I have been waiting impatiently for the last three and a half hours for the final Mass Effect DLC, entitled “Citadel”, to download to my Xbox. Since the internet is full of spoileriffic landmines, (thanks, assholes) I’ve been wandering restlessly around my house, noting the time it takes me, in download percentage points, to do household tasks. The dishes, for example, took me 35 DLC percents, while cleaning the bathroom took me a mere 5 DLC percents.
It finally finished downloading about five minutes ago, and after gathering up a box of tissues (we all know there are going to be tears, okay?) and roughly 30 pounds of snack food, I realized something.
I don’t want to play it.
I get like this whenever the last of anything comes around. The more I love it, the longer it takes. I still haven’t watched the last episode of Doctor Who, for example, and there are two Terry Pratchett books (Dodger and The Long Earth) that I still haven’t read. I’m not ready to take that last step, to let go of those characters that I have loved having adventures with (in the case of the Ponds), and I am painfully aware that the next book could be Sir Terry’s last.
I’m just not ready for those adventures to end.
I guess I’m guilty of some hypocrisy here, because I’ve looked at the throngs of rabid fans- the passionate Thane fans that just can’t accept the ending he was given, or the furious legion of disappointed players that still haven’t forgiven BioWare for the way the game ended- and rolled my eyes and said, “For fuck’s sake, it’s just a game.”
I should be more understanding, because it hasn’t been just a game for me. As I told my best friend last night, “Mass Effect has changed my life in ways that a game should not be able to do.”
I didn’t even want to play it at first. I had no interest in the setting or the gameplay; I was a die-hard fantasy hack and slash girl. A futeristic space-shooter didn’t appeal to me at all. However, after playing Dragon Age for the fourth time, I desperately needed a new RPG fix, and I figured I’d give Mass Effect a try, simply because it came out of the same studio.
I played it. I played it again. I bought the first Mass Effect and played it. (I learned why Kaidan had been yelling at me on Horizon and stopped calling him “that greasy jackass”.)
I started buying Mass Effect merchandise and reading the BioWare blog. They used to run these features every Friday where they’d interview members of the development teams, and I loved reading them and learning about the people that made these games that were coming to mean so much to me.
I dabbled in the forums at the BioWare Social Network, learned that the BSN is a darker, more dangerous place than Mordor, and backed out slowly. I started reading fanfiction. I learned about fandom. (It wasn’t something I’d ever come in contact before. I’d always looked at it from afar, because, as I would have said then, “Those bitches CRAZY.”)
I became active on Twitter, meeting other fans and interacting with developers. (Did you guys know they’re people? Like, REAL people. They have feelings and everything.) I started making friends. Not just internet acquaintances, real friends. People who not only loved Mass Effect the way I do, but also shared other interests with me. I found, for the first time in my life, a circle of people with whom (accidentally typo’d “whom” as “home”, which I think was appropriate) I felt I entirely, completely belonged. People who understood my passions, instead of simply tolerating them.
These people taught me things. Important things, like why it’s okay to do the things you want to do, even if other people might think you look silly, because doing the things that make you happy are more important than earning the empty approval of others. They taught me why it’s okay to reach out to a stranger to offer comfort, support, or just a joke or high-five. They inspired creativity in me, and allowed me to be part of their creative processes. They’ve even become my companions in real-life adventures, and it’s been amazing.
Mass Effect, and the community that caught me when I fell into its fandom, have made me braver. I’ve said before that Commander Shepard’s line, “I will not let fear compromise who I am” has become a sort of mantra for me, something to hold on to when I’m struggling with depression or anxiety, something to remind me to dig my heels in and fight back when I’m feeling overwhelmed. That quote is also a big reason I started this blog; it can be downright terrifying to express your opinions, especially when those opinions involve potentially explosive topics like feminism in gaming and “why you shouldn’t be an asshole to game developers”. That single line has become a reminder for me to fight to be the person I want to be, even when it would be so much easier to fold up and fit in.
This final chapter in Commander Shepard’s saga, this final adventure I get to experience with her, isn’t just about saying goodbye to Shepard and her squad. That is clearly part of it; I love the people I’ve met in the Mass Effect universe with the depth of feeling I’ve previously reserved for actual, living people, and saying goodbye to them for the last time is going to be painful.
I’m reminded of a line from South Park, when Butters has been dumped by his girlfriend, and he says, “I love life…Yeah, I’m sad, but at the same time, I’m really happy that something could make me feel that sad. It’s like…It makes me feel alive, you know. It makes me feel human. The only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt something really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good. So I guess what I’m feeling is like a beautiful sadness.”
It’s kind of like that, but there’s also a massive amount of gratitude. I am so grateful to the Mass Effect team for the beauty and the sadness, for the community and the belonging, for somehow making me a stronger person. For making a game that has become, for me, so much more than a game.
Now, I guess it’s time for me to pop the heat sink and fly off on one last, grand adventure with Commander Shepard.
