The Mass Effect Effect

Wow.  Been a while.  Guess I’ve just been busy.  Between writing and the holidays and playing Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, my schedule is pretty damn full.  But seeing how A. LEE MARTINEZ APPRECIATION DAY!! is tomorrow, I figured I should take a moment to confirm that I’m still alive and kicking.

Can I say how much I love the Mass Effect games?  Seriously, I adore them.  Not only are they fun games, but it’s great to enjoy an original universe.  There’s just so much to like here.  What I love best though is that the game seriously avoids the Planet of Hats phenomenon.  One of the most difficult elements of fantasy / sci fi is to not end up portraying all the members of an alien race or culture as one-dimensional.  Whether it’s aloof elves, logical vulcans, or gruff dwarves, the tendency in fiction is to give all the human characters nuance and subtle differences while pretty much assuming that every romulan is a scheming jerk and every dwarf loves fighting and booze.

But in the Mass Effect universe, this is averted pretty hard.  The alien characters you run into exhibit a wide variety of personalities, and there’s every indication that every alien culture, just like human culture, is full of its own sub-cultures and attitudes.  The war-like Krogan are perhaps the most one-dimensional in their portrayal, but even then, they tend to have a wide range of philosophies and personalities.  And even the sinister geth, a race of evil robots, aren’t quite so one-dimensionally evil as you might first assume.  About the only genuinely “evil” race in the game are the Reapers, but even they are portrayed as just so utterly inhuman and different as to view every other species as merely lower animals.

It’s the kind of writing you just don’t see very often.  I just hope that it’s not an anomaly but a future trend.

The other thing about Mass Effect that amazes me is that the game becomes the game you want to play.  It is a truly interactive storytelling medium.  It’s like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, but with no wrong answers, no bad decisions.  You can’t lose because you pick the wrong door or you say the wrong thing at the wrong time.  You can only alter the story into something else.  That it does this so seamlessly is astounding to me.

My own character, Zala Shepherd, is a female Vanguard with dark skin and a no-nonsense approach.  She is deliberately not super attractive because I thought it’d be cool to play a hero you just don’t see in many other games.  I ended up with a woman who is of vaguely Indian descent who charges in, guns blazing.  Her personality has evolved into a strong-willed, ethical warrior who believes in preserving life of all types and doing the right thing whenever possible.  But she’s also no sucker and will do what needs to be done, make the tough choices, when required of her.

She is such a real and vibrant character to me that it seems unbelievable that someone could play Mass Effect and have an entirely different experience.  It’s like picking up a book or watching a movie and having it adjust itself to you and your desires.  It’s both amazing and bizarre.  While talking to a friend of mine about the game, it was like we were  playing two different games.  The framework remains the same, but the execution is everything.

It’s a shame that Bioware went on to make the Star Wars MMO because, while I have no interest in Star Wars, I would play a Mass Effect MMO in a heartbeat.  About the only thing that could top a tauren would be a chance to be a Krogan.  Or a Turian.  Or a Salarian.  Or a Quarian.  Well, heck, I’d even play a human if I had to.  That’s how much I love Mass Effect.

But enough about that.  You’re not here to read my endorsement of a game that everyone already knows about.  Let’s talk about A. LEE MARTINEZ APPRECIATION DAY!!

It’s tomorrow, but you already knew that.

As is tradition, this is the day when you get friends and family together, play a board game or two, watch a monster movie OR a superhero movie, and then push my books on people.  You can buy the books.  Or you loan them.  Or tweet about them.  Or blog.  Or just mention how awesome they are to strangers on the street.  Whatever works best for you.  The great thing about A. LEE MARTINEZ APPRECIATION DAY!! is that there’s no wrong way to celebrate.  Just as long as you take a moment to remember how cool I am and how much I’ve given to you.

And all I ask for in return is your unfettered adoration and a paycheck every now and then.  Now, isn’t that reasonable of me?

Keelah Se’lai, everybody.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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6 Comments

  1. Jesse
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I just started playing Mass Effect 2 for the first time ever this week. I have a PS3 and there is no Mass Effect 1 for the PS3 so I just went into 2 with nothing but summary comic the have on the PS3. A friend told me the game play in ME1 isn’t as good and I wouldn’t have to go back anyway.

    I’m not very far into it but so far I’m kind of meh about the whole thing. I keep waiting for it to reach the levels of epic people have promised me it would be. The combat is cool. The voice acting is kind of stiff with a lot of the actors.

    I’ve only just reached the rebuilt Normandy though so maybe it gets better. I remember with Knights of the Old Republic that it didn’t get really good until a few hours into it.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted January 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      I can’t promise you that you’ll love it, but I will say playing Mass Effect 1 does improve the experience because all the characters, events, and decisions you made in the first game show up in the second.

      That said, it’s a strange game to recommend because it’s only as the story evolves and the characters become more real though time that the awesome elements really come. It’s like a story that you become more and more invested in. So if you start 1 without playing 2, you could be how I felt about playing 1. It was only an hour or two into it that I went from Good Game to Great Game to Amazing Game.

      But hey, everyone has their own tastes. Nothing wrong with not loving or even disliking the game. Different strokes for different folks.

      • Jesse
        Posted January 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        As a solution for the complete lack of ME1 on PS3 they gave PS3 players this motion comic that explains the major events of ME1 and gives you the the key decision points like whether to save Ashley or that blue person whose name escapes me. It gives me some insight but without the context there it doesn’t really give you a good feel for the plot of the first one. It’s like reading a summary of a movie vs actually watching the movie.

        While very true about different strokes for different folks I’ve had multiple friends who I generally trust about these things tell me that they love the games so I’m expecting greatness which might be part of the problem. I’ve watched movies or read books where people promised me epic levels of awesome and when the movie in question only achieved pretty damn cool I was still disappointed.

  2. Clover904
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Is there any chance you’ll play a little Mass Effect 3 multiplayer with some of us fans when the game is released?

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted January 16, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      This is an excellent question. I don’t play a lot of multiplayer games in general. I’m the wrong generation. But who knows? I remain open to the possibility.

  3. Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Hi MR Martinez,

    I work for FUNinmation Entertainment and one of our managers ran across this blog (She’s an avid fan) and this particular blog is of interest to us and the Mass Effect movie we are working on. We would love to talk to you in more detail about what we are doing and see if you would be interested in collaborating with us.

    Here is a link to our original press release:

    http://blog.funimation.com/2011/04/ea-and-funimation-entertainment-announce-mass-effect-anime-movie-deal/

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