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Here’s Why a Live-Action Mass Effect Movie Won’t Work, But A TV Show Could

by Liana Ruppert on Oct 22, 2020 at 01:28 PM

It feels like every month we're learning of a different game being flipped into some form of TV show or movie. From animated takes to live-action adaptations, gaming has never had a bigger spotlight on it than it does right now. In light of the recent onslaught of game adaptation news and years of talks about an alleged Mass Effect vision, here's why we don't need the beloved BioWare RPG series to leave the scope of gaming. 

As someone who has a whopping 30 playthroughs of the original Mass Effect trilogy and every collectible you can imagine, believe me when I say I always want more Mass Effect. That being said, looking at the patterns of previous adaptations and what it looks like the coming years will be like, I just don't think Mass Effect has any shot at survival, at least in this particular medium. This failure is especially true if that vision is meant to be a re-telling of the initial Mass Effect trilogy. Why, you may ask? Let's break it down. 

Though many complained about Mass Effect 3's ending, the trilogy as a whole was full of choices. None of my playthroughs have been exactly alike; some were shockingly different, resulting in the deaths of big characters and an entire world shift on how the galaxy saw my Commander Shepard. Pair that with the numerous love interests, philosophical takes the player could choose from, and the different missions that players could opt out of, the Mass Effect universe is far too varied to make it onto the big screen. 

But it's not just the in-game choices that would make this move doomed to fail. The very nature of the fanbase also presents problems. Take a look at any Mass Effect content on platforms like Twitter and Tumblr and you see not only varying opinions, but a specific kind of vitriol that comes with certain inclinations. A large portion of fans absolutely adores certain characters while the other portions seem to despise them. With every companion, there is a backstory. With every backstory, there are decisions to be made. Players make many of those decisions based on how well certain characters or arcs are received, which means the Mass Effect experience is widely differing leading up to the ending. To mainline this into a story, not a series, would be assuming certain key choices that would immediately alienate large portions of the fanbase no matter what. 

For example regarding this opposing community viewpoint that could dim the shine of a potential adaptation, there seems to be a widespread hatred for one character in particular: Kaidan. 

Kaidan Alenko, a dedicated Alliance man, started out the trilogy as a very by-the-books character. It was because of that nature that many just did not vibe with him well during his introduction, leading many to choose the option that ends in his death. Because of that, so much of the fanbase missed out on his growth during Mass Effect 3. That growth was also largely hidden unless Shepard romanced him as a love interest, further narrowing down the window of Kaidan appreciation. In Mass Effect 1, players must make a choice between him or Ashley. If people loved Kaidan, they saved him. If they hated him, they killed him off. A movie would need to make an executive decision on who would be their canon survivor, assuming it would adapt the trilogy as a whole. No matter the choice, a large portion of the Mass Effect community will immediately rebuke the adaptation's canon. 

He's not the only character that people have strong feelings about, either. But it's not just about who you choose to snuggle up to at the end of the game that seems to be a cause of contention. The entire series was based on a grey morality scale. Are you the dashing hero, or are you the renegade "the ends justify the means" type? That renegade took a decidedly sinister turn in the final game as well, further widening that divide of player choice and consequence, which ultimately makes one person's Mass Effect experience totally different than someone else's. And that's not even counting whether someone's Shepard is John or Jane. 

So with a game as fundamentally diverse narratively as Mass Effect, how would that translate into a bigger medium such as a television show or movie? Not well, to be honest. 

If there were to be any shot at success, it would need to be a prolonged series; there's simply too much material and backstory conflict to sift through in one movie. A series could better tackle some of the trickier choices the creative team would need to make, but wouldn't alleviate contention with individual character decisions. A personal recommendation is that if a Mass Effect adaptation needs to happen, it would need to be a completely independent tale set in the universe, yet separate from the core story, such as what we've witnessed in  the comics and with the anime Paragon Lost. 

A facet of Mass Effect lore that the community at large has stated massive interest in is the Contact War, the war between humans and turians. This war is the basis of so much in Mass Effect 1, laying down the groundwork for how fragile humanity's place in the larger galactic picture still is during this time. The books dove into this more, as well as the comics, but this is something that would allow a series or movie team to have more creative freedom in terms of narrative direction. It's not a whole game, just lore flashbacks, so character choice isn't a major weighing factor here. 

Even then, the Mass Effect universe was built upon centuries of conflict, war, and misconceptions, still cramming that into a movie format would be a bad idea. A series has unlimited potential. Long-standing seasons, longer episodes, a pivot in direction following fan feedback - there's more freedom in a television series that film doesn't offer. With a game franchise such as this that has such a passionate following and such a tailored experience, giving some of that power to the fans by way of a TV spot would be the optimal chance for any sort of success. 

A small chance, but a chance nonetheless. 

At the end of the day, there are a plethora of game adaptations in the works now with so many more underway. With years of Mass Effect movie rumors, it's my hope that with the delicate state of the franchise following the reception of Mass Effect Andromeda, Hollywood sees the immense risk and care involved and opts into something with a more linear story to tell. 

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