Saying goodbye once is hard. Saying goodbye twice should be harder.
Looking back at my relationship with the Mass Effect trilogy when it first launched from 2007 to 2012, it’s obvious it held off my depression in my late teens. Make no mistake; I was a sad kid. But there’s something about being in the thick of something you love as much as I love Mass Effect that puts a lot of the realities of your life out of your field of view. I’ve often found escapism less appealing than letting your real-world experience enrich the media you consume.
Mass Effect was that for me for a long time, but also being a form of escapism in its own way. It was a world where existing as Commander Shepard was an extension of myself. Through it, I came to grips with being gay, and watching fan movements fight for inclusion within it was about all my teenaged self could handle as I grew up in a small southern town that made me feel like real, tangible progress was beyond my reach. And man, finishing Mass Effect: Legendary Edition brought back memories of how hard it hit me that Shepard’s story was over in 2012.
It’s been a decade since then. I’m no longer the teenager who spent his middle and high school days forcefully pushing back against a school life where my identity put a target on my back. I’m a relatively well-adjusted adult who more or less made a career writing about the same shit I watched Mass Effect fans fight for ten years ago. My outlets to work through my frustration about my lived experience aren’t the same as they used to be, but my awareness of the power of a queer protagonist has informed how I engage with media. Given how exclusionary it used to be, Mass Effect is a questionable series to attach that to, but I always imagined my Shepard was fighting for his own space as I was and as the game required him to. The culmination of the romance between him and his biotic boyfriend Kaidan Alenko in Mass Effect 3 felt like a hand on my shoulder from a character who’d walked the same thorny path I had. It’s why I took on Shepard’s name as a pen name. At a certain point, I started to identify with it more than my own.
More Mass Effect:
- Mass Effect Still Matters Because No One Does it Better
- Mass Effect Andromeda: Annihilation Confronts the Series’ Human Bias
- Mass Effect: Legendary Edition Presents Shepard as An Idea, Not a Default
All that energy I’d put into BioWare’s space opera suddenly had nowhere to go. I remember finishing Mass Effect 3 in tears, not just because its conclusion was rife with tragedy for characters I’d grown to love like family, but because it was over. And the hole it left in my heart gave space for other darkness to pour in. Mass Effect 3 came out in my freshman year of college, long before I’d decided to pivot into journalism and put my life on a more definitive track. When my teenage hyperfixation was gone, my 19-year-old self suddenly had to contend with the real world in a way he hadn’t yet. In a way, my using the love and looking forward to something as a crutch to keep moving forward was unhealthy, but I’d lived in a world where the reality of my life felt so oppressive that confronting that reality in a game was all I had.
By the time I started writing and talking about games as a job in 2014, Mass Effect had come and gone. I wasn’t in much of a position to write about Mass Effect: Andromeda when it came out, but I did end up starting a Mass Effect podcast called Normandy FM with one of my best friends in 2018, where we got to talk about the series years removed from its original run. This was before Legendary Edition was announced. It was before there was even a hint that the next game was coming. And I got the chance to get all my feelings about the series off my chest in a way I hadn’t before. N7 Days came and went, and I found an excuse to write about it elsewhere. Between all that podcasting and writing, I started receiving nice comments and emails from other queer people who’d felt the same complicated way about BioWare’s science fiction universe. And now that Legendary Edition is out, that same complication has been planted in the minds of a new generation of queer kids. Somehow, it all came full circle. I’m not as bitter as I once was, but that bitterness did lead to something positive.
It’s also not like Mass Effect was the last video game that would ever mean that much to me. In the years since, Danganronpa helped me understand my own depression and confront it in a way Mass Effect only ever suppressed. The Last of Us was instrumental in me handling the death of my own father. And yet, here I am, having finished Mass Effect once again, feeling like that hole in my heart has reopened.
Concluding the Legendary Edition wasn’t as debilitating as finishing Mass Effect 3, but it still hurt. Maybe the blow doesn’t feel as hard because this isn’t the end? In 2012, I didn’t even want more Mass Effect. I just thought it was over. The notion that Mass Effect: Andromeda (a game I grew to love) was on the way felt like some stranger crashing a party between me and my close friends. But now, there’s even greater uncertainty surrounding Mass Effect that makes the end of Legendary Edition feel more tenuous. The only thing we know about the future of the series is Liara T’Soni is involved, and the uncertainty has made me cautious about being excited about the future of Mass Effect in general, as I’ve been fearful it will knock down pillars of what made the franchise special to begin with.
Maybe that’s what makes it feel the same but different to see Shepard’s story through in glorious 4K. Mass Effect 3 ended with no promise of a future, whereas Legendary Edition feels like things are just beginning once again. It’s hard to reconcile reaching the same conclusion under such wildly different circumstances. I had a pretty concrete understanding of what Mass Effect meant to me in 2012. But now, it’s evolved into something else entirely. It’s a thing people on the internet know me for my commentary on. And after writing thousands of words on the series’ complicated relationship to queerness, I feel like I’ve said all I have to say on the series until next time. Perhaps what felt like an ending a decade ago was actually the foundation of a path I’d continue to carve for myself, and I didn’t know it yet. And maybe the wisdom I’ve gained since makes that same ending hurt a little less. It’s never painless to say goodbye to something, especially when you thought you’d neatly packed away the emotional blow years prior. But if nothing else, I’m no longer scared of saying goodbye to things I loved. Because I know more things to love are coming.