Late to the Mass Effect Party: Thoughts on The Ending
I have just finished Mass Effect 3, and with it, the entirely Mass Effect trilogy.
You have been warned. The game’s been out for awhile, but in case there are any late adopters who have plans to play this game eventually… you have been warned.
Shooters generally aren’t my genre of choice, but Mass Effect had enough RPG elements to keep me interested. And in true BioWare fashion, what I’m thinking about right now are the amazing characters I felt a connection to – Joker, Tali, Mordin, Anderson; and all the rest. The crewmate I let die on Virmire, the other crewmates I allowed to share my bed from time to time, the engineers belowdecks. The justicar, the biotic rebel, the perfect woman, the perfect soldier. Had Mass Effect been just a shooter, I would have lost interest weeks ago. The characters kept me coming back, they were so full of life!
That’s what this game is about. And that is, what I think, what players are missing.
It might be helpful to think of Mass Effect as a Buddhist allegory. The old generation (galactically speaking) gives way to the new, and the new builds upon the wisdom of the old. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But no matter what, the cycle continues. You cannot break the cycle, the cycle is.
The choice, at the end, asks you about life. That’s the big choice you have to make: “What is Life?”
Is life about conquest, control, or synthesis?
Yes, the gates break. Yes, this means calamity for galactic civilization. But the game isn’t about galactic civilization. It’s about the definition of life, about the life which Shepard allows to be reborn in the next cycle. The mass effect gates, the citadel, these are the tainted tools of the oppressors. They’re bad karma. Of course they can’t be brought forward into the new cycle. Whatever civilizations rise after this, they’ll have to forge their own way.
Your choice is how the new cycle begins, and about what life will be going forward. You must decide if synthetic life has value; if the geth and EDI are just as alive as Joker and Jack. And even Shepard, granted cybernetic life in Mass Effect 2. Across all three games, you’ve been confronted with questions of VI, AI, synthetic life and cybernetic life. Do the geth have souls? Is EDI alive? Well, she’s alive enough to form bonds with others, which is good enough for me. She takes, and she gives back. To me, that’s life on a biological, emotional and spiritual level. You take from your surroundings, and then give back. And EDI forms bonds with Shepard, with Joker and with others. She even, possibly, feels shame over her origins. And you can’t feel shame unless you already feel a connection to your community.
Are the husks alive? The various abominations you fight? Who knows? Well, Mordin does. He’s got a very good point in Mass Effect 2: the husks and various monsters might be alive on a biological level, but they’re emotionally and spiritually dead. The Reapers are almost certainly alive. But it’s a life which is inimical to human existence. They’re viruses, or cancer – moving with the rhythms of life, but utterly deaf to the subtler melodies.
Your choices have always been about which lives to save and which lives to sacrifice. The final choice is the logical extension of that choice – not only do you choose which lives to save, you choose which form they will take. You’re not breaking the cycle, you’re redefining it.
If you can’t tell by now, I chose synthesis. I don’t think that destruction is the ‘best’ ending. It’s synthesis. Throughout Mass Effect 2 and 3, Shepard goes through trials which would kill a lesser mortal. Or,more accurately, a mortal without Cerberus’ cybernetic enhancements. Shephard isn’t pure organic life anymore. And thank goodness, because a squishier Shepard might not have survived the last hour of the game. It’s the nature of life to change and evolve. Synthesis took nothing away, as being turned into husks would have done. Instead, it added to what already existed.
And, frankly, synthetic life has the best chance of getting a new version of the Mass Effect gates up and running.