Jasper Frank’s Very Bad Day (Part III)

Hello, everyone! This will be the final part of my running short story, and unfortunately also my last post of the month! The good news is that Melissa will be back next week, so you should definitely come back for what she has in store. I’ve really enjoyed seeing where this story took me. Some of it was very unexpected! I hope you’ve had as much fun with this little demonstration of genre blurring as I have. In any case, here is “Jasper Frank’s Very Bad Day,” Part III.

For parts I and II, click here!

Jasper Frank’s Very Bad Day (Part III)

Hey Erwin, I’m at the location, but I’m not sure it’s right. You said the corner of Straylight Road and Sprawl Street, right?

Yeah man, that’s the place. Dorg’s message’s right in front of MMFH. COUGH COUGH


Erwin? Erwin!

Hey, yeah I’m fine. I’ve got this huge plate of avocado nachos with ranch dressing, and I sort of-


You’re eating? Right now?


Calm down Jay, I told ya, this guy’s legit. He won’t give you trouble, he owes me.


Yes, you told me that. You also told me that he wouldn’t mind it if you changed the contract mid-job and extorted stolen Chinese alchemicals from him. You forgot to mention that he works for the Japanese mob.


I didn’t think it was important to mention, ok? Look, you’re at the right corner, it’s 2:28, he should be there in two minutes. He’ll walk past you and drop a brown paper bag on the springy duck thing, and you’ll be out of there.


The springy duck thing? What springy – you mean that rocking-horse in the park across the street? Next to the slide and the merry-go-round?


What? No, not a horse, a duck. With the spring? That the little brats sit on and go crazy?


Erwin, that’s in the playground across the street. As in, not on the corner of Straylight and Sprawl. Are you sure that’s where I should be.


No, look You don’t go standing around in a kiddy playground in the middle of the night, that’d look too suspicious.


And a werewolf standing on a street corner in the middle of the night isn’t suspicious?


Dude, wolfies are, like, nocturnal or something, aren’t they?


Erwin, I’m surprised at you. That is one of the most common misconceptions about Lycanthropes. I mean, if you would just look at the pamphlet I brought you, you could educate yourself –


Woah, hold up. Didn’t mean to step on your new sore spot for the fuzzy peeps. Look, just stay there. When you see some shady guy walk through the playground, that’s your sign.


Wait! You’re not going to hang up, are you?


Jaaaay. I’ve got stuff to do, other contracts. Got a new gig lifting the thaum code off some magi-tech dealer. Got a guy who wants it so he can make some nice knock-off hair growth charms, total legit forgery stuff.


But what if the Yakuza show up!


Come oooon, Jaaaaspy.


Fine, leave me all alone! But if I get murdered by some angry Japanese warlock or get shot through the heart by a vigilante werewolf hunter, I won’t be there to pay half the rent. Then you’ll be sorry!


Don’t be like that, man. You’ll be fine, this guy’s totally legit. Sure, he may have gotten the Yakuza on his tail a bit, but he said he can handle it, and-

Wait, I see something. There’s a man… it looks like he’s walking to the park gate. Yes! He went in, he’s got something in his hand. Erwin! He left the bag on the duck! He left the bag!


Great, just like I told you. Now go get it before someone else shows up. I’ll be on the net when you get back, so don’t bother me, kay? Later!


Hello? Hello! Erwin? …Ok, you can do this, Jasper. There isn’t anyone… well, ok, there are some people now, down the street, but they don’t look like… right, that one’s holding a samurai sword. That’s probably not a good sign. Ok Jasper, just get the bag and… got it! Oh no. The one with the sword saw me… maybe if I sort of crouch down, I can –


Hey, who you talkin’ to, fluffy?


What? Fluffy? I don’t know who you’re talking – Oh! Because I’m a… uh, no one?


You on the phone? You holdin’ a phone up to your ear.


