Mass Effect 2: One Year Later

Karen Shepard, my character from ME1 & 2, has helped me explore the galaxy, humanity, and alien cultures.

(Warning: Mass Effect 1 & 2 spoilers follow).

January 26, 2011 marks the first anniversary of BioWare’s Mass Effect 2. It is hard to believe a year has passed since we first got to play the second installment of its epic space trilogy.  Mass Effect 2 continued the saga of humanity’s struggle for survival as well as its quest for political supremacy within the Citadel. It would be the biggest understatement to say I have enjoyed that game.  However having completed the games several times, I think I am in a better position to look at several areas of research available due to the volumes of content that come with the Mass Effect experience.  Some of them I have already touched on, yet there are other areas that cry out for exploration, including disability, body image, moral choices, and several mass communication theories to include framing (in-game media broadcasts), agenda setting (Cerebus network), and gatekeeping. To be honest, I have already dabbled into why Mass Effect 2 address the human condition and how some story elements represent cultural hegemony.  In fact I did that not once, but twice.  A few months later, I wrote we need more characters like Joker. Recently I explored how BioWare uses fictitious faith as an option to avoid the controversies of addressing real-world religions. I even argued that my beloved Karen Shepard should die again at the end of Mass Effect 3. In addition, other writers have brilliantly written about some of the political aspects of BioWare’s epic. Jorge Albor over at Experience Points penned “The Quarian Exiles,” “The Salarian Dilemna” and “Cultural Conflict.” One might think that because of the many articles about Mass Effect that we have sufficiently mined universe for cultural ideas.  Not so.

Mass Effect "Overlord" is an opportunity to study disability.

First, the added content (DLC) “Overlord” infused horror and oppression of the disabled into Mass Effect 2. The “ends justifies the means” mentality used by Cerebus to combat the mechanical Geth put the player in the position of leaving a disabled man in the hands of his oppressive brother or shipping him off to an academy for help and thereby putting humanity at a disadvantage in its war against the Geth’s masters, the Reapers. Anyone interested in exploring how the story unfolds must capture and study the flashbacks the player sees as well as the ending cut scene and in doing so will see how the character Daniel will shift from what Rosemarie Garland-Thomson calls wondrous (awe-inspiring) to exotic (dangerous, alien, strange) to sentimental (to be pitied and taken care of).

Grunt (foreground) and Tali help the gamer explore family issues in ME2.

Body image and gender issues are obvious avenues of exploration in ME2.  Critics will no doubt zero in on First Officer Miranda Lawson, whose tight outfits present the image of sex symbol even as she reminds Commander Shepard, and the player, that she has been genetically bred to be intelligent as well as a powerful biotic.  She therefore often times splits the male player’s focus on her since she is a possible love interest for MaleShep while catering to the Illusive Man’s interest as a Cerberus operative and first officer of the good ship Normandy. Her cool demeanor is offset by the fiery and sexual Jack/Subject Zero who presents the option of unattached sex. In contrast, Samara’s quest to kill her daughter provides room for those interested in the intersection of child rearing and employment and the consequences of being away from home too much.  Kasumi Goto quest reveals a love tale with some James Bond elements thrown in. Of all the characters, it is Tali’Zorah who provides the interesting political/familial/loyalty missions in the game (as does the Krogan Grunt).

The Mass Effect trilogy is well-known for its moral choices.  One of the big selling points was that choices made in the first game carry over into the second.  Likewise, choices made in ME2 will help shape the outcome of the series in ME3.

If you saved the Rachni in ME1 will they help defeat the Reapers in ME3?

I have read accounts of how Shepard’s actions with the Krogan, the Quarians, the Geth, and the Rachni will help to form an alliance against the Reapers in ME3. It will be interesting to see if certain options lead to success or if some kind of pluralism exists in ME (all roads lead to a good ending).

Another rich area of research is in-game media, ala the Cerberus Daily News and in-game news updates on different planets. The CBN ran for one year, providing daily updates from the ME Universe.  These short messages not only enhanced and expanded the canon, but also provide material for textual and content analyses. Just as interesting are the numerous in-game updates the player can listen to.  These quick announcements might provide some insight into how news reports are framed within the game.  What elements are emphasized and which ones are downplayed or even ignored? How do the interests of the Citadel play out against the public’s need to know? Do these news bursts, as I call them, in any way help to set the public agenda for conversation and reaction? This last item is difficult since we are only privy to the reactions of Shepard and those around her.

It seems that the anniversary of Mass Effect 2 raises nearly as many questions as it answers. The middle chapter of this trilogy has one final section of downloadable content due out this year.  BioWare has not revealed if this will be DLC that bridges ME2 and 3, ala “Lair of the Shadow Broker.”  If it does you can bet that researchers will add it to the healthy collection of ME content already available.

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  1. August 30, 2011 at 14:00

    Hi Jeffrey, I’m a religious studies graduate and PhD candidate from Bern, Switzerland. I research the relationship between religion and digital games since several years. Check out my website:
    http://www.god-mode.ch/en/html/index.html

    I contact you because I’m interested in your academic writing on this subject. Especially, I’m interested in your thesis, Christian Identity in Response to Moral Choices in Gaming: A Textual Analysis of Popular Video Games. Is it possible to get a copy?

    Thanks,
    Oliver

  2. JLJ
    August 31, 2011 at 12:01

    Hi Oliver,
    My dissertation is not available yet. I held onto the publishing rights for two years. Hopefully I can get parts of it published in academic journals. Sorry.

    I like your site! When I get a moment, I am going to check it out in more detail.

    Best,

    Jeff

  3. Mariela
    August 21, 2012 at 01:19

    That Shepard is beautiful. Any chance you could share the face code?

  4. JLJ
    August 21, 2012 at 10:38

    Thanks. I created her so long ago that I am not sure how I did it (Xbox 360). I am assuming that there is a face code on the PC. Sorry. Wish I could help.

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