The Mass Effect series has played a large role in my life. It was the first game I personally bought with my own money, without anyone influencing me to do so, not an advertisement or even a friends recommendation.
Looking back I can’t tell you why exactly I bought it, I can simply remember being in a retail store with my brother and picking it up, while he picked up Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 4 – another game that I eventually loved.
I am glad I did though, as the series – despite Mass Effect 3’s ending – eventually revealed my love of reading and writing, after reading the Drew Karpyshyn book series devoted to Mass Effect. Eventually, I began writing fan fiction and other things relevant to the series that led me to find an interest in writing about my interests. So not only did the series introduce me to Sci-Fi, Space Opera, RPG’s and reading, it’s also the reason I’m writing this article today.
Oddly enough, I almost stopped playing the game entirely after my first death, because not only did I not understand the RPG elements – and it was actually the first one I’d ever played – I didn’t know the save structure either. The original Mass Effect wasn’t as autosave heavy, so when I died about an hour in on Eden Prime and had to start all over, I threw the game aside. I eventually picked up back up.
Once I did, it still took me a while to understand everything, but in the end, it gave me a better appreciation for the game. After struggling through it all I was rewarded with meaning relationships, stories, and characters, all being told in a science fiction/space opera world.
It was my first true experience with the genre, and the unique sentient creatures and worlds the minds behind it could create. It was also my first real taste of the thought behind their being other living life forms in outer space and spurned a fascination with the unknown.
At this point in my life I still didn’t entirely understand the diverse ethnicities and cultures of our own world – being considerable introverted, not necessarily sheltered – so I learned through Mass Effect. Dinosaur-like creatures called Krogan that inhabited and evolved on the gruelingly world of Tuchanka fascinated me. Their history and interactions with themselves and other species, like the Salarians and Turians, had me pouring through different conversations to log information into the codex to pour over for days on end.
The only thing I can think to compare it to is how I imagine people felt growing up watching Star Trek on television for decades. To say that it was the first of its kind is a vast understatement, as the original show’s air date was now over half a century ago, yet it still explored the relationships (Plutonic and Sexual) between humans and alien species.
Unfortunately, whenever I tried to watch any Star Trek recently, there was a severe disconnect as a result of its age. It’s understandable considering the vast majority of the content was made not only before I was even born, but before a lot of technological advances made television and movies seem more real. While the stories and characters may still hold up, I was always taken out of it by something small that didn’t age well, like the space CGI or character makeup.
I was able to watch and enjoy Star Wars quite a bit growing up though, but as much as they are compared, the two Stars really don’t seem all too similar. Sure they both have unique space opera elements and cool alien species, but Star Wars always focused way more on its plot. Generally speaking, The Force is the main character and focus of any product in the Star Wars medium, while Star Trek is centered around other things.
With all that in mind, I began looking up the similarities between Star Trek and Mass Effect. Though it seems obvious from the outside, it is interesting to see just how big a role Star Trek has had in paving the way for Mass Effect, and how similar, yet unique the two are in comparison.
Just like Mass Effect introduced me to the deep backstories of alien races like Quarians, Turian, Drell and so many others, Star Trek did so with Klingons, Vulcan, Borg and countless other unique species. But instead of simply typecasting them as evil outsiders trying to destroy the other race, they are just as complicated as human beings despite being so unique. Each series also didn’t look like the prototypical skinny big head extraterrestrials known to mainstream, they were creative and unique looking.
Star Trek wasn’t something that just anyone could find back then either, as it took real dedication to track when the show was on and didn’t merit any standing with anyone else by watching it. In fact, society condemned anyone watching a show like that as not only a nerd, but even a zealot by religious standards, due to the shows stances on issues that were not as accepted as they are in the current climate. People watched because they truly cared about it, everyone else’s opinion be damned. Just like when I bought my first copy, I bought it for my own reasons, not because society deemed it cool. With that comes a sense of ownership, adding a sense of value with the show or game.
In my opinion, Mass Effect has always been at it’s best when it is exploring the things that make up its universe; It’s worlds, characters, side stories, relationships. I didn’t care as much about the Reaper threat as I did about exploring Tuchanka, getting to know Thane’s backstory or embracing eternity with Liara. Add in the layer of science and technology behind Mass Effect fields, the relays, and Biotics and you can see how it’s so easy to get lost. All of this was explored in the Star Trek decades before, in very similar ways, as the shows would vary from a focus on science, to religion and even full episodes and arcs devoted to relationships.
Another interesting comparison between the two is the stigma behind each platform that they are on, Star Trek on Television (mostly) and Mass Effect being a video game. For the longest time, tv was frowned upon as a brain draining, useless practice. Parents would scold their child to get outside and stop wasting their lives. Now, video games have taken their place as not only noneducational and a waste of time, but also a violent influence (much like tv was too in a lesser sense). Ironically the same vocal majority who have these opinion sit at home and watch reality television during their free time.
As much as I wish I could sit and watch the old Star Trek shows and movies, and feel the same way I do whenever I unveil a Mass Effect game’s story, I am grateful that the show paved the way for my favorite series existences. And while I don’t know if it will be any good, I have my fingers crossed that the upcoming Fox Star Trek series has the same standards and values as the originals, so my generation can have their own Star Trek – no the movies don’t count – to faun over.