Ah, just a friend of mine, you know, talking about stuff. He’s a… well he’s a werewolf too, so we’re planning a networking meeting! You know, Society for the Ethical Treatment of Anthropomorphs.


Ah maaan, you’re one ‘a those SETA freaks?


Well, yes! In fact, I have this handy pamphlet that points out a few important misconceptions people have about shifter minority groups, if you’re interested. I have a whole stack! Please take one!


Eh, no thanks, man. Look, we’re lookin’ for this guy, took somethin’ from us. You seen anyone around this duck thing? Maybe left somethin’ here?


Oh no, I was just taking a stroll, talkin’- I mean, talking, with my werewolf buddy – You still there, Bradley? Oh ho, no, I don’t want to go work out right now…. Oh wow, I didn’t know you could lift 600 pounds! …Werewolf strength? Ah, yeah, I forgot about that! Ha ha! I guess even I can bench 300, now that I think about it…Listen, Bradley, I’m speaking with a gentleman here, I’ll be just a second… Sorry about that, was there something I could help with?


…Nah, man. It’s fine, we’ll just, eh… keep lookin’.


Ok then! You have a good night – and they’re gone… boy, they didn’t stay long! Well, I’d better get back to the apartment… huh. These alchemicals don’t expire for a whole month! Well, I guess I don’t have to take them right away if I don’t want to. I’ll see what Bradley thinks at the next meeting. I bet he’d love to hear about tonight, anyway!


And that concludes my story! I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Next week, Melissa will be back on rotation. Until then, have you ever written or read a story that didn’t seem to fit all the way in either the science fiction or fantasy genres? Let me know in the comments below!

Jasper Frank’s Very Bad Day (Part II)

Hello again, everyone! This has been a fun experiment so far. I’ve really enjoyed toying with the lines, and, I hope, demonstrating that the divides between genres can be pretty thin sometimes. I hope you enjoy the rest of the story!

For Part I, click here.

Jasper Frank’s Very Bad Day (Part II)

Heeeey Jaaay. What’re you doing back so early?

It’s almost seven pm, Erwin.  I should have been home hours ago.

Oh. Well, y’know, I kinda lose track of time sometimes, in the zone. So how’d your meet ‘n greet thing go? Meet any nice wolfies?

No. And, apparently, “wolfies” is a derogatory term punishable by a two hundred dollar fine if reported on public property. Nearly all of the orientation was in legaleze, I can hardly think in English anymore. And no one at the networking lunch had even the slightest desire to turn back to human. One guy snapped at me for even bringing it up. I almost lost a hand! Wait, you’ve been on Magi-net this whole time?

Yeah, Jay. I got a sweet gig casing this one achemi-medical corp out of Shanghai. Chinese medicine, y’know? Got a guy who wants the details on the company rune-tumbler sequence. I just dive in, take a peek, and net some nice cash for my trouble.

Did you at least take out the garbage?

Naw, no time for that domestic crap.

Erwin, we’ve talked about this, you can’t live here and just-

Whoa, Jay. You can’t sit there.


Dude, you’ll shed on the upholstery.

Look, if I’m going to have to live with this, you’re going to have to deal with a little shedding. I’ll buy some lint rollers.

So they don’t, like, have some kind of opt-out for the whole Lycanthropy thing?

No, they don’t. It’s like it doesn’t matter that I didn’t want this. It doesn’t matter that I just got chomped by some random guy. They decide it’s a protected status, and I’m stuck injecting silver nitrate every month so I don’t go moon-crazy and slaughter the neighbors.

Silver nitrate? Is that, like, expensive? ‘Cause I’ve got a guy who’d take that off your hands for some quick money, you know, if you’re interested.


What, I don’t like our neighbors. They look at me funny when I go down to the laundry room.

That’s because you’re covered in bright pink tattoos. And, you’re an elf.

Hey, don’t knock the tats, these are the best in the biz. I get up to 6 peca-pentagrams a second on the nets with these, and that’s not even breaking a sweat.

