Comrades in the Great Intergalactic Glee Club

09 March 2010

Internet culture talks often about the moment some piece of media “jumped the shark”; I’d say that Mordin moment, is the inversion of this, the moment when games stepped up from being puerile, simplistic and arbitrary constructs of a moment’s pleasure, to fully-fledged self-sustaining, confident and internally coherent worlds of their own.

Dan Griliopolous has some good stuff to say on That Mordin Moment: The Unusual Case of the Singing Salarian.

The belly-laugh I got from that moment was totally unexpected, and tickled me the more I thought about: a relatively obscure gag, that you’d only discover if you spent a while digging into Mordin’s personality (or the conversation trees that stand for it), and even then (not wanting to sound snobbish) you might not get it. Of course the Salarians are ideally suited to patter-songs. Of course Mordin feels like a character from a comic operetta anyway – it’s that serious, slightly po-faced character combined with a knowing and devilish wit.

Not all the content in Mass Effect 2 is for every player. Some players might never see the bad endings; some might never see the good endings. Some players might not see certain quests, or conversation branches. That doesn’t mean those assets, or that development time, is wasted: this is how Bioware have chosen to make games. Those choices are choices they value.

And so when I got to that joke, I recoiled: in laughter; in surprise (that someone had even bothered to make that gag – to write it, to animate it, to record the VO); and, most of all, in the wonder that I thought that the joke was written just for me.

A magic moment that, in the way it combined genuine characterisation with seemingly-private easter-egg, felt suitably game-ish. A totally optional dialogue moment, totally ephemeral in the course of the plot, became not only a moment of a humour, but also a further tight bond between my Mordin and my Shepard (for it is never “Shepard”, but invariably my Shepard, when you talk Mass Effect). They were not comrades not only in arms, but also in the Great Intergalactic Glee Club. It wasn’t just a gag; for me – and my Shepard – it became role-playing.

Dan’s right: it’s this little ephemeral moment, its unnecessary detail crafted with no less care than plot-critical dialogue, that reminds you how well filled-out the Mass Effect universe is. Characters don’t just have stats and firearms; they have hobbies and histories, too. World’s aren’t just created in the macro, but also the micro. This was one of the many tiny moments in Mass Effect 2 that made me love the game as much, if not more, than the tubthumping, huge moments.

And it made me guffaw.

  • "On the last day of tutoring, I asked my 15-year-old student if he knew that he had a chance to woo and win Bastila. “Really?” He thought he’d known everything about the game, but the dialogue option never registered as flirtation. His face, usually so focused with youthful liveliness, grew wary. He frowned and blinked. He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about the fact that his beloved game would contain something so foreign. So adult. " Marie Mutsuki Mockett – what a name! – writes about KOTOR, Carth Onassi, and a little bit of magic.
  • "The alien tripods are decimating the city with ion cannons. Wild one-eyed dog-pigs with irritatingly high voices are roaming the streets, mutilating the populace with their fire breath, doing their best to keep their pet radioactive zombies in check. Meanwhile, you – the only one who can do anything to stop this genocide – are in stuck in a medical pod, being instructed by some asshole lab assistant on how to move your head up and down." Hardcasual don't like tutorials.
  • "Far Cry 2 is about you and death. Of course every single person you meet wants to kill you. Of course you spend about as much time fighting the environment as other persons. Of course you are clinging to the barest scrap of health and well-being; Even the malaria is trying to kill you."
  • "I spent 10 weeks last Summer as an intern on the strategy team of Transport for London's (TfL) London Rail division…. My general task was to help London Rail start to make use of the oceans of data spewing out of the Oyster smartcard ticketing system, but I spent the bulk of my time working on a project that came to be titled Oyster-Based Performance Metrics for the London Overground. I've posted my final report and slides and outline for the presentation I gave to TfL executive management." Some interesting data and information here.
  • BioWare now have a blog. It looks like it's going to be full of good stuff about games and, especially, writing for them. Can't wait.
  • "The international conference “Thinking After Dark: Welcome to the World of Horror Video Games” unites scholars who all study a corpus that has been left out up to now: horror video games. Considering the relatively slow progress of generic studies among the recent surge of academic interest towards video games, this event represents a major first step."
  • Science doctoral candidates attempt to communicate their thesis subjects through the medium of dance. The winners get time with a professional choreographer to make the whole thing better, and to see it performed by professional dancers at the end. Crazy, wonderful.