Monthly Archives: June 2012

Continuing the Conversation…

Something I find interesting about the recent explosion of feminist and misogynist posts and comments in gaming media these days is that it just seems to have happened in a very strange way. After all, videogames have not suddenly (or even gradually, really) gotten more sexist. If anything, they’ve become less sexist in the past five years or so (which is not to say that they aren’t sexist, just that we’re seeing many more games with realistic women than we used to).

However, whether because of trends in the blogosphere, Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency, or some other conjunction of planetary convergences, feminism in the gaming community is The Thing right now.

What I want to bring attention to in this post, however, is not what is happening in the games themselves, but what is happening between members of the gaming community. And it’s not pretty.

Game Developer‘s Brandon Sheffield wrote a fairly comprehensive piece entitled “Video Games and Male Gaze: Are we Men or Boys?” on Gamasutra, which, interestingly, is an “opinion” piece rather than a straight-up article (there are implications to the relegation of commentary on misogyny there that I don’t really need to go into, as you’re all intelligent readers, although, to be fair, it may simply be because he isn’t employed by Gamasutra).

I’ve excerpted the portion I want to address specifically:

Then why do you wear makeup, slut?

The anger that is directed toward women who speak their mind about gender issues in the game industry is astounding. A few weeks ago I wrote an article about and subsequent interview with the creator of a card game called Tentacle Bento. This is a game where you play as a tentacle monster, and grab as many girls as possible for your own “nefarious purposes.” I found the game extremely problematic, and that it trivialized the idea of rape from a cutesy male perspective. You can read those links for my full thoughts, but suffice it to say that others vehemently disagreed with me.
The amount of ire I got, which was a lot, was nothing compared to the anger directed against female friends of mine who discussed the article. One friend turned off her Twitter for a few days after too many threats of “well maybe you should be raped.” Keep in mind, I was the one who started the discussion, and these ladies who merely took up the banner bore the brunt of the assault.
More recently, female blogger Anita Sarkeesian started a Kickstarter for a web series investigating female tropes in video games. The response she received was nothing short of disgusting. There was support, to be sure, but there was also a lot of this. Puerile, juvenile responses from men getting upset about a perceived threat to their world. Comments such as “Why do you put on makeup, if everything is sexism? Why don’t you shave your head bald, stop wearing makeup and stop wearing huge slut earrings. You are a fucking hypocrite slut.”
Now, I don’t know what Sarkeesian plans for her web series, or whether she’s even got the background to do it properly. I hope she does, because this subject deserves proper discussion. But I certainly know she doesn’t deserve this sort of ignorant treatment.
Where does this knee-jerk anger come from? There is no anger quite like that of the privileged. Here we see it in the raw. In this instance; “We heterosexual males like boobs in our games, and we’ll be damned if you’re going to take them away.” Because they feel threatened, they lash out without thinking about it, like a dog that thinks you want to take its bone away. The behavior seems nonsensical, but it’s predictable.
I see it everywhere the gender status quo is challenged. Kotaku Australia’s Katie Williams’ experience at E3, in which a male PR person decided for himself that she probably couldn’t play PC games, is another recent example. The assumptions people make about women in our industry are further examples of Male Gaze, in an industry that is only 10% female. Is it any wonder that the number is so low, with the way we depict women in games? With the way we treat women, professional and hired, at trade shows? With the fact we clearly pay them less than their male counterparts, as the Game Developer magazine salary survey shows?
Worse than the initial presumption that she wasn’t able to play games were the reactions to her complaint. A thread began in Neogaf, ever a bastion of progressive thought, in which people posted images of her they’d found online, discussing whether (and how) they would have sex with her. This is a rather obvious negative example of Male Gaze. Or take the situation of a female player in Capcom’s reality show Cross Assault, in which her breasts and thighs were filmed, along with commentary from the competitor who was manning the camera. She was essentially forced to quit the show to stop being harrassed.
Believe it or not, this sort of behavior happens constantly, albeit on a more subtle level, at industry events. I introduced Mariel Cartwright, lead animator of Skullgirls, to a male developer at a party at the last GDC, saying she worked on the game. He immediately responded, “oh cool, you mean like in PR?” instantly presuming she couldn’t have possibly done any “real” work on the product. Indie game dev Mare Sheppard (N+) frequently has things she’s said about code in games attributed to her male partner Raigan Burns instead, or is ignored in a technical conversation. Erin Robinson (Puzzle Bots, Gravity Ghost) told me when it comes time to meet people at parties, she’s the only one who awkwardly doesn’t get a handshake. Several other women noted that this had happened to them as well.
Everyone looks at opposing genders differently, but above all, we need to imbue our professional interactions with feelings of respect, and not make value judgments just because someone is female and understands how to dress themselves.
Nobody does this to men in the industry. Nobody says Cliff Bleszinski is wearing such a tight shirt today, and oooh I’d love to rub my hands all over him. At least not to the point where he’s uncomfortable at tradeshows. Likewise nobody sexualizes male characters. Some may argue that Kratos represents an unrealistic image of a male, but there aren’t massive forum threads dedicated to whether and how people would like to have sex with him. Kratos, Marcus Fenix, and their ilk, are the object of power fantasies, not sexual fantasies. There is a huge difference there. You want to be as cool and powerful as Kratos. Again, nobody wants to be Lara Croft all the time.