You use those for Magi-net? I thought it was just a…

A what?

An elf thing? You know, frilly colors, pixie dust. That sort of thing.

Whoa, that’s not cool, Jaspy. Just because there aren’t any other pointy-ears around here doesn’t mean you got the right to decorticate.

I think you mean “discriminate.”

Whatever. Anyway, I stick the trodes here, where the tats come together on my hands, and I use the ol’ magic to get to the nets. You should see it, man. It’s beautiful. Like, a city of lights, going on forever, and you’re, like, flying past everything, and you can see all the spells and runes like big neon signs, and-

Ok, Erwin, I get it.

Right. So… what are you going to do?

What am I going to do? Get used to being a werewolf, I guess. The alchemical treatments I would need to turn back aren’t covered by my insurance, and they’re way too expensive without it.

Harsh. Well, if you think I could help with somethin’ lemme know.

Er… thanks, Erwin. Wait a second, you said your contract is to steal from an alchemy company?

Dude, not “steal.”

“Aquire.” Whatever. Would your friend be able to get alchemical pollymedicals from this Chinese company?

You mean alchemical pollymorphic pharmaceuticals? Like, to turn back to normal?


Oh! Yeah, man, that would work.

Would I… uh, need to pay you?

Naw, I could like, make that part of the conditions for receiving the rune-tumbler sequence.

You’re sure? You’re sure your employer wouldn’t mind?

Eh, probably not. I’m doing the guy, like, a huge favor. How mad could he be?

How mad indeed. To find out, look for Part III next week!

Philosophy and Mass Effect: A Response to Popbioethics

Hello everyone! Over the last couple of weeks I have been analyzing and answering an article by Kyle Munkittrick at Popbiotheics.com titled “Why Mass Effect is the Most Important Science Fiction Universe of Our Generation”. You can find the first section here, and the second here.

This week I’ll be wrapping up this discussion, looking at Munkittrick’s third and final point, and his conclusion regarding the importance of the video game Mass Effect to the science fiction genre as a whole. The third and final chapter of this game series is now out, and since I am currently playing through it, next week I’ll be taking a look at the game itself as a final examination of the Mass Effect series, taking a look at some of the controversy surrounding some writing decisions in the end of the game that I think we can all learn from. But before that, let’s take a look at Munkittrick’s final point.

The Philosophy

“In nearly every great popular science fiction universe, there is a flaw… the assumption that life has meaning, that intelligent life has a purpose, and that humanity contributes anything to that universe.”

The philosophy of Mass Effect is Cosmicism, which Munkittrick defines as (quoting Wikipedia):

The majority of undiscerning humanity are creatures with the same significance as insects in a much greater struggle between greater forces which, due to humanity’s small, visionless and unimportant nature, it does not recognize.[emphasis added by Munkittrick]

Reaper citadel battle
The undefeatable... being defeated.

According to this philosophy, humanity cannot attain meaningful existence, and to play Mass Effect, which embodies Cosmicism, is to consider the value of the lives of other species, the meaning of life on the cosmic scale, and the importance of individual relationships in the face of cataclysm. One must accept the premise that the technology to explore the universe is a trap, and a structure that forces galactic civilization to follow an invariable path.

All of the issues surrounding the development of each of form of intelligent life, from the reproductive genocide of the Krogan, to the war between the synthetic A.I. Geth and their creators the Quarians, are stripped of their sense of evil because of the very nature of the universe, that the path of life and civilization itself is an artificial and designed construct of a malevolent and ambivalent force. Above all the myriad issues that threaten natural life is the ancient threat of the Reapers, biomechanical equivalents of the Elder Gods of H.P. Lovecraft’s work. The Reapers are inconceivably powerful, are immortal, and bend the minds of anyone who encounters them, driving most insane and enslaving the others to their ancient, undeniable will. They come every 50,000 years to wipe the slate clean, to decimate all intelligent life, then slip away into dark space, to wait once again for civilization to develop along their pre-defined paths and inescapable controls.

