Relationships rule our lives. Friends, bosses, coworkers, employees, intimate friends, they are absolutely everywhere. It should be expected then, that any game looking to recreate as realistic an experience as possible, would seek to emulate these interactions to the finest of details. However, games very seldom hit the mark with their cross-character or character-player bonding. Most of the protagonists and antagonists that cross your screen are little more than cannon fodder. In an industry becoming more and more story based, there seems to be fewer and fewer titles whose characters draw you into camaraderie.
With these looking as they are, where do developers look for good examples of this forgotten art? What model should they base their character development on? My answer: the Mass Effect Trilogy.
Emerging just over six years ago, Mass Effect has since become the face of sci-fi video games. A game that, at its very core, not only creates but stresses relationships and how your decisions can affect said affections. Of course the Mass Effect Trilogy was not the first series of games to do this. Several franchises, most notably Final Fantasy (my opinion), have always put just as much stress in cross-character and character-player relationships. But when was the last time you were moved like you were in final Fantasy VII?
Mass Effect has taken this facet of gaming and mastered it. I have never played a game that, months after my beating it, evoked strong feelings for characters. Just yesterday, while watching the ME2 cinematic trailer, I saw a character I lost in ME3 and I felt genuine, deep seeded emotion. Before you say anything, yes, I get emotional (thanks mom). But this feeling is not unique to me. My grandmother felt the same way. Yes my 58 year old grandma (aka Nanny) has beaten ME2 and ME3, as well as every Halo, every Half-life but the original, and both Portals. She is currently working on Assassin’s Creed II. But I digress.
My point is this: simply put, the Mass Effect Trilogy has discovered how to make video game relationships not only cross-dimensional (game to player) but also cross-generational (from grandson to grandmother). If a title can pull that off it has elevated itself to a level far beyond most others. And whether or not you like the ending of Mass Effect 3, there is one common thread to everyone’s evaluation: they want to know what happens to their friends. Note the word I used. Friends.
If you absolutely hated the ending it was because you felt that they short-changed you in telling you what happened to your chums. If you loved the ending it is because you felt that the universe would be a better place and those you had grown to love would be able to live good lives. I severely doubt that Mass Effect 3 fans would have cried for an Extended Cut if they didn’t care what happened to those characters. That is proof that BioWare was successful. The fact that so many people raised their voices for a change proves that something that had never been done in video games had happened.
In the end we all cared for nearly everyone. If you didn’t then you weren’t a true fan of the games. We all felt strangely pulled by the Illusive man. We all felt a little more badass when we got close to Jack. We all felt like warriors when we killed a Thresher Maw with Grunt. And we all felt like we truly were Commander Shepard when we made our final decision. The Mass Effect Trilogy is so much more than a victory in weighted decision making; it is a triumph in manipulating human emotion.