I’ve commented before on the way in which male gamers sometimes treat female gamers (to say nothing about LGBT gamers, who may have it even worse), and commented, too, that sometimes the gaming community surprises me with its acceptance and ability to see past my two X chromosomes. And then the Sarkeesian fiasco happened (not to blame her, but it’s a convenient way to refer to the backlash), and I rather rapidly lost what faith I was coming to develop in my fellow gamers of the male persuasion.

I’m reminded of a group of people at the 2011 PAXEast, [Team_Respect], who were attempting to raise awareness of abuse that was happening within online gaming communities (although they appear to have gone defunct not long after that). There is also Girl Gamer, an online community for female gamers (which has a bit too much pink for my taste). However, the presence of these organizations simply speaks to the fact that the gaming community in general (not in specific) has an atmosphere that tolerates, if not encourages, active misogynistic and homophobic behaviors.

Sheffield is right, very few people want to be Lara Croft, and not because the idea of exploring archeological ruins and kicking ass isn’t awesome.

Edit: A followup link to a Kotaku article that makes me want to smack something: Tomb Raider Creators Say ‘Rape’ is Not a Word in Their Vocabulary.” I have no words.

Bad Narrative

A few weeks ago, I posted about my reaction to the “bad storytelling” of the Mass Effect 3 ending. This week, I’m posting about how some games – notably Diablo III – fail in storytelling altogether. The problem with ME3 was that they set the bar so high and then dropped the ending ball – the problem with D3 is that its ball is made out of twine that has been chewed on by a large and slobbery dog and then dropped in a mud puddle. It has no bounce, no color, no meat. It’s just… ugly. (The storytelling – not the entirety of the game itself, nor even all of the individual parts of the story.)

Tom Bissell (in Extra Lives) suggests that this is a problem that ranges across games because of the comparative newness of the genre.

If I were reading a book or watching a film that, every ten minutes, had me gulping a gallon of anesthetic Pepto, i would stop reading or watching. Games, for some reason, do not have this problem. Or rather, their problem is not having this problem. I routinely tolerate in games crudities I would never tolerate in any other form of art or entertainment. For a long time my rationalization was that, provided a game was fun to play, certain failures could be overlooked. I came to accept that games were generally incompetent with almost every aspect of what I would call traditional narrative. In the last few years, however, a dilemma has become obvious. Games have grown immensely sophisticated in any number of ways while at the same time remaining stubbornly attached to aspects of traditional narrative for which they have shown little feeling. Too many games insist on telling stories in a manner in which some facility with plot and character is fundamental to – and often even determinative of – successful storytelling.

D3 may have lovely mechanics, pretty graphics, and engaging gameplay, but I just keep getting stuck on the Pepto-inducing lack of plot, characterization, and effort in narrative and dialog. My character – the avatar I’m supposed to like – is the world’s biggest and most arrogant twit (I call him something else in a more informal setting). He’s the type of person you want to punch in the face just to knock his ego down a few pegs. And the other character types are not much better. The plot is banal, predictable, and I’m pretty sure I played it in Warcraft III and have read it twenty times over in banal, predictable fantasy novels that I didn’t care for much, either.

My point here is that games have come far enough, as Bissell says, that they now need to show narrative and characterization a little love, especially if they have good gameplay. Technology is no longer an excuse for shoddy gameplay, and gameplay is no longer an excuse for shoddy storytelling.

If videogames want to be taken seriously as an art form, then they need to take themselves seriously in all their aspects: art, mechanics, programming, animation, design, and story. In literature, proper grammar does not excuse bad storytelling any more than good story does not excuse heinous grammar. Art is about the whole package, especially art that wants to participate in the formation of its genre or in the evolution of its social ideologies… and I think that games have now reached a point where they are trying to make a point, just as film, television, drama, and literature did before them. But that means that there are no more excuses.

