When the Mass Effect video game first came out, I was no fan. The "over the shoulder" viewpoint of the game turned me off. I never got into the story because I couldn't stop noticing the perspective and how it was getting in my way. Boy, have things changed…
After getting a gift card to a video game store, I decided to pick up all three games in the line, and to slog through them. Something happened to me. Something that's teaching me things.
I hope you don't misunderstand. I still don't particularly for that over-the-shoulder perspective from which the game is played. I think the game's companions sometimes get in the way. I wind up having to "shove" them to turn around. Probably a dozen little details like that.
But, allow me to illustrate with a moment from the game… SPOILER ALERT!
OK, there's a moment in Mass Effect, the first instance, where you find out the bad guy, Saren, is trying to resurrect an extinct race, the Rachni. An insect-like hive race, you speak with a queen recovered from a long-dormant egg. You have a conversation that isn't enough for a novel, but it made me care about the decision I would make, whether to end that race once and for all, or to allow the queen to live, to essentially allow the race to be reborn. I couldn't end her. It hurt to think of ending a race.
In another one, that same bad guy tries to enslave a race, the Krogan, and to cure a "birth control" plague used on them hundreds of years ago. The character we play has a Krogan as a companion at that point, and my heart sank at the idea that I might have to kill the companion in order to carry out the mission.
The Mass Effect story is a trilogy of games along a progressive plot involve potential galactic destruction, and gamers were angry at how it ended, I mean PISSED. So was I.
But that means that we cared, that the ending mattered. We participants in the plot held emotional weight for us. There are whole theories out there over what that ending meant.
That's a kind of magic.
And it's the kind of investment I want my readers to have in the stories I write. Mass Effect, I think, sets a high bar on that criterion. It's one I think I can achieve, but it won't be easy. Characters have to come to life. The story has to be truthful to the characters. There has to be joy and pain and horror and humor.
The world I give to my readers has to matter.
Thank you, Mass Effect, for reminding me that story matters.