With Mass Effect 3’s release right around the corner, I am having an enormous amount of difficulty thinking, talking, or writing about anything else. Therefore, any posts between now and probably November 27th (give or take a week) are likely to be related to Mass Effect or BioWare in some way. Just so you know.
I have an enormous number of faults as a human being, but the greatest (that I’m willing to admit to) is my tendency to be a stubborn, arrogant asshole. I will get an idea in my head and commit to it as though it were embedded into the very fabric of reality. According to my friends, there are times they only tolerate me “because you figure it out eventually.” And then I apologize for being an ass.
Today is an apology kind of day.
There was a time, before Mass Effect moved into my brain like one of those zombifying fungi insects get, that I secretly felt that fanfiction was a lower form of writing. It wasn’t something real writers indulged in. (I ALREADY SAID I WAS AN ASSHOLE. I’m really, really sorry.)
I had never actually read any fanfiction ( I had standards, after all *eyeroll*), but obviously I was an expert in what “real writers” do. After all, I hung out with writers a lot, and I occasionally started a story I was unlikely to finish.
I was a pretentious git, but it took me a long time to realize it.
The first step on my road to enlightenment occured when I was finally exposed to good fanfiction. The only fanfiction I’d seen had been pieces so awful that people had sent them to me as a joke. Since I’d never seen anything better, I just assumed that it was all like that. You know, just like how all fantasy novels are exactly like “The Lord of the Rings”. (<- sarcasm.)
That attitude lasted until I noticed that nearly everyone on my social networking sites was gushing over a fic called “Manipulations“. I got curious enough to check it out- because God forbid I be the only one that doesn’t know about something on the internet- and I was totally unprepared for what I found.
You know how they say that drug dealers give away the first hit for free just to get people hooked? I have no idea if that’s true, but that’s pretty much what happened with me and fanfiction. That one taste (which, granted, was like 5o chapters and five hours of reading) was all it took to make me a hardcore addict. I didn’t tell anyone at first, ashamed of the hours I spent alone, scouring fanfiction.net for a new Mass Effect fix or just one more hit of Dragon Age.
It wasn’t long after I’d started reading fanfiction that I found myself writing it. I made a lot of excuses about why I wasn’t technically a fanfic writer; things like “I’m just writing Mass Effect stuff as a practice exercise. It’ll give me a chance to work on voice and plot without all that pesky worldbuilding,” and “Well, because the overlying plot is already established I can focus on my dialogue progression in smaller scenes,” and even, “I doing this so I can practice writing sex, because, um… yeah.”
I abandoned that pretense when I realized that I’d been writing fanfic in my head every time I played a BioWare game. Every one of my Wardens and every one of my Shepards had unique personalities and relationships that seemed to develop somewhat beyond my control. When the game ended, my mind spun with the scenarios that could follow, the places the story could have gone, the places I could take it.
Putting those stories on paper was not what made me a fanfic writer; it was simply the last step in a long process that began the first time I played a game where what happened in my head was just as important as what happened on the screen.
I still sometimes feel awkward about writing in this medium. I think that’s largely why I don’t share my pieces very often (besides the fact that I tend to get distracted and not finish them). I feel like I’m saying to the creators of the worlds I’m working in, “I’ve been sneaking into your backyard to use your swingset- but look how high I can go!”
On the other hand, I don’t feel like fanfic writers are stealing from other writers or exploiting their worlds; writing fanfiction is an act of love. When a fanfiction writer pours out new stories, they’re saying “This world I visited inspired me, it made me feel and it made me dream, and those feelings and dreams were much too big to stay in my head.”
Although sometimes they’re just saying “I think it would be super hot if those two characters (or three, or maybe all of them) had all the sex.”
These days I’m really embarrassed by my old attitude. I know how stupid it is to say that all fanfiction is badly written; it’s just as ridiculous to suggest that it’s less valid than other types of creative expression. I’ve spent too many hours stuck to my computer, reading and dreaming, to hold on to those fallacies.
So, fanfic writers, I owe you an apology. I was an asshole, and I was wrong.
(While I was writing this, I asked my daughter not to distract me because I was writing.
“What are you writing?” she asked.
“Just something for my blog.”
“Oh, you’re just BLOGGING,” ” she said dismissively. “That’s not REAL writing.”)
(I’m going to tell you right now, the title of this post is way cooler than anything else in it.)
It’s been an eventful few days for Mass Effect fans. (For the Mass Effect 3 team, “agonizing” is probably a better term than “eventful”.)
Someone at Microsoft apparently pressed a wrong button on Friday, releasing what was supposed to be a super secret internal Mass Effect 3 Beta to the wrong testers. People currently beta-testing the new Xbox dashboard found themselves able to download and play a version of the ME3 beta in both single player and multiplayer modes. From what I understand it was only live for about 30 minutes before Microsoft sent out a kill code, but by then the damage had been done.