Following Up… on Trolls

This particular post was brought to my attention by a colleague, although I was aware of the issue in more general terms.

So the Feminist Frequency Kickstarter project has apparently garnered an… interesting response. And by “interesting,” I mean “horrific example of human cruelty and ignorance.”

One of the many things that bothers me the most about the whole thing, I think, is that there might possibly be some validity to some of the claims being made, if they weren’t so heavily laden with misogynist invectives. For instance, “Why do you need so much money to do this?” is a legitimate question (for which I’m sure Anita would have an answer, were the question worded in a polite way). Alternately, the point that men are also being objectified by games is valid… although I would point out that male objectification tends to run along slightly more physically possible lines than female objectification (usually). However, there can be no actual mature discussion of these points when they’re being made by trolls (in both the pejorative hairy monster sense and the internet flame-war sense).

The thing about trolls is that they’re there to make people angry, but also to reduce the credence of a topic by throwing the largest handfuls of feces at the issue, simian-style. Cover it with enough flung-poo, and no one will want to touch it, no matter how valid of an issue it was to begin with. Trolls are largely anonymous creatures who crawl their way out from under bridges to make people’s lives miserable by exacting a toll on dignity and patience. Troll someone enough, and people will give up on them. Maybe they’ll give up. An effective strategy, to overwhelm an enemy with endless waves of near-mindless mooks. It worked well in the middle ages, to which we apparently occasionally devolve, even in the twenty-first century.

Here’s the thing, folks. The gaming community no longer lives under bridges, or even predominantly in their mothers’ basements. The gaming community is no longer entirely made up of 18-25 SWMs. Gamers have wives, husbands, kids, are from multiple ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds, are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and transsexual. Games that cater to those other demographics are not “pandering” and they’re not being “politically correct.” They’re being “normal.” Just like books, movies, and all other popular media.

Finally, I want to address one particular trollish comment that made me want to smack something (preferably the troll) upside the head. This troll suggested that games were for fun and didn’t have anything to do with politics or society, and therefore sexism in games didn’t matter.

Dear Troll,

Games have everything to do with politics and society. Games are microcosms of politics and society, and the images and attitudes we see pervading our games are those we perpetuate in our political and social realms. Games mimic our experiences of war (all the way back to Go and Chess), conquest, conflict, and exploration, and they are specific to the cultures that gave them birth, even when their mechanics are universal.

Games tell us about ourselves as a culture, and our gameplay tells us about our social and political mores. Is nuclear war acceptable? Who are our enemies (Nazis? Russians? Zombies?)? Who are our allies? Do we value peace over war? Life over liberty? When is it unacceptable to kill? What are the values we would kill to defend? What are the values we would die to defend?

Take any game, and it has a political, social, or ethical message. Maybe all three. Maybe it’s hard to find. Maybe it’s not. Here’s my list of political/social games: Gears of War, Fallout, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Dragon Age, Fable, Braid, Limbo, Halo, Portal, Half Life, Batman, Skyrim, Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo, Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil, Shadows of the Colossus, God of War… I think you get the idea. If I’ve played it, I can tell you it’s trying to tell you something, teach you something, make you look at your society or your country and think about what is going on. Even Tomb Raider raises questions about archeological and cultural ethics behind the ample bosom.

So enjoy your game. But don’t tell me it has nothing to do with the world you live in.

Boy Problems… a Follow-Up

So Wednesday’s post on “Girl Problems” is relevant to a link recently posted by a friend that strikes me as one of the most fundamental problems not only with gaming, but with a particular majority demographic that has never been but somehow likes to think of itself as “oppressed”: the straight white male (SWM).

Although I can understand how the SWM might take the recent sociopolitical trend toward inclusivity and equality as a marginalization of their demographic simply because it has increased emphasis on other demographics, I fail to see how a group that is almost universally privileged in the Western world is being “discriminated against” in any way. Yes, reverse racism and sexism do happen, and they should be tolerated as little as any other form of bias or bigotry, but this particular complaint on the Bioware forum (although articulate) is the sort that drives me batty.

The poster takes issue with the Friendship/Rivalry and Romance mechanics in Bioware’s Dragon Age II, stating that the game is not designed for the “straight white male gamer,” but for the fringe audiences of the “gay” and “female” crowds (and also asserts that female gamers play The Sims rather than DAII, a point which I will say is both blatantly false and personally offensive… no offense to people who play The Sims).

