Plot Holes Part 1: Trust in the Storyteller

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Nov 6, 2012

Filed under: Nerd Culture 179 comments


About two months ago we turned a critical eye towards the ending of Mass Effect 3, and also criticized Film Crit Hulk for criticizing the critics of the Mass Effect 3 ending. Basically, it was a giant critique ouroboros, as you get on the internet.

Now Hulk has written a follow-up post: HULK VS. PLOT HOLES AND MOVIE LOGIC. Like a lot of Hulk’s work, this isn’t some scrawny essay on plot holes. This is a Hulked-out treatise that weighs in at about 12,000 words. I do not say this to scare you off. I suggest reading it. But I’m also going to try to summarize it, because I know how you are about reading long articles, internet.

Fair warning: Summarizing something this large is unavoidably a lossy process. If FC Hulk’s point could have been made in 100 words, he wouldn’t have written thousands. Moreover, I skipped stuff that talked about movies I haven’t seen yet. So understand that you’re about to read an overview of an article, written by someone who didn’t even read the original in its entirety. Here it is:

A movie, videogame, or book does not exist to present a perfect, flawless, rigorously logical world, but to tell a particular story. If you’re auditing a story for consistency, then you have missed the point of storytelling.

Mind you, that’s not the only thing Hulk had to say, but I think this is the Tootsie-Roll center of the thing. This is the bit where you bite down and it goes crunch. That’s what I took away from it, at any rate.

But really, you should totally read the article. I hear some people gripe because the ALL CAPS thing puts them off, but give it a few paragraphs. I find that I forget all about it after a minute or two. Then again, I learned to program on 80’s computers, so maybe I’m not exactly a typeface connoisseur. If nothing else, scroll down to part 8 (look for the shot of Michael Bay’s Transformers) and read that bit. It will blow your mind.

Just like old times, Shepard. Except, you know… not.

It’s really fortunate that this came up now, since this fits in perfectly with the long-form analysis / deconstruction / bitch session that we’re performing on Mass Effect 3 right now. The kids call these things “Let’s Plays”, although I’m sure our show is the only one that focuses on analysis, ludonarrative constructs, technical footnotes, and godawful puns. (Most people just make Mystery Science Theater style jokes and call it a day. And to be fair: Those shows are more popular than Spoiler Warning.) The point is, our show has a bit of a reputation for focusing on and highlighting every tiny flaw in a story.

Despite our reputation as world-class nit-pickers, I agree with Hulk’s thesis here and I think this is an important point to make. Gaps in logic are not an unforgivable sin. They may even be unavoidable.

Here is how FC Hulk defines a plot hole:


I really like this definition. The only downside is that almost nobody else uses or understands the term in this way. This is something we really need a word for, and we don’t have one. We need a way to differentiate between “something that maybe, in retrospect, could have been explained better as time allowed” and “something that yanks you out of a story because it doesn’t fit and makes no sense”. We need a way to refer to plot holes that lets us make a distinction between fridge logic and “show-stopping failure of reason and continuity”. When there’s a lapse of sense-making, is it something you notice later or while you’re busy absorbing the story?

Trust in the Storyteller

Do you trust the writer? Do you believe they are playing by the rules they’ve established? When something implausible happens, this creates tension. Not tension in the story, but tension in the viewer. How you resolve that tension depends on how much you trust the storyteller. Do you question the veracity of the story, or do you question what you think you know about the world of the story? Did they make a mistake, or are you not giving them enough credit? Heck, this doesn’t even have to apply to just stories. This can apply to almost any kind of writing…

This is a photoshop. (Duh.)

Is this woman a dummy who didn’t proofread her sign? Or is she being clever and making an ironic statement about the need for schooling? You can make the case either way, and it all boils down to whether or not you trust that she knows what she’s doing. She’s got some other signs there. If you saw they were all deliberate ironic statements and jokes, then you’d probably give her the benefit of the doubt here. If the other signs were all played straight, then you’d probably assume she botched this one.

When I saw Starship Troopers, I didn’t give director Paul Verhoeven enough credit. I saw the movie as a big dumb action movie, an excuse to put some attractive people on the screen and have them shoot stuff. When the public service announcements came on, I saw them as a callback to the cheesy but earnest World War II newsreels. (They were actually a reference to Triumph of the Will, which I have never seen.) In truth, they were actually there to make you question what the rest of the movie was telling you. These were supposed to be seen as insidious propaganda. I didn’t see them that way, because I wasn’t looking for subtext in a movie that painted with such a broad brush.


In the DVD commentary, Verhoeven stated that the film’s message was: “War makes fascists of us all.” That’s what he was saying with this movie. When I watched it, the message I took away was, “These young people make bad decisions because of their awkward love triangle, and also here are some tits, guns, and blood.” The movie depicted fascism in a very superficial way: Iconography, architecture, and clothing. It didn’t show us secret police, injustice, or police-state brutality. I missed his message of “War makes fascists of us all” because this fascist society seemed more or less healthy on the surface, aside from being under attack by space aliens. Nobody in the movie seemed to question the newsreels. I didn’t see “Space Fascists”. I saw a movie that was roughly a Star Trek-ish utopia of beautiful people. Sure, everyone was basically a white American, but is that because there’s something wrong with this utopia, or is that just Hollywood being Hollywood?

Did Verhoeven mess up? Should he have made his message more obvious for dumb popcorn-munching viewers like me? I might say yes, but other people didn’t seem to have any problem seeing what he was saying. Note that we’re not even talking about a plot hole here. We’re just talking about the viewer’s perception of the world as presented. There was a breakdown of communication between the storyteller and the viewer, and the result was that I didn’t get everything the movie was saying. In fact, I missed the only thing the movie had to say. I didn’t trust the storyteller, and so I missed the message.

This trust becomes really important when the audience is presented with something that doesn’t seem to follow naturally. Maybe it’s a plot hole. Maybe not. But something jumps out at the viewer. Hey! This character isn’t acting according to their stated goals, therefore…

A: …I must have missed something earlier. Or maybe this will be explained later. Maybe this will even pay off in a later reveal.



Here’s the thing: It’s the job of the storyteller to create and maintain that trust. Talking about how to build trust is like talking about how to build creativity or enthusiasm. It’s not really something you can force. Let us agree that it’s a lot of work to get a stranger to trust you, and even harder if you’ve already proven untrustworthy in the past.

FC Hulk brings up Spielberg and how there are little cheats and logic gaps in his movies. How did that dinosaur get there? Why didn’t E.T. use this levitation power earlier? How did Marty manage to hit the powerline at the correct moment when he started driving several seconds too late? But Spielberg gets away with these shenanigans and Michael Bay doesn’t. Hulk suggests that this is because Spielberg’s stuff works thematically and emotionally. Again, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think he’s making the case that if it works emotionally then it doesn’t need to make complete sense, and if it doesn’t work emotionally then it doesn’t matter if it makes complete sense.

That’s an interesting point, and I hadn’t thought about it in those terms. It’s true that Mass Effect 3 managed to wreck my emotional connection to the game long before I reached the end. (It probably died in Mass Effect 2, to be honest.)

But I would suggest that both emotional connection, thematic cohesion, and good old fashioned continuity are all required ingredients for trust in the storyteller. If you’re doing good on the first two maybe you can fudge on the latter, but if Spielberg made a big enough continuity error then moviegoers would stop dabbing their eyes and crying about Elliot and start scowling and asking what is going on and how did that guy do that thing? Wait, what? Who is that again?

A movie might blow the audience trust in the opening scene. It might slowly erode it over the course of the story. It might not even have trust to start with. It might build trust as the story grows. It depends on the story, the storyteller, and the viewer.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution: Entering a clinic LIKE A BOSS.

I don’t claim to be some plot-logic savant. I know I nitpick a lot, but I do so because I love stories and the engineer inside me likes to tear them apart when they break and find out why they stopped working. I made it all the way through Deus Ex: Human Revolution without noticing anything seriously off*. In fact, I beat the game twice without having any major objections. Other people had to point out the problems with the story, because I’d glossed over them in my game. I’d trusted the writers and when things didn’t fit I assumed I’d missed a bit of exposition, or that the explanation would come later. Like FC Hulk playing Mass Effect 3, I was buying what the storyteller was selling. Even now, I’ve forgotten the serious plot holes while I still remember Adam, Pritchard, and Malik.

* Excepting the boss fights, which were largely divorced from the story proper but still awful.


In Spider-Man 2, there’s a scene where Doc Ock throws the car through the window at Peter Parker. It seems like the good doctor is trying to kill Peter. This doesn’t make sense because he needs Peter to tell him how to find Spider-Man. When I saw this in theaters I might have blinked at this moment. Did Doctor Octopus figure out that Peter is Spider-Man? Is he doing this as a test? Or is he becoming more irrational? But I was into the movie, I was having a good time, and so far the story had flowed naturally. It was easy to assume that this would be explained later.

And then it never was.

But it didn’t matter because I’d forgotten all about it. This might be a plot-hole by the standard definition, but by Hulk’s definition it wasn’t, because it didn’t stop the story from working properly.

If Doc Ock had decided to find Spider-Man by smashing up the city, and had just happened to pluck Mary Jane out of the crowd without knowing who she was, and held her hostage to provoke Spider-Man into showing up, then it would have been silly and implausible. It would have worked for the purpose of the story (the villain gets his damsel in distress and draws Spider-Man out either way) and it wouldn’t have been an impossible occurrence, but it would have stretched credulity to the breaking point. I would have concluded that the writer couldn’t figure out how to make the story work without cheating, and so resorted to sloppy contrivances.

The writer could have caused this scene to break my trust, after which I would have sighed, folded my arms, and watched everything else with a more suspicious eye. Instead the writer took a bit of a chance and did the car-throwing thing, which momentarily dinged my trust without breaking it. I’m sure another writer might construct this scene in such a way that it wouldn’t risk my trust at all, although it likely would have been a lot less exciting. Action moviemaking often seems to be a game of brinkmanship like this, where the storyteller needs to keep things as exciting as possible without leaving the audience confused or incredulous.

This movie is almost 20 years old, and I still think the CGI looks great.

I suspect this is why Spielberg is such a master: He seems to always know where that line is, and he takes the audience right to the edge without going over.

With trust, the storyteller can get away with all kinds of plot holes. They can leave things unresolved, fudge motivations, move characters around in ways that don’t make sense, and even pull out the occasional deus ex machina. Without trust, the storyteller can’t do anything. Even things that aren’t plot holes can become plot holes in the mind of an un-trusting audience.

This is why so many arguments over plot holes take the form of:

Hey, the movie made such a big deal about how Bob Protagonist smoked his last cigarette in the previous scene! Now he’s smoking another! That’s a plot hole!

So? He might have bought more!

But this pack is already half-smoked! There wasn’t enough time to smoke that many!

Allen doesn’t trust the storyteller, and resents this mood-breaking discontinuity. Is he irritated that the movie broke its own rule about Mr. Protagonist not having any smokes, or is he annoyed that the story spent so much time on a detail that ultimately didn’t matter in the very next scene? Either way, the spell is broken and Allen is no longer enjoying the movie. Barb still trusts the storyteller, so she begins making things up to plug the gap.

You could make the case that maybe Allen shouldn’t be so picky. But maybe the problem is that the storyteller failed him. Maybe not on the cigarettes, but somewhere before that. He was paying attention, so he obviously cares. But something made him stop enjoying the movie and start worrying about little details like this.

I’ll talk more about what happens when that trust gets broken in the next post.


From The Archives:

179 thoughts on “Plot Holes Part 1: Trust in the Storyteller

  1. Rutskarn says:

    This summarizes my feelings exactly. Which is good, because it’s three AM, and if I had to articulate any disagreements or fine details things would get ugly fast.

    1. Maldeus says:

      Leading scientists are unable to estimate the number of puns this hypothetical articulation would have contained.

      1. Sumanai (Asimech) says:

        You should probably not take estimates from scientists who are busy leading something. Probably pick scientists that avoid lead entirely.

        1. Fleaman says:

          This post gave me abdominal pain, muscle weakness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

    2. Abnaxis says:


      I read FCH’s piece first and was all like “b-b-b-WAIT!” and then I came back and read Shamus’s post and was happy, because now I don’t have to come up with a way to say what I mean myself. Shamus already did it better.

    3. Dragomok says:

      I think I’ll just latch onto this comment as well, since I completely agree with completely agreeing here.

    4. Theodolus says:

      I’m going to leave this here so it’s easier to see. This is for anyone who wants to read the article without having to wade through the ALL CAPS and horrible capitalization. It’s just a quick edit, so don’t expect perfection.

      Word Doc

      Rich Text Format

      Text Document (Worst formatting)

      1. Kdansky says:

        Thanks. I could not bear to read the other one, because all-caps means I cannot recognize words as entities any more, but have to read individual letters, like a primary school student. Which takes about 5 times longer.

  2. Anorak says:

    I agree holeheartedly with your points here, and by extension, FCH’s point ( I think. I’m going to read his post later on).

    I’ve never really cared about the normal film “goofs” people bring up – Zulus wearing watches, or clocks not displaying the correct time, and that kind of thing. I’m not obsessive enough to notice it, and if I do notice it, I usually don’t care.

    But those aren’t plot holes, those are continuity errors.

    Continuity errors can annoy me too, but whether they do or not depends on what you already said – am I still invested in the film? Has it reached me, do I still want to know what happens, _do_ _I_ _care?

    And that depends on a lot of factors, and genuine plot holes are definitely one of them.

    An example of a movie that annoyed me immensely was the remake of The Stepford Wives, which appears to have been started as a genuine social satire about the role of women in the home and a scathing criticism of gated communities, but the production appeared to have changed the director halfway through, and rewritten the script.

    The last few scenes contradict everything in the film up until that point, negating most of the “evil” themselves were, and crucially it even contradicted itself. Only if you’d been hit on the head with something very heavy could you avoid noticing.

    There are a lot of other examples, many that are far more subtle, some even worse than that, but for some reason that one stuck in my head. I think it was the first time I saw a film that yanked me out of story with it’s own stupidity.

    An example where I can let something like that go without worrying about it is in Minority Report.


    After Anderton gets captured, he’s locked away, unconscious, and it looks like there is no hope for him getting out. His wife frees him by using his detached eyeballs on the retinal scanner at the prison. Why was his retinal scan still in the system? Of course, some people actually claim that everything after his capture is actually a hallucination anyway, but I don’t subscribe to that. I didn’t care, because I was still invested in the film, the story, to let something that should be major worry me too much.

    Tellingly, that’s a Spielberg film too. It’s also an adaption of a Phillip K Dick novel, but there’s little resemblance.

    I saw that Minority Report again recently, and was struck by how much I’ve outgrown it, but still enjoyed it as an action-y type film. I wish now that it had explored the setting more, and had some more serious talk about predestination. Oh well.

    Here’s a short clip from Father Ted. For no particular reason.

    1. Anorak says:

      Having read FCH’s article now – look! Hulk brought up Minority Report too!
      I’ve heard that argument before – that the precogs ought to see arrests not murders, but I don’t subscribe to that. I always figured they saw possible futures, which in itself brings in to question the process.

      If they saw a possible future, how certain are they that it would have come to pass? It’s something you can’t actually know, because there is no way to test it. Well, ethically there’s no way to test it, because you’d have to sit idly by while a murder happens.
      Or doesn’t happen, depending on how certain the precog was. This is what I meant by wanting more exploration on predestination in the film – it’s touched on but not really dwelt upon.

      Here’s a gnome.

    2. CTrees says:

      Off topic: is there a reasonable way to see what’s hidden by spoiler tags on this site, from a mobile browser? Well, on Android, anyway. Most of my browsing time is mobile now, and I rarely remember to go back and check what I missed from a real computer.

      1. Theminimanx says:

        I don’t think you can view spoilers on a mobile browser, but when I use my iPad I copy the spoilered bits and paste them in google translate. It’s not perfect, but it’s a decent enough workaround. Just be sure to use the desktop version of google translate instead of the mobile version when copying large chunks of tekst.

  3. You see the “making things up due to trust” thing happening with a lot of fan bases; one particularly strong example, I think, is Star Wars. While watching the original trilogy, I think most people didn’t notice many things wrong, but those movies have had such a strong impact on pop culture that they’ve been picked apart and gone over a million times.

    This has led to the entire expanded universe and endless fan debates explaining every single thing down to the smallest omitted detail. A novel explains why there seems to be an extra TIE Fighter in one scene, a game explains the motivations behind a character’s seemingly random action. It’s pretty fascinating how human perception colors all beliefs, and I suppose it means that gaining trust is the most important thing in storytelling – not only will more people enjoy it, but they’ll argue and explain your plot holes -for- you.

