Warning! This blog post contains no discernable point! Just thought you may want to know.
When I was younger “why” was never an issue. Neither was the methods used. I am of course talking about playing games, both digital and analogue. The older I get, however, the more concerned I am with both why and how.
Why – for instance – should I play a game where I feel uncomfortable and less valuable than the hero I just can’t identify with? The answer is of course that I shouldn’t, and I don’t. And why should I care about if the ends justify the means? I should, because on occasion I’ve played games and adventures that put me on the spot. They say “do this or you won’t progress” and I say “no” in my head or out loud and never play the game ever again.
So why is important and why can almost never be answered without the player, characters or non-player characters. “Because EVIL” worked for a time, but nowadays I feel that it’s a pretty bad motivation.
Look at Mr. Cerberus, the Illusive Man, or TIM for short. I think the way Mass Effect builds his legend is pretty well done. In the first Mass Effect, TIM is responsible for a number of nasty experiments where the ends certainly justify the means. As far as I know, Cerberus grew from an Alliance Black Ops team, but soon turned into something awful. An organisation where “humanity first” included the sacrifice of the individual for the greater good. Cerberus turned into a terrorist organisation that killed to cover up its crimes. This was the Cerberus that the player/ Commander Shepard met in the first game. TIM wasn’t on the map at this point.
In the second game, TIM took direct action. Among other things he saved Shepard from death. Considering the view on Cerberus in the first game, I think the developers were correct in their assessment that the only way Shepard (and the player) would work with Cerberus was if the player – as it were – was brought back to life by the organisation.
Another crafty trick is the fact that you get to meet “real people”, not faceless enemies. You also have people on your team that used to belong to the Alliance, but have crossed over to Cerberus because of the Alliances inaction. Putting faces and sympathetic motivations behind Cerberus dubious actions helps the player to overlook Cerberus past crimes long enough to let them defeat the Collectors. Giving the Illusive Man the finger at the end of the mission is however icing on a pretty big cake of patronizing behavior on TIM’s part.
In the final installation, the facelessness makes a comeback, and the motivations of TIM become obvious. Cerberus works to further humanity, but the ruthlessness of the organisation comes at a price – the individual can be sacrificed for the species as a whole. TIM’s obsession with the Reapers become his downfall. When he starts manipulating his own troops – and himself – with Reaper technology, he replaces his own humanity with indoctrination. Just as Saren became a victim of Sovereign in the face of insurmountable odds, so does the Illusive Man become a victim of his own arrogance. The point of this very long aside is of course that I, as a player, can understand why both the Illusive Man and Saren act like they do. Saren believes that there is no hope for the intelligent races of the galaxy, so he tries to prove that organics can be useful to synthetics by helping Sovereign.
The Illusive Man believes he can further humanity’s goals by controlling the Reapers. Instead the Reapers end up controlling him.
The point is I understand these people. They have a reason to do what they do. With that understanding also comes a clearer picture of the world they/ we live in and how that world works.
In effect, I get an answer to the question “why?”.