I played the first Mass Effect game when it was released in late 2007, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I lost weeks of my life to Mass Effect 2, the best of the trilogy in my opinion, and I was one of the less gracious players disappointed with how they ended things with Mass Effect 3.
We’ve known for a while now that Electronic Arts has a movie planned, though rumor has it the movie wouldn’t see daylight for another 5 or 6 years. That’s to be expected for a science fiction epic that is asking for three movies and a massive effects budget.
But I can’t say I’m optimistic about seeing this universe being translated to film, and I promise my reasons are solid, even if you don’t agree with them. Note that I’m not trying to be pessimistic—I just understand how cultural perception and mismanagement of established properties can make even a promising movie taste sour.
The main issue here is that video games have always had a difficult time crossing into non-gaming audiences. We fall in love with the characters we’re playing because the medium is interactive. When studios try to place these characters we’ve invested in into a linear narrative we have no control over, you have a property that no one will relate to.
Non-gamers won’t understand why they should like the character onscreen, and those of us who do know the protagonist feel disconnected from the new persona that has been adapted to the big screen.
This isn’t a problem that can’t be fixed, and I certainly believe Mass Effect could be the exception to the curse of video game movies. It would just take some clever decision-making.
But why, specifically, wouldn’t a Mass Effect movie work the way it’s being planned? It’s hard to say for sure how they’re treating this still-in-pre-production film, but it’s been made clear that the movie franchise will relate to the story of the games.
That means the star will be Commander Shepard, the enemy will be the Reapers and there will have to be some kind of ending that will be different from how you or I played it.
The problem is that the nature of the Mass Effect games was choice. Every play through was unique, set with countless decisions and narrative changes you actively made as Shepard. Did you kill Wrex? Did you sacrifice Ashley or Kaidan? Did you sacrifice the Council?
If they adapt the games, all of these choices will be made for you.
That’s a bad thing because it takes away the biggest draw for these games and removes what made them such a success with gamers. You’re banking it all on the non-gamers who’ve never even heard of Mass Effect, and we all know how that tends to turn out for video game movies.
The tragedy is that the Mass Effect universe really is strong enough to stand on its own as a movie franchise. The lore is complex, the setting is amazing and the series has its own rhythm and personality that sets it apart from what inspired it.
I like to think of Mass Effect as the perfect combination of Star Wars and Star Trek, two of science fiction’s most influential and well-established universes. Mass Effect has the wonder and epic action of Star Wars mixed with the rich storytelling and memorable species of Star Trek (not that either universe is lacking of anything).
But the problem remains: Shepard doesn’t belong onscreen. Not unless you were making an interactive television series where the choices are determined by viewers (maybe through Twitter? Nevermind, bad idea).
Of course, I wouldn’t just complain without some semblance of a solution. I strongly believe that the video game universe of Mass Effect belongs in theaters, just not as they’re planning it. Take away Shepard’s story and replace it with something new.
Let’s make a Mass Effect movie that unearths the territory we barely saw firsthand within the games, which take place years after humanity learns that they are the aliens within a much larger universe. Introduce the world to the Turians through the First Contact War. Make the movie about explorers who fight to find a place for humanity within a universe that sees them as primitive and weak.
Going in this direction wouldn’t be without its own unique challenges, but the fact is that it appeals to both fans of the games and people who don’t know what an Asari is. The bottom line is this: Why make a movie out of something we’d rather play the game of anyway?
Thanks for Reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.