Back when I made my resolution to finish a video game, I honestly thought that I would just choose some SNES era RPG and slog my way through on an emulator. And while I still hold the delusion that I will finish Earth Bound one of these days, I never thought that I would have the patience or skills required to tackle a current generation game. Then came Mass Effect 3 and “narrative difficulty”.
I’d long been a fan of the Mass Effect series, eagerly watching Rick play whenever a new installment came out. I’ve been fascinated by the cult of FemShep and what it means for female representation in gaming. But I can’t say I really thought I’d be able to play a Mass Effect game myself, let alone be 25 hours into my first play through. I mean, I’d tried before, to play Mass Effect 1, but an inability to aim and move at the same time and my discomfort with the dual stick controller (fact: I had not played video games with any regularity since the days of the original NES, unless you count my localization testing days, which were mostly done with the num-pad) meant that any combat situation turned into me twirling around behind a rock with the camera alternating between the floor and the sky. I can still hear Rick laughing at me.
Then, a month or two before the Mass Effect 3 release date, Rick suggested that we complete a play through of Mass Effect 2 to get us in the Mass Effect mindset. He would take care of all of the combat, I would be charged with all of the dialogue and decision making. So using a preexisting Mass Effect 1 FemShep, we set about creating my Clare Shepard. Pragmatic, loyal and just a little bad-ass, my FemShep was a soldier through and through with little time for emo girls (Jack) or beauty queens (Miranda). Her boys were Jacob and Garrus, loyal soldiers who could kick ass and take names.
Rick even let me take the controls for non-combat situations like navigating the ship. Low and behold, in the intervening time since my disastrous first play through, I’d been playing more and more casual games, getting comfortable with the controller. It almost felt like I could do this.
Then enter Mass Effect 3 and the new Story Mode. Combat would be “de-emphasised”, meaning that shooter noobs like me might stand a chance. I knew I had to try it. And so, using the same FemShep as our joint play through, I set about concurring my very first current generation RPG.
Lemme just say that without “narrative difficulty”, there is not a chance in Holy Hell that I would have gotten as far in this play through as I have. I suck at shooting, I suck at taking cover and I’m still not super good at using my squad mate’s powers mid combat. But, what Story Mode does for me is let me take a bazillion hits head on while I blast mo-fo’s with my grenade gun and turn them into spaghetti. It makes what would have been a frustrating exercise in humiliation and futility and transforms it into crazy, frenzied fun. I also like the addition of weapon mods in Mass Effect 3, which mean that I can put a scope on ANY GUN I WANT and thus improve my totally pathetic aim.
Rick, for his part, is impressed and surprised with the amount of effort I am putting into this play through. I’m modding my weapons, doing the side quests, talking to my teammates… I’m making it a real Mass Effect experience. And part of why I’ve gotten so far is the pride that I see in Rick. He loves it when I play and encourages me at every turn, sacrificing his own playing time so that he can bask in his wife’s blood curdling whoops as she defeats an even larger foe.
I know it’s just a game, that those hours could have been spent doing other things, but it’s also bringing me deeper into Rick’s world. It’s giving us experiences to share and debate.
And it’s boosting his gamer score since I have to play on his profile.