First of all, the idea that women are a fringe demographic is becoming increasingly ridiculous as the female gamer crowd expands. Second, simply because a homosexual romance is an option in DAII does not oblige the player to engage in one – there are plenty of opportunities for a heterosexual romance, and more than one NPC (non-player-character) will refuse a same-sex relationship option. This strikes me as reminiscent of the argument that legalizing gay marriage will somehow corrupt heterosexual marriages… just because you can does not mean that you have to. If you wish to play through DAII as an SWM character, it is well within your purview to do so. If you don’t, well, you can do that, too.

But it also assumes that people play their avatars the way they are in real life. My husband – who is a straight, white, male gamer – plays many games as a female avatar. I play most of mine as a male, often as non-human when that is an option (and I can assure you that I am, in fact, both female and human). How people choose to play does not necessarily reflect their personal demographic whatsoever, and the developer should not feel under an obligation to always create an avatar and play-options that reflect only their primary demographic, something Bioware not only acknowledges in their response to the post, but does in their games (quite well).

The demand that only the majority demographic be taken into consideration in the production of any product is ridiculous; while the majority of gamers may be SWMs, the industry may wish to expand its target audience. It may realize that while the single largest demographic is SWMs, perhaps the other demographics make up a larger portion of the gaming community than the poster is aware. It may also recognize that in a global community of gamers, SWMs are actually a minority – and perhaps they are trying, in fact, to engage in cultural leadership by forcing SWMs like the poster to not only witness the expansion of their demography to include people of other genders, ethnicities, and persuasions, but to perhaps even realize that he – as an SWM – has an obligation to accept that those other genders, ethnicities, and persuasions are just as valid as his own.

Girl Problems

So in the past few weeks, my attention has been called to a couple of different things attempting to deal with and articulate concerns about the ways in which women are being objectified, abused, and ignored in the gaming industry and by the gaming community.

First, this Gamer’s Notebook over at Gamasutra on Triple-A games for women. On the one hand, I have an enormous amount of appreciation for the fact that 1) Brandii Grace is going to attempt to countermand the plethora of largely sexist major titles, and 2) that Gamasutra did an article on it, the attitude evinced by both left me feeling… unsatisfied. Certainly, Ernest Adams (the author) was attempting to convince an audience who would be largely dismissive of Grace’s project by emulating their attitude of derision (although not to a degree of rudeness, another thing for which I’m happy to give him credit), but the fact that he felt obligated to do so is an indicator that the gaming community as a whole still thinks of “girl games” as needing to be frilly, pink, and largely without challenge (to say nothing of shooting).

My other major complaint is that there even needs to be a distinction between gamers in terms of their gender, to say nothing about the preferences stereotypically associated therewith. Not all women – and Grace does say this – want to escape from the genres offered by current triple-a titles. Some women like shooting things. Some triple-as offer more in the way of plot and character development (my current annoyance at Bioware aside, they generally do this very well), and some men like them as much as some women. In short, the complaint should not be that triple-a games aren’t catering to women, but that triple-a games aren’t catering to gamers who like plot and characterization over action and attractive avatars (because, let’s face it, the male avatars aren’t all realistic, either, even though they are generally more realistic than the female ones). It’s a question of genre, not gender.

Then, this Kickstarter Project: Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. I like what Feminist Frequency is up to here, although I don’t really understand why it needs to be done via a video series instead of through another medium (like written gaming criticism, which is where it would be for film criticism or literary criticism, although I can see the different value of videos in certain contexts). I do understand that if one is going to produce a video series, it will be much better with funding than if done with one’s laptop camera, so I think the project is valid and worth financial support.

But it comes back to a problem I have with feminist criticism of all genres. Yes, there are a lot of tropes that have become negative (or negatively-impactful) stereotypes. Yes, there are many images in videogames and other popular media that are producing (possibly) unrealistic images of women in terms of physique and behavior. But what does pointing it out really do at this juncture? Grace is trying to do something about it, which I applaud, even though I have my issues with it. Not having seen the videos (since they haven’t been made yet), I can’t say whether Anita Sarkeesian will be more proactive than most, but I liked that she proposes pointing out the good and the bad, not just getting stuck on the “worst offenders,” as she says. I’m interested to see what she wants to do with it – what she suggests that players can do to counterbalance the negatives, as well as what developers might do instead.

