Shame

Decide

I see the little white Paragon symbol pop up in the corner during our conversation and I hit it. I’m trying to be the good guy here. My Shepard spouts some platitude, or helps someone, or some such goodie two-shoes thing. I can’t remember exactly what she did. I do remember my blue Paragon meter going up.

Not that the Renegade options aren’t tempting. Sometimes, they even seem more right than the Paragon choices. But I choose Paragon — every time. The game never really convinces me that Paragon was truly the right choice, but I choose it anyway. Because if I didn’t, the game would lump me in with the likes of the Cerberus or the scum on Omega. It would file me away with a big red stamp on my character’s life: “Known Bad Person.”

This is shame.

Mass Effect spoilers below the break.

My Shepard, the character, is driven to do good because she is a good person. When the genophage ravages an entire species in slow-motion genocide, she recoils in horror. She takes every opportunity to find a cure, to help the Krogan, to do anything to alleviate the suffering. Even though the Krogan rebuff her at every turn, screaming vengeance and calling for blood with every breath.

Personally, I kind of think the Krogan are dicks. But the game doesn’t really want my opinion. Once I had decided that my Shepard is a Paragon, my hands were tied. Each important choice I have about the Krogan, the consequences are clearly spelled out in blue and red. If I think the Krogan are dangerous, I should keep it to myself if I know what’s good for my Paragon meter.

I am never really comfortable with the Renegade options, though. Even if those options sometimes make sense to me, I look over and see the Illusive Man. Is that where this leads me? I bet his Renegade meter is through the roof — all his conversation options crimson red. According to Mass Effect, this is where Renegades end up. Staring at the sun with mechanical eyes.

Is that really how Illusive Man ended up in that office, though? Occasionally I am left without Shepard’s blue, glowing moral compass. There’s no convenient text color to let me know “Paragon! Renegade!” The choices are literally a shade of grey. In those options, I have plenty of room to end up with dodgy moral character and a smoking habit. I also have just as many chances to do good. In those instances, I no longer have to answer to the Paragon meter or the Illusive Man’s glare. When there are no points at stake, I'm set free. There are no constraints on my judgement, my moral character is the only guide left.

While assaulting Reapers on Tuchanka, I am given secret information from the Salarian council member. I could sabotage the cure, ensure the Krogan’s help in the fight while simultaneously dooming them to the perpetual horror of the genophage. Every time I have an opportunity to come clean, there is no Paragon option. Is it "Paragon" to tell them, to come clean? I have no idea. The game doesn’t give me such an easy excuse.

Which somehow makes it worse. When my Shepard’s reputation is no longer at stake, the choice is on me. I can’t hide behind the Paragon/Renegade meter anymore, I have no excuse. Without those binary red and blue markers, I have to navigate the moral fog myself.

The Geth became self-aware and gained true freedom, but I am unable to persuade the Quarians to back down. They get annihilated. I doomed a race to extinction because I felt their creations were more deserving of life. No glowing white sign of approval from the universe, no points awarded. No red sign of condemnation, either. Somewhere in my moral journey I've stumbled over a cliff. I made a wrong turn, and now Tali’s face mask is lying in the dirt beside her corpse.

Is the game punishing me for a bad decision earlier in the road? If it is, it doesn’t try to explain it to me. I was never told which specific choice I made that could’ve possibly led to genocide. How many Renegade points could that be, anyway? Does the meter go that high? There is no record of my crimes. I just watch, helpless, as good people get destroyed for bad decisions.

How do I know they were good people? I never got to see their Paragon meter.

It’s in the grey choices that I’m forced to ask myself if something is right or wrong. That’s when Mass Effect shines. Not because it asks, but because there is no answer. I decide; the universe goes on.

This is guilt.

Comments

My primary beef there is that Pyroman is playing the game as if the Paragon and Renegade choices were not, in themselves, gray. Yes, one is blue and one is red, and the developer and the system has this implication that the blue one is good and the red one is evil.

You are very close to the mark here. I'm arguing that Paragon is Mass Effect's definition of good and Renegade is Mass Effect's definition of evil. This is trying to read the game mechanics, critically. And then dealing with that.

Yes, you can completely ignore Paragon/Renegade and then all your options magically become grey! Just like you can completely ignore the Little Sisters then say Bioshock didn't have any moral choices. But when you look at that mechanic, it's clear what moral choice they were trying to get you to make (whether or not they succeeded ... )

So again, there seems to be some implication where my difficulty grappling with Paragon/Renegade on it's own terms is somehow seen a knock on the game. That's not the case. If anything, it's brilliant that Mass Effect can even support a struggle to choose between it's various moral options.

Pyroman:

Well, then I'm challenging that definition. How is it good to kowtow to the Council, and evil not to?

ME's color coded choices are not meaningless, but they're clearly not a good/evil dichotomy, as Bioware suggests.

PyromanFO wrote:

You are very close to the mark here. I'm arguing that Paragon is Mass Effect's definition of good and Renegade is Mass Effect's definition of evil. This is trying to read the game mechanics, critically. And then dealing with that.

