Video Games

Lessons on Humanity from Mass Effect

A Crowd-Controlled Mass Effect Playthrough

I’ve played the Mass Effect trilogy a lot. A whole lot. I’ve spent countless hours on many playthroughs saving the Milky Way from the Reaper threat. I’ve made various choices and seen the myriad possibilities of different plot lines. Other players might get tired of it, but I keep coming back for more.

Mass EffectI recently decided to do my first playthrough of the whole trilogy since finishing Mass Effect: Andromeda this past summer. However, this time I opted to approach it differently. Mass Effect is known for giving players control of their experience. Players make multiple decisions that affect the outcome of their game. For this playthrough, I cast caution to the wind and allowed other gamers to vote on my major decisions.

It was a fun idea. It led to some unique situations that I probably wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. More importantly, it taught me things about humanity in a way that only Mass Effect can. I came out the other side with insights on both malevolence and incompetence, and maybe even hope for society.

The Evil Within Us All

Mass Effect 2The way most of the votes went wasn’t surprising. People opted to screw me over as much as possible, leaving me with some of the darker decisions in the Mass Effect trilogy. I can’t blame them. Whether it was schadenfreude or vicariously making bad decisions, I’d probably do the same thing.

Some decisions weren’t a big deal. For example, I couldn’t fully engage in the trilogy’s romance options. Other decisions were more impactful. If there was a chance to for me to kill someone, you could be sure my voters would make me do it. Putting down some of the characters that make Mass Effect so rich was a difficult thing to do, even if they are just bits of code. Only a monster would make someone shoot Wrex. It turns out we’re all monsters.

The Incompetence That Will Save Us

Though we be monsters, hope is not lost. I actually made it through the notorious suicide mission in Mass Effect 2 with only two casualties. Certain plotlines actually worked out much better than they could have with people trying to tank my playthrough. I think the reason for this is simple ignorance of how to cause maximum damage.

The suicide mission is a complex machine. Determining who lives and dies requires a lot of knowledge and planning. With decisions made by popular vote, it would also require coordination. Without all that, my voters failed to cause as much mayhem as I’m sure they would have liked.

Mass Effect 3Similarly, voters always tended to gravitate toward the darker decisions in the trilogy. I mentioned that voters forced me to kill Wrex. In Mass Effect 3, I was also forced to sabotage the genophage cure, essentially dooming an entire race. The thing is, if Wrex is dead, this decision is actually better, as you can gain the support of two races by sabotaging the cure. Moreover, you’re not forced to kill both Mordin and Wrex in two of the saddest possible parts of the trilogy. Consistent evil paid off here and in other parts of the story.

People wanted my playthrough to collapse. The ill intent was certainly there. However, a combination of ignorance and ineptitude saved me. That gives me hope. We all have the potential to be truly malevolent monsters. But with incompetence as our unlikely savior, we’ll live to play another day. On to Andromeda.


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About the author

David Pferdekamper

David spends most of his time playing video games, reading Batman comics, and rewatching shows he's seen dozens of times. When he's not doing that, he and his wife take care of foster kittens and their two chubby cats.


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