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Situational Ethics in Mass Effect 2

As many of you have no doubt gathered by now I have, (tragically or happily depending on your point of view) become an X-Box addict.  I’m making my way through my second play through of Mass Effect 2 so I will be appropriately studly when I have to face the Reapers in Mass Effect 3.

And I noticed on my Cerberus network that there was new downloadable content.  So I downloaded ARRIVAL where Shepard rescues a scientist captured by the Batarians, and I learn something dangerous about the Reapers.  Sounded cool so I started playing.  I made it halfway through before the start of Bubonicon, or local science fiction convention, and then I picked it back up on Tuesday night once I was home.




The rescue of the scientist was a straight up shoot ’em up and since I’m a soldier and I hadn’t retrained to get the “snoop and poop” power I just had to bust her out in a fairly noisy fashion.   So we get back to the base on a giant asteroid, and Shepard learns that they have found a Reaper artifact and the visions imparted indicate an immediate invasion.  The Reapers are giant machines that periodically sweep through the galaxy and kill all intelligent life.  They’re bad guys without a lot of nuance to their bad.

The Mass Effect device in this solar system is on a straight line to the most populous part of the galaxy.  The Reapers can reach Earth in two days so this base has been established to run said, aforementioned asteroid into the Mass Effect machine and destroy it.  Down side, the explosion will destroy the solar system, and there are 300,000 Batarians colonizing this system.  Shepard gets blasted with the vision and it’s true the Reapers are coming and will arrive in two hours.  

At which point I thought — “Oh this is awesome.  This is going to be a lesson and a test in situational ethics.  How brave and thought provoking on the part of Bioware.

I kept playing and thinking I would be offered some kind of clever choices that would help me to save the Batarians, or I would have to actually think about the terrible act of genocide I was about to commit.  But no, the game just put me on a path to the inevitable destruction of the ME device and the death of 300,000.  The only obstacles I faced were numnuts with guns. 

Turns out the scientist has been completely brainwashed by the Reapers, and she’s trying to help them invade so she’s rigged the asteroid to blow apart rather than destroy the gate.  And damned if I didn’t want to help her because otherwise my actions led to the deaths of 300,000 people.  If I had chosen to sit down and let the scientist blow up the big rock my conscience would have been clear, but apparently the Reapers arrive and kill all life in the galaxy — trillions and trillions of people.  Game over, want to play again?  Also, if you don’t complete the adventure in the two hours allowed the Reapers arrive, kill all life in the galaxy, game over want to play again?

There’s a tag at the end where the admiral who sent me off on this mission turns up, and says, “wow, you sure killed a lot of people.  Are you sure that was necessary?  Oh, and you killed my dear friend scientist/doctor/chic.”  Shepard says it was necessary, and then the admiral shrugs and says.  “Well, okay then.”  If you’re playing a good guy Shepard you offer to turn yourself in, and Hackett tells you you will have to be tried on Earth.  _That_ I’m looking forward too since it shows some sign that the creators of this add on understand consequences.

This adventure literally gave me nightmares, and I think it’s a terrible cheat that there are no psychological consequences for Shepard built into the game.  I want to see him tortured with nightmares, and maybe doing therapy with the ship’s doctor, and popping anti-depressants.  After all, this guy has died, and literally been brought back to life by enemies he fought in the first game.  He’s faced with a terrifying and implacable foe, and now this horrendous choice and action.  I foresee many years of couch time and intensive therapy before he’s able to function in normal society.

It was also a cheat on the part of the designers because it’s a Batarian colony and the Batarians are slavers, and they prey on humans, and we don’t much like them.  This should have been a human colony or at least an alien race the humans don’t have a hard on about.  It was a lazy writers cheat of “Well, they’re bad people so it doesn’t matter if they die to save everyone else in the galaxy.”  That should not be allowed to serve as a moral fig leaf.

In the body of the game I wanted a lot more thought and interaction with people where Shepard has to weigh the consequences of the decision he’s about to make.  I’m not asking that Shepard be offered a happy, Disney solution to this untenable situation, but I want some actual consideration of this act, and a recognition of what this is going to do to Shepard morally and emotionally.

So if anybody has a line into Bioware would you point them toward this little rant.  I think they need to see it.

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