    1. Din Adn says:

      Probably my favourite instance of this is discussed in the annotation for this strip of Darths & Droids.

      Parsecs. LOL.

  4. Eltanin says:

    I’m hoping that you’ll address Hulk’s contention that retroactive nit-picking doesn’t count because the story teller managed to hold you long enough to get the story out before the viewer/listener threw up their arms in disgust.

    I understood FCH’s point, but a story can be ruined just as effectively after the fact (for me) as in the moment.

    I’m curious about your take on the time sensitive plot hole idea. Because I’m hopeful that you’ll express my feelings better than I can.

    1. Mormegil says:

      Agreed. As an example, when I walked out of Prometheus I thought to myself that I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. Then I thought about some of the things that had bugged me during the movie. Then I thought about some other stuff that hadn’t bugged me at the time but in retrospect was really dumb. By the next day I loathed the movie and when friends asked me if it was any good I was telling them what a train wreck it was.

      1. Anorak says:

        I wanted to love it. I actually had to actively ignore things that annoyed me during the film, trying to suppress my natural curiosity in order to enjoy it. So – I did enjoy it.
        But I will never watch it again.

        This is something that I think is worth pointing out: Hulk said that plot holes don’t count if you think about them after your viewing. Now, I don’t agree, at least not wholly, – because I enjoy rewatching films a great deal, and if it annoyed me after I’d finished, I’m less likely to want to watch it again. I’m also less likely to recommend it to someone else, or if I do it will be with caveats: “Yeah, I enjoyed it while I was watching it, my advise it not to think about it at all though.”

        1. Zukhramm says:

          I guess, if movies and games are just something to something you use to waste time, something to entertain you those two hours and then be forgotten it’s true that it doesn’t matter what you realize after watching or playing.

          But that’s not what they are to me. If I loved in a box with no communication with any other human being aside from movies and games, I can’t see myself enjoying them as much. Writing, reading, thinking and discussing are as important or more important to my enjoyment. I want an experience that lasts, something that feels worthwhile not only while doing it but afterwards as well.

          1. thebigJ_A says:

            I’m pretty sure there’s a name for loving with no communication with any other human being. Not sure if it matters whether one is in a box or not while doing it, though.


      2. False Prophet says:

        It went the other way for me. I had issues with the premise of Prometheus from the get-go, but I was willingly turning them aside for the first half of the movie because the visuals and tension were so great.

        But by the second half, all these characters–almost all of whom I was given no reason to care about or understand–started acting like idiots. If they had acted like idiots after I’d grown to know them somewhat, I might have empathized better. But all I saw were a group of supposed professionals bumbling around.

        And worse, the few moments where I actually felt some understanding with the characters–Idris Elba’s character wanting to get laid, Charlize Theron’s character killing the infected crewmember rather than let him back on the ship–the movie was telling me those were bad decisions. Well, I hadn’t seen a good decision in this movie yet, and when the decisions that were at least sympathetic were condemned, I just gave up trying to like it.

        1. Zukhramm says:

          I’m a little confused, both of those action to me seem to not be condemned in any way.

          Anyway, I had yet another opposite experience. I thought many of the points were stupid the first time though, but they seemed a lot less so the second and third time watching it.

      3. Aldowyn says:

        I did this with Mass Effect. I still do this with most games. I don’t notice plotholes until later unless they’re ridiculously egregious, at least with games. Movies not so much, although I’m not as invested in them at the beginning in the first place.

        Prometheus.. gah. I kept trying to figure out where stuff was coming from and it just wasn’t working. And characterizations and motivations? >.>

    2. ClearWater says:

      This is very true. I was kind of almost enjoying Battleship right up to the credits where they said that the story was based on the board game Battleship. Somehow that ruined the entire movie for me.

      1. Anorak says:

        Actually when I heard it was based on the board game it increased my enjoyment. That film was so awful I think I actually lost consciousness, but I actually loved it for how idiotic and cheap it was. And the scene where they actually play battleships with a buoy array was fantastic. And awful.

        1. Loonyyy says:

          I think he may be being facetious. Point being, if you went into Battleship not knowing it was a cheap tie in adaptation of a board game, your enjoyment (Or lack thereof) isn’t ruined by finding that out at the end.

          You can retroactively nit pick almost anything apart. But then it’s not the trust vs. logic, or the ability of the storyteller to engross you in the narrative at play. It’s just you, an endless amount of time to nitpick, and the logic.

          Which leaves no room for the point Shamus and FCH make: that “plot holes” of a more minor sort, those which don’t stop your suspension of disbelief and cause your understanding of the narrative, characters, and investment in the story, aren’t necessarily terrible, or avoidable.

    3. Joshua says:

      It’s a pretty paltry ambition to have people enjoy a movie only up until the credits are done rolling; a good story ought to keep you entertained even after you’ve had time to think about it. FCH likens it to a magician fooling the audience, and I think that’s a really good analogy: you go to see a magician to be fooled, so it’s missing the point to complain when you are, or that the magician is taking steps to deliberately fool you. BUT…while it’s certainly better to be fooled in the moment than to see through it as it’s happening, it’s better still to continue to be fooled even after the trick is over. Magicians understand this, and will go as far as building stuff into the tricks that won’t be noticed as it’s happening for the sole purpose of making it seem more mysterious the more you think about it. They even understand that, like the Plot Holes that aren’t really, if the audience thinks they see through the trick, it doesn’t matter if they’re wrong, it still deflates the experience, so the good ones take steps to construct the trick so the audience can see and remember how the possibility is ruled out.

      Movies should at least be trying to maintain the logical flow so the audience remains satisfied after the lights come up.

      1. Dragomok says:

        That is… A perfect analogy.

    4. Isy says:

      I sort of get where he’s coming from. There’s nothing worse than trying to enjoy a movie and having people start nitpicking the framing devices, especially in time travel movies – Back to the Future springs to mind (Marty’s photo wouldn’t have worked because blah blah Einstein’s theory of relativity) or the precogs in Minority Report, or even the framing device for Minority Report (really? Life in prison for a crime of passion you didn’t commit? They don’t… take you somewhere to calm down and maybe give you a cup of tea?) They’re perfectly fine framing devices that make sense within the context of the movie’s universe. But I feel like FC Hulk is trying to extend his point too far, and I can’t agree with him. It feels vaguely like he’s saying “if you enjoyed a movie and then watch it later and realize how bad it really is, you’re not allowed to dislike it now because you enjoyed it initially.” Sorry, I don’t think it works that way.

      I had a similar experience to Mormegil with The Dark Knight, where I walked out thinking the movie was good but feeling dissatisfied for some reason, and only realizing why (and worsening my opinion of it) later. It is interesting to see which movies can hold up to scruitiny and which can’t, even when they’re all flawed. The T-Rex out of no where doesn’t bother me at all, even now that I realize it’s there.

      1. Hitchmeister says:

        I think the difference is, some movies seem like fun while you’re in the moment of watching them, but as soon as they end and you have time to think, problems start manifesting themselves. Those are movies that, when all is said and done, fail to a certain degree. Others hold up fine until someone else has to explain to you why there’s a problem. If the movie holds up in the absence of rigorous scrutiny and outside influence, I think it’s safe to say the filmmakers succeeded in their craft.

        And by extension games. If you have to explain to me why a game didn’t really work, then you’re wrong. It did work. Anything can be picked apart with enough effort.

  5. Pyradox says:

    I really don’t want to read that thing. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t, but I feel like dignifying someone who pretends to be the Hulk on the internet by reading his 12,000 word thesis on plot holes is a poor use of my time. But then again so is what I’m about to write, so what do I know?

    It might be a knee jerk reaction but I don’t trust FCH to make a good point with an article that long. Explaining his opinons on plot holes should not take 12,000 words. But you say this is in defense of the Mass Effect 3 ending? OK, I’ll read that. He’s saying that the themes and message of the story, not the integrity of the fictional metaphor itself is what’s important, and he found the ending deeply moving and emotional because he wasn’t hung up on details. OK, I’ll bite.

    Mass Effect 3’s ending crashes and burns on this area perhaps even harder than in a literal logical reading. That’s because it’s thematically broken beyond repair. Mass Effect 2 had *some* thematic consistency even as it railroaded you, but the third game is so far over the place it’s honestly shocking.

    Mass Effect 3 is a game about choices and consequences that ends with a message of fatalism and individual irrelevance. Mass Effect 3 is the capstone to a trilogy about how when people strive to reconcile their differences they can become stronger for it, but it ends by telling us reconciliation is impossible and/or futile. Mass Effect is an entire series about overcoming prejudice and proving that there’s good and bad in every race, colour or creed, but that those differences make them worth fighting for. But the ending is about how robots are bad and you should kill them for being robots. Mass Effect is a saga about corruption and redemption, where the only endings that count require you doing the bidding of your foes, and any attempt to refuse is little more than a non-standard game over.

    Film Crit Hulk’s definition of plot holes doesn’t justify the Mass Effect 3 ending, it condemns it. He can think that the game not emotionally fellating the player or catering to what they want is deep all he likes. Whatever, I’m not a guy who pretends to be a 10 foot tall green monster reviewing movies for the internet, each to their own. But the endings aren’t the abomination they are because they’re emotionally dissatisfying, they’re the worst ending to a work of fiction since Prince of Persia 2008 because they were a complete betrayal of everything the series was about until that point. The Plot holes it generated (Geth and Quarians fighting alongside) weren’t just logical or emotional inconsistencies, they were the game’s story being fundamentally at odds with itself.

    Let me explain:
    The climax of a story, whether it be a complete tale, an episode within a larger series or something less rigidly defined represents the ultimate conflict between the ideologies of the protagonist and antagonist – Luke vs Vader, Gandalf vs the Balrog, JC Denton vs Bob Page. The good guy wins because the good guy is the incarnation of the positive values and lessons the author wants to teach. he doesn’t win because logically he’s smarter or stronger or more experienced – those are just metaphors the writer uses to show the conflict instead of telling it. The bad guy is defeated because they represent the counter-ideology, not because they’re physically incapable of holding their own. Luke wins because good is greater than evil, Gandalf wins because hope is greater than despair (his later resurrection continues the theme), JC wins because whatever the player thinks is most important (represented by the three endings) is greater than Bob Page’s tyranny. This is why a Deus Ex Machina is unsatisfying – the bad guy loses but the protagonist doesn’t win.

    In the end, the balance is restored with the new, good set of values in place of the old, bad ones. The Empire is supplanted by the new republic, Aragorn rules justly over Gondor, whatever JC chose happens. In Mass Effect 3, there are four possibilities, three of which are proposed by the bad guy. Shepard must obey his foe and choose which of their methods he wants to use to achieve piece (genocide, brainwashing or assimilation). In Mass Effect 3 THE BAD GUY WINS. Shepard can’t tell the reapers to leave, or self destruct or both, he must become the tool of his enemy, and in doing so, he secures their victory. The only alternative is death – his enemy wins through conventional means and then those who come later choose one of the reaper’s methods. Either way, the reapers win.

    This isn’t how you end a story. This isn’t like a heroic last stand where even though Shepard dies his ideals live on to inspire the next generation to victory. This isn’t the same as a debate where you convince the reapers to step aside. This isn’t close to a peaceful reconciliation of ideas where the two parties work together to achieve a goal they can both be happy with. Shepard has no agency here. He has no ability to persuade or express his beliefs. He has no way to fight his foes and instead becomes their slave. He has no way to exercise his will that doesn’t involve betraying all he once held dear so he sacrifices it because it’s the only way to progress. Synthesis betrays the value of diversity, Control betrays the value of freedom, destruction betrays the value of honour. Obviously a renegade might not care so much about honour, but I’d think working with the reapers at all would be offensive to them. Anyway, refusal is an outright refutation of all of the above through massive deadly force.

    This ending isn’t transcendent. It’s not meaningful and it’s not thematically consistent. It’s the sight of everything you chose to hold dear over the course of Shepard’s journey crushed and broken before your eyes then thrown back in your face.

    Now at least that wasn’t 12,000 words of all caps.

    1. Chargone says:

      ehh, one can make a good story where evil wins.
      ‘bad ends’ ya know?
      that part isn’t too much of a problem in and of itself.
      though in a game it should always be Because of what you Did, not due to railroading.
      (though, a bad end thus implies, at minimum, a good end as an alternative result if you make different choices.)
      but yeah, you can’t undermine your themes like that and expect it to work.

      i think this bit is probably the biggest issue:
      “Mass Effect 3 is a game about choices and consequences that ends with a message of fatalism and individual irrelevance.”
      choices and consequences can give you a ‘bad end’ (geth/quarian war for example), but, again, the consequences of a different choice should give you a Good end. (well, for things you actually had the opportunity to influence, anyway.)

      ‘course, ME changed owners, writers, lost it’s Lore master, went from being an RPG with enough shooter in it to grab new players to a shooter with just enough RPG in it to not lose the players it already had…

      so, you know, Plenty of issues to be had.

      1. Pyradox says:

        I’ve got no problem with ‘bad endings’. It’s pretty much a metagame based on if you’re taking in the lessons the game is offering you. It’s basically giving you a fail at the end of the test, which is just fine.

        You know what had a great bad ending? This one Japanese murder mystery/courtroom drama game called Dangan Ronpa (you can’t get it in English so I HIGHLY recommend the LP). Without spoiling anything, there’s a point at which the goal is not to shoot down another character’s testimony, but to bluff the jury until the truth can be revealed. It’s basically a prisoner’s dilemma situation where cooperating is the best outcome, but if you betray them, there’s an improper conviction and an entire ending based on that.

        The way the game is set up, that person (the one improperly convicted that is) could be the murderer but you’re lacking a lot of evidence at that point and it seems really out of character for them to be the killer. The jury is all set to vote but you and the character you bluff with think otherwise and need to sway the majority. There’s another character who knows the exact details of the case but refuses to divulge them, but they will let you know if you picked the right culprit. If you shoot down your opposite number they’ll say you’re correct and a conviction occurs. Of course, the game had been telling you up until that point that the most important thing in a case was proof beyond reasonable doubt so you technically failed to learn its lessons. Taking the easy answer means you can’t progress and so the game ends showing what happens now that the mystery can’t be properly resolved. The actual cutscene associated with it makes you feel guilty as hell, then you’re booted back to the decision and have to make the right choice.

        The results are nothing short of spectacular.

    2. Aldowyn says:

      I feel like according to the themes you mentioned, the extended cut is significantly better than the original. The choices ARE significantly different, and some of them are definitely portrayed as something the catalyst does NOT want (mostly Destroy).

      Wait, why does destroy betray honor? Because you essentially betray EDI, the Geth, and other synthetics when you sacrifice them to destroy the reapers, I guess?

      *re-reads some more. There was quite a bit* So you’re saying that those endings are necessarily betraying the idea of choice because you’re working as a pawn to the catalyst? You did the same thing in ME2, although you COULD reverse that at the ending. Which is the opposite of here, which is very relevant.

      Shepard definitely doesn’t win due to any particular, other than just determination in GETTING there. There’s still the fundamental deus ex machina underlying the entire thing, and it feels very much like one. In my opinion that’s the biggest problem – the themes of choice and fatalism or whatever could have been much more consistent without that deus ex machina.

      TL;DR version: it’s certainly not optimal, and I can see your point, but it’s WAY better than it WAS IMO.

      1. Pyradox says:

        Destroy requires you to commit genocide on a)every species the reapers have absorbed, b)the Geth, c)any AIs and d)cyborgs. If you worked with the Geth you are absolutely backstabbing them. There’s a line Javik has about “do you still think you can win this with your honour intact” so that’s what I was thinking of.

        The problem I have with the extended cut is that by the time I got there my suspension of disbelief had been so thoroughly destroyed that I just didn’t buy any of the things it showed me. It felt like the designers just lying to my face saying “no look, it’s fine” when everything I knew about the setting implied it should have been an apocalyptic event, scouring all life from the cosmos.

        It’s like if at the end of Planet of the Apes you saw the statue of liberty, then the next scene was Charlton Heston sitting back home telling the president “thank goodness I traveled back in time to stop you from blowing up the world”. It’s a non-sequiter ending that left out way too much detail to be a plausible continuation of what we’d seen.

        I guess this would come under “not trusting the author”.

        1. Ranneko says:

          Whereas from my perspective I still had more than enough trust in the writers, to think that the energy release from the relays was fundamentally different from crashing a meteor into one.

