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.