Hello, Javy Gwaltney here, Associate Editor for Game Informer. I currently putting together a series of deep dives into my ten favorite games of all time. You can read all about the origins, as well as the beginning of the series, here.

This week we’re going to be talking about my #1 pick: Mass Effect 2.  Feel free to leave comments below and thanks for reading.

There is no game that I've played that has had a bigger effect on my life than Mass Effect 2. I hadn't played a game in about five years before my brother, knowing my love of sci-fi and space operas, brought me a copy of it for my birthday. There, sitting in my dorm room, playing the sequel to a game I'd never played before on a laptop that could barely run anything, I rediscovered my love for interactive narratives and action gameplay.

Mass Effect 2's opening is so effective and bold, literally throwing everything you earned in the first game into the oblivion of outer space, that it fascinated me for days. More time with the game brought in more unforgettable memories: Mordin's guilt over the genophage, Garrus' friendship, Tali's trial, Thane's anxieties about death, and, of course, the suicide run at the Collector's Base--the best damn sequence to ever be put in a video game.

The flexibility of the narrative was astounding. Mass Effect 2 was, truly, the first game I'd ever played that made me feel like my choices mattered in how I built both my character as well as the world around me. What kind of savior was I? Cold-hearted and practical, willing to do the hard thing? Optimistic and daring? What kind of universe did I want to build, one that would bring prosperity to all races and unify everyone--or did I look out for humanity? Across over 20 playthroughs since its release, I've explored every narrative thread there is in Mass Effect 2. And it's never been a chore because the game is a masterpiece of design.

Instead of being an open-world RPG, Mass Effect 2 is essentially a cleverly disguised third-person shooter that's action levels are sandwiched with hub worlds. During those hub worlds, and at certain bits during the action levels, you make choices that affect the lives of your crew and how their relationship to you pans out. Some of these action levels are called Loyalty Missions and often feel like television episodes from your favorite sci-fi show, focusing on a character's growth as they go through an occasion that both pushes the main plot forward in some way and addresses that characters' trauma and anxieties, nudging them in directions of forgiveness, resentment, hope, love, heartbreak, and peace.

Mass Effect 2's focus on deep fiction and interactivity renewed my interest in video games. I bought a PS3. I learned Twine to make my own choose your own adventure games. I wrote video game criticism. Soon I was writing for Paste, and then Playboy, and then, well, I ended up here.

Here's the thing about art. It shapes us. In ways we don't expect. In ways that aren't immediate. That one novel your teacher forced you to read seven years ago may now have affected your perspective on the world in ways that you could not have begun to understand it when you first read it. That soulful pop medley you listed to a few times because it sounded nice might eventually become that thing that carries you through your wasteland of ruined relationships. Even a piece of student artwork you bought from a cafe for ten bucks and hung up in your hallway because it looked nice probably stirs something within you that is mostly beneath detection.

Mass Effect 2 shaped me as much as a piece of art can. In fact, I think it's fair to say it's shaped me in outward ways more than any other piece of media in my life. It is a game that occupies a space where it inspires me on a daily basis while also lending me comfort in hard times, and I honestly can't imagine my life without it.

For more words on why Mass Effect 2 is so great, be sure to check out the Virtual Column I wrote about it here.