          Meaning I never saw it in the same light as a catastrophic life scouring event. If for nothing else than it would have been visible on the scenes on earth.

          Sure the fleet at earth is in a bit of a predicament, but that did not occur to me at all at the time, and I can come up with explanations of how to handle that for all but destroy.

          1. Pyradox says:

            That light was visible from the galaxy map. There’s no way you’re releasing that much electromagnetic energy without scouring the galaxy of all life and almost everything else.

          2. Natureguy85 says:

            I know this post is old, but I just found the article. I hear this excuse a lot and it’s what Shamus pointed out about making up stuff to fix it. My question to you then is; what was the point of Arrival? We already knew the Reapers were coming, the galaxy did nothing with the extra few months, and the Alpha relay is destroyed and Shepard is grounded whether you play Arrival or not. So what is the point?

    3. Simon Buchan says:

      Do you mind expanding on why (you thought?) PoP 2008’s ending was bad? That is probably my favorite ending to a game, easily one of my favorite endings in anything – though I would have to go back and see if it still holds up.

      Spoilers, obviously…

      That game was framed with the Prince attempting, at the Princess’s askance, to undo (her father) the King’s bargain to undo her death, and concluded with the Prince undoing his undoing of the King’s undoing of her death in order to undo her (second) death (phew!). In other words, everything you do through the entire game is to show, to both you the player and the Prince, just how horribly bad the result the bargain to save the Princess is, and just how much the Princess would prefer to be dead than to be responsible for the end of the world (somewhat reasonably). And then it shows you that the Prince would still make that same bargain even with full knowledge of exactly what he was trading for her life, even at the cost of the hours of effort he put into reversing it the first time. Perhaps my taste for shaped like themselves plots and nihilism bias me, but that seems like a near perfectly executed tragic ending! (As an aside, I’m actually glad the post-ending DLC was not available for PC, because they can’t possibly do justice to how the Princess should be reacting when she wakes up) I also really like that it’s not a cutscene, that it expects you to make the same decision as the Prince (though I need to play it again to see just how well it did on that – I don’t think it let you just leave her)

      1. Pyradox says:

        The simple answer was that I didn’t fall in love with Elika the way the Prince did. Mostly because every time I failed the last jump in a minute long sequence of platforms she’d put me back where I started and I took that pretty personally after the 500th time. I saw the horror that had been caused by the bargain and resolved to stop it, if that meant killing her then that was her choice, and I respected it. After the Two Thrones had the fantastic scene where the Prince learns to accept his mistakes and move on, I thought they were continuing that theme and I was happy to go along with it.

        So when they forced me to undo those hours I’d invested in making the world safe and defeating the bad guy, I felt pretty betrayed. Here was the game forcing me to make all my hard work useless because my idiot character can’t think far enough ahead to realise that if he blows up the world to save the girl, they’ll both either die anyway or be back where they started. There’s no scenario in which I could see the events as anything other than me being railroaded into being an idiot so then the designers could sell me some DLC.

        You know what I would have liked? if the roles were reversed and Elika saves you from death one last time as the cost of everything else. As in she wants to finally take a chance to save the world the right way instead of just sealing evil away again. Elika could easily represent hope in that story, but she didn’t. Her role was sacrifice and it’s one she wanted that nobody else could bear. At the end, nothing mattered and nobody learned anything. My character had no real motivations of his own – he never wondered if there was another way or found anything to suggest that there might be. Instead, he just decides to turn into a wraith at the last minute.

        A tragic ending should have me making that decision for a good reason. I as a player should have wanted Elika back, or been given some sort of reason why doing that was a good thing, even at the price of oblivion. Maybe explain that I’m saving her from being Ahramann’s eternal prisoner and have me save her out of guilt – I could’ve bought that, but instead it’s just “you know doing this is going to make everything go to hell and you saw what happened to the last guy who tried it, and she won’t appreciate it, but do it anyway”.

    4. Natureguy85 says:

      I know your post is old but I’m just reading it and I think it sums things up perfectly. I have always said in my youtube discussions with people that the worst part of the Mass Effect 3 endings is that they fly in the face of the themes of the series, which are “self-determination” and “strength through diversity”. Synthesis is the most offensive, made worse because it is clearly designed and written to be the “good” ending.

      Now, having to do the bad guy’s bidding could work if the theme had been fatalism, or hadn’t constantly showed Shepard doing what others thought impossible. But instead ME2 gave you a “suicide mission” from which it was very easy to have zero casualties.

      I especially like where you talk about the climax and the characters being the manifestations of the competing ideologies. Nicely written.

  6. Joshua says:

    I’ve often thought about things like this before. Why did the plot holes in this movie bother me but the ones in this other movie didn’t? A good introduction will allow you to smooth over a lot of minor flaws without noticing until later, but it is still possible to find them later.

    And once you get yanked out of the story hard, you’ll notice every little plot hole after that point.

    And I’ve also noticed the subjectivity of an issue depending upon the view of the director/writer. I’ll see something I think is odd or I don’t understand, and others will just say “You just don’t get it”, or “that was intentional”. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between me “not getting it”, or the director just making mistakes.

    1. Joshua says:

      I’ll also have to say that while I understand his point about “the ocean”, it still is an issue when it pulls the audience out of the story because the solution to ensure that there’s still a reason for the movie makes little sense.

      I’ll admit to being one of the people who disliked No Country for Old Men. I was really impressed by the direction and acting, especially in that it told its story so well with so little dialogue, until two events pulled me out of the narrative to go WTF?!?

      1. The part where Moss goes back to give water to the dying man. Beyond being risky, as an act of charity it seems to serve little purpose. The man was on the brink of death, so Moss decides to go back 8 hours later or so just to give him water? The story lampshades this pretty heavily, as he admits he’s about to do the dumbest thing he’s ever done in his life. You can almost here him say, “But hun, if I don’t, there won’t be any more story and we’ll get away with the theft!”

      2. Moss never checks the contents of the satchel until it’s too late. This isn’t as stupid of an error, but actually makes less sense. In the span of several days, especially points where he’s spending money, he never goes through the satchel to count the money, see if there’s any guns or drugs, or otherwise investigate it? Why not? Because if he had searched it he would have found the transponder and gotten away with it.

      These two issues brought me out of the movie and distracted me from the rest of it. Many people it didn’t bother, which is fine, but I disagree with the article here saying that I’m just being illogical for not liking the movie because I found faults that ruined my enjoyment of it.

      1. Zukhramm says:

        I always really hated “else there wouldn’t be any movie” response. Then why bother having any plot at all? Why bother have any sense of logic? Just make a movie and have things happen in it if you want them to!

        1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I don’t know if this sheds light on the general topic or not. In No Country for Old Men, I thought Moss’s foolishness going back with the water was the point of the movie. His guilty conscience got him in trouble. Compared to Chigur, who has no conscience, and the Sheriff who’s conscience is clean, but still unnerved. This is part of the theme of the movie that there was no perfect past that we can use to flog ourselves for how bad the present is. And doing so doesn’t help us beat the Chigurs, it just makes us miserable.

          1. Joshua says:

            I don’t know if I’d agree with this. I picked up on themes of the futility of fighting fate vs. randomness(most of the people spend a good portion of the movie doing random things that accomplish nothing), the weariness of growing older, etc.

            I didn’t really get much of a vibe of Moss’s conscience being his downfall. Although not an evil man, Moss doesn’t really do much else of charity in the film. And it’s not that he tries to be good that bothers me in that his act is both risky *and* pointless. He goes back to give water to the man what’s possibly 8 hours later, when the man is very likely dead. If he wanted to give comfort to the man, he would have been better off making an anonymous call to a hospital.

            At the time, it just seems like he’s doing it because it’s the only way we’d end up with a story. A Shoot the Shaggy Dog Story

            1. Zukhramm says:

              People do stupid things. That has never bothered me. It would probably have done the same things.

        2. Joshua says:

          I remember thinking something similar with Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Seven. Earlier on, the Ubervamps were established as so tough, Buffy was only barely able to defeat one after a long and drawn out fight. Later, even a 15-year old girl with no superpowers was able to handily dispatch multiple Ubervamps. Joss Whedon responded to the protests by saying that the theme was more important to him than maintaining plot consistency.

          So, why did we watch the previous 21 episodes where you were establishing a storyline when you just kind of pulled an answer out of your butt?

          Speaking of Hulk, I was once again reminded of this in the recent Avengers movie. Awesome movie, but the whole Hulk storyline has a major plot hole. Yeah, so you explain how he’s able to turn into the Hulk at will. You did *not* explain why he’s now suddenly able to control himself while in that form. That whole middle scene with Hulk trying to kill Black Widow and destroy the ship takes on a whole new meaning when you realize that he could (relatively) control himself the entire time. I’m sure Joss Whedon just rationalized it as the coolness of the moment being more important than the consistency of the storyline.

          1. Loonyyy says:

            I didn’t get that either. Hulk saves Iron Man, and obeys orders, which makes absolutely no sense in the context. The first half of the movie is spent talking about how it’s a monster, a beast, uncontrollable, and the like. But then at the end, Bruce is able to control it with absolutely no elaboration.

            If I was to hazard a guess at Fridge Logic, I’d say that it’s the culmination of his arc, that he’s accepted the Hulk as a part of who he is, and as a sheild from harm (RE: Banner’s conversation with Stark), and hence isn’t fighting the Hulk anymore and there’s now no difference between him and it.

            But 1) That destroys the Hulk’s central premise.
            2) That still doesn’t explain properly why the Hulk is now not a crazt monster. Ok, so Bruce accepts it. It’s not elaborated on in the continuity that his acceptance of what he is would give him any semblance of control.
            3) The Hulk acts differently to Banner, and vice versa.

            1. Joshua says:

              It appears that Whedon’s excuse is Bruce saying that his secret is that “he’s always angry”.

              Well, that just explains how he can change into the Hulk at will, not how he can control himself.

              Plus, the other Avengers suggest to him that now would be a good time to Hulk out, when it makes absolutely no sense why they think that would be a good idea.

        3. Loonyyy says:

          I thought this was the weakest part of what I read from FCH’s article (I didn’t finish. All caps can suck it.)

          If at any point I can go “Well then there wouldn’t be a movie”, the movie has failed. It’s not a valid excuse. His bullshit contrivances for dodging that point (That supposedly all movies can be reduced to it), are frankly egregious and stupid.

          To take his insistance on considering it an example of real life-stories that really happened rarely have an excuse of “Because otherwise the story would not have happened”. They happened because of the interaction of the components of the story or the event. Even if some of those interactions are characters being stupid.

          For instance, a World War II movie isn’t able to be called out by this. (I’m not saying I like these, just an example). Because you can’t simplify it with “Well they could just not war” or “Well they could just annihilate the Germans with magic”.

          I’m willing to accept the setting and the technology (In Sci-Fi) with this kind of dismissal-it is because it is, and that’s the story, but the characters, motivations and plot arc have to do something better. If I spend the entire time going “Just call the police” or the like, without even a lampshade, I’m left feeling I’m the smartest person in the room, and that the movie is an affront to my intellect. At least hand wave it with “He’s a little kid and thinks he’ll get in trouble if he does” like Home Alone.

          Looking to Jurassic Park-is there a point with the plot (Not the setting), where we can go “Because there wouldn’t be a movie”. In fact, the excuse “Because there wouldn’t be a movie” can justify the most egregious of plot holes and nonsense, simply because it ignores them outright. And the truth is, that there wouldn’t be THIS movie. This particular plot or character. But there might be a better one, and that’s what we’re looking for.

  7. Shawn says:

    I just rewatched Starship Troopers last night, as it’s one of my all time favorite movies now. I think one of the things I love about it is how often people don’t get it, that it presents a movie about Space Nazis, fighting a war that if you pay attention they clearly started for no good reason except to feed the Military Industrial Complex, and it never calls them on it. In every other movie, the Space Nazis would be revealed as the bad guys and get some sort of comeuppance. But in Starship Troopers we see the whole movie from their view and things are great for them.

    The first time I saw it, I remember being really confused by it. I caught part of the point of it, but like Shamus I mostly missed it. I found the movie incredibly intriguing, and dumb, and awesome, and confusing.

    Years later, it’s one of my favorite films.

    1. Tse says:

      It’s true that the signs of what’s actually going on may be easy to miss, but they are there in most scenes of the movie. The propaganda videos, the military government, the unequal rights of citizens and non-citizens, the things taught in school, the glorification of war, the fact that serving in the military is expected from everyone and without doing it you can’t practice many professions or even have a baby, the sheer brutality in the military, the whole ridiculous idea of the bugs attacking Earth while being too far to colonize it, the disregard for human life, the torture of captives.

      1. mdqp says:

        I don’t really think they are hard to miss. In fact, I didn’t like the movie because it beats you over the head with its message, and does so over and over again. I don’t like movies that try to criticize a genre or an idea by simply portraying it and saying (usually outside of the movie) “this is satire” or “this is bad”. You basically want to prove that theft is bad… By committing a theft, and then say “I did it ironically” or something as asinine as that. You either make a critic within your story, making it part of the artistic vision you have, or you don’t, I am not going to stalk you in order to pick your brain and see what your movie was about.

        1. Dragomok says:

          …Or you just make it exaggerated, completely over-the-top, and show all the foolishness of what you are criticising/parodying with straight face.

          I doubt many people would agree that The Naked Gun is a serious police drama that falls flat.

          1. mdqp says:

            I include the over the top part in the “criticism within the movie” category. You basically can’t really play it straight (the over the top isn’t really a straight interpretation, in my opinion), and then say art/irony/satire/deep message/etc, it just doesn’t work that way.

      2. I should note that in the original Heinlein book, some (though not all) of that stuff was present and Heinlein was fairly definitely playing it straight as a more or less desirable situation. Mind you, there are those who would argue Heinlein was basically a fascist.

        1. Bubble181 says:

          They’d be completely off base. Seriosuly, Heinlein was far from a fascist – au contraire – and even in the book (which I prefer to the movie), it’s not presented as a godo thing. It’s presented much like we view democracy today – the least of all evils.
          It’s also a much different world from that of the movie.

          1. nerdpride says:

            Heinlein was so much better than this sub-B movie. His ideal military force wasn’t unnecessarily cruel–more completely optional than any modern military actually becasue they could quit at any time and only forfeit citizenship. The rationale behind veteran voting was twofold: the democratically empowered are proven as both more selfless than average and also the most likely to be the ones to revolt if they didn’t have influence (government is at least stable). If there’s ever any reason to enfranchise only a subset of the population, sounds like the way to go.

            And he had a much better reason for the existence of Mobile Infantry. You don’t want to just turn entire planets into glass, so the badass military force is both intimidating and capable of special operations like assassination. Surgical is quasi-humane, and there will be cases where treating or isolation aren’t possible.

            Heinlein himself started as a socialist. One of his first writings (unfinished, published after death or something) argues that everyone should recieve inheritance from every scientist/inventor who ever lived. He really liked Teddy Roosevelt and New Deal throughout his life AFAIK. I don’t remember what changed his views to more libertarian. And then he wrote things like Stranger in a Strange Land about fun sex cults. Such an interesting dude! And you understand him from first glance instead of this magician bleargh.

            If the movie actually says something about facism, it’s lost because Heinlein had such a different, more powerful message. I heard from somewhere that Verhoeven didn’t finish reading Heinlein’s book. :(

    2. Kylroy says:

      Honestly, biggest reason people didn’t see the subtext? It was made by Paul Verhoeven. When Starship Troopers was released, his previous four movies were Showgirls, Basic Instinct, Total Recall, and RoboCop – not all Michael Bay-level brainless entertainment, but none of them were attempting to operate on more than one level.

      If the exact same film were released with Christopher Nolan’s name on it, people would have spotted in the underlying ideas instantly.

      1. Zukhramm says:

        I guess I didn’t know that. My biggest problem wast the it was too obvious and could benefit for some subtlety.

      2. PAK says:

        I’m totally confused by this. I’m less familiar with Showgirls and Basic Instinct, but both Total Recall and RoboCop lay on the satire and dark comedy pretty thick. RoboCop has oft drawn praise for its social satire. They are far from operating on one level.

        Now whether either movie really succeeds well in execution is another matter, and I don’t consider either of them great, but I’ve always admired their intent and found it pretty clear. For that reason, I understood Starship Troopers immediately. I mean, I was looking for that stuff, ‘cuz c’mon–it’s Paul Verhoeven!

        1. Kylroy says:

          Right – they lay it on pretty thick. The bad guys in Robocop are moustache-twirling villains who are also corporate yuppies. Total Recall has a mindfuck at the center of the story, but it’s a matter of post-movie conversation that impacts the actual plot not at all.

