Every Story Offers a Lesson

So, this is a little self indulgent on my part, but I promise, it still pertains to the craft of story.

I want to talk a little about my obsession today, The Mass Effect Universe. So for those of you who aren’t in to video games, let me bring you up to speed. Mass Effect is a game series on the XBOX 360 created by the developer BioWare (also responsible for such beloved titles as Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur’s Gate, and Dragon Age). In the game, a human soldier, either male or female at the player’s discretion, by the name of Shepard discovers that the galaxy is in extreme danger. A race of sentient machines called the Reapers have come to harvest the various races of the universe. They do this every 50,000 years, and wiped out the most advance race in history, the Protheans, the last time.

And so Shepard tries to warn the galaxy, but no one with any clout believes him/her. And so, with a small crew of stalwart and very different races, Shepard must save every living thing in the universe.

Why am I bringing this up?

Well, it’s not just because I can’t get my mind off of it. It’s because there’s a very good reason the final installment of the series is the most anticipated game of the year. Because it has a great plot with characters that are so real, it fuels the player’s need to see what happens to them.

Mass Effect is more than a trio of video games. It’s soundtracks are amazing and nominated for numerous awards. There’s an entire book series spun off from the games that are great in their own right. Let alone the mountains of merchandise and nerdom (that’s right) found on the internet (including earrings my boyfriend bought me for Valentine’s Day).

So, how do we bring this around to creative writing?

We look at what the BioWare writers (may I someday join your ranks) are doing to enrapture so many people.

They created not just a story, but an entire new world that players could immerse themselves in. The first rule of world-building is to define the rules. Mass Effect does this well by giving just enough backstory. How did Earth discover the technology? Where are we on the planetary totem pole? What are politics and religion like? All of this is answered early on in the first game.

But what keeps a story going?

Tension. That ticking bomb. Something that I’m still figuring out. What’s at stake? Only the whole galaxy! Every living thing is at risk, and only Shepard and his/her limited believers can save them!

And then there are the characters. A motley crew of various species and sexes, all with individual backgrounds and personalities accompany Shepard, all with missions and dialogue options to get to know them and gain their unwavering loyalty.

The characters are my absolute favorite part the series. They can be your friends or your lovers, and they can die, which ups the stakes even more.

I’m currently reading the first novel in the spin off book series, and while it’s no Faulkner or Hemingway, it’s still a well crafted story that hooks you in and drags you along for the ride. I’m taking notes on how to build a world convincingly, and how to make villains truly despicable.

Every story offers some lesson, whether it’s a book, movie, or video game. Every story can teach you something, and I plan on doing a LOT of learning over the next few weeks.

If I’ve piqued your interest, Mass Effect 3 releases March 6, 2012. You don’t want to miss out.

And if you’re scratching your head, wondering what in the world I just blathered on about, just remember what I said. Every story has something to offer, even this self-indulgent one.

Thanks guys,

BZ

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