Gamer culture is no stranger to the concept of internet backlash. Ever since the dawn of message boards, nearly every major gaming release has received scrutiny from a vocal group of fans upset at some aspect of said game – be it the story, the design, or other parts of the production. The current recipient of the internet’s judgmental wrath is BioWare’s recently released Mass Effect 3 - more specifically, its ending. So strong is the dislike for the ending, in fact, that fans of the game have already raised almost $70K for charity in an online petition for BioWare to change it.
However, as admittedly disappointing as the ending of Mass Effect 3 actually is, it would be even more disappointing for BioWare to cave into fan pressure and “change” it. In the ongoing debate surrounding video games’ validity as an art form, gamers are effectively shooting themselves in the foot with this petition. They are demanding that the ending meet THEIR vision for the game, not the vision of the creators themselves. In doing so, they are essentially saying that video games are not legitimate works of art; they are products, toys that must be fixed if they don’t meet our expectations. And this scares the hell out of me.
No other entertainment medium has ever been subjected to this kind of narrative entitlement. Did The Matrix trilogy have an underwhelming resolution? Yes. Did the Harry Potter series end with a poorly written chapter? Sure did. But did anyone expect the Wachowski siblings to change their trilogy? Did anyone expect J.K. Rowling to go back and “fix” her ending? No, they didn’t, because it was THEIR fiction that THEY created, and the fans respected that. To demand that BioWare’s writers change Mass Effect 3‘s ending not only disrespects them and their vision for the art they’ve produced, but also game developers everywhere. If BioWare caves into fan pressure and releases DLC that changes the ending, how could other developers have any confidence in any game they produce in the future? What’s the point in putting any creative effort at all into a game, if all it takes is a divisive fan reaction to warrant its changing post-release?
Furthermore, think about the precedent and example this could set for other developers: It doesn’t matter if they released a rushed or botched ending, because the fans are showing them that they’re willing to accept (and most likely pay for) a change via DLC. With the rising prevalence of DLC in gaming, all this does is further convince publishers that it is the direction to keep heading in. Online passes already limit access to the multiplayer and even single-player aspects of many games. If BioWare changes the ending of Mass Effect 3, downloadable content will no longer be considered “optional” or “extra”. It will instead become mandatory to buy downloadable content in order to get the full experience of the game you’ve already purchased
Yes, us fans feel ownership over the game’s story, and the characters that reside in it. After all, the entire premise of the game is that our choices matter, and each person’s journey is unique. Why shouldn’t we feel entitled to a change in the story, when the Mass Effect series already placed so much importance to the power of our choices? In the end, however, we have to recognize that no matter how much impact we had on the universe of Mass Effect, it is still a universe that BioWare created, not us. Across three intertwined games, BioWare created a vehicle for our Shepards’, giving almost all of us a completely unique ride. We may have picked what stops we took along the way, but they were the ones driving us.
This is not a matter of objective quality or personal tastes, nor is it about entitlement or lack thereof. This is about gaming’s status as an art form. The fact that we consider it BioWare’s duty to deliver a better ending undermines virtually all narrative progress that gaming has made since its birth. BioWare should not, no, MUST not give into fan pressure to change the ending. Doing so will not only devalue the product that they put out, but also devalue the series as a brand, themselves as a company, and gaming as a medium.