Screenshots and videos of the beta were everywhere over the weekend. Fortunately the information that had been released was relatively devoid of any significant plot information. While the footage that I saw added to my excitement for the March release, I didn’t feel any real damage was done. (Yes, I watched some of it. What? I’m not made of stone.)
I found the leaked beta footage fascinating. I loved seeing the unfinished product, with all of its glitches, placeholder dialogue, and missing textures and animations. It was like seeing a snapshot of one of the stages a game goes through before I get my greedy hands on the finished product. I adore stuff like that.
I know that the folks at BioWare were Very Very Unhappy that the internal beta was released to the public, but I figured it would blow over, no real harm done.
No such luck. Again, from what I can understand (from very limited research- I’m trying desperately to keep from getting spoiled myself!) there were files included within the beta that outlined the plot of ME3 in its entirety, including developer commentary.
I’m going to say right now, I don’t endorse anyone going to look for or reading these files; I know it can be tempting but I’m hoping you can all control your lustful Mass Effect urges. BioWare confirms the files exist, but says that they were from almost a year ago and don’t reflect the final state of the game.
I’ve also read that the information only follow one particular set of decisions without taking imports into account. Assuming you are importing from Mass Effect 2, these leaks don’t necessarily reflect what your game is going to be like. (On top of that, why would you want to damage what is promising to be an absolutely epic game experience?)
I’m disturbed by this, because this plot information does not yet belong to the public and never should have been made public. This is no longer a situation where no real harm was done; this is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing.
I feel terrible for the devs, who have gone to great lengths during the development of the game to keep the plotline under wraps, only to have it stolen. I really appreciated their efforts to keep the story a surprise, and I imagine they must be feeling several shades of not-good right now.
Adding insult to injury, some trollish souls decided the only thing to do with the leaked information was to use it to ninja spoil members of the BioWare Social Network forums. Threads were created with spoilers in the title, or misleading titles and links that lead to the Mass Effect 3 plot information.
It’s one thing to spoil a story for yourself, but it takes a special kind of asstroll to force spoilers on others without their knowledge or consent. I do not approve of these Renegade actions.
Even Batarians wouldn’t stoop that low.
(I have not forgotten or overlooked the fact that this leak could effect eventual game sales; I don’t know enough about game sales and marketing to have any idea what kind of impact this might have. I suspect that most of the people who would buy this game are not on sites like Tumblr and BSN and will hopefully miss this mess altogether, but I couldn’t say for sure.)
One of the things I’ve always loved about BioWare is the way they’ve involved the fans. They’ve listened to our ideas and our complaints and responded to our questions. They’ve taken us seriously and made sure we knew that they cared what we thought.
And guys, we’ve been acting like assholes.
Instead of treating BioWare with the same respect that they’ve shown us, instead of appreciating how much they give us (and it’s more than most other developers would even begin to consider!) we’ve been rude. Insulting. Demanding.
We’ve complained about everything they’ve done, every change they’ve made. We’ve called them names and engaged in personal attacks against them. We’ve trolled them to their faces and mocked them behind their backs. We’ve been bullies, slushying BioWare employees every goddamn chance we got, and some of us have been doing it for fun.
The drama over the FemShep poll is just the most recent example. We said, “We love FemShep! We want her in advertising!” and BioWare said, “OK, which one do you want?” Apparently, the answer to that was “controversy”, because that’s what resulted; a veritable shitstorm of grandstanding and name-calling.
We thanked them for including us by calling them sexist and suggesting that they were trying to foist “another” stereotypical blond heroine on us. This becomes even more ridiculous if you consider the fact that there was ONE blond out of six options and WE, the fans, picked her by an overwhelming majority.
Everything I’ve seen tells me that everyone at BioWare really does care. They understand our passion for their games, because these games are their babies. Back when more Twitter accounts were active I saw the hours that they were working and the things they were sacrificing to make these games and I felt almost humbled; they are working late night after night for years for a game I’m going to finish in a week.
The games we’re so obsessed with came from the very people we’re relentlessly abusing. It’s kind of like punching Santa in the nuts because he brought you a blue Ferrari instead of a red one.
I’m not saying that we should handle BioWare with kid gloves, never again voicing our opinions. I myself have chronicled my disappointment with Dragon Age 2, and I stand by it. When something is off in a game I want the developers to know, because without that feedback they won’t know what to improve.
I just wish that we, as a fandom, would remember that those vicious words that we’re sending out into the wilds of the internet are finding their targets, and those targets are actual human beings. BioWare isn’t just a corporation. It isn’t just a building with a logo and a fairly decent coffee machine; BioWare is just a bunch of people trying to do their jobs and live their lives while millions of obsessed fans wait for the next out-of-context tweet or offhand remark to tear them limb from fucking limb.
In the immortal words of Wil Wheaton, “Don’t be a dick.”
Seriously, guys. Don’t.