Category Archives: Video Games

How Video Games Taught Me Loyalty

I’ve been playing video games for most of my life, so it makes sense that I’ve learned a lot from them over the years. They are more than just a way to have fun, though I suppose that is the initial draw to them. They’ve expanded my vocabulary, taught me about ethics and morals, and exposed me to the depths of human nature. One thing that stands out to me in regards to all this is the aspect of loyalty. Through several different games, I have noticed a common theme: victory is impossible alone. It takes loyal companions fighting alongside you to ultimately reach the final goal: beating the game.

One of the first games I remember playing is Final Fantasy VII. Sure, in any Final Fantasy game, it’s impossible to not play in a party simply because you’d be decimated in seconds. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Who do you choose? I find myself even today picking the exact same people with every play-through. Somehow I feel loyal to them. Somehow I was taught to be loyal to these pixilated characters. End game, I remember always having Cid and Vincent with Cloud. I picked them because I liked them, not for any battle or strategy related reason. When I play it now, I have to have them in my party. If I try to throw Barrett or Red XIII in there and build them up, I lose interest and can’t play anymore. After playing with those characters over and over again, I can’t imagine playing with anyone else.

One of the reasons why I just can’t get rid of Cid…

Another game I’ve played extensively is Baldur’s Gate II, probably my favorite game of all time. This is a game that has way more character choice. Some of the characters that are available to you are completely optional; you never even have to meet them if you don’t want to, (this is especially true with the first one). So here’s a game that gives you complete control over who is in your party, and yet I still always pick the same people. I can’t play a game without Minsc in my party for the duration, and I can’t play a game without dumping Jaheria the first chance I get. But even with the same people over and over again, it’s never boring.

If I didn’t need your help getting out of this stupid dungeon, I would have such happy dreams about you rotting in that cage!!! …I really don’t like her…

I think part of it has to do with the Tree of Life segment, right before the final boss. Before you descend into the depths to what could be your death, you take the time to ask each party member if they’re really up to it, if they’re really loyal to you. And they all reaffirm that they are. There’s nothing quite like the feeling when someone infallibly tells you that they trust you and would never let you do this without them. Gaining that kind of loyalty is priceless, and it’s something that stays with you. Perhaps that’s why I always keep the same party. I want to experience that feeling again and again.

Brings a tear to my eye.

Developers have started to recognize this phenomenon as well. An early version of this, if rough around the edges, is seen in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. In this game, the influence system was implemented, (it was also in the first one, but this game gave it a name). The more influence you gained with a companion, the more their alignment shifted toward your own, and the more they revealed about themselves. Simply, the more influence you had with them, the more loyal they were to you. Influence was mostly gained by dialogue choices, (some of your actions did as well). Certain responses had the ability to either gain you influence, or it could drastically lower it. You really had to get to know each companion to figure out what response they would lean towards. What was so powerful about this system was the fact that your companions would literally change themselves because of you. They became so loyal that they would change their alignment and class to match yours. For example, (if you’re light-side), Atton would become a Jedi Sentinel if you gained enough influence with him. On the other hand, if you had no or negative influence, he would go the opposite route and become a Dark Jedi Sentinel. The fact that your character would have any effect at all on your companions is amazing, and truly expresses the power loyalty has.

Kreia was definitely the hardest to gain influence with…she sucks.

More recently, Mass Effect 2 implemented the now-famous loyalty system. In this game, loyalty was gained by undergoing a mission for each companion. Once that was completed, they were loyal for the rest of the game. The rewards were the unlocking of a fourth ability, as well as an alternative outfit for further customization. This is all well and good, but there are real consequences for not gaining loyalty. On the end suicide mission, any companion that is not loyal will die, and die for good. They’ll be gone if you choose to play after the end, and they’ll be gone if you load your save for ME3. ME2 really stressed how important loyalty is. No other game has had such dire consequences for not gaining the loyalty of those with you.

Don’t want coffins at the end? Then do the loyalty missions damnit!

After being reminded over and over how important loyalty is from all these different games, it isn’t hard to see why it’s something that I’ve carried with me in my own life. For this reason, I am so proud that I had video games during my childhood, and that I still do now. Ironically, playing a game by myself has made me a better friend to those around me than some others I know who are exclusively around people all the time. I have become an extremely loyal person to the people I care about, and I have video games to thank for that.

Mass Effect 3 Review

I was at a loss for where to start (maybe I’m over thinking this, but hey), so I thought i’d make it easy for myself and start with something i’d already written (a tactic I utilized in school, btw. You’d be surprised how many classes you can re-use a paper on Kangaroos for). Here is a post I made in the Bioware Social Forums about Mass Effect 3. It was in response to the imminent release of the Extended Cut DLC (which could be another post…)

Original: http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/355/index/12696103

 

This might be a bit late, and I should have written this when the game was still fresh in my mind, but even after all this time, I feel like this still needs to be said.

Let me be clear. This is not about the ending. I didn’t even have a huge problem with the ending. Compared to other things, it’s not even on my radar. And that’s sad, because the ending was bad. The fact that something can make it seem okay is terrible in itself.

A man of his word.

I feel that the over-encompassing narrative and character development was shot to the wayside. I almost feel like ME1 and ME3 were the same story, and ME2 sadly was another, because ME2 and ME3 had very little connection.

