Mix Master Mass Effect

Had one of those wacky constant-game-restoring experiences in Mass Effect this evening, which left my head whirling with the strangeness of these game universes we play in as masters of Time and Space.

See, all kinds of things went wrong while I playing a particular sequence in the game. For one thing, I died several times. One time I died, the game restored back to a much earlier point because Mass Effect‘s checkpoint system doesn’t seem too brilliant (to me). So I replayed back to the same battle (saving before hand), died several more times and restored to the start of the battle. Won the battle. Realised the earlier restoring of the game had put me back before I’d done another of the important objectives, so did that again. Died and ended up restored to part way through the other objective. Did that, did the other other objective again (after saving), died, did it again, finished it, and walked dizzily back to my ship.

In the normal smoothness of game time (especially when you’re not playing on a terribly high difficulty level) you don’t die much, so you don’t tend to restore. Time is linear, the world seems fairly orderly. However, once you start engaging with the saving and the restoring, time stops being linear. You live through moments that are revoked and replayed. You effectively open up parallel universes. Universes in which you died behind that crate rather than next to that barrel. Universes in which you used the sniper rifle instead of the pistol.

And because the time mixing became so out of control this particular evening, I began making arbitrary ethical decisions too. By the time I had entered my fifth parallel universe, I decided to reverse the decision I’d made about the genocide of an alien race, drowning their queen and their hopes in an acid bath rather than setting her free. In another universe I stopped to see what would happen when the area I was standing in was destroyed by the computer I’d instructed to do so. I died and came back again. It reminded me a little of Donnie Darko or Primer. It also made me feel like I was playing Mass Effect as filtered through DJ Hero. Time skipped, flipper, reversed on itself, hiccuped, speed up, and completely changed tracks.

When I emerged on the other side my Commander Shepard had been many different people, but she didn’t know it.

2 September 2010
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