Current Fan Backlashes Began with Mass Effect 3

A good story deserves a good ending everybody knows that. What most people don’t know is that the stories – whether in games, film or literature – don’t belong to them. Not to mention that one of the core parts of experiencing a story as it unfolds is in not knowing how it ends. When a good story ends badly people have every right to be upset.

They can complain to friends and to fellow fans online or in real life. They can contact the writers or directors or cast to air their grievances, respectfully I would hope. What they shouldn’t do is campaign, petition and fund raise for a new ending to their favourite film, TV show or game to be made. I speak, of course, about The Last Jedi and Game of Thrones but to understand the visceral reaction to these two media giants we have to look at an older, not-quite-as-giant-but-still-pretty-big media franchise.

The Mass Effect series was an incredibly popular video game franchise. Beginning with Mass Effect in 2007 the series followed an elite human soldier, Commander Shepard, as they fight off a race of synthetic-organic star ships known as the Reapers that are bent on wiping out all life in the galaxy. Mass Effect 2 dealt with the continued threat of the Reapers but factored in political hand-wringing and Cerberus, a clandestine group of human supremacists as well. The stage was set for a galactic throw down in Mass Effect 3 and for nearly the entire game things looked like they were building towards exactly that.



For three games players thought that they were creating an ending incredibly specific to their customised version of Commander Shepard. Saves imported from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3 would mean a great deal more as players got to see their impact on a galaxy they had helped shape and in the end a galaxy they had helped save or doom. Player choice mattered to developer BioWare and they had shown that in the likes of Baldur’s Gate, Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic and Dragon Age: Origins. Player choice obviously matters a great deal more to the players.

I won’t spoil anything but Mass Effect 3 essentially gave players the choice of three preset endings. All of a sudden all of those choices they had made didn’t mean shit anymore. All of those people they had saved or killed. The planets laid waste to. The companions lost and gained. That weird race of giant killer bugs you could choose to genocide in the original Mass Effect. All of it, essentially, meant nothing.

Now the processing power, both of the human mind and of the game itself, required to factor in all the choices made across three games totaling a playtime of over a hundred hours is monumental. Especially when you consider that a lot of Mass Effect 3 players and RPG players in general act like capricious elder Gods choosing to save an entire race and then turning around and shooting an old friend in the back. Factoring that kind of sociopathic behaviour into an ending that makes sense is nigh-on impossible. So with that said I understand why BioWare went in the direction they did. I don’t like it but I understand it.

Needless to say most of the players were mad, very mad. Mad enough to petition BioWare to change the ending of Mass Effect 3. Mad enough to fund raise $80,000 in two weeks to pay for the ending to be rewritten and changed. Starting to see a pattern? But that’s not the end of this snafu because BioWare caved to fan pressure. In June 2012, three months after the game’s March release, BioWare released an update of free DLC known as the Extended Cut that expanded upon the three endings players could choose from. It didn’t change many opinions about the endings and it definitely didn’t make anyone happier but it did mark a sea change in consumer-developer relations.

Further Reading: The Rise and Fall of Bioware | Mass Effect at 10.

This kind of thing isn’t really new though Mass Effect 3 is the first and best example of this new kind of extremity we’re seeing at the moment. These discussions have happened before. They happened in living rooms and fan clubs and conventions with the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars. They went online with the X-Files and the Star Wars prequels. After The Dark Knight missed out on an Oscar nomination for Best Picture in 2008 the Academy literally changed and expanded the category due to backlash. So it’s not new but it is becoming more and more extreme. We see it in review bombing. We can see it in the attempt to get The Last Jedi and now Game of Thrones remade. We even see it in the harassment of people like Rian Johnson, Leslie Jones, Daisy Ridley and Brie Larson online.

Now I have my problems with The Last Jedi, namely that incredibly slow chase through space and that bizarre trip to the casino. I haven’t watched Game of Thrones since season four but I know everything that’s happened because people seem to care a lot less about spoilers for that than they do about the Avengers. I’m not saying that fans don’t deserve an input into the series’ they love. I am saying that loving something can quickly turn into convincing themselves that they have a claim of ownership over the series.

Eventually when the series or game or film does something wrong in their eyes they’ll go from claiming ownership to hating it and demand it be rewritten to serve their desires. That, above all else, should not happen. It invalidates years of hard work and not only that it invalidates the whole idea of storytelling itself. 

We’re allowed to be disappointed in the things we love. Mass Effect 3’s ending still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I didn’t spend three games putting the moves on Dr Liara T’soni for no real emotional pay off. But I also didn’t donate to a fund raiser or demand that the ending be rewritten. Even at 17 I understood that the creator’s vision needed to be respected no matter how unhappy I was with it.

As the petition to rewrite season 8 of Game of Thrones reaches half a million signatures I think it’s worth considering what the alternatives are rather than the absolutely ludicrous and shockingly short-sighted desire to rewrite it. That’s without mentioning all the legal ramifications that come with it. I understand your frustration but not your methods. Nothing good can come of this in either the short or long term.


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