Mass Effect: Andromeda is the fourth addition to the Mass Effect franchise, a game developed by Bioware and published by EA. As a franchise, Mass Effect is notable for its reputation for incredible story telling, riveting character development, and strategic combat style, as can be seen by Mass Effect 2’s astoundingly high metacritic score.
As a fan of the science fiction of Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the nerdy narratives of countless science fiction landscapes, I’m a sucker for space. As a work of ludic art, Mass Effect takes all of the elements that makes science fiction great, and it compounds them; instead of being the spectator of an unfolding narrative of unimaginable technology in an unimaginable world, you are the actor, the decider, and either the diplomat or the conqueror.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Mass Effect: Andromeda ought to take these themes to new heights, with a better system of combat, a new setting, and a fresh narrative with a new protagonist. However, laughter and ridicule, rather than intrigue or excitement, has plagued the game’s release. The gaming community has not been easy with Mass Effect: Andromeda, compared to its predecessors, as can be seen by the shockingly bad audience score and the noticeable dip in media reviews on Metacritic.
Anyone who pays attention to gaming media websites will have undoubtedly seen the horrific examples of running and facial animations that have been exposed prior to this games release. In the GIF above, the female protagonist Sara Ryder sprints with with a crooked, crab-like movement, looking like me a few hours after wolfing down one to many Taco Bell bean burritos and a Mexican pizza.
The GIF above appears in the story right at the beginning, after a random cloud of interstellar “dark energy” knocks the course of your huge transportation ship, known as an Ark, sending the cryo-seal travel pods in your direction, slamming you against the wall of the ship. Instead of groaning in excruciating pain, Sara dons a big toothy grin with her eyes closed and then quickly switches to a completely clear expression, no evidence of pain.
Game as Art
While this may seem like it has little nor nothing to do with the consumption of the game as art, it destroys a concept which is necessary for the proper telling of an elaborate narrative: immersion. Immersion is a concept where the gamer feels so invested in their game of choice—emotionally, physically, and psychologically—that they no longer consider it to be “a game,” but, rather, a potentially real world in which the player has a real reason to advance through the narrative.
Hence, these poorly constructed facial animations are a hindrance on this immersion, something which was markedly important for the previous Mass Effect franchises.
This relates to Hegel’s idea of the highest possible art, wherein:
Only in the highest art are Idea and presentation truly in conformity with one another, in the sense that the shape given to the Idea is in itself the absolutely true shape, because he content of the Idea which that shape expresses is itself the true and genuine character. (83)
The only way in which a game truly functions as art is when it works in tandem with the platform of the game as a game, when it represents the narrative of the game within the platform of game fluidly without any visible threads of error or mistake. What abhors players so much about these facial animations is the way in which the immersion of the game, the seamless way in which narrative is integrated with the game’s platform, is obscured by these notable failures in the use of the platform. A Nvidia conference about facial animations reveals more about this failure, examining how missteps in representing real people can result in funny, but disturbing, consequences:
Game as Game
So while the failure of this attempt at realism obscures the developer’s attempts as representing the game as art, the game succeeds as a game that does not try to reach beyond the clutches of its programming limitations.
For one, the combat in this game is absolutely phenomenal. Things play incredibly fluidly when you move from place to place, slaying enemy as your travel across the Andromeda galaxy, finding a new planet to start various human colonies.
Also, the narrative of the story is not necessarily unenjoyable, and I find myself laughing, intrigued, and engaged as I play through the story, despite its flaws. Within modern gaming, we, as consumers, have becomes so quick to judge a game if it doesn’t properly appeal to our lofty standards of consumption. We expect a game to look, feel, and perform within the liberation of the game-world: we want to feel like superman, or Bruce Willis in Die Hard. But when the game tries to represent itself art, it must be judged as art. If there’s one thing this whole facial animation accomplished, it was to get gamers like myself and many others to talk about the game, so maybe, after all, it was nothing but a clever marketing campaign.
Preziosi, Donald. The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Internet resource.