“The Reapers and their cyclical destruction of civilization represent one of the most nihilistic interpretation[s] of intelligence in the universe ever presented. Mass Effect answers Fermi’s famous question, “Where is everyone?” with a matter-of-fact, “They have been consumed.”


Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity.”

As Munkittrick claims, the setting, medium, and message all work to frame the philosophy of Cosmicism, which “forces the player to recontextualize his or her participation in the experiment of existence…By exploring and expanding upon the big questions asked by the last century of science fiction, Mass Effect has become the standard bearer for the questions the next century of science fiction will seek to answer.”

My Conclusion

So the nature of the universe, that it is a “godless, meaningless universe indifferent to

lovecraft elder gods
Unimaginable. Eternal. Madness.

humanity”, is essentially what Munkittrick points to as being the most defining feature of Mass Effect’s universe, and by extension, the primary element that affects its candidacy as the most important of our generation. Certainly by the very words of these creatures, and their obvious connection to Lovecraft (they even look like his giant evil space squids), the philosophy of Cosmicism is  intended to be the metaphysical punchline of the Mass Effect universe. I don’t think there’s any denying that.

However, is this actually what the world presents to its audience? Do the Reapers actually perform their necessary roles of unimaginable, undefeatable, and immortal beings?

We have already established that while humanity is intended to be insignificant in the world of Mass Effect, they are up front and center anyway, a flaw in execution that effectively minimizes the equalizing factor Munkittrick claims the world to have. If the Reapers are not actually performing the role of the Elder Gods, then Mass Effect is not actually embodying Cosmicism either. The Reapers are the fulcrum upon which Munkittrick’s analysis stands. I believe that the Reapers fall short of this goal for the following reasons:

  • They are not eternal. The Reapers are old, possibly millions of years old, but they had a beginning, and they can certainly meet an end. They were not only originally self-created beings (since they are essentially biomechanical synthetic robots), and while they seem to be “ageless” (they do not die simply due to the passage of time), there are several cases already in the series in which they have been killed or are found dead (and I can only assume more will follow in the final chapter of the game). In two occasions, these Reapers were killed by the player himself, a human. This flies directly in the face of both Munkittrick’s point that humans are insignificant, and that the Reapers create a universe where humans are incapable of attaining meaningful existence. In these two instances, even though the Reapers were in weakened states, humanity proved it could affect the “undeniable” and “inescapable” fate of the galaxy.
  • They are not unknowable. The Reapers are advanced beyond imagination, but so were the Protheans, who were the last generation of intelligent life consumed. In both cases, humanity and the rest of the races have studied and gleaned from technological remnants, and have pieced together the story of the cyclical annihilation, as well as effectively figured out the general steps needed to prevent it. While they have been wrong, outwitted, and defeated along the way, and have little hope, they still have some hope. Lovecraft’s Elder Gods are characterized as offering no hope to the insects of humanity. This is the fundamentally important aspect of Cosmicism that Mass Effect fails to impart through the Reapers.
  • They are flawed. The Reapers make mistakes. Sovereign, the first Reaper the player meets through the story, relies on his domination of a single Turian named Seren to act as an agent in the world as he attempts to open the door for the cyclical destruction. This plan falls apart, however, leaving him vulnerable to the mortals he thought he would crush effortlessly. This failure proves that the Reapers are not beyond the flaws of the morals they dominate, and do not embody the dark perfection of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods.