          I admit that this stuff didn’t come out of nowhere with him. His movies are *not* mindless, but the rest (except possibly Showgirls, which encountered the same “Whaddaya mean it’s a parody” problem) present their snark in the text, not the subtext.

          1. PAK says:

            Ah, I think I didn’t understand the nuances of your original comment. We are essentially in agreement then–except…I guess I have a hard time seeing the fascist commentary in ST as subtextual. To my mind, the in-story propaganda was just as heavy-handed as the malfunctioning robot in the board meeting in RoboCop. But obviously, I am not in the majority on that point.

          2. Tizzy says:

            Pretty thick indeed… In Robocop, when he removes his helmet for the third act, I almost groaned out loud because Verhoeven was laying on the symbolism so thick.

      3. Tizzy says:

        I disagree: Robocop had some rather blatant subtext in a similar vein (privatization of law enforcement, technology vs. humanity). Why do you think Robocop removes his helmet in the last act?

        Didn’t see the other two, but I wouldn’t be surprised to know they have subtext as well…

      4. LunaticFringe says:

        Actually Verhoeven said Robocop is basically a Jesus metaphor mixed with some commentary on privatizing public services. Certain scenes, such as Robocop’s confrontation with Red Foreman, reinforce this (throughout the scene Robocop is walking over a thin pool of water, Verhoeven is on record saying that this is a Biblical reference). Of course it can be taken too far, some people think that the evil businessman being thrown out of the tower at the end is symbolic of the Devil being thrown out of Heaven, but Verhoeven stated that this wasn’t his intention (but joked that he’d gladly take credit).

      5. Wait–you think RoboCop wasn’t trying to operate on more than one level? RoboCop is a brilliant satire.

    3. CTrees says:

      I get it and I like the movie, but I still like the book much more. I personally view them as having a Rashomon-like relationship, more than simply being completely different.

      1. LunaticFringe says:

        Heinlein’s societal themes are also a lot different then Verhoeven’s. Heinlein’s goal in Starship Troopers was to design a society where you’d never have to create a draft to win a war. Heinlein basically saw his society as a balancing act between personal liberty and responsibility to the state. Verhoeven’s society is a much more general and stereotypical commentary on fascism.

    4. When I saw it, I was well aware of the subtexts, but I’m not sure Verhoven pulled them off.

      The “Tell Me More” sequences spoke less to me about fascist propaganda and seemed more to me like “oh, he wants to get that cynical edge he had in Robocop.”

      Also, if you have problems with warfare in ME3, Starship Troopers will make your head explode. Few in the movie apart from Michael Ironside and Clancy Brown can act, the war itself makes no sense (the bugs can launch asteroids across the galaxy, yet they travel slow enough to let a spaceship dodge one?), the infantry meat-grinder was ludicrous, and about the only positive thing to come out of the whole mess was a lot of better sci-fi movies and TV shows got to recycle the trooper armor.

      I think the guns, tits, and blood are what keep this thing on FX, not any message about war and ideology.

      1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        I agree with many of these points. The movie is watchable, but even knowing the satire under the armor, I never see the fascism (at least not anything recognizable as classical fascism -this is more like the “Plato’s Republic is a Fascist Tyranny!” kind of fascism). I see a bunch of militaristic morons, which I have seen in a dozen other anti-war movies. It’s Full Metal Jacket in space with worse actors and half the story.

      2. Dragomok says:

        I have always fought that the asteroid was a quite subtle bit to reinforce the message; plot-wise, it was just a completely random piece of rock that the Earth’s government used as a handy but fake casus belli.
        Since, you know, the laws of distance and scale dictate that even if Arachnids had launched it, they would have had to do it long before humanity reached their territory (or maybe even space). You can have as many warp-drives, mass relays or teleporters in your sci-fi as you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that an ordinary chunk of rock shouldn’t be able travel at FTL speeds.

        1. Shawn says:

          Exactly. That’s what I’m saying about stuff people miss. It’s pretty clear the bugs didn’t launch the attack on earth, and we just used it as an excuse to start a war with them. That’s part of the point.

          I think part of why I love Starship Troopers so much is it takes the idea of an unreliable narrator and turns it up to 11 and puts it in a big dumb action movie and sets it to a global scale.

          1. Talbot says:

            I view Starship Troopers as basically being propaganda for itself. It’s a propaganda film from the society it depicts.

            1. WJS says:

              There’s a pretty strong argument that Star Trek is like that too. The Federation are always shown in the best possible light, anyone who calls out any of their dodgy bullshit is always portrayed as being wrong, etc… The show semi-regularly tells us that it’s better to let billions of people die than to help them, no matter how easy it would be, and nobody is ever allowed to criticise that.

  8. Vegedus says:

    I agree a lot with this. I liked the ME3 ending because I was invested enough in the themes and characters, and liked these enough, that I could easily gloss over plot holes. It’s not that I didn’t notice them, I could just easily, almost subconsciously, insert my own logic. I “bought” that it was supposed to be a bittersweet ending, so I was never in any doubt that galactic civilization would find a way, despite the destruction of the mass relays, to take one example. At the danger of sounding a bit smug, the Extended Cut showed that this was indeed the correct interpretation, by showing the more literal minded players that the relays could still be repaired, while I just assumed they could be, or an alternative solution could be done given the technological leaps of the Control and Synthesis ending.

    I think one of my friends I’ve had this augment with a number of times formulated it as “You only start noticing plot holes when you’re bored for other reasons”. Prometheus isn’t a bad movie because of this scene. While that scene is intristically stupid, you only remember it because, I think, there is a disconnect between what the viewer thinks the movie is about, what the movie is about in the beginning, and what it is about as it develops.

    I think the most important thing to take away from this is that discussing plot-holes and in-fiction is completely futile. There is an infinite amount of hypotheticals and it’s, well, fiction. A trusting viewer can always find a way for it to make sense, and an untrusting one can always find a way for it not to make sense. The important thing to discuss is, why are we even noticing these plot holes to begin with. Is there not some larger, but harder to articulate, reason the viewer is disconnected enough from the story as presented to try to debunk it. While a staggering amount of plot holes can probably cause this, I think it’s generally more common for it to be stuff like inconsistent theme, dysfunctional characters, lack of or too overt foreshadowing and so on.

    1. Mike S. says:

      As a counter-datum, though: I loved and continue to love the ME series, and made a conscious choice to buy into the parts of of the story that demanded to be read kindly. In particular, with ME3 I explicitly steeled myself for the fact that the games’ endings tend not to hold up under any sort of analysis. Add to that the difficulty of ending a long SF story well (too many examples to mention). I thought I’d pitched my expectations properly.

      And right up through the confrontation with the Illusive Man on the Citadel, I was fine with it. I know a lot of people hated London. But while I spent many hours in the ensuing months talking about missed opportunities and plot problems, when I play through it what I get is the gut-deep oppressive sense of loss and oncoming doom. It’s not exactly fun, and I can criticize the specifics with the best of them. But at the time, for me, it feels powerful and meaningful.

      That, the moving last conversations with the people Shepard’s been through Hell with, and a fight that really felt all but overwhelming (how many banshees?!?!?) had me (I thought) ready for just about anything.

      And then the Catalyst ending came.

      I literally spent days trying to make it work in my head. I wanted it to work– not perfectly, but at least enough to the extent that Saren turning into a robo-husk and being killed somehow made Sovereign vulnerable, or the Collectors being helpful enough to put their entire population within range of one large bomb. Just enough to cap the story and not undercut it.

      But I couldn’t. The combination of its abruptness, its destructiveness to the game’s themes and a universe I’d liked, and the oversized chunk of suspended disbelief it was serving was too much for me.

      (And the thing I most hated about it in retrospect was that it made it very difficult to discuss the rest of the game’s plots in isolation.)

      But one thing I haven’t seen in other comments, though: my reaction was– to some extent deliberately– compartmentalized. The more I thought about the ending, the more I disliked it. And so extrapolated the various horrible implications and thematic and plot wrenches inherent in each ending in proper angry nerd fashion. :-)

      But the rest of the game still works for me. I didn’t have the experience (which I have had in other contexts) of a bad ending retroactively poisoning the rest of the story, so that the plot gaps show up in stark relief. I’m still willing to cut the story the slack it needs everywhere else. And ME3 is still the most emotionally compelling installment in the series for me.

      (Which has made this a kind of hard series to watch. :-) But because I really like the game, a place to discuss it in which posters may be mostly negative about it, but are generally polite, well-reasoned, and don’t just shout “Space Magic!” every third post is well worth it.)

      Has anyone else had the experience of having one critical part of a story utterly break their tolerances, while still wanting (and being able) to meet the author halfway everywhere else?

      1. Vegedus says:

        I do still think the main problems of ME3 is in the ending. It’s not before that point that the trust is broken, at least for a good amount of people. I’m just saying that the reason it is, is more about “But I couldn't. The combination of its abruptness, its destructiveness to the game's themes and a universe I'd liked” than “oversized chunk of suspended disbelief”. The ending felt abrupt to me too, but I was able to push through it, basically.

    2. Michael says:

      I think one of my friends I've had this augment with a number of times formulated it as “You only start noticing plot holes when you're bored for other reasons”

      Yes. Yes yes yes. This.

      I have trouble engaging non-interactive pieces of fiction for this very reason. I can’t sit there and do nothing while the story takes place. I’m always thinking, fidgeting, or trying to start a conversation – something to get me actively engaged in something, even if it’s not the fiction.

      This rears its ugly head all the time when I hang out with my friends. One, specifically, absolutely loves story-driven and character-driven anime. And he’s been trying, for the past 10 years, to find one that I’d like. (Spoilers: he hasn’t.)

      Most recently he’s introduced to me to ‘Please Teacher!’, something that I couldn’t actually watch. The plot synopsis he provided was more than enough for me to not like it. While I’m told it’s a pretty good love story, it’s funny at times, and there’s even a subplot with aliens, I couldn’t bring myself to not see it as reprehensible.

      Since we started in (what I assume is) the middle of the story, I asked him to give me a run-down of what happened so far. I honestly have no idea what he said because I couldn’t stop raging after he mentioned a fifteen-year-old was married to his teacher. And, in-universe, this was perfectly okay. Never you mind that they weren’t married when she started teaching his class, and that the school only checked to see if she was married after they found them in the locker room together. Never you mind that the headmaster of the school has no problems with this as long as no one else finds out. Never you mind that the boy is underage. Never you mind that there’s a sex scene between the two and a honeymoon episode.

      This argument went on for a while, and I even ended up yelling a bit at him. While it started with that little point (the marriage), every thing he ended up saying just raised more and more questions.

      And this ties in with what Shamus ended the article with. My friend was trying to defend the show, and took no issue with it at all. Which I find even more horrifying.

      On the other hand, I’m willing to gloss over things as egregious as this in video games because I’m doing something. The simple act of playing the game placates my overactive mind, and I don’t pay as much attention as I would to non-interactive fiction.

      1. Vegedus says:

        Hah, I’m not too different myself. After a lifetime of interactive entertainment, games and tabletop roleplaying games, I have trouble maintaining concentration when I engage the passive sort. My solution thus far have to be doing something while I’m watching, like eating, which have helped me watch plenty anime. I steer way clear of the shota/loli stuff though :/

  9. Indy says:

    I feel like the place where I lost trust in the Mass Effect series was when everyone got on the shuttle in number 2. It wasn’t invalid, from a storytelling sense, but it was really grating. And it wasn’t the storytelling that had me snickering in the final scene of that game.

    After that, the kid, Earth, the all-too-convenience of the galaxy… I couldn’t start trusting them again. And then there was Kai Leng.

    However, the stuff with the Genophage, the Quarians and the Geth, and an overwhelming desire to really hurt Kai Leng kept me going, and I could ignore stupidity when those situations were brought up. The first time through the game, I didn’t even notice the impossible heart hanging over my head in the Cerberus HQ, there was an insane space ninja to punch!

    1. SleepingDragon says:

      I was actually able to push through 2, largely because I was invested in some of the characters and their stories worked as distractions from the mess that the main story was in places. I was annoyed at the whole Cerberus thing but I still believed that a lot of it could be lampshaded by Miranda being basically TIM’s agent on the ship and lying through her teeth, the first point I remember seriously rolling my eyes was the all too obvious collectors’ ship trap but I was still willing to let it slide in the “yeah, I caught you doing this, don’t do it again” way. Heck, I was even willing to run with the “reapers are people!” reveal just accepting that the execution was terrible.

      And after 2 with almost every press release relating to 3 my trust was eroded. The more I heard the more negative I was not only to 3 but also to 2. “No, I don’t want some effin urban combat in destroyed London! I want to see space!”, “I don’t want to save creepy kids in their fields, I want to see more alien races!”, “I don’t want smaller reapers to fight on foot, I want to see a desperate struggle against alien elder gods!”

      I’m sure part of my nitpicking on 2 was venting of the annoyance with 3, but I also think this was about me not trusting the authors anymore. I could already see the story wasn’t shaping into a coherent whole and so I was less willing to let stuff slide as “not explaining every single detail” and point to it as “lack of consequence” or just plain “we need another action sequence here, who cares about the plot”.

      1. Atarlost says:

        Those seem to be common complaints, but except for the kid they didn’t have a lot of choice — if they wanted a squad shooter or RPG. They would have had to jump to the much less technically explored space strategy genre, and to keep the action gamers it would probably have to be a TBS/flight sim hybrid or a 3d RTS/TBS hybrid.

        The TBS layer could be hacked onto the galaxy map, but there aren’t any AAA flight sim or 3d RTS engines out there for licensing the way there are FPS/TPS engines.

        It would be as big a risk proportionately as Blizzard moving the Warcraft franchise from RTS to MMORPG and for a lot less potential payoff. And AAA games are bigger risks in general now. An indie game could have jumped genres because of lower expectations, but not a AAA game.

        1. Sure they did. They could have made the final battle at the very least a boss fight, which would have been more interesting (though again, if the results were the same, it still would have been bad).

          The final scene could have been Shep leading her squad into battle as a morale boost for the rest of the galaxy: “I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favorite war on the Citadel!” Wherever the fight took place, there could have been various targets/checkpoints that, if reached, would sway the outcome. Certain areas/fights could be deadly to various companions, resulting in their permanent death if you weren’t careful. Choices of which thing to click or shoot coupled with the “war assets” would determine the fates of whole races.

          For a simpler idea, look at Fallout New Vegas’ attack on Hoover Dam and substitute the Reapers for Caesar’s Legion turned up to 11. You can still have an ending where your choices have some effect without having to bring out someone that makes all of your previous actions moot and ends the story in an unsatisfying way.

          1. SleepingDragon says:

            In all fairness I respect the fact that they didn’t make the finale a boss fight. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the schizophrenia that ME shows as a series was an actual honest attempt to listen to the player complaints, particularly between 2 and 3:

            Players complained that Cerberus was unconvincing as a “good but extremist” organization, that TIM was obnoxious and they wanted to kill him. So in ME3 Cerberus is evil again, to the point of stupidity.

            Players complained that the ending “giant skeleton” bossfight was stupid. So in ME3 we don’t have a bossfight but instead an atmospheric sequence with roleplaying and big decisions made in dialogue.

            Again, I like the fact that they tried to replace the obligatory bossfight at the end with something more roleplayish, it’s the execution and stupidity of that sequence that annoys me. Also, why they discarded the “suicide mission” mechanics and didn’t use it at around the finale I’ll never know.

  10. MrGuy says:

    Biting on a tootsie roll center rarely goes crunch.

    1. rayen says:

      Biting a Tootsie roll pop does. It is the thing that has a Tootsie roll center. you obviously don’t trust the writer.

      1. HiEv says:

        Right, but Shamus said that he was talking about the “Tootsie-Roll center of the thing”, and then he said “it goes crunch.” Going “crunch” is what gets you to the center, but it’s not the center itself that goes “crunch”.

        It’s rather funny in an article on plot holes, that both MrGuy and I stumbled when reading that part.

        I still liked the rest of the article, even if that bit bugged me.

        1. Van Tuber says:

          While Shamus’ wording is imprecise, I think that it is still consistent. He is using “tootsie-roll center” not as the center itself, but the concept of finally getting to the heart of the matter through analogy. Remember from the commercials, “how many licks does it take to get the center of a tootsie-pop?” The thing to be desired was the center, and the candy shell was just an impediment. Something to be patiently licked away until you got your reward. Inevitably, everyone would simply crunch through the shell and wait.

