This morning I played a bit more Mass Effect 3 while taking a break from lecture preparation. It was the usual rhythm of the game: talk to someone on a video conference, check the War Room, upgrade some stuff, scan a solar system, go to a new mission, listen to narrative, shoot things, narrative, shoot things, weighty decision, shoot things, done. After which I decided I wouldn’t be playing any more of Mass Effect 3. After which, tired and coming home from university, I decided I would be playing some more of Mass Effect 3…
Yes, it’s the eternal problem of the essentially boring, but oh so gratifying efficacy simulator that is a video game. One need only be reminded of the flux of real life, the deadlines, the responsibilities, the stuff you just can’t bring yourself to do, to pine for the simplicity of Commander Shepard’s world. I was really pretty certain I would just stop playing the game, I was rather pleased with myself for making the decision. But the instant life intervened and pointed out what a grind things can be, I longed for the virtual grind of Mass Effect 3. A grind in which I will actually get somewhere. Even if that somewhere is kind of nowhere. Even if the something I strive for is kind of nothing.
The best bits of Mass Effect 3 (and the other games, really) are those fleeting moments where you have to make a somewhat difficult decision. The morality bits. Save the giant alien bug queen or kill her or what? Often the choices are difficult not so much for the ethical issues at stake, but rather because the options you’re given don’t actually capture what you would want to do, or are enveloped in a rhetoric you’d rather not speak. Still, those moments are good. I actually sit back and wonder what to do. My brain whirs haltingly to life. But those moments are rare.
The rest of the time it’s the cycle of efficacy. Shoot things, use powers, upgrade things, fly a spaceship around. All things that are essentially trivial to do and by extension, dramatic narrative be damned, essentially trivial. But so good for the battered soul that find everything else in life to be a pain. Better to shoot a Reaper Cannibal right in his juicy sack of a head than to get round to the programming on my new game. Rather buy fuel at the fuel depot than prepare lecture slides on advanced object oriented programming concepts.
This morning, I thought I was out.
This evening, they pulled me back in.