home the false dichotomy angle much earlier.

1 comment:

  1. "In the mind of many players, the color red is permanently associated with "Paragon", and Paragon is permanently associated with "Bad","

    I think you meant "Renegade" there.