Mass Effect 3’s ending caused an uproar among a vocal section of fans. They tried to appeal to BioWare, explaining why the ending did not work. Many of their attempts were incredibly creative, not only designed to capture BioWare’s attention with unique messages, but also to try to gain widespread attention to what was going on. BioWare dug in their heels, saying that they didn’t have to change the ending because of artistic integrity. In other words, Mass Effect 3 is art, and one does not tell artists how to make their art. An artist only has to be true to their own vision. The moment the artist is not true to that vision, the work of art is no longer authentic and becomes something else.
To be honest, this argument never sat well with me. I was never convinced video games were art or should be considered art. But more than that, the claim felt out of place. BioWare was using the term incorrectly. Let me explain why.
The Correct Way To Bring Up Artistic Integrity
I don’t really care for the direction of the story for Mass Effect 3. I don’t think there should have been a war. To me, the first two games were about covert operations and a small strike force team capable of doing massive amounts of damage in a short period of time before getting the hell out of there. This is the type of team that takes preemptive action to stop wars, not fight in them. So the moment it became a full fledged war, it changed the narrative. If I were to be the writer, I would have had the Reapers still approaching the galaxy or in an isolated part of the galaxy (years away from reaching a mass relay). Shepard wouldn’t have been going around trying to build coalitions between governments. He would have assembled another strike force, probably consisting of past characters and other interesting ones like Kal’Reegar and Aria. They would have done strategic hits on the Reapers, planting nuclear devices within them, destroying them from within. They would have played a cat and mouse game with Harbinger, trying to destroy factories that creates the Reaper’s monsters and weed out the indoctrinated agents within the various governments.
This is where artistic integrity comes into play. No matter what I may think of the story, I cannot deny that the war does make sense. It follows as a reasonable consequence from the past two games. BioWare can comfortably say that the game is their vision and leave it as that. This is the strength of artistic integrity. It allows artists a chance to see their unique vision through from beginning to end. In Mass Effect’s case, a good part of the story was a build up for the Reapers’ arrival. So their appearance in the third game, as well as their attacks, follows from the story. At best, all I can say is that I would have done the story differently and BioWare has every right to shrug their shoulders at that.
The Wrong Way To Use Artistic Integrity
The question ultimately becomes this: was the ending to Mass Effect 3 consistent with the rest of the game? Can we see hint of the Catalyst (the Intelligence) within the first two games? I don’t mean rationalizing it or attempting to justify its existence. I mean, do we see the being show up in any way? Are there some sort of unexplained actions which couldn’t be explained before we saw the Catalyst appear at the end of the 3rd game?
Some people looked at the ending and saw inconsistencies with the overarching narrative. Some people looked at the ending and thought it fit into the rest of the game. The problem BioWare faced wasn’t a matter of opinion. The fans were calling into question the artistic vision of the people behind Mass Effect 3. They were claiming that the ending was inauthentic, violating the rules of storytelling set up with the rest of the series. The artistic integrity defense does not apply here. This is not a matter of one person saying “I’d rather see this” occur.
- It was as if Neil Gaiman took Morpheus and dressed him up in a tutu and had him ballet dance on top of boiling lava.
- It was as if Bowser threw Princess Peach into lava right in front of Mario.
- It was as if Darth Vader stood up and screamed ‘Nooooooooo’ and walked like a Frankenstein Monster.
- It was as if J.K. Rowlings decided it was Harry Potter who killed his parents.
- It was as if Joss Whedon decided the Serenity suddenly had a warp drive.
All these are out of character with the series. Morpheus was a dark, brooding figure and not someone who wore pink and did outlandish things. Bowser is not a killer. Darth Vader was always in control of the scene, dominating it by his mere presence. He was not someone who would scream out in despair. Harry Potter loves his parents; he would sacrifice everything if it meant he could have them back again. The Serenity would not have warp, as warp drive belongs in the Star Trek universe rather than the Firefly one. In all these cases, the fans would have every right to say that the characters, or the situation, did not work with everything that was set up before hand.
Hiding behind artistic integrity with this sort of claim is questionable. This sort of charge is very serious and deserves a serious answer to show respect to the fans raising it. This isn’t just a claim of “well that sucked” or “wouldn’t it have been better if…” This is a claim which is questioning the It’s a claim saying “what you did does not fit in with the rest of the series.” This is the sort of claim that can be argued for and potentially provable. This is the sort of charge that needs to be met or else risk losing those fans.
So Now What?
This isn’t an attempt to get a new or better ending to Mass Effect 3. That ship’s sailed for about a year now. Nor is this a declaration that BioWare is terrible or to encourage people to boycott. I want to see BioWare succeed and go back to making the games that I love. I want to see fans go back to celebrating the product and just being fans. I don’t want to see claims of artistic integrity being used to duck legitimate criticisms.
What I want is probably just a pipe dream anyways. It’s a longing for things to go back to the way things once were before all this happened. All we can do is go forward and hope that the mistakes of the past wont’ repeat itself.