February 21, 2012  Comments

The importance of Mass Effect

First and foremost, my new desktop PC is finally up and running! Which means I’m now able to fully edit my second novel without having the cursor jump up three lines every time I write. Its the simple things that make my day!

Anyhow…

A friend and I were discussing Bioware’s hit sci-fi game series Mass Effect the other day and its importance in the science fiction genre. What made it even more funny was how that same day, I see an article pop up on io9 regarding Mass Effect’s importance to sci-fi. You can read it here.

I remember my initial reaction to Mass Effect. It was back in 2007 about 4+ months before the first game came out. My friend (whom I was just speaking to this week about it) was and still is a huge gamer with too many consoles to count. He showed me the Mass Effect teaser trailer.

Still pretty fresh, ain’t it? For the first time in a while I got excited about a sci-fi franchise. I wanted to know more, I wanted to see where this new strange universe would go. Mass Effect looked like it took the best parts of Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica and then brought something new to the game. How often do sci-fi fans say a series does that to them with just a teaser trailer??

I think it happens every generation or so in the science fiction genre where we see that new franchise which catches the collective imagination of the masses and inspires the next great franchise a generation afterward.

In the late 1960s, it was Star Trek. Even though it only lasted three seasons, the type of sci-fi that Star Trek was shilling had really not been seen in movies or TV. Especially with its casting of Asian and African American actors during that time period.

In the late 70s, we got Star Wars. Before then, most sci-fi movies were dark depressing fare with no consideration by the studios in regards to if merchandise based on a sci-fi film could sell. Star Wars changed all that and made epic sci-fi fun. It was the success of Star Wars and other sci-fi films at the time which helped Gene Rodenberry’s campaign to continue the Star Trek saga on the silverscreen.

As for the 80′s, there was a split between Star Wars in the beginning of the decade and then Star Trek again throughout most of the 80s. Four feature films were released along with the launch of the first of many new Star Trek series focusing on an entirely new cast.

In the 90s we saw more Star Trek series emerge (Deep Space 9 and Voyager), along with more movies that began to decline in quality as the decade came to a close. But at the same time Star Wars roared back into the theaters, first with re-released version of the original trilogy. And then…the Prequel trilogy, which made a lot of money, but really killed alot of people’s (including mine) enthusiasm for George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away. I mean, if I asked someone who Han Solo was, they could tell me without thinking. But whenever I asked who Mace Windu is, I get blank stares until I remind them that the character was played by Samuel L. Jackson.

2000s was kicked off by two more Star Wars flicks (which made tons of money at the expense of quality) and Star Trek (which by that point was a sad shell of former itself in both the film and television mediums). The one sci-fi series that stood out pre-M.E. was Battlestar Galactic, a gritty survivalist tale that truly deconstructed human nature in extreme settings but used military sci-fi as a backdrop.

And then came Mass Effect in 2007. Yes, it has the immersing universe, impressive array of alien races and fantastical game play. But it also allows you to customize your journey down to the minutiae. Players can tweak every aspect of their Commander Shepard, from the size of their nose down to the character’s sexuality. Decisions that you made earlier in the game can either come back to help you or hurt you later on, which gives the player a reason to care. And not only that, for once humanity is not the biggest most important fish in this massive galactic pond. That last element makes for a great backdrop as humanity fights for survival and to gain a foothold in a universe that sees it as largely irrelevant.

In short, Mass Effect takes many long held cliches and turns them on their head, which opens up whole new avenues for players to explore and discover. Now, in a month the third game in the Mass Effect trilogy will debut and will no doubt make an even bigger splash than the first two. The question is, can Mass Effect cross over into film or TV? That will be the ultimate test of its importance to science fiction. My opinion? Its got all the potential in the world to transcend its video game origins in a way that mane of its counterpart games have failed. All it needs is for the right studio to pull the trigger.

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