Why ‘Mass Effect’ is my favorite video game I’ve never played
Okay, that’s a slight overstatement. “Mass Effect 2” was one of the first games I played, but I didn’t get more than 20 minutes into it. Taken completely out of context, the talk about biotics and The Illusive Man made no sense to me and I couldn’t get into the story.
Then, just last year, my boyfriend decided that he wanted to replay the first two games before tackling the final installment of the trilogy. I happened to wander into the living room while he was investigating the reappearance of the rachni. I plopped down on the couch and watched. Over the next few nights, I observed Shepard’s race to stop Saren from destroying the Citadel. By the time BF moved on to the second installment, I was asking him to wait to play until I’d be home.
I was totally invested in the story and the game. I got into debates about the characters and game structure with other friends who were replaying the series. I teared up when a certain scientist Salarian met his end. I squealed with glee almost every time Garrus opened his mouth. I thought the original ending of “Mass Effect 3” wasn’t nearly as horrendous as the fan backlash made it out, although the revision was a definite improvement.
My experience of watching “Mass Effect” was all the proof I needed in the argument about whether video games are art. They certainly can be. The trilogy certainly offered all the technical hallmarks of an artistic achievement, such as compelling dialogue, striking visuals, and ethical dilemmas. But the coolest thing about watching the game was how involved I got without being an artist in any way. I didn’t create the game and I’ve barely played it. Yet I was still able and excited to be a part of the experience of “Mass Effect.” I was the audience for a performance of the games and it triggered a strong emotional response in me that I wanted to share. It felt no different from being in the audience of a movie or a concert.
Nobody has the exact same definition of art. I don’t think it really matters how you want to define it. What’s important in the debates about video games is that enough people believe in the creative power of the medium to start making more complex, more exciting, and more beautiful titles. However they get classified, video games will start to make bigger, bolder statements and that is what matters.
I’m pleased to say that I do now have the first two “Mass Effect” games loaded on my computer. I can’t wait to take my turn as the artist.