Because of the failure of the Reapers to sustain the environment of Cosmicism they are designed to create, the narrative that Munkittrick intends to elevate suffers from discordant tone and mismatched themes. This is still a hero story, perhaps the first true epic of video games, however, because it does not remain consistent with its setting, message, and philosophy, it cannot be called the generational genre definer that Munkittrick would claim it to be. Certainly a story like what he describes would be incredibly meaningful, and Mass Effect certainly is important for pushing the envelope in many ways, but it is unwise to prescribe such importance to a fledgling work, especially in an unproven medium. The classics are only classics because they have survived the test of time, after all, and such a label as “The Most Important Science Fiction Universe of Our Generation” is only something that can be truly given once time has shown it have the merit to last.

I hope you have enjoyed this discussion as much as I have! Next week I will take a look at the final installment of the series and attempt to explain the outrage surrounding its controversial ending, and what we can learn from it as writers. Until then, do you think that Cosmicism is a defining philosophy of our time? Let me know in the comments below!

Message in Mass Effect: A Response to Popbioethics

Hello everyone! Yesterday was the release day for the final installment of the Mass Effect trilogy, which means that it’s quite possible that most of the people liable to really care about this topic are off actually playing the game (I would be too if it weren’t for school. Spring break can’t come soon enough). Last week  (in this post) I started into my analysis of Popbioethics.com’s audaciously-titled article “Why Mass Effect is the Most Important Science Fiction Universe of Our Generation”, and today I will be focusing on the second major point of the argument: the message of Mass Effect, and what it tells us about the Science Fiction genre.

The Message: We Don’t Matter

Essentially, the general message that Munkittrick points to in the Mass Effect universe is that “human beings are delusional about their importance in the grand scheme of things”. We are one of many, and unlike the universes of Star Wars, Star Trek, Ender’s Game, and a great deal of other science fiction worlds, humanity has a very minor role. This is not something that tv and movies can usually do, Munkittrick explains, because they have to have appeal for their human audience. This is an important point because it explains the importance of the setting to the message (his first point to his second) and how each piece builds on the last, but I’ll get to that in a moment. According to the article, the world of Mass Effect is colored by its message in three major ways:

  • Humans are petulant: Humans may be the new kid on the block, but they tend to walk around like they own the place. They react with insolence to the authorities already in place (ones that have been there hundreds of years before humans even understood what space was), and many do not accept being treated  as second-class, even though there are many other races that are even further back in line. This somewhat justifies the feelings of the other races, and helps to put the humans’ struggle for significance in perspective.
  • The lowering of humankind makes it harder to be xenophobic: Since humans are not the most important species in the galaxy, the player is given a sense of kinship with many of the other races that are in the same boat. Many characters of other races are much more identifiable because they are similarly ‘inferior’, so that instead of focusing on what makes alien characters different, the player focuses on what makes them ‘human’. This also ensures that no matter Shepherd’s gender, race, or sexual orientation, the player is subjected to the same prejudices, based on species alone.
  • The undermining of human pride opens the door to new discussions: When the player is not focused on how great humanity is, examining the greatness of other beings does not threaten the perceived balance of power. In many other science fiction universes, beings more powerful and capable than humans are seen as a threat, or at least arrogant and supremacist, and the default reaction is mistrust. In the world of Mass Effect, humans are not at the top, and so the king-of-the-hill reaction is gone, letting the player see genuinely superior beings more clearly. Characters such as cyborgs, artificial life, and genetically engineered super beings (all of which are represented in the main cast in some way) are actually relatable, instead of being threatening.

These parts add up to a whole that works to change the player’s perspective, working with the setting to frame the philosophy of the world (which I will get to next week). It deconstructs the player’s preconceived notions about the importance of humanity and opens up the realm of discussion to themes beyond the basic space-faring hero story. But, does this all add up to something so unique that it can be called the “most important science fiction universe of our generation”?

Chinks in the Armor (if we can still say that)

Mass Effect 3 femshep female shepherd
Ok, seriously, I need to get this game. C'mon, Spring break!

