I was craving a role playing game recently, something to actually sink my teeth into and not just grind that core gameplay cycle (sorry Rocket League & Isaac), and I came across my old install of Mass Effect 2 (ME2) and my untouched copy of Mass Effect 3. Why not fire up the old game and get a little hyped for Andromeda after all?
When I bought ME2 all that time ago back on Origin, Bioware points were still a thing and I had pretty much all the DLC items to play through as well. So I booted up the game, started crafting a face that would never animate cleanly, and gave my Shepard a backstory – A man who did what he had to do to get the job done on a mission long forgotten that earned me my stripes.
I had a plan for how I wanted to deal with my crew and the general population. The general population would feel the wrath of the “by any means necessary” war veteran that I’d set myself up as, the crew would have a harsh but fair captain as the mission is of the utmost importance, and my inner team would see my softer side and my care for their needs. I know people sometimes have hard and fast rules such as “always be an arse” and I had my rules, but I was happy to have some wiggle room on them if I so chose, but it gave me a default position that I could interact with the world from and knew my own grounding.
It’s amazing how certain parts of a game really make you rethink who you are in its own setting; Are you this avatar that you’ve set yourself up to play out as, are you exploring the side of your personality where you’re more confrontational, more bad-ass, more confident, more friendly? Or are you still you, and this game is who you are, not a “true” or perhaps “proxy” role-play but a personal role-play.
My first doubts of who I was came to me on the citadel. I didn’t have a lot of money and there was a lot of stuff that I could have done with, so naturally I start aiming to get a discount. The issue is that shop owners aren’t my team, and they definitely aren’t my crew either, which leaves them in the category of being treated in a harsh and direct manner. I didn’t think of the first few shops, and I can’t remember if it was a cut away to Garrus’ face or my own thought process, but I felt bad acting like this in front of a person I liked and respected. His fictitious opinion of who I was mattered to me enough that I did consider changing tact with the shop owners, I never did and I ended up feeling awful for it. I even tried to justify that “hell, Garrus isn’t pure, he’s made some comments that I felt were out of line with my beliefs and the mission”, but it didn’t especially wash well.
The next and by far biggest and most recent revelation was during the DLC “Overlord”. It’s been a long time since ME2 and whilst I respect I haven’t had any spoilers for ME3, I am going to spoil a little ME2’s Overlord DLC.
Working my way up to David had the same tropes of any mission that goes on just slightly too long and with some hidden information. I remember thinking was this genuine rage or is this forced upon him? I knew something didn’t add up and normally in those scenarios your gut feel is right, but the details can sometimes knock you back. David had been tortured, fed through tubes, suspended, pierced with medical equipment and treated as a thing, not a human. I’m not a good enough writer to depict the sorry state that is David when playing through Overlord, but the reveal was made and it came down to decision time – Do the morally right thing that the real me knee-jerked straight for, or be the by-any-means and get your hands dirty veteran?
I couldn’t let myself think about it, in this entirely fictitious event I couldn’t even pretend to let myself consider this horror to continue to a poor unassuming human who had a developmental disorder and couldn’t comprehend why this was happening to him, how his brother could put him through so much pain. I said that I was going to help David, I don’t believe mercy killing is an option but I sure as hell thought about that in anticipation of the final important moments, but in the end I took him away to get help.
When the loading screen stopped and I was aboard the bridge of the Normandy I found myself thinking “maybe there are limits, even in fiction. Limits define who I am, what I’m willing to do, and they give me a code. Without limits you’re not a solider in this galactic war, you’re a mercenary without a moral compass, nothing is too depraved”. I haven’t played the game again yet, but I’m not sure how I want to make decisions in that game anymore, seeing what those who believe that since they’re on the side of good can do anything is frightening.
I went into the boardroom and started talking with the Illusive Man as a collector ship had been spotted and I was being sent in. I remembered how I spoke to so many of my team saying how Cerberus was helping me, or I was still who I was – basically goody-two-shoes and neutral options, I never bad-mouthed Cerberus. But what happened to David has made me think about even that connection, I couldn’t remember much of Cerberus from ME1 so never said a bad word, but now I had proof of how far they’d go with things, and I’m not sure I can pretend to my team that I’m okay with them.
I’ve played a lot of games, heck I’ve played this game before, and maybe it’s the way I approached games when I was younger versus now, and the idea of being more emotionally mature is letting me appreciate games through new lenses but that has to be the most powerful moment I’ve had in a game where it’s made me re-evaluate who I’m playing the game as, if I’m okay with that, my relationship with my team mates and my previously placed trust with Cerberus. Within 1 mission I was put into a position where I felt I morally had to actually rethink how I wanted to continue playing.