Because that’s really the question in leadership terms – what can we do? Raising awareness is being done, has been done, but being aware is never enough – it’s only a first step. If you’re a developer – like Grace – you can try to make your own game that doesn’t objectify women and that caters to their perceived desires. But what if you aren’t? What can a player do in order to make a statement about the types of games she (or he) wants to play and what characters she (or he) wants to see in them? Sure, we can not buy a game if something about it offends us, but what if we want to play it because it’s a good game, we just don’t like how it portrays women, or men, or elves, or aliens, or whatever? How do you support good game mechanics and gameplay while still making a statement that you don’t like what you’re seeing in other terms?

I guess you make a video series or write a blog post. But is that enough?

Settling Catan

Because it was requested… a post on leadership and Settlers of Catan.

My history with this game goes all the way back to high school, and I have distinct memories of it from then, from college (when one associate of mine set a microwave on fire), and then from graduate school, when an online version made cross-state play a possibility. Last week, I watched an episode of Big Bang Theory that included play from Settlers, primarily focusing on the “I have sheep, I need wood” joke that is ubiquitous to all players of the game.

Here’s how the game works. The board is randomized, built of octagonal tiles of resources (sheep, wood, ore, brick, wheat) with numbers corresponding to two D6s. Players place settlements and build roads and cities along the borders of these tiles. Players roll the D6s in order to determine which resources are added to their pool (players collect resources for tiles touching their settlements/cities when the number on that tile is rolled). Players compete for “longest road,” “largest army,” and so on, using resources to purchase military units, road segments, settlements, cities, and victory points (each road, settlement, etc. is also worth a number of victory points).

The game encourages a certain level of cooperative play. Trading is encouraged. Players have to share resource space, so they are often “rooting” for the same numbers on the dice. A certain level of cooperation is also needed to keep the person in the lead from pulling too far ahead and achieving too many victory points too fast.

The game also, naturally, encourages competitive – sometimes cut-throat – play. There is a single desert tile with a Robber (which can be placed on a resource tile to stop collection of that resource), and the Robber can be moved to block collection off a specific tile that has a high incidence of occurrence, or even to “screw” a particular player out of resource collection. The Robber is also sometimes used to give one player a monopoly over a certain resource. Players might “interrupt” each others’ roads, making it harder to achieve “longest road.”

So what can we say about leadership and Settlers of Catan? Like Junta, Settlers can be a game of manipulation – convincing others who are your “enemies” to give you what you want by convincing them that it is also in their best interest (whether it really is or not). This particular mechanic is not exclusive by any means to only these games. It happens in Monopoly, Risk, poker, and innumerable other games. But it also happens in leadership contexts: leaders have to convince other leaders (in international politics, say) or followers to act in a way (that at least seems to be) in their own best interest while also being in the best interest of the leader.

Settlers is also about making good, sustainable choices. Some numbers are rolled more often than others when you have two D6s (6 and 8). Some resources are more valuable early in the game, some more valuable in the late game – it takes different resources to start a settlement than it does to expand it into a city. Some things cost more than others to build, but are worth more in the long run. The players have to make good initial choices to have access to the right resources in the right amounts.

But it is almost never the case that players are able to rely only on themselves. They have to be able to get a “better deal” out of another player than they would at the “bank” in order to play sustainably. They want to be able to negotiate mutually beneficial deals – “I need wood, you need ore, let’s trade.”

But they also don’t want to “help” the other player to win: they want to keep their own rate of growth just a little bit higher than that of the other players, but they also don’t want to appear that way. A player who is recognized as being in the lead will be Robbered, not-traded-with, and generally poorly treated by the others, at least until they are no longer perceived to be in the lead. But they are also often the player who has the most resources and is willing to trade at the best rates, so the other players have to make a choice: 1) Do I keep this person from winning, even at the cost of my own chances of victory? or 2) Do I risk this person winning so that I can have a better chance of winning myself?

Such choices are perhaps more simplified in gameplay than in the real world, but when we negotiate trade deals, domestically or internationally, we’re looking at similar trade-offs. At what point does mutual cooperation cease to be beneficial enough to us because it is too unbalanced in favor of the other side? When we look at current issues of the 99%, we see something addressed by game theory that is also at work in Settlers.

Player A and Player B have the option of sharing a pile of money. We would think that the equilibrium point for sharing would be 50/50. But if Player A is wealthy and Player B is poor, Player B will be willing to take only 30% of the sum if Player A says “I refuse to take any less than 70%.” Why? Because 30% is proportionally a much greater amount to Player B than 0%, while Player A doesn’t really care either way. Player B therefore is willing to accept a much lower share because of the proportional gains, rather than an objective sum. The same thing happens in Settlers. The player in the lead is in control – they want 4 sheep for 2 wheat. If they have a lot of resources, they don’t really need the wheat, but a player with few resources besides sheep is going to be much more willing to give up the sheep for 2 wheat that are proportionally far more valuable to them than the sheep.