While I certainly agree with Munkittrick that the way that Mass Effect’s world frames humans in an non-human world creates an effective equalizer, I don’t think it’s as drastically different from most other worlds as he seems to. Certainly, worlds that focus entirely on the human race’s actions and importance will tend to maintain an “us against them” mentality that can make it difficult to relate to non-human characters, but even if the world of Mass Effect isn’t too keen on humans taking over, they’re doing it anyway. While it may come off as insolence, the humans of Mass Effect really are hot stuff.

New as they are, humans have in only a few generations gone from isolation in their far-off system of Sol to jockeying for Galactic governmental authority. Shepherd himself is human, and has become a new symbol for human progress, becoming the first human Spectre, a sort of intergalactic secret agent with far-reaching authority and political clout. Not only that, but even taking into account the myriad ways the plot can turn depending on the choices of the player, humanity still plays extremely pivotal roles in the fate of the galaxy. Speaking in literary terms, Shepherd (and by extension, the human race), is the Hero from the Outside, the Beowolf of Mass Effect, coming in to change the status quo and place things back in the hands of mortals.

Humans may be perceived as being inferior, but they are far from actually being insignificant. This comes to a general rub of the article that motivated me to tackle it in the first place. In many ways, science fiction is about determining mankind’s place in the universe. Even in non-spacefaring stories, the world frames human limits in ways that identify the metaphysical position of the writer. Munkittrick commits something of a literary sin by reading into the world of Mass Effect an exclusively material, even secular humanist perspective that marginalizes mankind’s importance and necessarily downplays the audiences’ high notions of human grandeur. However, the world itself still assumes human significance, or else they could not be the agents of change and action in the story.

This is one of the reasons I believe Munkittrick is wrong about his assumptions. While Mass Effect’s message does allow for an interesting background for discussion, the discussions are not new, and can be (and have been) handled just as effectively in other stories. The medium (videogames) does not make Mass Effect meaningfully better at handling these themes, and neither does the message that Munkittrick says Mass Effect portrays make it the genre-definer that he claims in his title.

Does the conclusion of Munkittrick’s argument (as cumulative as it is) prove his claim? Next week I’ll take a look at the Philosophy of Mass Effect, and Popbioethics.com’s final arguments about its significance to the Science Fiction genre. Until then, you can still get the free demo for Mass Effect 3 here to play around with!

Medium and Mass Effect: A Response to Popbioethics

Hello everyone! Last week I mentioned that I would be responding to this article today, but instead of trying to wrangle everything into one huge (unreadably long) post, I’m going to go ahead and make this a multi-parter.

The article in question makes a rather audacious statement right in its title:

Why Mass Effect is the Most Important Science Fiction Universe of our Generation

As a science fiction fan and literature buff, I bristled upon reading this. I, like many 18-25 males in my demographic, love video games. I have talked about the merits of video games as a medium and lessons we can learn about storytelling and writing from them on multiple occasions. However, this title seems to be placing Mass Effect up next to works like 1984, Ender’s Game, Dune, Neuromancer, and other universally acclaimed science fiction literature, and then exults it higher than all of them at once. I saw this article pop up on tech websites, gaming news sites, and various other places, and each time the title caught my eye.

So, I read the article, thinking to myself “Maybe it’s not as bad as I think.” Fortunately, it wasn’t. The article does not go as far off the deep end as I feared, however, it struck me that there is a fundamental misunderstanding represented in the text, a misunderstanding that could lead many people to expect from games like Mass Effect something they are unequiped to produce. So, in this mini-series, I will break down each point and explain why Mass Effect, while a very impressive start, falls short of the genre-defining masterpiece that Kyle Munkittrick claims it to be.

The Medium: Strengths and Weaknesses Abound

Reading is often a solitary experience. It’s easy to become so immersed in the world of the story that you can’t see anything else. Characters engage us with their personalities, strengths, and flaws. Settings overwhelm us with sensations not our own, and stories fill our imaginations with questions that keep us hunched over our books way into the early hours.