The big selling point of ME2 was that you had to build up a team and gain their loyalty. This was a literal action you had to do, or that character would die in the end. I thought this was great. In terms of story, character is almost always more interesting than plot. If you don’t care about the characters, then the plot, what happens to them, doesn’t really matter.

So you spend all this time in ME2 building these relationships, and in ME3, it means very little. Other than really Garrus, every character gets about one mission, and that’s it. They get a cameo, and then it’s over. Instead, you get the 3 characters from ME1, and a slew of new people that were hollow compared to what you built in the previous game.

All those Loyalty missions for nothing, and to think I could have skipped helping Miranda…

None of this makes sense in terms of character, and perhaps the most important is you, Shepard. This is someone that you, the player, has fleshed out to make your own, made choices for them, pretty much become them while playing. ME3 is filled with actions from Shepard that just make no sense at all.

Perhaps we need to get into examples to really understand. Let’s start with the ME1 two character options, Kaidan and Ashley. It doesn’t matter which, they are essentially the same character, in terms of they fill the same role. I played as a female, so I’ll talk about Kaidan, but it would be the same for Ashley. So, in ME1, I romanced Kaidan, as he was the only heterosexual choice for me. Then in ME2, when you first see him on Horizon, things go downhill. While playing this conversation (and I tried several possibilities), none of Shepard’s responses really fit. You’ve been in a coma for two years, and while it may seem like only a few months for you, you’re painfully aware it’s been way longer for Kaidan. You wouldn’t say, “hey, how’ve you been?” But that is essentially what you say. That aside, no matter what you dialogue options you choose, Kaidan leaves you.

One of the first of many lines that make me want to slap him in the face.

Shepard is a strong woman (or man), no matter how you play her. She isn’t going to pine after a man who dumped and rejected her. She’s going to believe she’s better off. Of course she’ll be sad, she is a human being. But she isn’t going to wait around, especially when her next mission might be suicide.

That leads to Thane, who I chose to romance next. I tried Garrus as well, but as I’ve read in many forums and agree with myself, he is more of a friend, an amazing friend. So going into ME3, Kaidan had dumped me, and Thane and I were in love. I believe it’s a 6 month gap between the two, during which some plot points happen. There is DLC, like the Shadow Broker story, but they are not in the forefront of my memory. I remember talking to Liara about whoever you romanced. So that love is still alive while going into ME3.

Here is what I am most angry about: Shepard turns into an emotionless husk. She doesn’t ask a soul about the man she is supposed to be in love with. He contacts her  in a random email. So you go see him, have one interaction, and that’s it. Not only that, but you have the option to keep asking Thane to have sex. Really? He’s sick and in a hospital. And while all this is going on, you visit Kaidan about 3 times in the hospital, and you ask after him before that. When did Shepard start liking Kaidan again? It doesn’t track. Where is the evidence?

GDI Shepard, you horny bastard. Leave the dying man alone for a sec, geeze.

Now moving on to Thane dying. Shepard does not shed one tear, nor does she touch him at all. Why is this? Because it’s the same cut scene whether you romanced him or not, or whether you’re female or male. This is a travesty in my opinion. Now, I didn’t expect her to throw a crying fit and jump on his death bed. But something. The Shepard who just sat there is not  the Shepard I played for 3 games. Later, you have a conversation with Garrus by the memorial on your ship, where Thane’s name is now written. Thane is not even mentioned, instead he mentions Kaidan, who is on the ship now. If memory serves, Thane isn’t mentioned ever again.

There’s a point later where Kaidan and Shepard can get back together. I wanted to see what would happen if I went along with it, and what happened was horrific. Kaidan states, doesn’t accuse, but states that he’s okay with you cheating on him. And Shepard goes along with him, agreeing with his assessment. This is disgusting. Kaidan is the one who left Shepard, and left her when her whole world has been turned upside down after losing 2 years of her life. To trivialize what she had with Thane as “cheating” is simply disgusting. And the strong-willed Shepard would never have gone along with this.

When are you going to get it through your head that I’m not into you Carth, I mean Kaidan…

This is when I realized that this game is really geared toward men, and that is really terrible. It’s the year 2012. What really makes this weird is that here is such a heavy emphasis on gay/lesbian equality in the game. There’s an openly gay character, that as a man you can romance, Kaidan can be romanced as a man, and there are 3 lesbian options. This is one of the pros of the game. But what happened to us hetero girls? Your choices are the man who broke your heart and betrayed you, or your best friend who, let’s be honest, is too alien to be intimate with a human.

Thank God I can have shower sex with this girl I just met, and if she doesn’t work out, there’s always that girl in the cargo hold, or the girl you blew off before but would totally do you if you asked.

My main point in this article is that I want the narrative to make sense. I don’t care what happens, as long as it makes sense. Thane can die, you can get together with Kaidan, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s believable, and nothing in ME3 was. It almost feels like a rough draft of a story that needs to be thrown into a creative writing workshop.

Next week the EC comes out to “fix” the ending, (post note: it didn’t). I’m glad that Bioware is responding to fans, but unfortunately none of the things I was so disappointed in will be touched on. It’s just too bad that one of the most innovative game franchises of our time ended this way. I honestly have little hope for games in the future if this is the new definition of “innovation.”