Don’t Hobble the Artist

By Jonathan Barnes, 6 years ago
In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I have not yet finished, and am trying to savor every luscious minute before rushing towards the inevitable finale.

Said finale is something in which gamers are taking up arms and demanding through petitions, social media posts that BioWare “change the ending”. Before the number one fans of Mass Effect decide to go Annie Wilkes on Casey Hudson, I’d like to take a minute to examine the issue of being displeased with an ending.

With a background in Theatre and English, my thoughts instantly went to Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, A Doll’s House. The three act play follows the character evolution of Nora Helmer. As the play progresses, she gradually realizes that she’s never really grown up and that the men in her life (in the past her father and now her husband) treat her like a doll because she’s never had the opportunity (or reason) to mature into an adult. At the end of the play (SPOILER ALERT), she leaves her family and goes off on her own.

For a play written/performed in the 1870’s, this was scandalous. In fact, the ending was so shocking that German theatres refused to show it and demanded that Ibsen re-write the ending… which he did… and hated, later calling it a “barbaric outrage”.

For a more modern reference, think about the ending to The Sopranos or Lost, perhaps think about how Harry Potter ended. In the end, there was always a group of fans outraged by how the creators of the fiction had chosen to end their beloved franchises. In short, outrage over endings is nothing new.

With that in mind, I see this 'movement' in two different ways. First and foremost, it’s inspiring to see that games have come so far, that we care so much about them that some are vehemently angry at the way developers have chosen to end them. I get it; everyone loves their Shepards. They love Tali, Wrex, Garrus, Liara, Joker, and pretty much every character that BioWare has lovingly crafted (except for you, Jack… you can die). To see their stories end in a less-than-desirable way will most-certainly ruffle a few feathers. This is all because we care, and that’s fantastic.

Now consider this, while the Mass Effect series has been hailed for its user-customizability, and how the decisions gamers make shape the story, the universe, the cast, and, yes, the ending, we gamers did not write it. Much like one of those old 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books, we’re merely agreeing to options that take us down pre-written pathways. We, in essence, are not creating the fiction. That fiction comes straight from BioWare. They are the creators and they’re letting us play in their world… a world they control, shape, and, ultimately, decide to share. Who are we to demand things of their creative vision, no matter how much we may dislike it?

One of the enduring debates is whether or not video games are art. Art, even at its finest points, is subjective. Not everyone will like it. Just because a section of people don’t like a painting, a book, a sculpture or a movie doesn’t mean that we should demand that they be changed. In 1988 a visionary artist testified before Congress and said:
People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians.
He further went on to say:
Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.
So, if we, as gamers, are truly trying to have video games put into the pantheon of art, we should be big enough to accept that artists will not always please us, characters we love may die, stories we love may end, and endings may not always be rosy. When it comes to video games and art, we may not like what artists decide to do with characters and stories, but if we don’t respect them enough to make those artistic (and risky) decisions, what does it say about us?

For the record, that “visionary artist” was George Lucas… and he is probably changing something else you love about Star Wars right now and that sucks.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.