Harry Potter and the Mass Effect Ending

I’ve never really been a big fan of the Harry Potter franchise, having read the books purely to know what everybody else was on about rather because I wanted to know what was going to happen in the story. Although engaging, JK Rowling didn’t do what she did (in my opinion) better than any of my other favourite authors such as Stephen Donaldson or Terry Pratchett. I didn’t like Harry, I wanted to slap Ron half of the time and I could never really shake the feeling that Hermoine would’ve done so much better for herself in life if she just dropped the boy tags and went to practice wizardry on her own. That said, I have more respect for JK Rowling than any other author around.

Why?

Well. Because of the way she ended her series. I don’t think that there was ever any more pressure on an author, who had billions of fans either through the movie media or books, to end her series well. She had made it very clear in interviews before the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that she was going to end the series, that after that book there was going to be no more Harry Potter. I firmly believed that she was going to kill off Harry but she did something better. She provided the characters with closure. She gave us a glimpse ten years into the future where the characters are standing on the platform of the train seeing their children off to school. It said: All is well. The world is at peace, Voldamort has been truly vanquished and despite all the hardships these character went through they are well, and they are happy and their stories are truly over. It struck me as brilliant and although I had my problems with some of the social interactions in that epilogue, I realised that it was one of the smartest things that Rowling could’ve done. She ended her books and gave her fans no way to demand another. There must’ve been so much pressure on her to continue it because of its popularity but she stuck to her guns and closed that chapter off for good.

And, she didn’t disappoint any fans in the process.

I think that you can draw a parallel between these two stories because you’re sitting with two very popular media with two very popular characters. Shepard was Mass Effect’s Harry Potter, the person through whose eyes we interacted with the world and other people. We saw people as Shepard did, we interacted with them through the scope of her dialogue. This interaction made the character very real to us, much more so than Harry Potter in which we were essentially a fly on the wall. We had to sit back and think: What would my Shepard do? How would she react? It gave the gamers an opportunity to really get to know their characters and grow to love them. I kept a finger on my Shepard’s pulse throughout the game, always imagine what she would feel, what would frighten her, what would drive her into despair. And, I knew what gave her hope, what made her fight. If you asked a friend of mine Ris what I wanted from the Mass Effect ending she’ll tell you with a big grin on her face: Little Blue Children.

Because that’s what my Shepard wanted.

A simple plot device but really, what I truly wanted was a happy ending. My Shepard had been under so much pressure over the past few games that I wanted the woman, who had sacrificed everything for humanity and the galaxy to be allowed to sit back and watch her children grow up just as Harry had been allowed to see his. As a writer, I feel that you owe characters a little bit of what you took during your journey with them. Call it writer’s karma if you will.

The fact is that, despite the Extended Cut dlc, I still don’t feel as if that karma has been restored in Shepard’s favour. The original reason I disliked the ending is still there. The catalyst which was a serious leap in which the writers essentially tried to outsmart their audience and the feeling that I didn’t really win. That there was no reward. Oh yes, there are gaps left for imagination and fan fiction galore. But, there’s nothing from the original writers, that salute that said: Thank you Shepard for all your sacrifice, here is your reward for all the hell we put you through.

The thing with Bioware was that they were very good with creating expectations but I think that ultimately they lost track of what their fans really wanted. If you were in the BSN forums before ME3’s release you’d see people speculating about what would happen, not in the war against the reapers but to their love interests, their squad mates, their squad mates’ personal lives. They didn’t care for the guns and the fighting and even the explanation as to what the Reapers were. They wanted to know about their friends. Because, let’s face it. Mass Effect isn’t really about the combat. The gameplay’s just point and shoot. If you want combat but very little gameplay, play Rage. It’s a pretty game with awesome combat but very little engaging story. Mass Effect is about the story. It’s about Shepard and her crew and how they fared in this terrible, terrible war. Bioware resolved to correct this in the DLC and they did, to an extent, but core dynamics of where they went wrong is still there. And, the very fact that they put it in there to begin with before the extended cut makes me well and truly mad.

Now again, one can argue that this isn’t about what the fans wanted, that ultimately a game such as Mass Effect belongs to its creators and they can do with it what they please… But, then they shouldn’t have have put fans under the illusion that they had some hand in what was being decided.

I think that ultimately in my mind, Mass Effect 3’s ending remains a failure. The appearance of the catalyst, my Shepard’s inability to use any logical argument against it. The fact that – if you do refuse to do anything that the catalyst says, you get that ultimate failure ending. It felt a bit like a jab in the fan’s direction, as if Bioware was saying:

Fine, we gave you your happy ending. In pictures. That consumed about 1.8GB’s worth of data. But we’re also just informing you that if you do not play the game as we wanted you to play it, if you want to take a scrap if ingenuity… We will make sure you know that you’ve lost. This is our art after all.

This is not the kind of company and writing style that I would want to deal with again. If this is their idea of closing what I consider to be one of the best games ever created, then what does that hold for their future? And for mine? Did they truly learn from this or will we see a repeat of it in the future? With Harry Potter, the author put her stamp on the ending as she saw fit, but she did it in such a way that didn’t leave the fans demanding a retraction or fume at how she did it. Another mate of mine, Ralfast said that Bioware tried (and failed) to outsmart their fans in the end and I do believe that he had a point. It was almost like the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy where ultimately the writers completely lost track of the true focus of the story and tried to make it more than it was.

