My Sister Started Playing Mass Effect 2

(I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favourite sibling on the Citadel)

It’s no secret that I’m a huge, obsessive fan of the Mass Effect series. But while I’ve gushed over the games for five years now, none of my friends or family have shown a particular interest in picking up a controller and firing incendiary ammo at the Collectors; this stopped today, as my sister dived into Mass Effect 2 with all the grace and decisiveness of someone who’s never played a shooter or a game with an interactive narrative.

Watching her play made the game into a movie – a link that is itself a testament to the awesome cinematic qualities of the game – where I wasn’t deciding the fate of the galaxy, but responding to another person’s decisions regarding that end. And while it’s not a particularly interesting idea to say that art is a thing to be appreciated and responded to, this was a pleasant inversion from the immersive, James-revolving focus of my previous Mass Effect experiences that were themselves an inversion of the typical relationship between artist and audience that drew me to the series in the first place. Basically, it was nice to be a bit powerless in an art form where empowering the audience is at the core of all things.

And these choices and reactions were decidedly more human than looking up alternate paths on the wiki; I know these games inside out, from several playthroughs and obsessive research online, so the things my sister’s Shepard were saying weren’t a surprise to me, but her thought processes behind those words were fascinating. As were her reactions to characters and events, as were my own opinions on characters now that I know their fates, and can employ the reverse-engineer character analysis you can do when you reread a novel.

But, most of all, the way she approached the game was striking to me, simply because it was so different to my own. Saying I focus on the narrative of games directly, while she explores and discovers lore, is too simple a distinction, but choices she made, as a player not as a character in the game, regarding her class and method of recruiting squad members, opened up a way of looking at characters and Shepard’s role in this universe that I’d not thought about before.

So I’ve learned something today. And, not for the first time in my life, I have Commander Shepard and my sister to thank.

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