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I really didn’t have much to say about Mass Effect 3′s ending other than it sucked big time. In terms of bad endings I would put it up there with Haute Tension and Signs in terms of nonsensical horseshit that destroyed what came before it. Haute Tension in particular seems to be an apt comparison. The majority of Haute Tension is a brilliant, white knuckle horror film. While I sat in the theater watching it, I felt that this film was going to revitalize the sagging horror genre during the mid-2000′s. It was a four star classic and was on its way to get on my short list for greatest horror films ever made. That was until the ending.
To call Haute Tension’s ending nonsensical would be a understatement. The filmmakers, for whatever reason decided that the ending needed a twist. The twist made the preceding events impossible and shot holes throughout the whole film. The last bite of a story should never leave a bitter taste in the viewer’s mouth. I’m not saying that stories should have a bad or downer ending, but can we reasonably demand that they at least be logical? Hamlet is one of my favorite works of all time and most of the major players are dead in the final moments of the play. But it is the logical conclusion based on the events that preceded it. The characters have trapped themselves in a web of violence and corruption, and the brutal logic of how events unfold is what makes Hamlet such a satisfying conclusion. One man stands at the end of Hamlet, and his words somehow encapsulate the entire four hour production into a final thought of regret. Mass Effect 3 does no such thing.
We look back at Hamlet as a masterpiece, a great artistic achievement. But in truth, Hamlet was a commercial work. All of Shakespeare’s plays were. He made his living as a playwright and an actor. The success of his plays determined how well he could eat and live. He was dependent on the audience returning to the Globe for more of his plays. Their entertainment directly determining his own living situation. If an audience rebelled and scorned an ending or play they did not like, you could be sure Shakespeare learned from those mistakes.
Take for an example one of the greatest film directors that had ever lived, Alfred Hitchcock and his 1936 film Sabotage. Hitchcock considered the film one of the greatest mistakes of his career. Hitchcock later said that if you work up an audience’s nerves to a certain degree that the bomb should never go off, or the audience will turn on the film and you. White knuckle suspense will suddenly turn to bitter resentment. In Sabotage the bomb went off. It was a mistake that Hitchcock never made again as he entered the prime of his career, the 1940′s and 50′s. In 1937, he may have wished he could go back and fix that mistake, but it was too late at that point. So he used that lesson to make him a better filmmaker, going to create the masterpieces of his career. None of which were artistic endeavors, all were commercial films made for general consumption.
The Lord of the Rings is an artistic endeavor. J.R.R. Tolkien had no intention to commercial success. His livelihood did not depend on the success or failure of the Lord of the Rings. He was already well employed as a professor of linguistics when he wrote the book. His intention was purely artistic, even if the publisher’s was commercial. So if the publisher demanded a new ending so that it will sell better, Tolkien could very well make an argument for artistic integrity. Becoming a best seller was not his intention, developing an alternate mythology for England was. Tolkien would have pulled the book from publication if he thought the demands of change were too much.
Mass Effect 3 is a commercial work. Bioware’s success is dependent on the entertainment of its audience. Bioware has little right to claim artistic vision or integrity, especially since video game development is such a collective effort. Everyone has different artistic visions, and sometimes those visions have to be compromised for the betterment of the entire project.
I thought the ending of Mass Effect 3 was nonsensical garbage, but I was not among those who called for a new one. I would have preferred that Bioware would just come out and say, “we understand your disappointment. We will look into the issues brought up by our dedicated fans and learn from the mistakes and this entire ordeal, so that they will not be repeated in our future games.”
But that’s not what happened. Bioware chose to hide behind “artistic vision” because they think so little of the consumers who dropped sixty dollars on their commercial work. Mass Effect 3 was an entertainment designed and intended for commercial profit. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Many masterpieces have been created for similar purposes through out history. Michelangelo hated painting, sculpting was his true artistic passion. But painting brought him money. He painted the Sistine Chapel because the church paid him incredibly well to do it. If the pope had demanded that God should be wearing a hat, Michelangelo would have painted a hat on God. He painted the Sistine Chapel to finance his true artistic vision, sculpting and created an awe-inspiring masterpiece while doing so.
What inspires my ire most from of all this is not the ending itself. It was a garbage ending thrown onto a great game. So what, I’ll get over it. What really bothers me is the pompous condescension from the media journalists and Bioware itself. Fan backlash isn’t new. DC fans hated Jason Todd as Robin so much, that they literally would rather see him beaten to death with a crowbar than suffer through another comic with him in it. So DC gave the fans a new Robin as far from the Jason Todd character as they could. Unsurprisingly, Tim Drake became one of the most beloved characters in both the DCU and Batman family. Hitchcock took the mild negative reaction to Sabotage to heart and used it to make stronger, more fulfilling films.
What is so maddening is that Bioware has learned nothing from this whole ordeal. They have instead chosen to stick their head up their own ass and call it “artistic integrity.” Bioware is developing an alarming habit of claiming to care about the concerns of their customers while at the same time, brushing them off completely. Bioware has spent years creating a reputation for quality in video gaming. Now they are completely happy with whoring that reputation and destroying it forever to sell a few bits of DLC. For a producer of quality commercial entertainment, that just doesn’t make much business sense in the long view.