Okay, so this fall I started going back to school to finish my bachelors degree. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been a student. That is why I have ZERO HOURS to write anything not school related. I was halfway done with college already, looking for a career change and realized a college degree would be quite helpful. Anyway, I am taking a class called Video Games and Learning–basically my dream class. About 17 of us sit around and just talk about how video games help teach us how to effectively learn. Our text book was written by James Paul Gee titled What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy and it introduces some great ideas. Check it out if you have the free time.
My point in sharing all this; I wrote my first literary analysis for the class and my subject was Mass Effect. My instructor game me quite amazing feedback which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, which then inspired me to share it. Check it below if you want:
Mass Effect Literary Analysis
Mass Effect is an immersive science fiction role playing game (RPG)/third person shooter developed by BioWare Corporation. Released in 2007 exclusively on the Microsoft Xbox360, the Mass Effect series has since spawned a sequel released in January 2010 (accompanied by the option to play the game on Sony’s PlayStation3) and a third title to round out the trilogy releasing in March 2012. The series thus far has been received positively in the gaming community and has won several awards during its existence.
The main story quest follows Commander Shepard’s activation as the first human spectre, which is a group of enforcers who act outside of the law. Shepard and her team are assigned to hunt down a rogue spectre operative. During the mission, a larger threat to the galaxy is discovered, propelling Shepard and crew on a mission aboard the Normandy space craft to save the galaxy from destruction.
Mass Effect intertwines elements of both the RPG and third person shooter genres. At the start of the game, the player is asked to create their version of Commander Shepard, the central hero in Mass Effect. Shepard can be either male or female. The player must decide what class to choose, which will dictate how powers and capabilities develop throughout the gameplay. Lastly, the player is asked to choose a brief background story to round out Shepard’s personality. Along with character development, text book RPG conventions such as completing quests, earning experience (XP) from quests & combat, managing your various inventories (ie: weapons, armor, etc.), and acquiring party members who assist during missions, give Mass Effect the right to be part of the RPG genre. The use of firearms and the “over the shoulder” perspective the player has when guiding Commander Shepard and her party throughout the galaxy is what qualifies Mass Effect as a third person shooter game. The combination of both genres creates an immersive gameplay experience.
Much like our society, the Mass Effect galaxy is occupied by various different races. Though it’s a fictional universe, there is a subtext suggesting race dictates ones power and status in a society. The humans (in game) are a younger race and are viewed to be beneath more ancient races. The Asari, an all-female race whose main objective is to find a mate to reproduce with, are often sexualized and are frequently found in “escort” service jobs. The Krogen are a war torn, militaristic race, used as laborers and bodyguards, not considered a civilized race. It’s possible the game authors are implying how racial stereotypes can dictate one’s status in a society, much in the same way race has historically controlled people in our society.
There is also subtext of how controversial science can become when genetics are involved. The Salarian and Turian races, two highly intelligent groups, took it upon themselves to genetically alter the survival rate of the Krogen offspring in order to control what they viewed as a threat to the galaxy. Naturally, the Krogen opposed this, causing long standing and deep rifts between the Krogen and those who are not willing to assist in finding a cure. This illustration of scientific controversy, specifically on genetics, could be a commentary on today’s highly debated topics.
The fidelity of the graphics adds greatly to the verisimilitude of Mass Effect. The faces of some characters are so lifelike that it becomes easy to forget they aren’t real people. Glimpses of the night sky or the rising sun are familiar imagery to all who play the game. In addition to graphics, the quests provide several familiar struggles, from choosing between right and wrong, maintaining relationships, and learning how to react in difficult situations. The game presents an emotional space that many can identify with, making the game seem very real and life like. On the other hand, the entire experience takes place in a galaxy farther than far, far away. There are made up races, space ships, intergalactic war, and futuristic weaponry which make the game obviously not realistic. Mass Effect accomplishes an emotional level of familiarity, whereas the context of the game is very much a fictional place.
Mass Effect (along with its sequel and upcoming conclusion) can become a total immersive experience, if the player is willing. The conventions of RPG games alone require a dedication that encourages immersion. Though controversies can arise during the game, it’s important to be aware that video game issues and real life issues may not be that distant from each other. What seems to be most important is the emotional familiarity the game can provide. People naturally want to be understood and accepted, and Mass Effect can provide that through Commander Shepard, her crew and the adventures they take as team.