          However, in reality you can’t actually do this; the things were too thick. Instead you would have to wait until the shell got thin enough. Shamus is referring to that satisfaction of finally getting to the center as is associating the “crunch” with that satisfaction of finally getting to the most important, core bit.

          1. Maybe he accidentally bit down on a Tootsie Roll left over from Halloween 2010?

  11. Henson says:

    This ‘trust in the author’ point partly made the difference for me between Mass Effect 1 & 2. In ME1, I was learning about my Shepard, the world and how the fiction worked, so I was able to chalk up any inconsistencies or railroading as part of a larger whole I just wasn’t seeing. In ME2, I understood my Shepard and the fiction much better, and so the inconsistencies and railroading became problems with the writing.

    I still think ME1 is a much tighter narrative experience, though (and not broken).

    1. Chargone says:

      if memory serves, they also lost their lore master and changed writers after 1. (not sure if one of them quit part way through 2 or both before it, i forget) and basically switched from ‘RPG with shooter-esque combat’ to ‘shooter with a dialog tree’ (there’s quite a noticeable difference. if nothing else, the way ammo is treated between the two games is a huge tip-off to the shift.) … the two ideas look quite similar, but come with completely different attitudes to almost everything that result in a rather different experience. (RPG focus would have lead to doing Something to reduce the stupid of the various world breaking plot-horrors in that game, or so i’d like to think, at least.)

      your last paragraph is thus probably correct.

      1. LunaticFringe says:

        Lore master? I assume you mean L’Etoile? He did do some work on Mass Effect 2 and left Bioware shortly afterward. The other major writer for Mass Effect, Drew Karpyshyn, was one of the leads on ME2, but retired from video game writing after doing some work on TOR. I think your point about the game’s mechanics and theme shifting after the first game is a great one, but personally I also lay the blame on Mac Walters, lead writer on ME2 and 3. From the interviews I’ve read he seems to not ‘get’ that you need some internal consistency in your story (he also helped to reinforce the ME series biggest issue: actually planning the series ahead of time. In one interview he openly admits they had ‘no idea what the hell they were doing’ when they made Mass Effect 2’s ending).

        1. Chargone says:

          that then.

          like i said, vague memory of something i read a couple of days back. *shrugs*.

  12. karthik says:

    This cuts right to the heart of things, doesn’t it?

    You just explained why I don’t enjoy Spoiler Warning: It’s because my narrative buy-in is (in general) much greater than yours, and while I like taking things apart too, I’m on the defensive when you’re tearing apart something I’ve enjoyed.

    Yes, I know that you guys enjoyed it too, and that it’s possible to like something while being deeply aware of its many flaws–it’s just that two out of three errors you point out about Mass Effect 3 in episodes I’ve watched are things I’ve easily justified to myself. I find myself thinking: “No game can work for you if you don’t want to work with it. The SW crew has apparently decided they’re going to tear ME3 a new one.”

    This must be the most insightful post I’ve read on this website, and knowing your output, Shamus, that’s saying something!

  13. MrGuy says:

    I think a big factor in how noticible inconsistencies are depends on what parts of your brain you’re using at the time.

    We have our logical thinky-box part of the brain. This is the part that listens to exposition, and keeps the mental model of what’s going on. It’s the part that’s likely to notice plot holes, because it notices inconsistencies. Then we have our pit-of-our-stomach emotional part of the brain. It’s what’s responsible for tracking what feels right. What the stakes are. It’s what keeps us rooting for the hero.

    We’re always using both parts, but we’re not usually doing so in equal balance. A plot-exposition heavy scene (I love the diorama scene from Back to the Future here) is thinky-box heavy. Look, here’s what’s going to happen. An emotional scene where the stakes are ramped up to 11 is pit-of-stomach heavy – we’re feeling, not analyzing.

    The reason the climactic scene of Back to the Future works even though Marty is a few seconds late is that it’s a pit-of-stomach scene. Here’s all the payoff. We want to see Marty make it home. And this is almost a sports movie sceen – it’s a race, and our opponent cheated and got off the line first. Can the hero catch him? And we don’t worry about the logic issue because the movie has done as much as possible to NOT engage the thinky-box right now (this is why the diorama scene is brilliant – it moved all the exposition OUT of the emotional scene). You’re not analyzing. You’re feeling.

    Spielberg once famously said it didn’t matter if a real air tank would explode like the one in Jaws, because if he’d done his job they’d be standing on their chairs screaming “Yes!”

    Movies that get dinged for plot holes are usually ones that don’t get when to turn the thinky-box off.

    Imagine a scene – the hero and heroine are making a desparate trip through the doom fortress to defeat the Hitler analog’s doomsday device. Just as they’re getting to the control room, and explosion! The hero is left dangling over the pit of doom, and the heroine can’t reach him. And he says “You have to go on!” “No, I won’t leave you to die!” “You have to. You have to shoot the main power coupling over the acid tank!” “I’m not sure I can!” “The doomsday field is plasma stabalized! Taking out the main coupling will reverse the polarity of the containment field. The ion charge panels will tear themselves apart.” {silent emotional look} “You have to go!” {drops into the abyss}

    The problem here isn’t the nonsense technobabble (OK, it’s a problem if the writers couldn’t come up with something better than this, but it’s not the MAIN problem). The problem is taking the “emotions up to 11” scene and suddenly diving into plot exhibition. You’ve suddenly turned the thinky-box on. And once it’s on, it does what it does – it analyzes this and says “wait – what? When did that become the thing we were trying to do? And why does that make any sense? Who puts the main power coupling over an acid tank? etc. etc.” It’s not the thinky-box’s fault – you TURNED it on. And because it’s already an emotional moment, just while the director wants you pit-of-stomach feeling, you’re here thinky-boxing “this makes no sense.”

    And you’ve ruined your emotional climax. But more than that. You’ve taken the moment where the viewer is MOST INVESTED in your story, and used that moment to draw a big red circle around your gaping plot hole.

  14. Raygereio says:

    I disagree with the Hulk’s definition:


    Boom. Definition right there.
    The rest of the Hulk’s definition is related to wether or not a plothole presents a problem and that’s related to Shamus’ “trust”. Well, I always prefer to call this tolerance levels.

    I personally have a very low base tolerance level for plot holes and other forms of crap writing because I think. I can’t shut down my brain when playing a game, reading a book or watching a movie. When the story then presents me with holes I notice it.
    Other people just shut down their higher faculties and enjoy their explosions while a little stream of drool drips down from their chin. Now I use negative terms, but this is not a bad thing per se. Different people will have different tolerances to gaps in logic, etc.

    To use an example of ME1: let’s take the audio recording. This thing without any other actually substantial piece of evidence is presented and accepted as irrefutable evidence in a hearing. The plot hole is there.
    Some people simply nod, accept it and move on. Maybe they try to fill in the gap in their heads by comming up with some sort of justification, maybe they don’t give it even give it thought. Regardless, it isn’t a problem for them.
    I on the other hand mentally trip over it as I try to make sense of it and the story stops working for me.

    Likewise, a good story can raise your tolerance levels to the point where you may encounter plotholes but don’t care about. Like Shamus’ Spiderman II example.

    Was this entire post nitpicking and repeating things just slightly reworded, while pretty much agreeing with everything? Why yes it was.

  15. You said that I would get used to the ALL CAPS. I did. So much so that coming back to properly capitalized text felt weird. Odd how your brain adjusts like that.

  16. Psithief says:

    For movies I typically get as far as “I’m sure it made sense in the script, and then EDITING happened to it.”

  17. Shamus, what you are describing “Why didn't E.T. use this levitation power earlier?” is what I’d call as continuity gap, that means it could be explained.
    For example ET might only be able to do it once per x amount of time, or ET did not want to reveal his abilities. Other explanations are also possible and they all “fit” the story; hence it is a continuity gap.

    Now the cigarette example, that’s a continuity error, where earlier shot footage was re-used later perhaps, and the editor was not aware of the “last smoke” dialog or missed/forgot it.

    Mass Effect trilogy as far as I can recall has no continuity error‘s, it does have a lot of continuity gap‘s though.
    And there are a lot of easy-way-out (Shepard falling anyone?) writing.

    I hope you like “continuity gap“. For a full definition (if this isn’t on TV tropes it might very well be soon).

    continuity gap: When a viewer/reader/listener need to take a leap of faith to bridge a continuity gap due to a lack of explanation of the gap. The gap can be the lack of explanation of something as simple as how someone got to where they are now, and if a explanation where to be added it would not break the story. In contrast a plot hole can not be leaped over.

    1. Lame Duck says:

      The problem with that definition is that the difference between a continuity gap and plot hole largely depends on the imagination of the viewer and their willingness to make the leap.

      1. Exactly, which is what Shamus wished he had a term for, hence my post above :)

    2. Amnestic says:

      I believe the Rachni Queen is actually a retcon/continuity error from ME2->ME3. If you allow the Rachni Queen to live, you see an Asari on Ilium in ME2 who states that when the time is right, the Rachni will ally with Shepard again and are building an army in preparation for the Reapers.

      In ME3, Shepard states that the Rachni ‘promised to disappear forever’. For your perusal: ME1 (for completion’s sake), ME2. ME3 (start at about 0:50).

      Looks like a clear plothole rather than a plotgap to me :p There’s probably more in Mass Effect, but that’s one off the top of my head.

  18. Jokerman says:

    Jesus i hate the way he writes, i did read the whole thing kind of…unknowingly doing what shamus did and skipped some bits on movies i haven’t seen.

    I like your ideas of trust, i played through ME2 without really knowing why i did not like it, just felt like there was something….missing. I couldn’t put my finger on why i didn’t like it as much (I still saw the human reaper as ridiculous, i wasn’t blind.) Bioware had never let me down up to that point, it took until Shamus broke it down on here that i could put my finger on it.

  19. lurkey says:

    Tip: if you Ctrl+C Ctrl+V Hulk’s text to Word and set it in Upper Case, it becomes readable!

    And speaking of trust in the storyteller — just the other day I was looking at Dragon Age 2 icon on my desktop and thinking that if it was made by Obsidian or Ice-Pick Lodge, with a minor fix here and there it could have been a subtle, ironic tale about a hapless insignificant mook caught in grandioso affairs of typical world-changing RPG protagonists, with unrelenting railroading, identikit dungeons and paratrooper trashmobs being purposefully incorporated into the narrative as some sort of meta-with-a-lean-on-the-fourth-wall commentary.

    But since it’s Bioware, it’s just a World Saviour’s journey gone laughably wrong.

  20. LazerBlade says:

    There is a technical term for this called willing suspension of disbelief. This is the thing where you know deep down inside that “cliche’ shoot guy” could never really dodge bullets or that the badguys wouldn’t always wait 3-4 seconds before they pulled the trigger, but you hand-wave it because you’re into the story and care about the it. The movie Equilibrium is a good example of this for me. This also applies to plot details. In DX:HR I let all kinds of unrealistic or implausible things slip by(also forgetting what they were like Shamus,) but in the end nitpicked that Zhao had somehow beaten you to the magic shoehorned in ending generator 3000 because the game had literally been reduced to a zombie shooter in a quasi-scientific industrial base and I didn’t care about the plot anymore.

    1. TMTVL says:

      Suspension of disbelief? Didn’t the Tasteful Understated Nerdrage guy mention that?

      Personally I put my faith in the MST3K Mantra “it’s just a show, I should really just relax” replace “show” with movie, book, video game,… as needed.

    2. Zukhramm says:

      I really hate that term. It’s not my responsibility to make your story work. I’m not willingly suspending anything and if the story failed, you failed at telling it.

      1. LazerBlade says:

        Of course it is the responsibility of the writer to get you to suspend your disbelief. This concept doesn’t mean that you can expect your audience to automatically let that which is stupid and illogical by, it means that you have to build up “trust” and get them in a state where they are more interested in your story than in whether or not it could happen in real life.

        You’re not saying “Leave your rationality at the door, you won’t need it for this story,” you’re saying “Hey look! Interesting things that grab your attention and provoke thought!” and then carefully sneaking it away from them.

        1. Zukhramm says:

          First of all, what it actually means is irrelevant to my hatred. If I’m stabbed 5000 times I’ll probably start hating knives, even though the knives themselves aren’t responsible.

          Secondly, I just don’t think whether something could happen or not matters to me. There’s no belief or disbelief, or any suspension thereof. In fact, often enough my disbelief if what makes a story exciting. If I could actually make myself believe we could clone dinosaurs, Jurassic Park is just a movie about animals eating people.

          1. LazerBlade says:

            This term does indeed suffer from not being a long form explanation and clarification of its meaning that discusses the human phenomenon of “belief” and its various connotations, but that’s human language for you. We have to have quick, simplified, generalized sets of words to quickly notate a concept assuming other people will know what we mean. The term has been chosen, and there is nothing we can do about it but sit around and make up our own languages vainly hoping the rest of the planet will adopt them but somehow avoid the polymorphism that has destroyed the clarity that many languages once possessed.

            It’s a slight bending of the use of the word “belief.”

            The idea is not that you logically “believe” these things, it is that rather than caring about whether or not you logically believe or disbelieve them you care about the story in question. This is why fantasy is so powerful like you said, something you could never possibly believe can be explored and to some extend experienced.

      2. Sumanai (Asimech) says:

        Willing suspension of disbelief doesn’t mean that it’s your responsibility to make the story work, it means that there are certain things you are willing to accept for the sake of telling the story. Like accepting that there’s magic, blue aliens or time travel in the setting.

        It’s basically your entrance fee to the fictional Universe, and if you’re not willing to pay, there’s no point for you to even try to experience it since there’s no way the story teller could possibly accommodate you without making a completely different story.

        It’s a whole different thing when people, especially creators, start insisting that you should stretch your willing suspension of disbelief. Then they’re trying to make it your responsibility to make the story work, and that’s not right. I suspect it’s these people that have poisoned the term for you.

      3. Daimbert says:

        Well, suspension of disbelief is, at least to me, generally more than that. It’s generally that you can be in, say, a separate universe or world that works differently than this one and it doesn’t really matter because you’re so into the work that you don’t really notice. Fridge Logic would come in when you notice it later, but in a lot of cases you just don’t care.

        For example, ever watch cartoons? Ever forget that you’re actually watching a cartoon? I don’t notice, at least not consciously, that most of the cartoons I watch are cartoons. If I start noticing the artwork, the suspension of disbelief has been broken.

        If a writer is good enough, then things that would just be plot holes or errors will slide right past you, too.

  21. guy says:

    Yeah, this does seem accurate. But at the same time, failure for something to follow logically can break the story. How much it can stretch does depend on how connected you are, but it should be pointed out that the thing which cut the connection for the ending of ME3 was stuff like the Normandy being blown up and Cerberus raising Shepard from the dead. I think you’ve called this sort of thing Story Collapse, when major issues with the plot cause the viewer to stop believing the story makes sense and start noticing all the things that can be explained but aren’t.

  22. False Prophet says:

    It’s interesting that you bring up Spider-man 2, Shamus, because that’s my go-to example for the exact phenomenon FC Hulk’s talking about.

    When I first saw that film, there were parts of my brain going “why are they doing an untested, potentially dangerous scientific experiment for the first time in front of journalists, and why are they doing it in a highrise apartment building?” and “why are none of these journalists impressed by the fact that Dr. Octavius has invented artificially-intelligent, fully articulate artificial limbs? Surely the military and medical communities would be all over this!” And if I were more of a comics continuity nerd, I would have said things like “Why is Dr. Octavius basically taking up the role of Peter Parker’s mentor? Shouldn’t that be Curt Connors?”

    But while watching the film, I didn’t care about any of that, because the movie had been so good about making me empathize with these characters (even the villain!), and the action was shot so well, I was able to enjoy it for what it was.

    When a film doesn’t click for me on those levels, that’s when I start getting really nitpicky.

  23. Lame Duck says:

    That exchange between Allen and Barbara also demonstrates why it can be so hard to have discussions about these sorts of things, especially on the internet. It’s very easy for Barbara to view Allen as an unpleasable cynic who is looking for inconsequential details to complain about just to support the negative opinion of the movie that he’s held before he even saw it. Meanwhile, Allen will have no troubles perceiving Barbara as a mindless sycophant who is just making random shit up in a desperate attempt to justify her own irrational enjoyment of a shitty movie.

  24. Lalaland says:

    I sympathise with FCHs views it’s just that for me the ending was unsuccessful on either an emotional or logical level. Overall though I accept the point but I think that emotion/logic bar is a lot higher for me than it is for FCH.

