‘What we do in life echoes in eternity’ – Glory and Consequence in RPGs

The biggest features of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are the vastness and detail of its world, Tamriel. Six months after pirating buying my own copy, I continue to stumble upon rich, self-contained stories on the path less traveledThe appeal in Mass Effect however is in the possibilities always in front of me. On any one day, I can choose to either punch reporters in the face or invite them to my cabin. The game invites me to search out Easter Eggs through conversation, interaction, and exploration.

Yet as with Schrödinger’s Cat, or Robert Frost’s own less traveled path, searching out each possibility voids all others.

To replay Mass Effect is to explore parallel worlds. Having played ‘paragon Shepard’ before embarking on ‘evil Shepard’, I was acutely aware of the variety of choices before me, and the importance of many of those choices. Their consequences echo forwards in time – through Shepard, I subtly shape the world around me. My squad mates, or their absence, remind me in their poignant and affirming ways of when I have either frakked up or done well.

In one scene Tali, intoxicated, describes (like many of the other characters) how the legacy of her parents haunt her. Yet I could easily rant to her about my own haunting, as I endlessly question the choices I made in previous games. Should I have let Ashley or Kaidan die in the first game? What would have happened had I let Morinth kill her mother, Samara, in the second game? If I had have told Kelly Chambers to change her identity in the third game, would she still be alive?

All too often in real life, I find myself feeling like the river of fate is carrying me along with it: while I can shift a bit to the left or to the right of centre, ultimately I am still at the mercy of the flow. Seeing the repercussions of my choices in the controlled environment of an RPG helps me appreciate the power of causation; the choices that I make do matter. They are one out of many – and I do own my life.

As Maximus Meridius remarks, ‘What we do in life echoes in eternity.’