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Backseat Gaming and Getting Too Attached


It's been over a year since I last played Mass Effect 2, but I remember the experience clearly. I imported my Shepard from the first game, a classy lady named Meghan. She was an angel that didn't take shit from anyone; saving everyone she could, while punishing jerks with satisfying punches to the face. Recently I watched my flatmate, Pat, play through the game for the first time, and his style of play was consistently divergent from my own. My experience of taking the backseat was a difficult one, full of careful restraint. He wasn't just playing the game differently, he was taking liberties with my beloved characters.

Let's take a step back for moment. Pat has been one of the best friends that I've made in years, and the fact that we've lived together several times speaks to that. He doesn't play games nearly as often as I do, and I often enjoy watching his reactions as he charts unfamiliar territory. More importantly, I try my best to avoid remarking on his every action and thus ruining his fun. As I learned while watching him play ME2, this is sometimes easier said than done.

My brief descent into relative madness began innocuously enough; Pat simply had a different style of play and I caught myself thinking, Silly Pat, you should take cover or you're going to get picked apart. You should have played a Vanguard if you wanted to fight like a commando. Then I remembered, Oh right, I'm the one who convinced him to play a flexible Sentinel in the first place. Already, I was catching myself backseat gaming. I kept this in mind to strengthen my resolve. It soon became clear, though, that being critical of Pat's strategy was only the beginning of my neuroses.

Pat progressed more and more, and I enjoyed watching him carve out his own Shepard. Since he was playing the PS3 version, he got the chance to play through several DLC missions that I never purchased on 360. Now we were both charting new territory and our reactions were shared. Eventually, he ran out of DLC missions and returned to the main quest. It didn't take long for him to reach the 'loyalty' missions, during which a personal errand was run for each of the party members to develop a stronger bond. Many of these quests involved a search for catharsis through revenge or otherwise violent retribution. Now, since the Mass Effect series is one of many that uses an unfortunately binary choice system, the scope of Pat's options was limited from the beginning. He could convince the party member that revenge is wrong and won't fix anything, or he could be a dick and encourage it.

The above video is silly, for sure, but it illustrates the point I'm trying to make. There were, more or less, two very different ways that Pat could approach these situations and he had to pick one. Then something happened that sent shockwaves of confusion and disappointment through me. He didn't make the same decisions I made. Suddenly, these weren't the characters that I had remembered. These were self-indulgent monsters with no concept of forgiveness. Wait, wait... holy crap, I am getting worked up over a bunch of fictional characters set in a game where the main game mechanic involves shooting lots people in the face. It was clearly time to chill out and let it go.

After a while, Pat finished the game and I got over my irrational anxiety. Looking back on things, my rational mind was trapped in a haze of moral 'superiority.' I am a Paragon snob. I am a Paragon hipster, and that's something I need to work on.

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About DiscoStuone of us since 1:34 PM on 05.02.2011

Stu Strock has been gaming since his parents sat him in their laps while playing games on an Amiga. Raised mostly on RPGs, he has since developed a keen interest in the narrative potential and immersive qualities of games. As games progressed and evolved over the years, that interest grew and Stu decided to keep games and their culture close by. During high school and college, he worked part-time for Gamestop and became exposed to a wider range of thought concerning what the word game means to players. Now a recent graduate, Stu is currently living in Atlanta, GA and maintains his blog, Experience Points, which seeks to encourage the open discourse of the creation, enjoyment and potential of modern games.

Stu's favorites: Metal Gear Solid (series), Chrono Trigger/Cross, Breath of Fire (series), Grandia, Suikoden (I and II), Final Fantasy (VIII, X and XII), Mirror's Edge, Demon's Souls, Silent Hill (series), Eternal Sonata, Fallout: New Vegas, Batman Arkham Asylum, Legend of Zelda (series), Okami, Ys (series), Valyrie Profile, Kingdom Hearts (series), Tales of Symphonia, Twisted Metal (series), Legacy of Kain (series), Gex (series), Heavy Rain, Wing Commander IV, Ace Combat (series), Zone of the Enders (series), Atelier Iris (I and II), Ico, Shadow of the Colossus

Stu is Currently Playing: Demon's Souls, Grandia
PSN ID:StuttgartStu87


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