Mass Effect Discourse Has a Chance to Start Over, But Will It?

It doesn't seem like the series can escape the narrative attached to it.

According to a report from VentureBeat, the Mass Effect trilogy is being ported to modern systems (whether that’s on PS4 and Xbox One or PS5 and Xbox Series X is uncertain as of this writing), and the internet reacted with the discord you’d expect. There was a fair bit of excitement, a little bit of indifference, and somewhere in between there was actual, tangible ire being directed at the idea of Bioware’s science fiction RPGs coming to systems people are still playing. 

I recently spent the better part of a year playing through the Mass Effect series, including Andromeda, the ill-fated spin-off that deserves a sequel. Playing through these games close to a decade later was enlightening, as it highlighted discussions we as an industry never really had about them during their initial run. Whether that be the calculated exclusion of gay men, how gendered game design wrote character’s stories for them, or how the series somehow got pegged as a power fantasy despite never actually being that. Given that the trilogy is about to be in the public consciousness nearly a decade later, it’s exciting to think that a new generation of players are going to be engaging with these games when we’re maybe better equipped to really dissect these particular issues. But after the first day of this news being out there, I’m beginning to fear that we still won’t have these conversations.

Whether you were around at the time or know it by reputation, know that Mass Effect 3’s ending was…controversial, to say the least. The vitriol became so widespread that Bioware ended up releasing an “Extended Cut” DLC that altered scenes that didn’t ultimately change what happened, but at least made it easier to parse for some. If you were around in 2012 and remember, you’ll know the discourse surrounding Mass Effect 3 and its ending was absolutely vile. Not only were developers threatened, but entire discussions about the ending devolved into memes and catchphrases, belittling the very nature of the ending with mischaracterizations to the point where these fabrications burned their way into the way people talk about the series forever.

Yesterday, I saw those same buzzwords and false representations rear their head once again. Claims of a “magic ghost” appearing in the eleventh hour despite the text itself being clear about the synthetic nature of that character. Bad faith arguments that reduce galaxy-defining decisions to “lol, three colors” because they cinematically play out in a similar fashion, regardless of the actual in-universe ramifications. Somehow, eight years removed, we’re still dealing with the same obstacles for in-depth examination, and the remaster isn’t even out yet.

In the grand scheme of things, eight years isn’t very long. But in internet days, eight years might as well be documented in dusty history books no one’s touched since, in a library only people who were there at the time even remember. There are so many people who don’t know how much worse it’s going to get if the ways we talk about these games aren’t addressed.

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A lot has changed since 2012, but Mass Effect 3 and its ensuing controversy were at a point in the internet where memes usurped the truth and rewrote history just by the sheer power of their prevalence. As much as we as an industry have gotten better about talking about things with nuance, that we were unable to go a few hours with the possibility of a Mass Effect trilogy remaster without reaching into a toxic movement’s bag of tricks shows that time is a flat circle and the more things change the more they stay the same. 

As much as I would like to believe that we can, as an industry, leave ideas like the “Retake Mass Effect” movement back in 2012 and be able to have an honest, genuine reassessment of the series, perhaps some things are just too ingrained to ever be removed. Is the well of discussion for Mass Effect as a franchise poisoned beyond redemption? I hope not, but I fear it might be. Mass Effect 3 wasn’t perfect, and there are certainly criticisms to be drawn to its conclusion, but that we still resort to dismissive, reductive, and in some cases, outright inaccurate ways of talking about it means that the group who threatened Bioware employees over the ending and got a new one might have won out in the end. At the very least, their version of the story is the one written in the history books.

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