Wednesday, March 17, 2010

ME2, pt.4: My Protagonist

[SPOILERS]

Thinking back over my emotional involvement with the story, another thing that interests me is my apathy toward Shepard. Other characters were emotionally interesting, but Shepard felt like a robot to me despite all aspects of a meaningful character arc being present. Shepard has life-changing events and big threats, makes decisions in response, and experiences victory or tragedy based on moral choices.

Shepard's Call to Action
One problem that may have caused this is starting the game with Shepard being killed without being explicit about its tie to the Reapers. It takes an entire mission to get the opinion of the Illusive Man that the event is connected, and only after they go out of their way to make sure he can't be trusted. Unfortunately, asking me to hold judgment about this meant losing any emotional immediacy with my death. It seems that even if Joker picked up a puzzling Reaper signal before the Normandy was blasted to smithereens, I would have been far more motivated to recover and make things happen, and the story team still would have had lots of strings to pull on to make me distrustful of Cerberus.

Another quibble is in using a wall of text to recap the events of the previous game. The time between games is too long, and this seemed too limited a way to get me reinvested in goings on.

Choice Disconnect
In the second act of the game, choices come into play. Though making decisions that affected the lives of other characters was interesting, they seemed to have little impact on my personal progress. I think this is partly a mechanical problem with how dialogue choices are presented but I will cover this later and want to stay focused on plot. Nothing about the plot discouraged me from caring about how my decisions affected Shepard, but there was also very little that encouraged me to pay attention.

This may be because all dialogue drives you towards a player success in the completion of the game. This strikes me as a good thing because you don't want players to feel herded towards one moral choice over another, but two articles recently reminded me of how achievement-driven human beings are, and I wondered if this could be used to increase the attention I pay to dialogue.

It doesn't strike me as a cost-effective idea, but I wondered what it would be like if a character mirrored Shepard in competition for success in the story goal, and seemed to succeed or fail unpredictably in reference to my moral decisions. For example, a new character acts as ship commander over Ashley Williams and serves the Citadel. He disapproves of my alliance with Cerberus. He winds up having the same goals but takes different routes sometimes appearing a step ahead or behind me based on the decisions I make. My hunch is that even if a success pattern was difficult (or impossible) to decipher, I would find non-existent patterns and pay more attention to my moral choices in an attempt to "succeed" against this (potentially interesting) character, even if I always came out the winner in the end.

Stay tuned for comments about my particular brand of ending.

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