Mass Effect's Renegade concept pulls from the archetype of famous American cultural heroes like Dirty Harry, Martin Riggs, John McCLane. If they wanted them to be the setting's Good and Evil, they would have labeled them as such.

I also totally disagree on this. There are some fairly clear Good/Evil choices over the course of three games. Those choices do usually come with Paragon/Renegade notations, but I don't see why that would mean all P/R choices are between good and evil. My finding is that the game will commonly seek to justify your choices, whether Paragon or Renegade. Debriefings will include an explanation of why your choice was the best one, even characters who disagree often defer to your better judgment.

The system exists largely to nudge narrative-agnostic players toward the most common player goals. Either a fairly coherent hero-type protagonist, or simply stirring up the most antagonism possible. It is sometimes there to give you a better hint about what you're actually choosing, since the words are never quite completely revealed beforehand. It is rarely, if ever, there to confer Bioware's blessing on one choice over the other.

That's my reading, anyway.

I'd love to see a mod that removes most references to the P/R system, removes the dialogue wheel and presents all the game's choices in random order.

For all the talk about gray choices in the article, I can't help but feel that many of the dialogues in ME3 were missing some third option: something between the top-right paragon idealism and the bottom-right renegade assholeishness. Really, for all its problems, DA2 did manage to do one thing right, unlike most of their games, it felt like it was actually more viable to switch between the three different stances, while "roleplaying" Hawke, rather than just parking the analogue stick in one direction without it feeling like your character has multiple personality disorder.

Before I read this is it just Mass effect spoilers or does it include Mass effect 2 & 3 spoilers?

strangederby wrote:

Before I read this is it just Mass effect spoilers or does it include Mass effect 2 & 3 spoilers?

The article itself includes massive ME3 spoilers.

Thanks. I'll come back later.

Quintin_Stone wrote:
PyromanFO wrote:

You are very close to the mark here. I'm arguing that Paragon is Mass Effect's definition of good and Renegade is Mass Effect's definition of evil. This is trying to read the game mechanics, critically. And then dealing with that.

Mass Effect's Renegade concept pulls from the archetype of famous American cultural heroes like Dirty Harry, Martin Riggs, John McCLane. If they wanted them to be the setting's Good and Evil, they would have labeled them as such.

Not good and evil, but at least good (maybe "nice") versus bad.

With multiple definitions of bad.

IMAGE(http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/medium_rudethedog_7611.jpg)
IMAGE(http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-IUnQtHjwCYg/Tzgrx5iBlWI/AAAAAAAAARQ/mT1oBtylrQg/s1600/TMNT-raphael.jpg)
IMAGE(http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-HfhjLjJ3Z7k/TWVYZ5l9zoI/AAAAAAAAATk/DW6gec2J798/s1600/Bart-Simpson-Cartoon-Photos.jpg)
IMAGE(http://sydlexia.com/imagesandstuff/heathcliff/whack.png)

So maybe the split is more like this.
IMAGE(http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l67bwhqpya1qaclh8o1_r2_500.jpg)

Quintin_Stone wrote:
PyromanFO wrote:

You are very close to the mark here. I'm arguing that Paragon is Mass Effect's definition of good and Renegade is Mass Effect's definition of evil. This is trying to read the game mechanics, critically. And then dealing with that.

Mass Effect's Renegade concept pulls from the archetype of famous American cultural heroes like Dirty Harry, Martin Riggs, John McCLane.

That's actually what makes it so interesting. You have a different definition of good/evil than Mass Effect, so the choices become far more conflicted than the choices in KOTOR.

What people traditionally consider evil isn't possible in Mass Effect, most of the time. Instead, you're given limited choice. One side is clearly labeled red, one blue. You can call these terms whatever you want, this is what Mass Effect allows you to debate. The game has set the terms.

Then, sometimes it throws you a curveball and removes those constraints and lets you float in the grey choices without the labels.

If they wanted them to be the setting's Good and Evil, they would have labeled them as such.

Of course! And why didn't they just put a big red "INDOCTRINATED" label on all the indoctrinated characters? So much simpler!

I'm necro-ing, but it was on the front page, so I'm good.

My Shepherd's 'renegade/paragon' choices evolved through the games. ME1 was explicitly Paragon. In ME2, Shepherd was mostly Paragon, but played the foil to the Illusive Man. In ME3, Shepherd's choices came down to one thing: what would deliver the most forces to the climactic battle.

Spoiler:

For example, I was kinda pissed that the Rachni let themselves get corrupted, but I figured a force that fought most of the galaxy to a standstill would be good allies. Save them, lose Aralakh squad (but not Grunt).

The Salarians gave me the choice to betray the Krogan, but frankly, if I can't deliver the Krogan to the army, then our odds of winning are crap. Don't want to backstab them and have them find out at a bad time.

Geth or Quarians? I'd prefer both, please. Giant fleets, both of them. Find a way to work it out, you two. Tali and Legion manage to not kill each other every time they meet.

In short, My Shepherd's attitude became, "Survive, then you can can do all the inter-planetary bickering you want." Every Renegade choice she took delivered more assets to the fight, and that in the end, was what mattered.