    Paul Verhoeven is the man though, all three of his ‘trilogy’ of Hollywood sci-fi had a subversive bent that is often lost underneath that gonzo violence aesthetic that he mastered so well. Robocop can be read as a critique of consumerism, Total Recall is nicely ambiguous as to whether any of the entire plot has happened at all and Starship Troopers is gloriously fascist. His Dutch cinema is far more complex than his Hollywood stuff but he became pigeon holed as an SF director and then Showgirls sank him (not all of it good mind you but Black Book is excellent, as is Soldier of Orange)

  25. Susie Day says:

    I totally get this when I’m watching an old 80s B movie. I EXPECT it to be poorly written and acted. For example, if a character is acting strangely, I assume it’s because thy can’t act in the first place. Later in the movie, when it is revealed that the character was under some mind control which is WHY they were acting strange, I feel bad for not trusting the movie … But not bad enough to trust the next old movie I watch :D

  26. Rishnarr says:

    I think using Spielberg as an example of why plot holes don’t matter is kinda like comparing apples and potatoes. He isn’t doing these things because he doesn’t realize that they are logically inconsistent, he does them to create a specific emotional response. Marty starts a few seconds late to create tension in the scene, the dinosaur appears to scare the audience.

    I also think the problem with the argument in general is that it is designed to give the creator a free pass and blame any problems with the story on the audience. “You didn’t like my movie, you’re just too nit-picky.” “Didn’t like my painting, you just didn’t understand it you plebeian.”

    And yes its not the job of a story to create a logically perfect world, but it is the job of the story teller to try.

  27. Vect says:

    I’m more of the belief that people will be more likely to notice plot hiccups and such if they’re not enjoying it. If they are enjoying it, then they might let it slide depending on how big it is.

    In my case, I’ll admit that I’m not great when it comes to pointing out plot-holes or inconsistencies by myself. Perhaps it’s because I don’t try to look for it. Perhaps it’s because I’m an idiotic drone that’s perfect for mass media. I just generally tend not to notice such things until someone points it out to me. I generally try to trust the author and hope that s/he knows what they’re doing. I do have a limit to what I’ll accept however.

    I will say that actively attempting to look for Stupid Plot Shit in everything is probably a futile practice. Not saying that you should shut off your brain for everything, but that doing something like trying to point out the inconsistencies of something like “Dora the Explorer” is probably unnecessary.

  28. FC Hulk’s ALL UPPERCASE WRITING is really annoying for the same reason that the loudness war is annoying (and why I avoid overly compressed sound).
    If the text was normal but a Hulk’ish typeface was used (plenty of webfonts out there now) it would be ok.

    But as it is now there is no way I’ll bother reading that guy’s posts. If that is his intention, great it works as intended and are keeping me away, if not intentional then please fix it to increase the readership.

    The Hulk would also never type as no keys are large enough to allow typing distinct letters without hitting 3-4 other keys at the same time.

    If a writer intend to present a lot of text and for it to be read it should have high readability. Which means proper upper and lowercase use, proper paragraph and space, proper punctuation and pauses, spell checking, and more.

    If a reason is needed for why Hulk is able to write normal casing, simply handwave it to be his most excellent wordprosessor software given to him by Mr. Stark or something.

    But now I’m getting way off the reservation here. All I’m going to say is that the reason all those EULAs are ALL UPPERCASE is so people will not bother reading them, or at least miss certain parts of the text due to reading fatigue. If an EULA was intended to be easy to read and understand it would be one or two paragraphs only and proper casing and so on.

    Now I will repeat the text above “EULA-style”, which one is the most readable?:


    1. anaphysik says:

      Sorry, I only read the first half of your post, so you may have already made this point, but one of the many reasons why all uppercase is annoying is that it makes periods and commas hard to notice and distinguish. So sentences wind up looking mushed together.

      I did somehow manage to read all of the FCH post, though. If Shamus had not specifically recommended we read it, I’m not sure I would have though (or wouldn’t have made it all the way through). Not focusing on presentation is not the same as purposely sabotaging readability.

  29. mdqp says:

    The problem here is that Hulk is just defending the principle (logic not being strictly necessary) reducing the whole debate to a matter of personal taste/opinions (when my suspension of disbelief gets crushed by the logical gaps?). It’s a debate that holds no merit, because I don’t think that people were saying “this is illogical, it ruins everything” but “this is SO illogical, it ruins everything” (so he actually wrote the same thing, but in a way that tried to belittle the complains). Your story can change every 5 minutes, without a reason, and it might still be considered a work of art, but is it a good story? Doubtfully. It might still be interesting, even fun to read, but it has no plot or story worth mentioning, if there is nothing to connect the whole. If we want to go back to ME3, the ending feels that of another game, and it could be substituted by anything else, and still have the same validity. If when you took the elevator and reached the catalyst, you had found out that you are actually inside the Matrix (“troll” theory), or that there is another race pulling the strings from another galaxy (the “guy next door” theory), or that it was all a really complex scheme by the Salarians, that actually will use the crucible to control the Reapers and submit all other races (the “let’s unite the galaxy… Not” theory), or that there was a Thorian inside the citadel, and that are the true form of the Reapers (“plants vs animals” theory), they would all hold the same amount of correlation to the story that the current ending has.

  30. ThomasWa says:

    I guess FCH makes some good points, but I have to say:
    He completely undermines his articles on ME3, because the ending is, in short, a plot hole.
    All of it. In the specific way he himself defines “plot hole”- sorry – “PLOT HOLE” as. If he can’t see that, then, frankly, he shouldn’t write about video games, since he seems incapable of critiquing them adequately (film critic, no surprise there.).
    I’m referring to the “CENTRAL CHARACTERISATION” bit here. An RPG simply cannot end with the main character jumping on board with (I’ve said this before) a genocidal AI who has chased after an entirely nonsensical and horrible to boot goal for the duration of the narrative in total, when the main character is supposed to be:
    -either a player avatar, through whom the player makes her will known in the gameworld (which is, incidentally the entire point of RPGs in the first place, and not, as Hulk would have it, just some “gamer’s” “want” for “fellatio”. All they wanted was the option to oppose this story’s genocidal villain, when the writers thought that he had the right idea.)
    -or a character in her own right, apart from the player. I don’t think this is really the case in ME.
    The “CENTRAL CHARACTERISATION (AS PRESENTED)” doesn’t work in the end, because neither Shepard (regardless where she falls on the Paragon vs. Renegade scale), nor the player role-playing her, can not oppose the Catalyst, since one of his first lines is “I control the Reapers”. In “Normal Writer’s Land” that translates to “I’m the Antagonist.”.
    Conversely, when the Catalyst offers help, neither Shepard as a character, nor the player (who expects agency in an RPG and rightly so) can trust him, since, well, Deus Ex Machina, really.
    This makes it even more jarring when in the end everything is supposed to be alright, kind of, since in any sensible story the Antagonist would have used the Hero’s dumbassery to finalize his own plan.
    TL;DR: The ending to ME3 is a sufficiently large plot hole, so that any given member of the audience has the right to cease being engaged with the story and start calling bullshit.

    I will also link this again:

    1. Nimas says:

      I really love the description of games as a live stage-play.

  31. Wedge says:

    “Here's the thing: It's the job of the storyteller to create and maintain that trust.”
    YES, THIS, A THOUSAND TIMES THIS. This is what bothers me every time someone defends lazy writing with “it’s just a movie(/book/video games/whatever) just go with it!” Willing suspension of disbelief is a thing, but it has limits, and it is not my responsibility to let the writer get away with throwing logic and continuity out the window. FC Hulk specifically defends most horror movies relying on the characters acting like complete morons in order to justify the plot, but that’s bullshit — if the entire plot relies on characters acting in unbelievable ways, then I can’t get emotionally invested in the plot or the characters. And it IS possible to write horror/thriller plots where characters actually DO act relatively intelligently.

    And that’s what I think it comes down to–suspension of disbelief is important when telling any story, but it’s not a blank check for writers. It’s the writer’s job to convince ME to suspend my disbelief, and if the writer fails to do that, it’s their fault if I don’t enjoy their work, not mine.

    1. Daimbert says:

      I read FC Hulk’s comments about horror movies, too, and I think it’s important to make some distinctions. It’s not a bad thing to have characters act stupidly, but as you said more of an issue if they act UNBELIEVABLY stupidly. In horror movies, you can get away with some stupidity by appealing to the standards of the genre; that’s just how people act in those things. You can also get away with some of it by appealing to their emotional state at the time; people don’t think rationally when scared out of their minds. You can also lampshade to get it. But if you don’t do any of this, then while we’re supposed to be thinking about their imminent danger you’re thinking “You’re a moron!”, and it all goes south.

    2. Joshua says:

      Well to me, it often comes down to writers being lazy because it’s easier to show the good guys acting stupid than the bad guys acting intelligently. The latter would require the writers to actually devise an “intelligent” scheme.

  32. LB says:

    At the risk of going off topic, I saw the new Bond film Skyfall yesterday.

    There was some kind of logic breakdown in every single scene. I’m willing to forgive the occasional leap of logic or lack of (sigh) realism, but this movie had:
    – Magical hacking
    – Why didn’t he shoot him?! He could have shot him five times before he did that thing
    – Why didn’t anyone realise plugging that in would be a really bad idea?
    – Where did that car even come from?
    – Why didn’t he take that gun? (So he could get captured unarmed seconds later)
    – Knives don’t work like that!

    This totally breaks any of the tension in a story, because the lack of any kind of rules or internal logic means that anything can happen and the story is sort of meaningless. Tension comes from our understanding of what will happen, or what could happen, as we understand it.
    It’s like how life and death becomes meaningless in comic books when everyone can come back from the dead. Or how the Dragon Age games can just have anything happen because ‘magic’.

    1. Lame Duck says:

      And to bring it right back to the heart of the topic, I saw Skyfall on Saturday and loved it because I found the characters interesting, the conflicts compelling and the themes well incorporated.

  33. Tizzy says:

    That’s funny, I saw the subtext in Starship Troopers immediately, and that’s why it’s left an indelible bad taste in my mouth. It’s like Verhoeven is saying: “Nudge! nudge! See how I am giving these morons exactly the macho, cliched story they expect? But you and I are smarter, right? We really know what’s what.”

    There is no credit to be had in that. If you really want to challenge a certain attitude, certain stereotypes, go out and do it openly. If you’re going to be just preaching to the choir and avoiding any controversy, why bother?

    [Added later:]
    If the director’s intent has to be explained in a commentary track, we can all agree that it’s a bit too late. I saw the movie in theaters when it came out, and my conclusion was not that Verhoeven had messed up, but rather that he was passing a message to a minority while cynically exploiting the majority of his viewers who might not have liked the message in the first place. Or, at the very least, that Verhoeven was willing to dilute his message to pacify his Hollywood backers.

    Reportedly, NPH was the only actor in on the joke, BTW. Good, it kept the others’ performances believable…

    One thing I did not mind at all is the lack of overt state brutality in the movie. It makes sense to me that Verhoeven would want to show the fascist state through the lens of his clueless young protagonist. The system can only exist if enough people are completely unaware of what it does, and it makes sense to show what the world looks like to them. Verhoeven knows his Nazi history and culture, of course, and it shows. In that respect, watching WW2 German newsreels is quite enlightening.

  34. Stranger says:

    “The kids call these things “Let's Plays”, although I'm sure our show is the only one that focuses on analysis, ludonarrative constructs, technical footnotes, and godawful puns. ”

    I dunno, the guy who goes by “Chuggaaconroy” does a pretty thorough job when he does his games. The focus is entertainment, but there is a lot of information he pulls into the narrative as he works.

    And his jokes can be as bad as the puns.

    1. ThomasWa says:

      I’m on Team Research Indicates, all the way.

      (Actually, a lot of the LPers one the lp archive have something to say about the game they’re playing. Other than that, a Let’s Play is (normally) just not an analysis.)

      1. Stranger says:

        More I could point to his “Okami” LP as a higher example but there’s often a little bit of him looking up what something is so he can explain it.

        I also confess I got into watching him for a while primarily on that LP (which was a game I played and enjoyed).

  35. Deoxy says:

    Funny thing about Starship Troopers: it made the case (to me at least) EXACTLY backwards.

    Or, to put it another way, “War makes fascists of us all” but with “fascist” defined as “responsible citizen”.

    Basically, their society worked pretty darn well (from what little we could see of it), and only those who were responsible enough to risk themselves for its sake had a say. That sounds pretty reasonable to me, at least in theory.

    (In actuality, that depends on having sufficient reasons for meaningful warfare around on a regular basis. That’s not a good thing to depend on.)

    People just around for the bread and circuses, but still having a vote (literally or descriptively) have been the downfall of more than one great society, and could be described as one of the current major problems in the US today, as well.

    OK, now I’m skating dangerously close to politics – to get back on topic, I’ll explain all of that as an example of brinkmanship (heh!). Some people will think I’m gone to the edge, some people will think I’ve gone over. A “good” movie would be one that goes very close to the edge for a lot of people while managing to go over the edge for exceedingly few.

    Oh, and yes, the Spiderman 2 car-through-the-window scene always bugged me, too. It didn’t ruin the movie for me, but it is a demerit.

    With trust, the storyteller can get away with all kinds of plot holes. They can leave things unresolved, fudge motivations, move characters around in ways that don't make sense, and even pull out the occasional deus ex machina.

    Personally, I think that it’s possible to make a movie that is good with NONE of those kinds of problems, it’s just more work than most people are willing to put in. In fact, I PREFER movies like that – as little of all of that as possible, preferably none.

    1. LunaticFringe says:

      I think this might be a product of the source material more then anything else (or you could just use the ‘we’re seeing through the propaganda lens’ excuse). Heinlein was deliberately trying to invoke a lot of the themes you mentioned. Then again, Verhoeven claims he didn’t read the book.

  36. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    I remember the DVD commentary on Beauty and the Beast When they get to the end, the director says that, in the ending, they realized they would face all manner of plot holes when the magic comes undone. Was everything in the castle really a person transformed? What about the broken dishes? And the damage Lumiere and the scullery maid took in the fight? And how does Belle fall in love with the Prince now that she’s used to the big burly bull-wolverine looking guy?

    They decided the only important point was the Belle-Prince relation, because that was the heart of the movie. So they solved that one (by keeping Beast’s eyes the same as the Prince’s, and having Belle look into them and see the person she loves). Everything else, and I paraphrase, but this is closer to a quote: “We just barrel through to the dancing and the music and the end credits and hope the audience doesn’t think about it because they are so wrapped up in the happy ending.”

    1. WJS says:

      Particularly the little kid… teacup? I forget what exactly he was. But has he been a little kid for 15 years? If not, where did he come from?? I’m pretty sure the normal way is out of the question for crockery!

  37. Klay F. says:

    What really bothers me about Mass Effect as a series is what you said:

    The games end up not following their own rules. I honestly think the series would have turned out better had there been no codex at all.

    Because why take the time to write the codex if you are just going to undermine everything written in it anyways?

    Its fine if your writing team writes a bunch of contrivances that break logic. It is NOT fine if you willfully and deliberately ignore everything your team wrote previously.

    If you can’t follow your own rules, fucking stop writing down said rules for the entire world to see, it just serves to highlight your incompetence.

  38. Daimbert says:

    I think what a lot of the comments here are getting at are related to a more overarching and complicated notion: narrative flow. Plot holes, continuity errors, and a number of other things can all break the narrative flow, as they drag you out of the story and remind you that you’re watching a movie or reading a book or playing a game. A number of other things do that as well. For example, I recently went to see a play that was basically a one or two room play, but it had a lot of scene shifts. They would change scenes to do a two sentence conversation, and every scene shift involved turning off the lights and having the actors move around, which reminded me that I was watching a play. This is bad, because it was harder for me to then get into the narrative flow and therefore stop noticing what was going on … including the bad things.

    I think that the comment about trust is one way to get around this, and it relates to FC Hulk’s comments about plot holes not really plot holes if you only notice them later. If you trust not the writers but the STORY, when you hit loose ends or plot holes your mind will just go along with it and trust that there is an explanation, and that you just don’t know it. So even if you get a brief “Well, why not … ?”, it fades away quickly into the background and thus doesn’t break the narrative flow. But if you don’t trust the story, then you start wondering what the explanation will be or if it’s going to happen, and you lose the narrative flow. You break out of the suspension of disbelief and remember that this is a work of fiction that you’re experiencing.

    This is why good stories where you know that, say, the hero won’t die or the heroes won’t get home because it would end the series or it’s “too early” can still pull off the dramatic tension by teasing the audience with those situations. If we’re in the narrative flow, we don’t notice … until later, maybe. And for most of those, we go with “Well of COURSE they couldn’t do that because of the story” and can move on.

