on Aug 21, 2012
Note: Consider the comments to be a live-fire exercise in plot spoilering from here on. No need to spoiler tag things for the plot of Mass Effect 3. We plan to discuss everything, including the ending, long before we get there. Have at it.
As a counter-point to what Josh was saying: I’m okay with the protagonist not having a lot of characterization. I don’t need my protagonist to voice my own inner monologue for me, mostly because I’m sure they’ll never get it right. This reveals a pretty big difference between the way different people step into the shoes of a character. Some of us want to have an empty vessel and fill in the margins with our own ideas. (Gordon Freeman of Half-Life fame.) Others want a complex character to get to know along the way. (James Sunderland from Silent Hill 2.)
The advantage of Gordon is that he never “breaks character”. The writers never stuff stupid words in his mouth and make me hate him. If he ever said, “Don’t worry Alyx baby, I’ll never let those Combine bastards hurt you!” it would shatter my connection with the game. Probably forever. However, another player might see that as the only reasonable thing from him to say. With an empty vessel, we can both have our own Gordon. The disadvantage of Gordon is that we don’t get to have a deep, interesting character reveal.
Both approaches are valid, but a game really, really needs to know which one it’s trying to do. And it needs to stick with it. Shepard in Mass Effect 1 was mostly an empty vessel, and I expressed my personality by making decisions. How did Shepard feel about those decisions? That was for me to decide.
Then Mass Effect 2 comes along and they move the focus from the universe to the character. Suddenly TIM is obsessed with you. HARBINGER is obsessed with you. You come back from the dead. Shepard is no longer an observer with a gun. The camera keeps pointing at your face and we keep expecting to see something: Rage, tears, confusion, laughter. Instead we get the deadpan, “I’m
not working with Cerberus.” These events demand a personal reaction because they’re personal, but we don’t get one. Paradoxically, it makes Shepard seem like more of a brick than before.
So now the game has gone all the way and decided to ram some character down your throat. YOU LOVE THIS CHILD. YOU ARE UPSET ABOUT HIS DEMISE. Its possible that the biggest problem with star child isn’t the kid himself, but Shepard, who wasn’t designed to support this sort of inner turmoil.