(Spoilers ahead). Let me start off by saying I only finished Mass Effect 3 last night, having read no reviews or anything before or during gameplay. Afterward, I posted about it on Facebook, and in the comments became aware of the so-called "universal outrage" over the way the game ended. After some quick reading about Why Mass Effect 3's Ending Was So Terrible, I became enraged about the outrage. This all culminated in the following ejaculation: GROW UP, GAMERS. Every friggin' game can't end with the Ewok cuddle patrol dancing and chanting "You sure are special, kid!".
Just to sum up for folks who aren't interested in experiencing the "moment" for themselves, the main character (Shepherd) ends the game with a very tough decision.
(Begin Spoiler)You have to be thicker than a Rachni omelet not to see this coming, because the game has hammered you repeatedly (and I do mean repeatedly!) with the theme of how tough it is being a leader, because you are often forced to make very difficult and painful choices--choices in which nobody is really going to like ANY of the outcomes. Shepherd's first choice is either to destroy ALL synthetic life forms, including the friendly Geths and damning the galaxy to another cycle--in which they will inevitably create another race of too-powerful robotic beings (the choice represented by the "old soldier" Anderson). The second choice is to try to take control of the synthetics himself, but that will destroy everything he is, or some such. I didn't take that choice, so I'm not sure what happens (though I am sure curious about what it's like, and will definitely try it next time I play through the game). At any rate, I infer that it has something to do with absolute power corrupting absolutely--the choice represented by The Illusive Man. The third choice, if you can call it that, is just to let yourself be shot by The Illusive Man and get a game over (the wussiest choice imaginable). In any case, you'll lose your friends you took with you, which isn't exactly pleasant stumbling over your girlfriend's body to reach the end. (End Spoiler).
The moral of this story is that quite often a leader must make a difficult decision and live with the consequences. You might regret it, wish you could've done something else, but what's done is done. Agonizing over it--or claiming the benefit of clarity, hindsight, and information that you didn't possess at the time--will ultimately destroy you, sometimes far more effectively than any actual enemy.
First off, Bioware did a brave and really inevitable thing here. It's not the first game to have a real downer for an ending (The Black Mirror comes to my mind; utterly forgettable otherwise), but they are still much rarer than movies with tragic endings. The problem is that we're too used to thinking of games as pure entertainment--the equivalent of Hollywood "feel good" movies. We want to play them in a sort of half-cognizant adrenaline rush and then see some big friggin' explosions at the end and everybody walks away thinking all is Pollyanna (until the next one). It's like being stuck in Schwarzenegger mode. The last thing any gamer wants to do is walk away from a game feeling disturbed, confused, perhaps even anxious or guilty about what he or she has done...
Yet that's exactly what needs to happen more if we ever want gaming to leave adolescence and enter the wonderful world of puberty. Games like Mass Effect 3 are the hairs sprouting from the armpits (and quite possibly other regions on further down). I'm reminded of the time I watched the movies Where the Red Fern Grows and Ol' Yeller. No kid is going to watch those and not say, "Mama, that movie SUCKED! Come on, the dog should've lived! That's not fair! MAMA!!! MAMA!!! WAHHHhhhhh, let's start an online petition to change the ending, wahhh!!!" Well, unless your Mama was a pansy, at that point she said something like, "Well, that's life, it ain't fair and bad things happen, you big baby. Now suck it up and go fetch my spittoon."
I mean, the fact that I can remember (vividly) the endings to those two movies after all these years (and only watching them once) says something about the memorability. People like me who really felt a punch to the gut after Mass Effect 3 will probably remember it, too, many years down the road when the topic of "sad games" comes up. I'm being optimistic here, of course, that BioWare won't succumb to the ridiculous petition or water everything down with the foreboding DLC.
Aristotle had it right in his work on tragedy...I won't get all academic all you (that's more Plato, har har), but the idea is that a game like Mass Effect 3 can have a cathartic effect on you, "purging the emotions" of fear and pity. It's nice when that catharsis can come from a work of fiction rather than real-life; I don't care how much you hate bad endings in films or games, they're infinitely preferable to losing a loved one in real life. Yet there's something to be said for these experiences making us more human.
