Mind Games: Getting meta with Mass Effect 3

Feb. 17, 2012, 12:43 a.m.
Mind Games: Getting meta with Mass Effect 3
Courtesy of EA

It’s not often that I mark a game’s release date on my Google calendar. Besides the fact that I tend to remember them off-hand, they look a little silly next to all of my oh-so-important classes and appointments. But with Mass Effect 3, I can’t help it. There’s a little red bubble on March 6 that simply reads “THE BEGINNING OF THE END.”


After playing the demo that came out earlier this week, I’m still more excited for Mass Effect 3 than any game this year. But that anticipation is tempered by an unexpected realization.


Before I get into that, I should back up a bit. When I say I’m obsessed with Mass Effect 3, I’m not just buying into the hype. Even if I put on blinders to the game’s massive marketing campaign, I’d still have to wake myself up from the occasional daydream where I’m chatting with my crew in the mess hall of the SSV Normandy. That’s because Mass Effect lends a powerful sense of personal ownership to each player’s story and, like no franchise before it, stretches that saga out from year to year and game to game. Like millions of other players, I’ve seen decisions from back in 2007, when the first game released, come back to haunt and reward me. I’ve lost good friends, made worse enemies and, of course, had romantic encounters with sexy aliens. And even if other players have walked a similar path through the first two games, Mass Effect still makes my story feel like it’s all mine. After all that, I need to finish my story. Period.


Mind Games: Getting meta with Mass Effect 3
Courtesy of EA

(If you can’t relate, imagine that’s it’s early 1983, you’re a massive sci-fi nerd, and you’re waiting for Return of the Jedi to hit theaters. Then imagine that you actually had some control over how the final movie played out. It’s an agonizing wait, isn’t it?)


Good thing, then, that BioWare & Electronic Arts threw me a bone last Tuesday.


When the Mass Effect 3 demo went live, it was understandably something of an event for me. I immediately fired up my 360, downloaded the demo and shook out the tingles running down my spine when I booted it up. Forty-five minutes later, I had finally gotten my first taste of “the beginning of the end.”


With the demo over, I put the controller down and gathered my thoughts. My first reaction wasn’t what I would’ve predicted.


Immediately, I wanted to play the demo again, but not just because it was an entertaining appetizer for the full game. I wanted to see how it looked on my PC, and then on my PS3. I wondered how the new dodge and melee mechanics would feel with a keyboard or a DualShock, and I even played through the whole thing again with voice controls on Kinect. I checked which platforms I had old, saved Mass Effect files on, and I refreshed myself on methods for transferring saves between platforms. I even called up one of my best friends to see which platform he’d be playing the game on—after all, I wouldn’t want to miss out on co-op with him. By the end of the day, I had played the demo five times.


Why all the fuss? With my eyes glazed over and an energy bar in hand, I wondered the same thing. I’d been waiting for this moment for such a long time, and even though I couldn’t stop playing, I wasn’t really enjoying it.


The answer, I’ve realized, isn’t that the demo didn’t meet my expectations. In fact, I’m almost blindly assuming the final game will be excellent. But that belies a more subtle conflict, one I’ve never had before and that illuminates something about the way I play games.


The game isn’t what worries me; it’s the way I experience it. After five years of waiting, I’m so caught up with the idea of a perfect ending to this trilogy—my trilogy—that I’m deathly afraid of playing through it in anything less than ideal conditions. It has to look as good as possible; I have to be playing with the controller most suited to the gameplay; I need to import a character that made all the best decisions and kept all of his (or her) crewmates alive and loyal. God forbid my first play-through is anything less, or I won’t be getting the most out of this game I’ve waited so long for. You can’t make a first impression a second time, after all.


It’s a bit ironic, perhaps, that I’m realizing all of this three weeks ahead of the game’s release. Like many self-insights, my very awareness of it is pushing me away from the attitude that generated it in the first place; I’m just going to sit down, play through the damn game and see what happens.


But at the end of the day, that’s probably the best way to experience any game, isn’t it?

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