tag --> Two more Conference Presentations in the Fall (2x Mass Effect) - Website of Michael Fuchs | University of Graz | American Studies | Film Studies | Game Studies | Television Studies | Media Studies

American Studies
Film Studies
Television Studies
Media Studies
Game Studies

03 Sep

Two more Conference Presentations in the Fall (2x Mass Effect)

Written by Michael Fuchs
Hits: 1536

Two more fixtures for my fall schedule: Presentations at the meta-gaming workshop at the Central and Eastern European Game Studies Conference at Jagiellonian University in Krakow and at the The Fantastic in a Transmedia Era: New Texts—Theories—Contexts conference at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. The presentations, in fact, build on one another—although, effectively, part II will be presented first. Abstracts below.

"(Re-)Assuming Control": Mass Effect's Meta-Ending, Agency, and Fan Disenchantment

paper accepted for the CEEGS meta-gaming workshop

When BioWare's space saga Mass Effect 'ended' in May 2012, fans of the series vociferously objected to what they perceived a dissatisfying ending to what by now is known as the 'Shepard Trilogy'. Apart from the final hours' narrative shortcomings, fans primarily lamented the limited influence they had on the series' ending. To this day, Mass Effect's official website promises that "the decisions you make completely shape your experience," as "your choices drive powerful outcomes, including relationships with key characters, the fate of entire civilizations, and even radically different ending scenarios." However, the series' outcome is, effectively, defined by one decision at the end of the third game. Although there are—officially—eight different endings to the original game (and nine to the 'extended cut'), there is, in fact, little difference between them and the 'different' endings are a far cry from the notion that the fans "are crafting [their] Mass Effect story as much as we are," as associate producer Mike Gamble said in an interview prior to the release of the third game.

In my proposed paper, I will suggest that, embedded within several layers of digital seriality (cf. Denson & Jahn-Sudmann), the trilogy's ending invited fans to re-play not just the final game, but the entire series. The ending(s) thus not only kept players glued to the series, but also created a (potentially meta-referential) narrative and ludic short-circuit, which mirrors the diegetic structure of the apocalyptic tale and the attendant notion of the eternal (re-)start. The larger implications of this effective imprisonment, however, only emerge in combination with the endings' more explicitly meta-ludic undertones. As I will argue, the ending not only functioned as a claim to BioWare's (and Electronic Arts') authorship of the saga (and all the stories 'written' by each individual player) and thus confronted players with their limited control over their virtual selves, but, more importantly, the ending also became too 'real' for players, as their tales of heroic battles against overpowering foes that seemed to suggest agency transformed into mirrors of reality, in which our lives are largely beyond our control.

No Sense of an Ending? World-Building, Seriality, and the Mass Effect Universe

When BioWare's space saga Mass Effect ‘concluded’ in the spring of 2012, fan reaction was negative, to say the least. After five years of (relatively) careful world-building in various media (video games, novels, comics, live-action as well as animated movies, and tie-in apps) that struggled with the potentially unbounded textuality of digital narratives and the typically limited (and limiting) textuality of old media, the series' 'ending' could not satisfy fan expectations at all. Apart from the third game's narrative deficiencies, the reason for dissatisfaction most often voiced among fans was the player's limited influence on the series' eventual conclusion. To this day, Mass Effect's official website promises that "the decisions you make completely shape your experience," as "your choices drive powerful outcomes, including relationships with key characters, the fate of entire civilizations, and even radically different ending scenarios." However, the series' outcome is, effectively, defined by one decision at the end of the third game. And while there are—officially—eight different endings to the original game (and nine to the 'extended cut'), there is, in fact, little difference between them.

Supposedly spurred by vocal fan responses and the development team's own dissatisfaction with the ending due to the third game's rushed release forced by the pressures of capitalist drives, BioWare released an 'extended cut' about four months after the original game in an attempt to silence its critics. As the 'supposedly' in the previous sentence indicates, this is the official tale, for I would argue that delaying the series' ending conceded to the powers of seriality in our day and age, in which a transmedia narrative's conclusion is not an end, but rather just a new beginning (thus mirroring the apocalyptic story in the diegesis). However, the 'extended cut' also served to encourage and support re-play and thus kept players glued to the screens. Granted, the first two games in the trilogy already rewarded multiple playthroughs that took the roads not taken the first (or second) time in the forking-path gametexts (e.g. by offering achievements for the various character classes in the first game or separate achievements for taking 'paragon' and 'renegade' paths). However, as I will argue, the game series' purported 'ending' and the serialized delay of said 'ending' via not only the 'extended cut', but also two DLC missions that may be considered crucial to the third game (not to mention the fact that a fourth game was already announced before the 'extended cut' was released and transmedia extensions were produced at a steady rate) fetishized both re-play and the idea of 'ending' a transmedia storyworld as expansive as the Mass Effect universe.