Caveat: I was going to call this in but it turns out that I had much more to say about this than two minutes would allow.
I don’t play Mass Effect (and I doubt I will, given that the play-style and I don’t get along), which I start out with as a way of saying: I don’t have a bone in this fight about the ME3 conclusion. That said, I’ve found people’s reactions to the endings to be quite over-the-top in some situations. Perhaps this is because of my background, but just because there is the illusion of player/reader/viewer participation, that doesn’t mean that ultimate artistic control doesn’t lie with the content creators in the first place. I remember someone on Twitter (sorry to have to “someone” you!) musing as to why they were bothered enough about the ME3 ending to want a revision, yet they hate George Lucas’ changes to Star Wars. Upon further thought I think it rests in something being presented as “done” or “complete” and then being changed, versus something that the consumer does not accept as finished. A chunk of ME3 players do not accept that, within the diegesis, the story is ended; therefore it would be legitimate to demand change, but Star Wars was accepted as complete, so further meddling is “ruining” the original.
Coming from a literary studies background, this all makes me think of Reader Response theory/criticism, which (and forgive this oversimplification) focuses on the aesthetic experience of the reader in relationship to a work above other possible angles for interpretation. While I’m not generally a fan of this kind of work (it’s hard to get data beyond oneself for these kinds of things), what I observe about the debates (is controversy too strong a word?) around ME3 seem to privilege the experience of the reader/player over other considerations. Perhaps this is less problematic when considering a video game than when considering say a novel, but I still have my doubts about making absolute judgements about a piece of art in this way. Lived experience is valid, but as it is said, the plural of anecdote is not data.
Turning to a more literary side of things, you’ve all gotten me thinking about two major works in Latin American literature that I think might be illuminating to the situation at hand. The first is the well-know novel Hopscotch by Argentine author Julio Cortázar. You can look at the Wikipedia link, but in brief, it’s a novel that proposes to be as open as possible, demanding the participation of the reader in the construction of the text itself (Cortázar’s short story “Continuity of Parks” makes a similar argument in, in my opinion, a much clearer and more convincing way). The novel can be read in any way, with or without a specific order - one can go “hopscotching” through the chapters, not read all of them, read them all in page-number order, etc - and thus is a different novel for each of its readers. While the idea is intriguing, I’ve always found the novel itself to be a bit of a failure (stylistically and content-wise I greatly prefer Cortázar’s short story oeuvre). When there are no “rules” governing the way that we as a societal group approach a text, the text itself loses one of the things I think is most important about literature/art: its ability to express (and create!) shared cultural understanding.
Chuck, I’m sure this has come up in your Digital Texts (or was it Digital Narratives?) class, but when we talk about text, we’re talking about narrative - which most of us can understand as story. There’s a Borges story (“The Garden of the Forking Paths”) that really everyone should read for many reasons, among them the fact that Borges is a master writer of short stories, and that this story in particular is an excellent example of the unity of form and content. That said, in this story (the labyrinth within the labyrinth, etc), we read about a fictional novel in which the author has never shut off other possibilities when a choice is made - it’s like a choose your own adventure where you get to choose everything simultaneously while still maintaining a narrative thread. That said, I’ve understood the story (as have many others) as showing this enterprise (via the symbol of the labyrinth and the various representations of circularity in the text) to signify futility. Without taking a stand, or making a choice, so to speak, the world is empty of meaning and worthless. Oh, Borges.
Narrative shapes the way we perceive the world around us which includes the way we relate to others. What worries me about all of the talk about the power of the player/reader/viewer etc. to determine the content of a piece of art is the following: if we all get to make up our own stories we are never exposed to the experiences and opinions of others. We end up living in an echo chamber in which we’re never challenged to grow beyond where we are currently, which I think limits us (as humans) unfairly, and limits art in all of its forms. Collaboration can be productive - but I’ve seen a sense of entitlement (?) expressed in certain communities (particularly surrounding video games, but they are not the only media in which this happens of course) that seems to privilege only one singular view (which is usually white, male, etc which is an entirely different issue to discuss and about which I would write even more! :eek:) while purporting to expand the limits of how we define art. I’d argue that it’s the opposite - it limits it to what the loudest shouters want it to be.