Everybody knows I'm a big advocate of Greatness in Gaming. What I mean by that is going beyond the hopelessly stupid and servile imperative to "rake it in" with "stupid, mind-free entertainment." It's to the sad point where we're playing games made by committees who listen to "market analysts," which sound suspiciously to me like the censors of our twisted consumerist culture. Oh my God--don't encourage these people to THINK! Don't encourage them to FEEL anything but boredom punctuated by dopamine-induced giddiness--otherwise, they might start to QUESTION. Perhaps they might even...resist indoctrination...zomg!
Games that deliver anything but cheap, mindless thrills aren't, and have never been, fashionable. Our poor ol' arrested developers have been stuck because of a common misconception that gamers can't handle anything else. And I'll be damned if we're not proving them right--I mean, I wasn't kidding about the petition to change the ending. Son, fetch me mah switch...
Now I'm not claiming that Mass Effect 3's ending will really change anybody's views on the universe, but it should at least give them pause. I was especially reminded of what being a soldier is really all about--being willing to die on command. From what I know of military history, this has sometimes meant sergeants actually shooting their own men in cold blood if they're too cowardly or stubborn to let the enemy do that for them (see The Big Red One with Mark Hamil). That's a brutal side of "the service" that doesn't get much coverage and sure as hell won't be mentioned by a recruiter. Granted, we're not quite there in Mass Effect 3, but you do see leaders whose lives have been devastated by making tough choices that got their men killed, and having to live--quite literally haunted--with their decisions.
So, in short, my advice to anyone moaning and wailing about Mass Effect 3's unfashionably "bad" ending is to suck it up, you big baby. This is good for gaming and it's good for YOU, so shut up and and let yourself be bothered. As to whether Mass Effect 3 can be considered art, I'll leave you with a thought from Jean Cocteau: "Art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time."
Edit: This was written before I understood the problems many of you have had with the ending; namely, the lack of choices at the end and inconsistencies in Shepherd's character. I still hold that sad endings are fine, but there are some legitimate issues fans are having with this one. Before wasting time with irrelevant hate mail, just listen to this podcast.
I agree that the Mass Effect 3 ending was not horrible by any means--however, you got quite a few things wrong. Where you said the choices were:
A. Destroy all synthetics and damn the galaxy to another cycle. (<-- This statement doesn't make much sense)
B. Try to control all synthetic life but sacrifice yourself in the process.
The ACTUAL choices were:
A. Destroy all synthetic life and advanced machinery (including the Geth, Reapers, and Mass Relays) to ensure the Reaper cycle will never begin again, although this decision will most likely kill you, effectively making you a martyr. (You need at least 4000 war asset points to survive this choice) As for whether the galaxy will still be capable of recreating AI's and Mass Relays is pure speculation, but it is made clear the Reapers will NOT return.
B. Attempt to control all synthetic life, putting unimaginable power in your hands, and Shephard cannot die from this decision. This decision is incredibly selfish as it strips all synthetic life (including the peaceful Geth) of free will.
Lastly, you stated the squadmembers you took with you die, and that it isn't a great feeling to step over your deceased lover. This is also wrong. I romanced Ashley and took her with me to the final mission--the game does not let you know what happened to them during the final push for the beam that leads to Citadel. In addition to the statement of "stepping over your dead girlfriend" being false, it shows (assuming you chose the Paragon ending) Ashley and Joker stepping off the Normandy onto a lush green planet, which implies that all other squad members survived as well.
Penny arcade the Comic has a funny one today (march 16th) on the ending. I suggest you guys all take a look..
Good Sir, you miss the gripe of the gamers just as much as you have missed the fact that the game's ending is utter nonsense with gaping plotholes, actually, plotcanyons...
None of the gamers on the forums have complained about wanting happy endings, some stated it would be nice, but no, that was not their issue. Blatant inconsistencies and glaring contradictions were their issue.
They're issue was a media build-up of promises over promises about how much players choices would matter in how the endings were shaped, press statement after press statement emphasized this as a main selling point. The actual product delivers one ending in three different colors.
But as I mentioned when I opened this statement, if you haven't noticed these issues yourself (whether you are satisfied/happy with being offered three different colored explosions is a whole different issue) than you have paid as much attention to the game as you have to the issues gamers take exception with.