Why the Story of Mass Effect is One of the Greatest Stories Ever Told, and What it Has to Offer Genre Writers (Part 1)

For anyone who’s read some of my previous posts or followed me on Twitter will probably know that I’m a huge fan of the Mass Effect game series. I’ve played through each game nearly twice now, and I’ve spent more than 100 hours playing Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer mode. So yeah, I like the games. But while I of course enjoy them for the game aspect, the part of me that likes good stories and likes telling good stories benefits even more.

To preface, I’ve basically grown up around sci-fi. My parents are huge Star Trek fans (primarily original series), and I grew up watching it. Then I discovered Star Wars, and well, it’s Star Wars. That quickly became a favorite as well, and I’ve even read a number of the expanded universe novels in addition to the visual media. Both of them, which are considered sci-fi tent-poles (yes, Star Wars is more epic fantasy in space, but it still usually falls under sci-fi) and have had a huge influence on me as a writer. From Star Trek, I got great characters, interesting ideas, and exploration, while from Star Wars I got epic story, a large, heavily populated galaxy filled with diverse aliens, and energy swords. However, considering both those plus other, smaller sci-fi things I love such as Starcraft and Firefly, I would have to say that Mass Effect has had the most influence on me and my writing by far. In this series of posts, I hope to enumerate on exactly why this is so, and maybe it’ll get those of you that have yet to give it a shot to check it out. (There probably will be some spoilers though, so beware. The last game has been out for over a year, after all.)

So I think I’ll start by introducing the games, focusing on the story and the setting, then I’ll talk a little about some of the broader themes. Future parts will focus on more specific things.

Here we go. For the uninitiated–or indoctrinated (haha, Mass Effect reference you won’t get if you haven’t played the games)–Mass Effect is set in our own galaxy, a couple hundred years in the future, and takes a fairly realistic approach to how we might end up by that time (given that we discover FTL travel and that aliens exist, of course).

So the game begins not too long after humanity first joined the larger galactic community. They have made great strides in that short time, but they are still very much newcomers, and they are regularly reminded of this, which bothers some. And at the same time, some of the alien races that have been ‘in the game longer’ are upset at how quickly the humans are moving up the ladder, and see human designs to gain power within the larger government as threatening.

The game’s main character, who we play as, is Commander Shepard, a human military officer who is initially a candidate for the ruling Council’s Spectre program, to be an elite enforcer of the law. However, the stakes quickly grow larger, and Shepard has to put together a crew to go after a rogue Spectre. This mission will take him or her to various alien worlds, and form alliance’s and friendships as he/she pursues the rogue Spectre and discovers that things are far more complex than initially thought.

By the end of the game, you’re fighting to save the galaxy from an existential threat, a fight that will continue until the conclusion of Mass Effect 3. The sheer scope of the story (there’s an entire galaxy involved) is one of the things that drew me in and made me think about the scope of my own story ideas. Definitely expect to see a fully populated and explored galaxy in my own fiction at some point.

But the main thing this does is it shows that humans, as integral as they might be to the story, are simply a drop in the bucket of the galaxy. Too often fiction makes us the center, when we know for a fact that we make up an infinitesimally small part of our galaxy.

But that is but one of the major ideas and themes that really spoke to me as a storyteller. I don’t want this to get too long, but I’ll list a couple of the ones I’ll be writing about in future posts.

The idea of unity: bringing an entire galaxy together to fight a common enemy.

A new and brilliant story of a synthetic race that rebelled against their organic creators.

Aliens that are actually aliens, but that we can also identify with.

Creating a story with immense scope, but keeping us fully invested in every bit of it.

The excellent use of backstory and history to set the stage for the story.

I think that’s enough gushing over Mass Effect for now. This is getting long, and I’ve barely finished the introduction (which I suppose is fitting, given the hundreds of hours I’ve spent in this universe). I’ll be tackling each of the ideas/themes listed above (and possibly more that I neglected to list) in future posts, which I hope to release regularly.


So until next time, keep writing, let your imagination roam free, and seriously, play these games if you have the time. you won’t regret it.

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