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Don’t Fear the Reaper

June 28, 2012

I was pretty gay when I played Mass Effect 3.

Because the male voice actor is terrible, I elected to play a female Galaxy-Saving, Alien-Vanquishing, Reporter-Punching Shepard way back in the first Mass Effect. I’ve stuck with her since, and over the last five years she and I have wound up in the strong, comforting arms of a man. Well, a male – Garrus Vakarian.

Telling someone you have a spouse in a video game is equivalent to putting on clown makeup and licking their hair. Much like my collection of formaldehyde-preserved body parts, it makes most people uncomfortable when discussed. You don’t get this with other media – if you like romance in video games, it’s implied that you squat over the faces of sleeping teens. If you like romance in movies, you’re normal, or Katherine Heigl. I understand this divide. Video games are unique in that they put you in the position of the character. You aren’t watching Spider-Man, you are Spider-Man. And so when my Commander Shepard finds love with Garrus, I’m not just watching. It’s me in a passionate embrace with that bony, bird-faced Dirty Harry.

I understand if you now want to keep me away from your children at all costs. But I think that this says something really good about video games as a medium.

Understand that as me, I have no chemical investment in this relationship. Garrus is a PTSD-suffering alien with a face like an armoured eagle, a voice like Christian Bale’s Batman speaking through shoddy autotune, and a body like a suit of armour, because he never takes off his armour. There are no sex scenes, at least not for this couple. The culmination of our relationship was in drab conversation. Heck, I have little interest in romance. I mean, I tolerate it when done well – TV gets it right more often than movies – but like most Y-chromosomes, I’ll only watch romcoms at gunpoint.

And yet.

And yet, in a pretty gay way, I really did care about Garrus. Our ‘courting’ (by which I mean flirtatious one-liners in the middle of a laser gunfight) was touching, in a totally non-serial-killer way. He was a believable, complex character, with a lot of good qualities. So many good qualities that I, as a male human, was able to appreciate him as a male space monstrosity.

This is the reason Mass Effect lives in my heart (not a serial killer). Because, more so than most novels, I truly cared about the characters. Garrus, Liara, Tali, Mordin, Joker, Wrex, EDI, Anderson… even Jack. I could list these guys all day. Just writing their names makes everything turn sepia and gives me an emotional flashback set to something Adelle (or in Grunt’s case, Nordic death metal). I really did, and still do, give a shit.

Mass Effect 3 was some perverse Tale of Two Cities. The storytelling was both some of the best and the worst I’ve ever seen in a game. It was in the little character moments that it shone – seeing how much Jack has changed for the better, Mordin’s quips, your crew getting drunk before the big fight. And it was in other moments that it fell – pointless, commercialized character redesigns. Plot holes that serve no purpose other than to squeeze in another explosion. The Rachni-fucking endings.

This isn’t a review. I’m not sure I could write one – the game’s quality is undeniable, and for fans of the series, it’s simply essential to get any degree of closure. But EA, big business and corporate greed (I’m such a dirty lefty) have fucked it up in an integral way, in the way that hurts the most to fans like us, fans who really invest in these electronic friendships and romances and the contents of future technology owner’s manuals.

I just want to put out my two cents’ worth. Mass Effect 3 is a great shooter, with simultaneously wonderful and abysmal storytelling, and the ending fucks its fans even more than when the Aliens vs Predator Collector’s Edition shipped with a barbed dildo. But more than that, it’s an important symbol of the advantage of interactive media, of making the audience into the protagonist. It made fear for the mental health of my purple-clad, impossibly-accented mechanic as she drowned her sorrows. It made me truly happy for a guy with brittle bone disease when he got lucky with the spaceship. It made me fucking cry when my orange-faced, hyperactive scientist went out with a bang.

The series was and is great because of emotional moments like that. If Bioware and EA had remembered that, maybe ME3 would have been Game of the Year rather than Emotional Betrayal of My Life (exaggeration).

As it is, I hope that Garrus can move on from me. I just want him to be happy…

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