To Be Shepard

This is one of those posts where I don’t make proscriptions about or critique a game. This is all about my experience with Mass Effect 3. There are spoilers about the game.


Mordin died singing.

That’s what has stuck with me all this time. I finished the game on Thursday or Friday (the days run together), and I keep thinking about an alien who died singing. A very model of a scientist salarian.

Sacrifice really gets me in games. I don’t know why. Animated beings dancing, literally puppets, voice acted by people whose voices don’t match up to their faces. Characters in video games are exquisite corpses that pull me in; patchwork people with digital skin and scripted emotions.

There’s nothing there to fall in love with, not in any real way–but I have an affective connection nonetheless. The assemblage that dances and sings and runs into certain death moves me. And what does it feel? Mordin, lines of code with programmed responses, doesn’t know what he is. He is a singing, dying marionette.

Sometimes I think that video games need a Grant Morrison.

I didn’t mind as much when Shepard died. He was me, of course. I only played the games through one time, so there was a singularity of Shepard. There was only one. He looks strange and made awful facial expressions. I could see myself reflected in them, and also in his confusion.

The world was too big, and I stepped into my imminent death gladly. I felt like a hero as my skin ashed and floated away from me. Pixels and wireframe. When I say “I,” I mean Shepard, of course. We’ve spent a lot of time together.

I was rarely able to make a “rebel” decision. Shepard couldn’t find it in himself to commit genocide or crush space feelings. It felt too real. I would draw down on people, and occasionally pulled a trigger; violence was necessary sometimes.

Shepard had friends, and as he burned, I like to think that he thought back on them. Not his romances or his pilot, but the small things. Letting his best friend win a game. Knowing that he was sending friends and companions into a suicide situation, losing a few. Saving the last of a species, again and again. Preserving life.

And becoming a legend, of course. I watched a child on a fertile moon ask an adult about “The Shepard” and cried a little. To be inspirational, not like Steve Jobs, but ontologically; to have a way of life that was so expansive as to incorporate all life, digital and organic.

And maybe that is games. Being outside, being a part of something bigger, and being able to die safely, content that I mattered. Seeing beyond the breach and knowing it all worked out.

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