Revisiting Art

I’ve quoted the saying before that no man can step in the same river twice because it is not the same river and he is not the same man, but what if the river isn’t a river. What if it is something frozen in time like a piece of art? What happens then?

As we are a collection of all our experiences and education and as that changes through the years then even if we are looking at something that is unchanged then we are changed. We have knew knowledge and experiences to draw from and that gives us a new perspective. It is why so many people believe that re-reading is reading or look at a piece of visual art and talk about how they notice something new every time. Perhaps they are not noticing something new but are new themselves.

I had an experience like this recently. Video games are beginning to be like movies where there are as many remakes, remasters, and re-imaginings as there are new works. For the last month and a half or so I have been playing through the Mass Effect Legendary Edition. Now a lot of my seeing things with fresh eyes came from forgetting a good portion of the games or having not played certain downloadable content, but some of it came from new experiences and education.

I recently finished the book Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov and let me tell you something that changes the entire controversial ending of Mass Effect 3. Mainly because the ending is ripped strait out of the book with the main character having to decide between three different decisions and one of them being synthesis. There is also the whole mind controlling telepathic robots thing to and the story of organics and synthetics not being able to get along and you get the idea. Asimov was a big influence on the Mass Effect series and I didn’t know this the first time I stepped in that river as I hadn’t read any yet.

Now to the controversial ending of Mass Effect 3. In it you are Commander Shepard and you have finally made it to the point where you can destroy the Reapers. The aforementioned telepathic mind controlling robots. But these robots weren’t created by humans they were created by something much older. They were created by an AI that was created by a race of gigantic sea creatures that look like something out of Lovecraft.

When you reach the end of Mass Effect 3 instead of just pushing a button and blowing the Reapers to kingdom come like everyone thought was going to happen, Shepard collapses and is whisked skyward by a blinding white light. There the AI that created the Reapers has a nice conversation with Shepard where it gives Shepard his three choices. Shepard can destroy the Reapers (his main goal through three games), control the Reapers (the foolhardy plan of the secondary antagonist of Mass Effect 3, or have synthesis between organics and synthetics (the ultimate goal of the AI that created the Reapers and the point of the Reapers harvesting).

When the game first came out the ending was fiercely complained about and I remember not liking it either. The protagonist of Foundation’s Edge chooses the synthesis option in his story but it isn’t instant synthesis and he says of the three choices he was given it is the one that can be reversed. He also mentions you can’t trust any being that thinks perfection is possible which is exactly what the AI in Mass Effect 3 is striving for. There is also the little fact that I had played the three games close together and thus remembered the speech by Saren from the first Mass Effect where he kept saying synthesis was the only way. Organics and synthetics had to work together and the organics had to give in.

What you have at the end of Mass Effect 3 is a dishonest or at least untrustworthy NPC giving the information of the choices to Shepard and perhaps a lot of people felt that whatever an NPC said was true. I’m not sure because it felt so obvious this time. This was the boss fight but in the form of a riddle instead of a firefight. It was on the player to see through the deception and complete the mission they’d been working towards for three games.

I don’t know if this new perspective came from playing the games back to back to back or if it was because I had recently read a work that heavily influenced the series but either way the ending was not confusing in the least. It felt very straight forward. The AI that created the Reapers to harvest organic life in order to remove chaos from the galaxy wants Shepard to synthesize all organic and synthetic life into one new form of perfect life.

When I played the first time I did choose that options. I went with the synthesis. This time, with new experience and education, I realized that this AI that created the Reapers was more than likely in self preservation and deception mode and blew those robot bastards out of the sky. I didn’t spend 75 hours of gameplay over the last month and a half to fail at the final moment.

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