Tag Archives: mass effect 2

In Defense of Boring

Poor Jacob Taylor.

It boggles my mind when game critics whose opinions I otherwise find to be deep and insightful write off a character like Jacob as “boring.” It’s not that I don’t understand where they’re coming from. I’ve heard it explained to me: he is average, he is unremarkable, his backstory and his problems are all mundane in contrast to a crew filled with scaly raptor men, genetically perfect smarmy assholes, chatty AI, and creepy unblinking blue paladin ladies out to kill their vampire daughters. Compared to all that, yeah, Jacob is practically a blank slate. Kind of like… Shepard.

Here is the thing I don’t think anyone keeps in mind when they write off Jacob Taylor. Of the entire cast of the Mass Effect franchise, he is the only character besides Shepard to bear the distinction of full on player character. Not temporary PC, ala Joker. He has an entire game to himself, Mass Effect Galaxy. I haven’t played it (and I don’t know anyone who has) but I was personally thrilled to come face to face with the only character who might qualify as Shepard’s counterpart. Because that’s exactly who he is, and I’m sure that’s what the developers intended him to symbolize, whether or not that significance got across to the average player.

Granted, depending on your tailoring of Shepard’s backstory, it’s true she can have more interesting origins than most. But over the normal progression of gameplay, she is pretty much flat as a board when it comes to her own personal depth. You barely hear mention of her past exploits, nor do the details ever matter because whichever path you choose never influences the proceedings. That’s precisely why the game surrounds Shepard with the most colorful characters with the most outrageous daddy issues in the galaxy. She’s a freaking Jacob. The only significant difference are the number of opportunities she’s offered to do big and exciting things. Without three epics under her belt, she and Jacob are exactly the same kind of vanilla, utterly malleable stock character.

It’s not that I have no issues with Jacob. Making his loyalty mission yet another tale of black paternal abandonment is lazy in the least and excruciatingly problematic the deeper down into the issue you go. But I refuse to dismiss the entire character out of hand for that. To me, he’s an image of what Shepard would be if the narrative abandoned her before Eden Prime. Mishandled, tertiary, and as an unfortunate consequence: boring.

Space Jihadists: Mass Effect 2’s DLC “Arrival” Just Keeps Digging Its Hole Deeper

Reposted from PopMatters Moving Pixels.

Note: This article contains spoilers for the “Arrival” DLC.

No species save humanity seems exempt from being a “racial spokesman” in the Mass Effect franchise, a problem when each species tends to get painted with a broad brush and rarely permitted to overcome that characterization. The asari are defined by their sexuality. The krogan are savages. The quarians are gypsies. The volus are Jews. But onto the batarians Mass Effect‘s writers have granted the special distinction of space Arabs, whose narrative role seems to consist almost entirely on their depiction as religious and/or political extremists who hate humanity and the American-dominated Alliance Navy in particular with bombastic fervor.

This has been evident in the games since their introduction in the “Bring Down the Sky” DLC, where their codex entry first appears alongside a mission which has Shepard recapture a hijacked plane asteroid from terrorists attempting to ram it into the World Trade Center a human-colonized planet. In doing so we’re repeatedly waylaid by the caveat, “not all batarians are like this.” But all the ones we see are.

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“One Chance”: Playing with the Notion of Irreversible Consequences

Reposted from PopMatters Moving Pixels.

There is a wonderful xkcd strip where one of Randall Munroe’s famous stick figures, in the effort to console his friend, compares a bad break-up to a video game: “Remember when Aeris died in FFVII? It was sad. But you had to keep playing.

“Actually,” the friend counters, “I downloaded a mod to add her back to my party.”

Any player of a certain age can recount at least one friend who’s done this, as well as untold other acquaintances that were convinced there was some secret quest or hidden boss that would undo Aeris’s death. Even today, more than 13 years after the game’s release, there are players who keep the faith that there is some way to reverse fate and authorial intent to bring Aeris back. As Munroe’s comic jokes, there are some unsettling implications once we factor the “bargaining” stage of grief into digital media.

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