Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Effect of Mass Effect 2

Good science fiction serves as an analogy of real life. It may contain plot holes, some sketchy characters, but, in the end, it presents a narrative that offers a glimpse into the human endeavor. That is why the highly praised Mass Effect 2 succeeds with such rotundity. Not since the release of the Half-Life series has gaming felt so legitimate. In this space opera, you assemble a team composed of different alien races for a suicide mission against an advanced civilization, The Collectors.

It is after the initial recruitment that your teammates ask you to do personal favors for them. What at first seems like filler, in fact serves to add depth of character and backstory. Throughout these missions, Commander Shepard, who can be played either as a male or female, will have to make moral decisions. The Shepard I chose is not the default; which could easily appear on the cover of a fashion magazine, but a world-weary, worn-out warrior. With a dialogue delivered to perfection, the deep story unfolds; I'd have to go back to Silent Hill 2 for such good overall voice acting.

The "Paragon" & "Renegade" choices the player makes have an added realism, considering that for each interaction you are awarded points on not one but both categories. My experience resulted in that doing the right thing made me feel good. Yes; I have in fact learned a moral lesson from a videogame, something which film is seldom effective at anymore. Mass Effect 2 feels more like Battlestar Galactica in that regard, a series known for tackling hefty themes. The fact that Shepard begins to show glowing scarring if he chooses the Renegade ways may be seen as an attempt at coaxing the player, yet I offer that developer Bioware attempts to show the true face of evil.

This leads to the question; is the human race good or evil? Consider that Subject Zero explicitly states she survived hardship due to "instinct." From studies that show we have a fundamental tendency to be selfish (the over-claiming effect), cruel (the inherent nature of bullying), often clueless (brain economy and sparse coding) and oblivious (high latent inhibition), our perceptions of our own race leave much to be desired. The work of the accomplished scientist Robert M. Sapolsky, strengthens the notion that the pursuit of knowledge may in fact correlate with goodness. As a researcher within the scientific community, he is well aware that Ted Kaczynski was the exception in a field which he clearly sees as the driving force of human progress.

ME2 defines the capabilities of the current gen, and puts half the titles out there to shame. I, for one, am glad that, slowly but surely, gaming has shown not only that the medium can be art, but in contrast to exceedingly bottom-line driven mainstream filmmaking, it may one day surpass that industry, once it outgrows its very own limitations.