In many ways, video games can offer a similar experience. There are just as many “good games” as there are “good books”, ones deep enough and meaningful enough to merit the attention and time invested in them. There are, however, many differences in how one consumes both forms of media. One of the strengths of video games is that they are interactive, and often very dynamic, rather than static and linear as books are.

Munkittrick’s argument for why Mass Effect is so important to the science fiction genre begins with a discussion of such differences, focusing on three main advantages of video games as a medium: setting, casting, and emotional involvement. Here is a breakdown of Munkittrick’s main points:

  • Setting: The scale of Mass Effect’s game world allows it to contain a huge diversity of races and species, allowing it to sidestep a common problem of science fiction: the over abundance of supposedly minority humans. This creates a proper sense of humanity’s smallness, and allows the world the feel as big as it needs to.
  • Casting: The diversity of the world is reflected in the diversity of important characters, who can be any combination of male and female, alien and human that the player chooses. The main character is also completely customizeable, allowing the player to choose gender, ethnicity, facial structure, and even sexuality. This combination of factors allows the game to cover a wide variety of themes that would otherwise be impossible, and makes the characters deeply immersive and meaningful.
  • Emotional Involvement: Decisions made by the player during the course of the game have far-reaching, story-altering consequences that follow him through the entire overarching storyline spanning three games. These decisions are usually made with little information through emotion-based dialog options that allow the player to express his desired tone. All of these options for interaction directly with the story increases the immersion of the player in the game, and creates an effective channel for the game’s themes and setting.

In most of these cases, the so-called advantages of video games (and thus Mass Effect) over traditional mediums are either matched by equally important traits of the novel, or are in fact disadvantages that serve to make Mass Effect less effective in telling its story.

In the case of its setting, while the impressive diversity of characters in Mass Effect may be important to later points in the article (I’ll get to that next week), there is little that could not be pulled off in a book as well. You do not have an actual crowd of diverse aliens and humans to show that there is diversity in your story world. Subtle cues and control of information can paint such a picture without spoiling the imagination’s own rendering.

mass effect on stack of books neuromancer ender's game perelandra
Does it truly stand above the rest?

Characters, whether in supporting roles or as the main character himself, must have a story for them to feel real. The supporting characters in Mass Effect have wonderfully written, deep stories full of motivations, strengths, and weaknesses that would make them equally appealing in a novel. However, the main character, Shepherd (the player sets the first name, but not the last so that other characters have something to call him by), is nothing but an empty shell, a puppet that dances to the jerky hands of the player.

The customization only serves as a filter to the experience of the world, as there is no difference what Shepherd looks like, and little difference if it is male or female, or even homosexual. In the end, these customizations boil down to a mere basket of variables for the game to warp itself around, and do not meaningfully add to Shepherd’s sense of realness. In this case, the more traditional model of a novel’s protagonist would likely perform better.

Finally, the emotional involvement of the player is stiffled by the vague nature of the dialog system. When making choices about what Shepherd will say during a conversation, the player is made to choose based on a very short description of three different tones (angry, charming, sarcastic, etc.). In reality, the player really has no idea what words will come out of his character’s mouth, and will often be pulled out of the experience by unexpected results. Simply put, Shepherd has no real character because too much of him is so variable. Even as the player is discovering new things about the side characters and reveling in their interesting stories, he does not feel any real connection with his own character. This is a far cry from the sort of immersive characters possible in a novel, and it is important to note that the characters that feel most real in Mass Effect are the ones who are stable and defined.

Many of these points are addressed more fully in the article’s next section: message, which explains the reason why these aspects are important to Munkittrick’s assertion that Mass Effect is the most important universe of this generation. Want to try out the latest installment of Mass Effect yourself? There’s a free demo available through Electronic Arts’ Origin Network! Just follow this link, and you can catch a glimpse of this game first hand. Until next week, what do you think it takes for a book, movie, video game, or whatever, to be considered “the most important of this generation”? Let me know in the comments below!