    But where I’d disagree with FC Hulk is that they aren’t plot holes if they only bother you after the fact. It’s still a strike against a work that you can find plot holes and, more importantly, big enough plot holes that they affect your feelings towards the work after you’ve finished watching it, even if they didn’t break the narrative flow. Breaking the narrative flow is WORSE than leaving those plot holes around, generally, but it’s still bad … especially if that Fridge Logic ends up changing your overall impression of the characters and who they were, or the story as a whole.

    Thus, a work can be legitimately criticized logically even if it worked when you first watched it. The rule of thumb I’d use is that if those holes would be noticed on a second watching or would affect negatively the second watching once it’s been pointed out to you, then that was bad. Now, yes, you can’t fix everything and yes, a lot of this has to do with personal opinion, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find some aggregious ones that you can say “Yeah, that was bad”. Like, perhaps, Darth Vader’s origins; it would not be unfair to say that the reasons for Anakin to become Vader could impact how you view Darth Vader in the original movies, and negatively, and so that could be objectively criticized.

  39. Deadpool says:

    As a rule of thumb, Moby Dick doesn’t work as anything until it works as a WHALE.

    Internal consistency matters because any story that hopes to MEAN anything has to be at least consistent with itself. Or else it can’t work as an allegory for ANYTHING…

  40. Duffy says:

    So I was reading Hulk’s article and I noticed he mentioned Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts as a plot hole. As far as I knew Vader was unaware of Luke being alive until the events of New Hope, at least all his characterization made it appear so. I even feel like they shoehorned in a line or two in Revenge of the Sith to give the implication that Anakin thought Padme was dead and thus the child (he was also unaware that they were twins).

    After that plot hole in his article I started backtracking and analyzing his previous statements and the whole article immediately collapsed for me.

    Just kidding. I more or less think I agree with Shamus a bit more than Hulk. Even though I feel like they are agreeing, for some reason Shamus’ version is more palatable, familiarity bias maybe? But it is interesting none the less trying to figure out why some movies or games are more jarring to me personally than others.

    I think the reason these plot disconnects seem worse for gamers is that you are interacting directly with the plot vs. passively watching it unfold. Therefore if a game’s plot does something that is outside your motivations (or the motivations you were associating with the character you were playing) or even worse ignores or contradicts choices the game gave you (*cough* ME 3 *cough*) it is far more jarring than wondering how that large dinosaur snuck into that building.

    1. ThomasWa says:

      It helps that Shamus doesn’t accuse anyone critical of ME3 of being whiny, entitled, or otherwise only after “gratification”. (Seriously, FCH mentions blowjobs even in his third effin’ article.)
      FCH could have made his point in a civil fashion and chose not to. It’s almost like he never intended to convince anyone in the first place and instead went on an indignant, vitriolic rant.

      1. Fleaman says:

        So in other words, you don’t like him when he’s angry?

  41. ulrichomega says:

    Without having read most of the comments, this is exactly how I feel about the Mass Effect series. The writers managed to, at least, maintain my trust (perhaps losing it a bit in the final moments). Obviously, however, this trust didn’t hold up as well for everyone else. It should be said that I’m one of those people that will probably trust any writer so long as they don’t do something that ticks me off too much. For example, one of the only movies in recent times that I’ve absolutely hated was Ironman 2. Why? Because every few minutes the movie would pull off some big action scene that broke some part of the narrative. For most other movies, however, I’m perfectly willing to immerse myself in the world that the writers have created and let my mind fill in any plot holes that might appear.

    Unfortunately, there were a few parts in Mass Effect 3 where this trust started to break down. Without going into too much detail, suffice to say that any scene involving Kai Leng would result in me raging at the screen for a few minutes.

  42. KrystelCandy says:

    ME3 failed for me with the child.

    Every time the stupid child popped up and I had to watch Shepard make sad faces and chase after him I felt a little angrier. He added nothing, worse than adding nothing he took things AWAY, my Shepard as I played her was the kind that was willing to make sacrifices in an instant for the greater good. Shoot the hostage non-fatally to try and stop the person from escaping? Sure. Sure, lose a few hostages to stop the batarian who is about to kill millions? Yes, in a heartbeat. Suddenly I’m emotionally wrecked over a random child? Noooooo, I have way worse things going on than THAT that I could have been emotionally damaged over, that’s for sure. Are the other solutions “better”? Yes, but I choose not to meta game in such a fashion.

    Also Kai Leng. Omg Kai Leng. Why did I shoot your magic shield with my pistol and not my death cannon sniper rifle? I purposely punched him to death in all encounters because of his stupid katana, even though it was on Insanity. You even get a neat fist fighty cut scene sometimes that you can overpower him in. Satisfying, but he was still awful, no more need be said.

    The second major thing most people mention was the Quarians attacking the Geth, that was just stupid. BUT Koris and Tali both voice the fact that the idea itself is incredibly stupid and they were basically forced to go along with it due to how their system of government works. So while it’s a ham fisted strategy, it made sense in how they executed it and I can believe that Xen and Gerrel were single minded morons who would leap at any advantage they could get to attack the Geth just over their ME2 characterizations.

    The extended endings actually were not as terrible as I thought, the additional extrapolation helped solve many things that were inherently wrong with them, although they still weren’t great.

    – Rejection = Accepting the fact you’ll lose and preparing the next cycle for the Reapers. How they beat the reapers is never said, but I like to assume they didn’t use the crucible, but knowing of the coming threat gave them alot of time to prepare and come up with a solution that we didn’t have time for. My second favorite even if it ended in sacrifice.

    – Destruction = All the reapers die, so do the geth, EDI (she even appears on the funeral wall!) and I assume many people who rely on any kind of VI or AI or cybernetic assistance. However it can be repaired, I feel the sacrifice was a bit too much in this ending, but I still liked it as it was the final vengeance and end to the reapers. Third favorite. Some like it because it’s the only one you don’t die in.

    – Synergy = Worst ending, removes free will, removes distinction, makes everyone half organic and half robotic and somehow that magically stops conflict? What a load of tripe, this ending infuriated me and it rejects absolutely everything that not only I, but my Shepard stands for. No crisis is solved, the Reapers programming is not changed, unless now EVERYONE operates as a hive mind, in which case individuality is gone. Yeah, no, worst by far.

    – Control = You take control of the Reapers, becoming space police for eternity. You fundamentally alter the core Reaper programming, and allow people to self determinate (at least that’s how I was, and I assume my Shepard would make the Reapers act like I had in the games) and just protect against major threats and from destroying themselves. You gain all the benefits of being able to study the reapers, the reapers lend their technology AND help repair everything, everybody survives (except Shepard) and everyone retains their individuality. Honestly the idea of my Reaper Shepard conversing with Garrus and relaying her feelings to him would have been an absolutely amazing conversation and I wish it had happened. By far the best ending. I don’t consider it brain washing as to me the Reapers from before are in fact all dead, as their programming is gone and I am new head AI.

    Unfortunately the best ending is ironically what the Illusive Man wanted, which means the best result is ultimately the one that the bad guy who pushed things too far wanted to choose, and that poses all kinds of problems. Of course I don’t value humanity as the greatest in the galaxy, yay for neutrality, so that helped me reconcile the decision somewhat.

    1. I have a totally different understanding of Synergy, that it made everyone more COMPATIBLE but didn’t obliterate diversity or free will. But that’s part of the problem: Big choices are being given to you with no idea of their actual ramifications because the narrative didn’t build up to such a choice being made.

      1. KrystelCandy says:

        Compatability doesn’t stop conflict, that’s why human history is full of conflict, both internal and external. We can’t get along with ourselves. All the ME games also have internal conflicts in terms of beliefs, actions, and reactions to events. Even the GETH have differing beliefs as shown by the heretics, and they’re basically just a central machine network.

        Now suddenly, because were more compatable all conflict is removed and a golden era comes?

        You could be right, but I feel like it takes a little… extra step for the kind of ending it talks about in synergy. Besides understanding machines and machines understanding us wouldn’t stop any interracial conflicts between organics for other various differences, really the ending just made no sense to me in soooo many ways. And if it DID somehow erase all of those conflicts as well then… logical conclusion!

        Regardless, it wasn’t very good.

  43. bloodsquirrel says:

    What FCH is missing is that plot holes work against the very things he claims as the main goals of a movie.

    Plot holes are bad for two reasons:

    1) When somebody notices a plot hole, it breaks suspension of disbelief. Instead of feeling the emotions that a movie is trying to make them feel, they’re thinking about how the logic of the story has been broken and about how none of what they’re seeing is real.

    2) Even in real life, where suspension of disbelief isn’t an issue, people have a lot of trouble caring about a problem that they don’t understand. When a movie breaks logic and its own rules too often the audience is left with a weakened sense of the threats and problems that the characters face. This is especially true with characters doing stupid things when they aren’t supposed to be stupid- it’s hard to feel tension in a scene when there is an obvious solution to the problem that the characters are ignoring for no logical reason.

    FCH treats these two things as conscious decisions being made on the part of the audience and critics. They aren’t. They’re reactions. The audience would very much rather be following the emotional flow of the movie, but the movie’s failure to be logically consistent enough for them is standing in the way.

    Logic and consistency might not be the main point of a film, but they’re still the structure that needs to remain solid for the emotional parts to work.

    1. Duffy says:

      Walking Dead is causing #2 for me right now. I assume most people had the same issue with season 2. I can tolerate dumb character decisions if they are emotionally blinded or following their character’s general motivations. But then you run into something like what I’m about to outline.

      Just in case spoilers somewhat abound, I’ll try to be vague anyways but continue at your own risk:

      At the end of season 1 the zombie virus’ life cycle is clearly outlined to the group in a video presentation, and Rick (the primary character/leader) is given a mystery piece of information. In season 2 they meet some people who think the virus is a curable disease. Which anyone of the characters from the primary group could easily at least try arguing against. But they don’t bring it up, not once up to episode 10 of 13. I know it was like a year or two for the writers, but it was kind of a big deal they reference everything else but that bit from the season 1 finale, it happened to the characters like one day ago, I doubt they all forgot. Argh.

      Unfortunately I got the mystery knowledge given to Rick spoiled for me so I won’t share it, but it kinda makes the not mentioning what they learned at season 1 finale even dumber.

      1. I have a different memory than you: When they learn that the person has zombies in his barn, they immediately tell him that’s not hot it works. I don’t mind the Walking Dead at all: Everyone feels pretty real to me and has pretty real motivations.

      2. Urs says:

        Seeing the topic of this article I CTRL+F’d to see whether The Walking Dead was mentioned. The next season is to be aired soonish around here, but I can’t decide whether I am looking forward to it – I really want to like this show – or whether I’ve ceased to care because I already have had a good amount of #2. And lots of it, starting with the second episode ever.

        The whole thing with Merle, the handcuffs, on a rail, the dropped key, the dropped saw, the saw being a hacksaw, a hacksaw having the purpose of cutting metal, the cut-off hand, the still tightly! locked door, the disappeared Merle …

        And then, the whole shift from “We leave him here to die, basically” to “OMG, we need to get back to the insanely dangerous hellhole we’ve just escaped from to rescue him for no other reason than change-of-mind”

        Belief? Pop.

  44. Jokerman says:

    This site is really slow for me today, My End? Or are others feeling it.

  45. Went and read through the whole Hulk post. I found it intelligent and compelling, but there are a couple of places where it almost seems like Hulk is claiming plot holes and illogic are a Good Thing because you somehow can’t do both drama and a plot that makes sense, both at the same time. I have a problem with that.

    Actually, Hulk goes further, claiming a few times that plots that make sense are fundamentally impossible because plots require conflict–that basically every movie has to have, as a premise, something susceptible to an objection that if people had done the sensible/realistic thing the conflict would have been short-circuited and there would be no movie. I don’t see how that follows. Maybe we’re using different definitions of “logic” or “make sense” here. Let me ask a basic question:

    Can real life have plot holes?

    For me, the question of whether a plot “makes sense” is very very close to the question “could this happen in real life”, or at least, “could this happen granted certain counterfactual assumptions (e.g. space travel, telepathy, vampires). If it could happen in real life it pretty much by definition isn’t a plot hole and doesn’t “fail to make sense”.

    But real life has lots of conflict. You can’t say all movies have to have things that don’t make sense or there wouldn’t be a movie because the conflict would get avoided. Real life conflicts don’t get avoided, and they result in lots of drama; it tends to be a bit messier than the contents of movies, less streamlined, the messages going in somewhat muddier directions, with more boring bits in the middle, but we have everything from petty bickering to world wars actually happening, and you can’t say “Well, in real life they would have just X” about them because in real life they clearly didn’t. Ergo, the premise of a movie does not need to be a failure of realism. I’d go further–Hulk’s point comes from a position that says all conflict is, basically, senseless. But it isn’t. Interests conflict. People want different things, opposing things, and try to get them. And they have incomplete information. Sensible actions by people with conflicting interests lead to conflict.

    (Incidentally I think time travel is a terrible premise to deal with on this sort of question; time travel is notorious even within SF for just not being possible to do without sacrificing logic one way or another. The stuff is paradoxical from the get-go so you might as well just shrug and try to make sure that it holds together for as long as the narrative is racing and leave it at that. But that doesn’t mean such fatalism has to hold for every kind of plot assumption. Time travel is just an extreme case.)

    Moving from that to the broader question, can we at least admit that if you can get X level of dramatic satisfaction *with* a failure of plausibility, but there is a way to get X level of dramatic satisfaction *without* that failure of plausibility, it’s better to do it without? Hulk often seems to be claiming that either no, that’s not better, or else that it’s impossible–that to gain dramatic momentum is inevitably and necessarily, even by definition, the result of a tradeoff with realism; that the more you “embrace” the medium, which allows “cheating”, the more drama you will create. I don’t think that’s quite what Hulk was intending to claim, but it really seems to me that Hulk did claim that, and I really don’t buy it. Sure, maybe for practical purposes, on average, paying more attention to one thing may mean paying less attention to another, so it’s hard to boost the overall quality of a movie. But still, some movies are better than others, and it’s not because of some set of scales where you get so much quality which you can then distribute among different movie-attributes, “drama” here, “realism” there, “costume quality”, “pacing”, “character depth” etc. and you have to distribute your five pounds of movie-goodness judiciously, prioritizing the most important ones at the expense of the others. After all, many movies fail on a bunch of levels at once. No, to the contrary, I think it’s possible to make better and worse choices, to have better or worse ideas, and so there are cases where a writer or director goes with choice A which has a logic failure (but it’s mostly OK because many people won’t notice until later), but there exists a possible choice B they didn’t think of which would have been both more dramatic and more realistic.

    Finally, I think Hulk discounts the repeated experience too much. Some tales become classics. Some tales, to be sure, become classics despite plot holes. But still, the things you think of after you first see the movie, after you finish reading the book for the first time, have an impact on what you see or read the second time. The greatest books stand up to multiple reads. Lord of the Rings fans re-read the books repeatedly and, far from becoming successively aggravated by the appearance of plot holes and logic failures, tend to keep finding new things in them. Part of the reason for this is that Tolkien sweated that stuff very carefully; he made sure to get the time lines of events synchronized between different narrative strands, right down to going through checking that any time he mentioned the moon he had the phases right. Did this careful sweating of the sequence of events, of the nature of cause and effect within the narrative’s assumptions, kill the drama? I think not. Now, if Tolkien had been more slipshod about such things, or if he had decided to tolerate some tradeoffs in verisimilitude for the sake of narrative thrust rather than fiddling until he got both, the first read might have been as good a tale, still a rollicking fine yarn. But would it have been a classic? Would it have stood up to repeated reads? Would people have continued to compare newer books to it, rather than each other, over the years? I’d have to say it would have been weakened. This is not as central a point, but I think it’s a real concern.

    So OK, I have to agree that dramatic and character issues are more important than plot logic to the success of a movie, maybe even far more important. I’m even happy to agree to that. But I can’t agree with the notion that realism stands in opposition to good drama and character logic, which seems to be what Hulk has ended up saying. I think there’s a point here but it’s being overstated a tad.

    1. Cupcaeks says:

      This sums up my thoughts in a far better way than I could have done. I will add that if character drama is going to take precedence to your story, and your story doesn’t make sense, then maybe you need to be telling a different one.

      I’d also like to note that I did not read the entirety of Hulk’s post as I have not seen many of the movies discussed. I came away with the gist of his message being that a logical plot doesn’t matter because apparently we only see movies for the drama and the emotion. If someone who actually has read the whole article can clarify that point, I’d be grateful.

