Mass Effections: I Am Not a Hero

At their core, video games are mechanisms for people to play out their hero fantasies. Most of us don’t get the chance to be the sort of hero we grow up revering. The guy who charges a machine gun nest to relieve pinned down comrades. The gal who rushes into a burning house to save someone else.

We all want to be heroes and video games make for a painless way to “prove” that we are.

Some games give you classic heroes. Their honor, courage, and nobility are all that’s required to stack up a pile of corpses large enough to save the day.

Other games give you anti-heroes. They save the day by amassing an equally impressive pile of bodies, but through the POWER OF SARCASM.

Others still feature reluctant heroes. They require a catalyst, usually an attack on something or someone they love, before they save the day via a pile of corpses.

Also common are unlikely heroes. They are just an average Joe or Josephine; a common person who must create an uncommonly large pile of corpses to save the day.

At the root of it all is the belief that we would be heroes if only given the opportunity.

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Mass Effect lets you be your own sort of hero. You can be the product of a spacefaring family, a poor Earth orphan, or a survivor of a colony wiped out by slavers. Although I am of Earth, the colonial option sounded closer to my agrarian roots.

You also get to choose your backstory. You can be the sole survivor of a mission gone wrong, a war hero who single-handedly repelled an invasion, or a renegade who ruthlessly completes the mission regardless of cost.

Without a personal connection to any of them, I picked the war hero.

We all want to be heroes.

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I don’t have the physical courage necessary to be a hero.

That doesn’t make me a total coward. I probably have intellectual courage. I don’t settle for easy answers and I’m not afraid to question my beliefs, even those most cherished. That takes courage.

I have moral courage most of the time. I usually can be counted on to do the right thing. However, I’m also practical enough to choose my battles. Heroes don’t fight the good fight only when it’s easy or convenient. I could stand to improve in that regard.

I do not possess physical courage. Brave a storm of gunfire? Continue reading

Mass Efflections: Introduction

In July of 2009, I wrote a piece about the “10 Best Video Games I’d Played.” It wasn’t a bad list, but four and a half years later, little would be recognizable.

Black Ops II has replaced Modern Warfare. Splinter Cell: Blacklist is up there somewhere now. I’ve played enough Operation: Flashpoints, Gears of Wars, Halos, and Batmans to know that only Fallout 3 and Eternal Darkness would remain on that list today.

There is one other similarity, though: A Mass Effect game would occupy the top spot. In fact, the Mass Effect series would occupy three of the top four spots, with only Bioshock: Infinite making me think twice about a sweep.

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My first Mass Effect playthrough was pretty predictable. I played as a male Shepard, making sure to go paragon on everything. My initial Shepard was super nice, as are pretty much all of my Action RPG characters.

I romanced Liara in Mass Effect. If I had to guess, I was drawn to her innocence in a cold, unforgiving universe. Or something like that. Sadly for her, I moved on to Miranda Lawson in Mass Effect 2 because Yvonne Strahovski. I don’t think I need to explain more, although I’m sure I will later.

This time, the rules are simple: Continue reading

Bioshock Infinite & Video Games as Art

(Ed Note: Spoilers ahead! All of them!)

The floating city of Columbia’s welcome center is perhaps the most beautiful setting in video game history. Sunlight breaks through the stained glass to the floor below. Marble statues tower over you. Beautiful music and the swishing of running water are all you hear. Flowers float past you.

Upon leaving Columbia, you step into the sunlight, greeted by statues of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson. Citizens drenched in red, white, and blue enjoy old-timey carnival games at a fair.

It’s paradise.

Until, of course, you are asked to assault an interracial couple. Then to defend yourself from attacking police officers. Then told you can initiate all sorts of gory executions using your Sky-Hook. Through all the violence and blood, the sun shines on.

Columbia is soon aflame, literally and figuratively, from civil war. As the embers of a burning city swirl around you, you come upon a young woman sitting on a crate amidst the chaos, singing a startlingly beautiful version of Fortunate Son.

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As soon as I set down my controller, eyes still filled with tears, I knew I had to write about Bioshock Infinite. Continue reading

Why Do You Love This?

Nike is a far better symbol for America than Columbia. Not only is Nike appropriate as the Goddess of Victory (Success in almost 90% of our military conflicts), but also as the Goddess of Just Doing a Thing. We do. We don’t think; frequently before, but especially after. For all America’s positive traits, we are not a nation of reflection.

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Some months back, I posted an essay claiming that American society places an extremely high value on violence. If this is true, the Western is easily the most “American” style of film.

After all, consider the subtext of every Western: Justice (read: violence) dispensed from the twin barrels of a righteous sawed-off shotgun. Others will fail you. Society will fail you. The law, most of all, will fail you. Your convictions, backed by a six-shooter (and a high-powered rifle for that guy on the rooftop), never will.

It doesn’t get more American than that.

Before I watched Unforgiven, I had never enjoyed a Western. Unforgiven, though, is perhaps less a Western than it is a deconstruction or critique of Westerns. Unforgiven took apart the myth of frontier justice and replaced it with something far messier and far uglier.

It asked the quintessentially un-American question: Why do you love this?

The violence of Unforgiven is merely pervasive; its consequences are inescapable. Continue reading

Causation

The Sandy Hook Shooting made me think about guns, children, mental illness, the Bill of Rights, violent video games, and an assortment of related topics. I’ve also been thinking about collective guilt and the NFL. Concussions, suicide, premature deaths, and my role as an avid football fan have been weighing heavily on my mind since the death of Junior Seau, the first casualty whom I can remember watching play. I also play video games with violence and explosions. (Yay!)

While these topics might not seem connected, all three have led me to the same place. Our society’s glorification of violence doesn’t cause violence. It’s an effect. We glorify violence because, at heart, we are a violent people in a society that values violence. Continue reading