The anti-climactic ending to the Mass Effect trilogy, and more importantly the vehement fan response, which manifested itself in angry letters and forum comments, an online community calling itself Retake ME3, and even a Dadaist protest in the form of 402 cupcakes delivered to game developer BioWare's offices, has earned an unheard of amount of press coverage. Blogs and online newspapers (IBTimes included) have gleefully reported on the incessant back and forth between disappointed fans and alternately defiant and apologetic game developers and executives.
Even The New Yorker, surprising everyone and likely confusing their own readership, jumped into the fray with a blog post titled Mass Defect, in which the writer weighs the issue, finally condemning Mass Effect fans for reacting like unreasonable crybabies unwilling to treat video games like the art form they claim it is.
The post has already prompted a caustic critique from Forbes, titled The New Yorker has a pretty low opinion of Mass Effect 3 fans, in which the author notes, there is a certain kind of validation in The New Yorker telling you you're an idiot.
But Forbes is getting it almost as wrong as The New Yorker. Describing the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Mass Effect 3, which sold a brisk 900,000 copies in its first day the New Yorker post reads:
The blazing ardor of the series's fans soon turned Antarctic because of its controversial ending, which drove some players to an indignant rage so fierce that the casual observer might have thought that BioWare had cut off their supply of Mountain Dew Game Fuel.
Nice jab, New Yorker, but you're missing the point. Mass Effect fans are not a bunch of cranky geeks demanding a refill. They are a widespread, diverse and highly connected group of people who have invested too many hours of their lives to settle for anything less that the perfection they have come to expect from BioWare, which The New Yorker accurately describes as the HBO of game studios.
Fans have come to expect nuanced story telling and interactive, choice-driven game-play from BioWare. However, the end sequence to the final game of the Mass Effect trilogy essentially offers the player a choice between three insignificant options, which boil down to what color the final explosion will be. In The New Yorker's own words:
A litany of tough decisions made over a long period of time eventually led to a single inevitable, cosmically baffling outcome-one that is by no means a classic happy ending. (This predicament is otherwise known as the human condition, but I digress.)
Returning to his central argument, that if video games are to be considered a valid art form fans need to let the artists express themselves without bowing to criticism, the author admits that even Arthur Conan Doyle brought Sherlock Holmes back to life after his fans protested, before adding that real art sticks to its guns.
In the end, The New Yorker makes the not unfair argument that just like life, sometimes art can end in infuriating disappointment, but the author completely glosses over the fact that multiple BioWare developers have come out against the game, pointing the finger at executives who ushered an unfinished product onto the market. Furthermore, fans aren't playing Mass Effect 3 to learn a clumsily delivered if valuable life lesson. They want the immersive and fulfilling experience they have come to expect from BioWare.
In their critique of The New Yorker, Forbes claims that videogames as art is something new, and the Mass Effect debate is about figuring out what it is, but that's now really what's going on here. The story of Mass Effect 3 and the its fans is part of a bigger story unfolding across the world, largely online, about fans of anything, be it videogames, freedom or anything else, finding each other, transforming their frustration into concrete action, and taking the future into their own hands.