Mass Effect 2 is a fantastic example of how video games are a unique medium, capable of things that are simply impossible to pull off in books or movies, for instance.
There. I said it.
Why? Not because I'm a gushing fanboy, kneeling at the altar that is BioWare, but because of what the studio was able to craft. I don't know about you, but if I've seen a movie with enthralling characters, sometimes I'll think to myself “man, it'd be cool to know that person in real life.” I mean, who wouldn't want to hang out with Ferris Bueller, right?
Mass Effect 2 had quite a few memorable characters (exactly how many would depend on your personal preferences, of course), and the only reward I needed for talking to them was that I got to know them better with every conversation. But something funny occurred to me when I put down the controller, and went about my daily routine. No silly question along the lines of “how badass would it be to wax philosophical with Thane?” popped into my brain. I dwelled on this for a little bit, intrigued by my own lack of excitement (indifference, even!) towards this highly improbable scenario.
I had the answer within a few minutes: I already did know these characters, I had already spent time with them. BioWare, knowingly or otherwise, did something quite special with Shepard. You don't play him, as in so many other RPGs. It isn't supposed to be your physical form, running around, sexing up blue chicks. He (for brevity's sake, can we just assume that “he” can also mean “she” where applicable?) is, rather, an embodiment of you; he represents your feelings and ideals. He doesn't look like you, but perhaps he is your definition of good-looking. He doesn't say word-for-word what you would in a given situation, but his reactions reflect your own.
Regardless of whether Shepard is someone you would want to be, someone you would like to know, or simply a cool protagonist that you created because you felt like it, as long as you care about the story and are willing to immerse yourself in it, something special happens. You don't become him. He
. Meaning that when Shepard fights through hordes of Collectors, you're fighting through hordes of Collectors. When Shepard makes tough decisions, you make tough decisions. And when Shepard starts making friends, you start making friends.
No movie or book could ever have that effect on me. Sure, perhaps I got a sense of who the characters in the pages were. Perhaps I even understood the being displayed on celluloid before me. But never did I walk away with a feeling that I actually know that person. Mass Effect 2 doesn't have “digital actors.” Mass Effect 2 has people
Hell, perhaps I even feel some love toward Miranda. It's gross. It's a lonely gamer stereotype. It's geeky as fuck
And I thank BioWare for it. read