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Aaron Waite Aaron Waite
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It's Massively Effective!

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Their world, our decisions

I am forever chunnering on about games needing to allow you to carve your own story into the history of a particular universe. Static, fixed storylines tend to drive me insane, not because they're not well-written or paced particularly well, but because I'm a recovering narcissist, and I still feel that everything in the digital space should revolve around me and what I'm doing in that specific place. Maybe it's all of the choose-your-own-adventure books that I read as a kid, but I strongly feel that one of the new standards that should be included in any story-driven game is the ability to make decisions that carry some sort of weight in the universe you're exploring.

So in the middle of this creative tantrum that dictates my demands to the gaming industry as a whole, I realized that these games already exist, and I just happen to be playing through them again as the third game approaches with incredible haste.

The series? Mass Effect. The game? The second Mass Effect. Unnecessary buildup to an unremarkable subject? Complete.

For the uninitiated, the Mass Effect series allows you to carry your saved games over to the next in the series, allowing all of the choices (and their consequences) to follow you (or haunt you). If you couldn't resolve a hostage situation peacefully, that diplomat that got his poor noggin bullet-enhanced isn't going to be around to possibly give you a hand in the next game. However, your ability to get the hostages to safety could carry a completely different set of challenges that you never could have seen coming. The possibility of a butterfly effect is evident even down to the smallest of choices.

Being the intergalactic arsekicker that I am, I hopped into the second game again on the Insanity difficulty level, which is a challenge just below 'fiddle duel with the devil.' Now, mind you, at this point, I haven't played 'Mass Effect 2' since its arrival in early 2010, so with my goldfish-esque memory, it's like playing an entirely new game. With the heightened difficulty, I became acutely aware of the weight of my decisions and how much they affect my experience and my tromp through this galaxy. The most innocuous choices I made in the first Mass Effect have rained down difficulties and roadblocks for my team. Everywhere I look, I have the privilege and horror to see the galaxy I have created within Bioware's story limits.

It's absolutely incredible.

The knowledge that my experience with Mass Effect is almost completely different than anyone else's is an fantastic feeling. Instead of just talking around the water cooler about the ending of the story, we're talking about our own stories. We're bringing in the element of human experience, the building block of all stories, and we're creating multiple tales out of the same canvas. Now, I'm aware that Bioware has been doing this since 'Baldur's Gate,' but the scale that they've achieved with the Mass Effect series is paramount to anything else we've seen in game storytelling yet. I'm also aware that not every single game that comes out is going to have these kind of sweeping epic stories, but what Bioware's doing is a hallmark that will be remembered for years to come.

By (seemingly) giving us the reins to our own destiny, our ability to attach ourselves to the people and places that developers have created, we gladly become more involved. We now have a stake in this universe, and in the process, their world becomes our world as well.

And isn't that what we're aiming for with games in the first place?

A world of our own?

I'm Commander Aaron Waite, and this is my favorite article on the Citadel.


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