If I ever make myself play the game again, I will always choose my ending to destroy the reapers. I still cannot understand how Bioware can think that Synthesis is the ultimate choice. I can’t help but feel that they should all sit down and watch a little Star Trek Voyager and see Seven of Nine’s progression from being part of the Borg collective to being an individual. Say what you will about that specific series, Seven of Nine’s progression as a character was amazing and in the end she truly saw the worth of what it means to be unique.

Of course, that I am grateful that Bioware did this goes without saying. As I pointed out in a previous post, they didn’t have to. But, they showed enough interest in their fan’s opinions that they took this time and effort to make it. It’s just a shame that they didn’t really change it, despite providing more closure. For myself, I will always pretend that the Indoctrination Theory is the full truth and that ultimately my Shepard will get her opportunity not only to be reunited with her love interest, but to have her blue children and her reward of peace for sacrificing as much as she did to save the galaxy. Because that was what I wanted for her, because in the end – that’s all the game was about for me. To see my Shepard, not the galaxy, win. To see my friends live.

And my Shepard’s legacy continue, not in the hollow words of an unnamed child and his grandfather, but in the eyes of her children and her memory in the hearts of her friends.

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Who is Femshep?

If you’ve been following my tweets you’d have noticed that I’ve been tweeting quite often of Femshep, the character associated with the epic game series Mass Effect. You might’ve recognized this tag, or you found yourself thinking: What is this woman on about? Why is she so obsessed with this character?

Well. I’m glad you asked.

Femshep is the nickname for the female Commander Shepard, the main character/protagonist of the Role Playing Game franchinse from Bioware – Mass Effect. For those of you who are not that familiar with gaming, it basically means that she’s the woman who’s back you are constantly staring at. She’s one of two main characters of the series, the other one being Broshep or Maleshep, her male counterpart. When you start your game you can decide whether you want to play as a male or as a female and this choice effects not only who you romance but sometimes on the odd occasion who people respond to you. Broshep is voiced by actor Mark Meer and modelled after actor Mark Vanderloo. Femshep was voiced by Jennifer Hale and modelled after… Nobody. You see, up until now, Femshep had been the ignored and forgotten child of the franchise. Bioware once claimed that only about 18% of all gamers played as the female counterpart of the series, which probably meant that they felt justified not to spend that much time on her… But, I still think those percentages are wrong.

You see, Femshep is popular. I’ve seen it in fan fiction and I have monitored (and from my own experience I should add) how passionate the fans of our female heroine could get. After the release of Mass Effect 2, there became a slow but steady outcry to Bioware to use FemShep in marketing too. We wanted her to be acknowledged. We wanted Jennifer Hale to be acknowledged. You see, this woman, this voice actor is one of the best around. Not only has she now earned herself a space in the Guiness World Record books as the most prolific voice actress (ie – she’s been in more video games than your average Joe and Jack…) but she was also nominated for the best performance by a female voice actor by the Spike Video Game Awards in 2010. She’s, in a word, awesome. Which is why it’s been so disappointing to find that only Mark Meer had been used in marketing up until now. Now, please – I realize that there are people out there who feel about BroShep the way I feel about my FemShep. I’m not saying that he’s bad, I’m just saying he’s not right for me and for numerous other fans out there.

The thing is that you get involved with Mass Effect. You stand there with this woman and make difficult choices. You fight against impossible odds. You find yourself having to make a choice between who of your friends to save and who not to. You can destroy nations, save cities and face down evil overlords. And, all the while you’re doing it alongside this woman. You’re doing it with Jennifer Hale and it’s only fair that she gets acknowledged for the amazing work that she’s been putting into this series. She’s done just as many recordings as Mark Meer. Why not split the marketing 50/50? Heck – if they marketed her more from the beginning, that 18% might’ve been very different…

And, this year it will be. Although the marketing had not been split 50/50, Bioware listened to their fans and said that they would make a trailer in FemShep’s honour. We were going to get a trailer. And, we couldn’t wait. Today, the 10th of February, has been dubbed FemShep Friday (and if you’re on twitter, use the #femshepfriday hash tags!) in honour of the trailer’s release. Today. After all that waiting, after all that anticipation. After thinking that it was going to appear at the Spike VGA’s (and then disappointed) we were now going to finally catch a glimpse of our heroine in action. I am beyond excited. I feel like a dog that had just caught a car that he had been chasing. For months. Every time I go onto twitter and I see the fan’s support for both FemShep and Jennifer Hale I feel my heart swell with pride.

So, today is our day. Today, is the day where the fans of Mass Effect and FemShep can celebrate and thank Bioware for listening us and for supporting us. Today is Jennifer Hale’s day, to honour the amazing job that she had been doing, for the part that she played in making this game so wonderful.

Today is FemShep Friday, and I will show my support. And give my thanks.

And, watch that trailer when it comes out.