  46. Eric says:

    Good article.

    The major problem with Hulk’s argument is that it is contingent on how much you are bothered by plot holes. Exactly how do you define a plot hole if it is so subjective? How do you evaluate emotional impact? At what threshold does a plot hole become something you forget about?

    This is why I value attention to detail so much – as a chronic nitpicker, I generally don’t miss this sort of thing, now that I’ve learned to become aware of it. And it bugs the ever-living crap out of me. I can’t even sit through 30 seconds of Star Trek: Voyager without noticing a plot hole anymore, although sadly that’s the last of that show’s problems.

    I think another issue is that sometimes storytellers overestimate how emotionally engaging their work is. They assume that because they have characters with X qualities, and they live in Y time period, and they face Z events, that I’m going to care. The problem is that it’s impossible to entirely engineer an emotional experience. You can’t do it. Emotional engagement is a product of the audience becoming involved enough in the story, characters and world to engage themselves.

    That’s why you have to be consistent, logical, and you have to think about every possible plot hole and resolve it – because as soon as you miss one, someone in your audience is going to be drawn out of the experience. Maybe it’ll be one person, maybe it’ll be a hundred. And to be fair, nobody is fully attracted to the same things in a story – I am not drawn in by pandering or sympathetic writing, but plenty of others are. But if your story relies on that rather than on consistency, logic, etc. then you have nothing left when those fail (and they will).

    Of course, there are some exceptions. Plenty of writers deliberately break down emotional and rational barriers in order to provide commentary on storytelling and literature itself. But I think we can all agree that Spider-Man 2 or Mass Effect don’t have that in mind.

    1. This isn’t universal, of course. Sentimentality varies across audiences. But I do think that a message that really resonates should be based on a very solid narrative. The Watchmen had the power it did because the final twist emerges after all of this careful attention to set up. Even though Luke’s father being Vader is obviously one of the greatest retcons in history, it worked because the entire film emphasized how Luke could become Vader due to his own personality faults.

  47. Hamilcar says:

    Good to have another well, written article by you, Shamus! These have been few and far between lately.

  48. mdqp says:

    Just to add one last thing: I believe this discussion isn’t productive, because people are reacting to what the Hulk wrote, ignoring the fact that… Well… ME3 ending is just a hack job. There is nothing to be said about it, it’s a last minute twist that happens AFTER you apparently solved the overarching theme (you get to say goodbye to Anderson, and you are dying after you took care of the Reapers by activating the Crucible). It introduces a new antagonist and a different plot, that gets resolved within 5 minutes (and that was also resolved before in the Geth-Quarians conflict), but it’s actually the main plot, with no foreshadowing. What you did so far didn’t really matter, your antagonist has the solution(s) (but for some reason, he needs you to make the choice… Reasons, that are never really explained properly). As I wrote before ANYTHING could stand here in place of the ending (a talking unicorn, that informs you that it’s actually magic that rules this universe, and that’s how you will deal with the Reapers… Which isn’t too far from what happens), so what’s the point? This is without even taking into account that the game just keeps piling up moronic characters, choices and dialogues, always (ALWAYS) picking the easy way, never trying to write a conflict that’s engaging, but just putting two idiots against each other (and leaving Shepard playing the last sane guy in the Universe… Until he meets the Catalyst, and becomes even more stupid than the rest).

    And it’s really non-sensical by its own universe’s standards, it just doesn’t hold up not even for a second. It’s like if “The Usual Suspects” ended with you discovering that the guy is actually an alien that can take any appearance he wants… Just WTF has that to do with anything? What’s the point? If you can solve any conflict by an arbitrary, illogical decision from the author, than the conflict doesn’t feel like a real conflict. It’s okay to START a conflict by author’s decree, but you must solve it in a way that’s in line with the expectations you set (it’s not good when the revelation leaves you COMPLETELY puzzled, you must be able to look back and say “Now I get it!”, because the alternative is forced drama. Achilles and the Tortoise didn’t have the Tortoise take out a jet-pack in order to win. I could go on and on, but I am not going to concede this point to Hulk, not even one bit, because it undermines all creative works, for me).

  49. I think the Red Letter Media guys have a very good perception on the issue. One thing you didn’t note which they do is that it matters depending on HOW the movie or piece of fiction is constructed. If you’re doing “talky techy” sci-fi, then the tech should be really consistent. Inconsistencies should be very minor or so big that they clearly indicate something is wrong to the attentive viewer, which can then be a plot clue. They nitpicked on Star Trek and Star Wars films because those films ended up having so much less to do emotionally, thematically and symbolically than the literal facts of the story: The story was about the plot contrivances and revelations rather than about some kind of emotional payoff. Where you can bend the rules or obscure limited time and storytelling resources varies from genre to genre, but also based on the core appeal of the work and what it is attempting to say.

  50. Darren says:

    I was thinking about this when I re-watched Prometheus (SPOILERS ahead!). My biggest problem when I first saw it was that I couldn’t understand what the black goo really did. I didn’t feel like I needed an explanation for what the Engineers were up to–and I actually disliked the characters’ assertions that they were building bio-weapons to kill humanity simply because there wasn’t enough hard evidence anywhere in the movie for me to accept such a conclusion–but understanding what that goo did was pretty important, since it drives much of the plot.

    The simplest explanation is that the goo pushes biological matter towards a xenomorph (alien from Alien) physiology, though each iteration is a little different (which fits with the entire franchise). The worms and fetus became facehugger-like, and the xenomorph at the end wasn’t quite like any seen in previous films. It also made sense of the opening scene–in which the DNA helix took on a facehugger-ish texture and color–as well as the “temple,” which can be read as the xenomorph depicted as a kind of biological singularity.

    What didn’t work was the “zombie” scene, which contradicts pretty much all of that. Why is he just grotesque and violent? The answer, it turns out, is in the deleted scenes. They actually had created special effects for that scene in which the zombie displays noticeable xenomorph characteristics, establishing that connection outlined above. Why was that version not used? According to Ridley Scott, he’d rather use physical effects when possible rather than CGI. While it makes the scene less artificial, it undermines the established plot of the film.

    The logic gap of Prometheus could be easily addressed in sequels without contradicting anything in the film itself (though I wouldn’t necessarily count on that), but the only true plot hole (as I see it) could have been fixed right from the start by just making some different editing choices. Funny world, huh?

  51. Alex says:

    “A movie, videogame, or book does not exist to present a perfect, flawless, rigorously logical world, but to tell a particular story. If you're auditing a story for consistency, then you have missed the point of storytelling.”

    I’ve made a similar argument in the past but with the opposite conclusion: You cannot cite the Rule of Cool to defend a work. If it doesn’t go without saying, it does not apply.

    On Starship Troopers in particular: I hated it, as I hate most deconstructions. Making a stupid movie ironically is still making a stupid movie.

  52. WWWebb says:

    First of all, FC Hulk’s post about what does and doesn’t constitute a plot hole is interesting…but it only makes sense in the context of a 1-3 hour movie. We can ignore a lot when we know there’s a limited amount of time to tell the story. In video games (and books), almost all logic is fridge logic because, unless the entire experience only a few hours, the audience will almost certainly take a break sometime during the game. Heck, at every dialog tree, the player is FORCED to pause and think about “which of these responses makes the most sense”.

    Second, FC Hulk’s post is mostly talking about ignoring continuity in the service of “DRAMA”, but he makes a specific exception for mysteries because those are supposed to be thought puzzles. Well guess what…”role playing games” are thought puzzles. In an RPG, the “crunch” is the thinking. That’s why I’m happy to gloss over awkward combat mechanics if it lets me think my way through an interesting story.

    Shooters are a bit more like a drama since the crunch is the excitement of playing not the thinking. You know the plot is on rails, and you’ll happily ignore plot holes/contrivances as long as they’re in the service of giving you a Crowning Moment of Awesome.

    1. WWWebb says:

      On the topic of ME3, the ending is practically designed to make you think “plot hole”. You can only shuffle…….slowly…….towards your choice and you have plenty of time to think about things.

      In my first play through, I had heard rumors of the bad endings and was determined to suspend my disbelief as much as possible. The kid and his justifications? Whatever…he’s the bad guy and he’s giving me the choice of blowing up his control center, electrocuting myself, or throwing myself off a platform into an energy beam. His psychological profile of me might have said “delusions of godhood” or “inclined to self-sacrifice”, but is didn’t say “sucker”. I headed for the the “blow stuff up” option. But as I shuffled…..slowly… the right…..because my bad-ass sniper was suddenly too wounded to hit a barn from 50 feet…..I started thinking. “Hmm…why am I blowing up the weapon we designed to kill the reapers?”

      And that was it for me…I knew that the kid was not to be trusted. He had EVERY reason to stop me and no reason to tell the truth. The “no one ever got this far before” line was a laughable excuse to suddenly override what the reapers had been doing to millennia. My disbelief was in full effect, and all the good drama and stories and “trust in the storyteller” ME3 had built up to that point went right out the window.

      Better ending: Andersen dies…you’re told you need to do something and you make one last push forward on a shaking controller to get the “colored blast” ending where the Reapers fall over. As drama, that works. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer the “choice and consequences” that they’d been making a big deal of for years.

      Best ending: An extended suicide run. Crucible assets you’ve accumulated make the final level easier (less doors to open). Military assets you’ve accumulated mean more of your team survives to be available on the final level. Victories against Cerberus cut down the different types of reapers you face (preferably in the shields/biotics/armor dimensions so your abilities can have a larger impact).

      And to balance it out and make it interesting, the longer it’s taken you to get to the final mission, (i.e. the more side missions you’ve done) the more enemy units the Reapers have had time to harvest. Playing through ME3 becomes a balancing act between being underpowered and being overwhelmed. Choices have consequences. Different choices affect your play experience. Replays are substantially different play experiences for the last quarter to third of the game.

      It wouldn’t surprise me if something similar to my “best ending” was in an early design doc, but they decided to cut it in favor of fleshing out and tying up most of the stories of your squad-mates. Considering how much I enjoyed the “romancing Tali and peace with the Geth” branch, I can appreciate the notion that the squad’s character arcs are at least as important as Shepard’s…but I still wish they’d gone with something like my “better ending” instead of tacking on a “choice” ending.

      As Shamus has said, it doesn’t work because a) it’s not really Shepard’s choices and b) almost nothing in the previous 20 hours of gameplay hinted at, lead up to, or even informed the philosophical choice you’re asked to make…and that’s why it’s not just a plot hole, it’s a plot black-hole that you can’t see to avoid and you can’t escape once you’re sucked in.

  53. Epopisces says:

    Huh. I always thought I had figured out what Starship Troopers was doing–lampooning hoorah military movies designed to recruit. Those little vignettes promoting the ‘Cause’. Making you feel like joining a fight and doing your part, and doing so cleverly in the face of watching all the volunteers get just SLAUGHTERED.

    In the end, for me it came off as a satire on military pride and propaganda–I never picked up on a ‘fascist society’ at all.

  54. Kdansky says:

    I find the perfect example for a plot hole is the Matrix trilogy.

    It is very clear that the premise of humans producing energy is completely rubbish. But then, the first (the good) Matrix movie doesn’t focus on that at all. It’s just a throw-away line, giving a tiny bit of very contrived back-story to explain how we got here. And then the movie is only concerned with the good stuff: Interesting characters, conflict, action, development, and so on. It never goes back to the utterly idiotic premise!

    But the second and third movie spent vast amounts of time outside the Matrix. That highlights the issues at every point, and suddenly, what was once dealt with a shrug, becomes a huge and glaring plot-hole.

    In essence: Don’t shine a spot-light on the weak points of your story, or else the viewer might catch on and get annoyed.

  55. Phantos says:

    This post, and in fact this discussion, reminds me of the “Narrative Coherence” section of the Tasteful, Understated Nerdrage video on ME3.

    I think there’s a set amount of plot-holes, inconsistencies or screw-ups a story can have. That doesn’t make it okay, but if the setting, the plot or the characters work together to hit me right in the feels, I find I’m not as upset if it doesn’t technically add up in the end. Because ultimately, I’m more invested in the characters than in what happens to them.

    Plot consistency is very important. More screenwriters and directors should take this stuff seriously. But the only thing more annoying than when a plot doesn’t make sense is when the characters don’t make sense either.

    This is the difference between early BioWare games and Mass Effect 3. The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Spec-Ops and literally any other bro-shooter.

  56. Lee Rowson says:

    Just to tangentally open a small can of worms: Back to the Future was only executive produced by Steven Spielberg; Robert Zemeckis directed it (and the ensuing two films) and co-wrote it with Bob Gale.

  57. kddekadenz says:

    Why do you need so much words to say it?

    The player/viewer simply wants things to happen reasonably, but not always in the way he supposes (people like to get surprised). If he finds a plot hole, he needs to be distracted immediately.

  58. Thomas says:

    I’m going to say that Film Hulk is clearly a genius, because this opinion matches perfectly with my own and not analyse this any further =D Also he’s some form of mathematician. I still believe the failure of ME3 was on an emotional (and I’ll easily accept trust level for most of the people on this site) site, that made people stop and ask questions of the plot and find that completely lacking too.

    As a good example, I just finished To The Moon and hated the ending because of the philosophy it was purporting. I sat down and thought about it and after a while I managed to work out that it did indeed make sense but that was useless to me because I’d already played the ending and hadn’t connected with it emotionally. And to further Shamus’ trust point, there were a couple of things leading up to and at the ending that had shaken my trust in the writer. I didn’t believe the ending was going to turn out in a way that would satisfy me, so I lost the emotional connection instead of patching it over.

    (Also To The Moon is a fantastic game and should be played with everyone. The story is great and the more I think about the story the better it gets and the more emotionally connected I become. This is a game that entertains me without actually having to have me play it =D. It’s flawed but if you’re analyticaly minded, it’s worth the price just as a case study)

  59. Chamomile says:

    Reading through this again for the first time in a while, I actually thought of a really easy way to rewrite the Spider-Man 2 scene such that it plays out almost exactly the same but without the plothole. Specifically:

    -The scene is blocked a bit differently so that from the perspective of Doc Ock out on the street, Peter and Mary Jane are left and right of one another, rather than Peter being between Ock and Mary Jane.
    -Doc Ock throws the car vertically (i.e. on its side) through the window at Mary Jane rather than Peter. The plan here is to shake him up by killing his girlfriend.
    -At this point Peter spidey-saves MJ and the scene plays out the same way it did before.

  60. Donna says:

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  61. Natureguy85 says:

    I haven’t read this new FCH article, and I might try. (Caps never bother me for a line or two, but that wall of text is painful to look at.) But that “Mass Effect was about cycles” article defending the ending was awful nonsense, so I won’t hold my breath.

    While I do like the definition of plot holes and certainly appreciate the distinction between a plot hole and a continuity error, that doesn’t apply to ME3. The endings, especially Synthesis, fly in the face of the themes of the entire series.

    The other issue is what kind of setting you put yourself in and what rules you set up. The reason plot holes or continuity errors stand out in Mass Effect is because it set itself up early on as a universe with defined rules and limits. They only stretch your suspension of disbelief on the Mass Effect itself. Once you accept that, most everything that relies on the Mass Effect seems sensible and reasonable with that in mind. They gave us a good idea of what can and can’t be done, so when something comes out of nowhere later with no explanation, such as the citadel transport beam, the audience will question it more.

    I also missed the apparent message of Starship Troopers. I saw the commercials as propaganda, but thought it was just a caricature of real propaganda or recruitment films. I thought it was fun and felt right at home with some of the other camp in the film. I never saw it as trying to send me a message. Was this message in any other parts of the film?

  62. George Monet says:

    The theme of the series is that one person can overcome the odds to save the galaxy. That is why Mass Effect 3 doesn’t work thematically. The ending which revolves around a deus ex machina takes the player’s victory away. It says that you CAN’T overcome the odds to save the galaxy even though EVERY OTHER PART OF THE GAME IS ABOUT ONE PERSON OVERCOMING THE ODDS TO SAVE THE GALAXY BY SHOOTING AND PUNCHING PEOPLE.

    Hulk lost a lot of credibility by refusing to understand why the ending to Mass Effect 3 doesn’t work and it doesn’t work because it is a deus ex machina. What he did was present a lot of stuff you won’t object to so that he could sell you shit at the end. He wrote a lot so you wouldn’t object when he said Mass Effect 3 wasn’t bad even though it is.

  63. Alexander E Schalk says:

    The Hulk link seems to be dead. Here is another link I found.

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You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

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