Head Canon, Mass Effect and The Long Term Effects of Football

frypanfrypan wrote on 27 Jul 2012 05:42

I have a guilty secret I’d like to share with folks. As a young lad I played football, but not that Aussie stuff, mucking around in the mud with lots of other sweaty men. I instead opted for the often reviled American Football, with its heavy padding, stop start nature, and interminable list of rules.

“So what” you might think. What on earth does that have to do with gaming, apart from the perennial flood of Madden and other sports games on the market? Certainly there is little link between football and Mass Effect 3, except maybe the fact that the participants wear brightly coloured armour that has no place on a modern battlefield.

Well, it’s more how my playing experience has shaped itself in the years since, and the manner the team has built stories up around the game. In the case of football, by reconstructing the events, something that often occurs at our annual get together, players keep the game alive in our emotions and make the official version less relevant with each passing year. These varied and sometimes contradictory interpretations keep the passion alive and people talking.

These stories, as often as not, have nothing to do with the actual course of the game. Get the old team in a room, and you’ll hear a dozen different accounts about how a particular game went. Such and such said this, or did that – the details will be argued back and forth all night, usually accompanied with various denigrating comments involving parentage, looks, and other high brow banter that could be expected at such occasions.

Much like the internet then, except among friends.

In the case of Mass Effect 3, the multiple interpretations fans are applying to the ending are similar, but for different reasons. Like referees for the NFL or NCAA, the developers set up the game narrative conditions, but then walked off the field part way through the game, Through a failure to implement their own themes and codices, they turned the organised structure of a game narrative into a free for all where competing interpretations of the ending have taken on even more virulence than normal. This is particularly evident in the swathe of suggested endings, fan fiction and contradictory head canon used to explain, justify, rewrite, or reject the endings as they are.1

This reminds me strongly of the various interpretations each of us players put on our football experiences, and while the Mass Effect situation is in its early days, I would be interested to see the long term effects of such an outpouring on the place the game holds in people’s memories. I believe that, out of this free for all, the seeds for a positive reconstruction of the game are being laid. That is, as long as Bioware don’t screw it up any more, by trying to interpret the events to fit their official version, overwhelming us with faux canon designed to support the ending in its current form. Less official, more canon might actually be required here in the interests of the long term.

In the case of Mass Effect 3 the manifestation of disgust at the endings has not been quite what Bioware hoped for, and the intensity of debate and the number of participants has probably been way beyond what they expected, but within it are concepts and ideas that may be beneficial. The outpouring of fanfic is a particular boon as it provides an path to more pleasant long term interpretation, for those who have not simply written off the whole sorry little affair.

Many are upset now, but as with officially sanctioned head canon or even the “Han shot first” controversies, the better or more interesting ones will make it into memory of the game if they are not outright contradicted by the official record.2 They may even come to replace it if enough devoted fans work on mods, videos and the like. Most notably, Marauder Shields is my personal “go to” for the fate of ME2 characters not featured in the game, and for some brilliant concepts that have accidentally even crept into my analysis of the game itself.

The shared experience, while it is interpreted differently by each person, actually contributes to the long term survival of such stories and the communal history of the game.

The fading memory of what actually occurred is in the process of being replaced with much more suitable alternatives.3 It is due to this that I am immersing myself in these head canon works, and even looking into one of my own. It may not help now, when the immediacy of the official ending, the unpleasant clarification of its worst aspects, and the PR inspired comments of the dev team are only making things worse.4 However in time, I believe that like the football stories of my mates, the long term effect is that the unofficial version can replace the official, and drive a more positive memory of the experience.



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