That’s why we see the disparity in wealth increase, rather than decrease. Because people with money have the ability to dictate the terms to those without, since any gain for those without is worth accepting, even though those who already have don’t really need any more.

That ME3 Post

This is that post about Mass Effect 3. The one that talks about the ending. If you haven’t played and don’t want the ending spoiled, stop reading now.

I have two basic reactions to the ending of ME3. The first is the basic response I have to any fan who doesn’t like the way something ends, be it book, game, movie, or television show: it isn’t yours. The developer and designers made a decision. You might not like it, but it’s their decision to make. You have the right to not like it, but you do not have the right to demand that they change it. It is a work of art, visually and narratively, and it does not belong to you. You may love it, hate it, have loyalty to it, pay for it, but you do not get to dictate what it shall or shall not be.

My second response was that the ending was awful. At the end of all the fighting, of three games’-worth of narrative and character development, the fact that that was all they managed to come up with was profoundly disappointing. Tom Bissell remarked in Extra Lives that bad storytelling and bad gameplay create a disjuncture between the audience and the product:

Anyone who plays video games knows that well-designed gameplay is a craft as surely as storytelling is a craft. When gameplay fails, we know it because it does not, somehow, feel right. Failed storytelling is more abject. You feel lots of things – just not anything the storyteller wants you to feel.

That is my reaction to ME3‘s ending. It made me feel something all right, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t what they wanted me to feel. The gameplay was not the issue. The fact that Shepard had to die was not really the issue, either (although that made me sad, it did not make the ending bad). The issue, was that the ending was hackneyed – especially the “synthesis” ending.

There were three options: 1. destroy all synthetic life; 2. control the Reapers (somehow) and send them away; 3. “synthesize” synthetic and organic life. 1. Fine. This is the Renegade ending that destroys EDI, the Geth, and the Reapers. It also kills Shepard. I would never choose this ending myself, but it doesn’t seem terribly out of sorts with the narrative as a whole. 2. This one doesn’t make that much sense to me and felt very much like it needed more of an explanation of how it worked, since the whole game spent its time explaining how “controlling the Reapers” was both impossible and evil (since the Illusive Man wanted to do it). This also kills Shepard, but it sends away the Reapers and everybody else gets to live. 3. This ending was about as asinine as endings come. It made no logical, biological, or physical sense. *Poof* and all organic and synthetic life forms are splorched together (there is no other word for it) and all made out of the same weird mix so that people and leaves have circuits on their skin… No sense. At all. And yes, Shepard also dies because his/her DNA was somehow required for this “miracle.” (Some people get a tiny cut-scene that shows an armored torso sucking in a breath out of some wreckage that suggests Shepard does, in fact survive, but only if you chose to destroy the Reapers.) It felt rushed, thrown together at the last minute, and just WRONG, given the amount of care that has gone into every other aspect of the game’s narrative from ME1 onwards.

Many people objected to Shepard’s necessary death. I wasn’t happy about it, but that isn’t what made the ending wrong. The game foreshadows (with a large and spiky club) the fact that Shepard is going to die. There’s just no question that they’re trying to prepare the audience for the loss of their avatar. There’s also no question that an audience who has spent as many hours with their avatar as ME fans have spent with Shepard is not going to be happy about its death. They want an out. A way to save Shepard (even if only with one option) and have the happy ending they have been fighting for all through the trilogy.

I wanted that, too, but narratively, I understand why the team might want Shepard to die. They wanted us as players to recognize the need for sacrifice. The universality of loss and grief. The fact that people die, and they die when their lives are cut off by unnecessary violence. They want the player to see that sometimes there is no way out. And that when faced with that situation (even if it isn’t a matter of life or death), we have to just deal. I get it.

What I do not get is the fact that it wasn’t given justice. The way the endings were handled/scripted left the player feeling not saddened by the inevitable, not bittersweet at the victory with so high a cost, but annoyed and angry that they were cheated, not of their avatar’s life, per se, but of an ending that acknowledged that loss. There was no sense of grief, no sense of triumph, no inevitable doom or promise that galactic civilization would manage to soldier on despite the loss of the Relays. There was just a sense of “What the hell was that?” In essence, it was just bad storytelling.