Mass Effect Messiah

~ short essay on Commander Shepard and Mass Effect.

Just look at him.

In the Mass Effect saga, the human hero — Commander Shepard — variably gendered and with a multitude of striations for appearance, is the saving grace of the whole Universe.

They are a savior, of a kind.

A champion of consciousness. Of determined choice, with hints of charisma and madness and a general lack of outside influence upon their will. Shepard is a symbol for fresh, human hope in a universe of ancient, still-existing cosmic tyrants waiting to pounce us into extinction.

“You are now the avatar of this cycle, the exemplar of victory. Not just for humanity, or Turians, or Protheans — but for all life. Every soul that has ever existed is watching this moment…”

~ Javik to Shepard

Shepard is a Spectre. An explorer and a “space cop” and a discoverer and warmonger. A thinking man’s action man. A Specter is a source of order in the chaotic Universe of Mass Effect’s interstellar realm of conflicting alien cultures and Artificial Intelligence and big bugs and cosmic elder gods and rogue intelligences of all kinds.

In the best possible light: Spectres deal with threats to life throughout the Universe, at the behest of a diplomatic collective of the major alien races who want peace more than war.

Unto a mythic symbol, Commander Shepard is manifestation of the King archetype. He is the compelling force at the center of a conscious landscape. He oversees a kingdom of his own painstaking creation. People and situations and threats and opportunities all respond to his powerful action.

Throughout Shepard’s saga, through Mass Effect’s 1 through 3, they completely embodies the Warrior {top notch combat gameplay with guns, tech, and biotics}, the Magician {diplomatic man of scientific discovery and mystic knowledge and psychic power}, and the Lover {Shepard’s many romance options are of legend in gaming}.

Ultimately, Shepard is a perfect leader, aligned with the game’s ludonarrative flows, because they ask the right questions.

Commander Shepard can be played as a “paragon” or a “renegade.” With your choices, you can choose more cooperative, high-roading, altogether kinder interpersonal paths with the many friends, foes, and neutral beings you encounter. Or you can be a selfish asshole. (Renegades are not evil – they just aren’t looking for friends, more concerned with getting ish done.)

With moral choice, the saga makes it pretty binary on a case by case basis. It is comedic, because it ultimately doesn’t matter if Shepard is a mean motherfucker (renegade) or at least pays lip service to ideals (paragon), you will save the world either way. Morality does not enter the fray of progress {remember you are playing a game.} You are taking actions that progress you to the ending either way. No matter what you believe in or why you are doing what you are doing, you will defeat your enemies and save the world.

Mass Effect’s lead character-driven story is not difficult to understand. There is an enemy in the Reapers that is recognizably malevolent. Regardless of their own inscrutable reasons for killing life, we cannot do anything but detest their efforts and try to stop them.

We focus upon a singular hero, someone up to the challenge of saving the world. A man with enough guile and decisiveness and power to overcome every obstacle, from without (monsters) and within (politics). Sheperd is not just a hero, but a leader — who chooses his own team and deploys them to the best of their abilities. He is an unstoppable force of progress, even as he must fight many of his foes to the death. And persuade the remainder to let him work.

Mass Effect, and stories like it, may say that it is these individuals which we must free to do as they wish in the community, and at war. It is these individual heroic figures that we must not restrict in any capacity, let alone oppose. Mass Effect is a hero’s journey and a war story — it is like a war tale with a messiah as the top general in the vanguard of the army’s leading edge. That’s what the Normandy is — the tip of the spear into war against the Geth, the Collectors, the Reapers.

The key attribute that makes Shepard a hero is his determination and decisiveness. He does the right thing at the right time.

By the endgame of the series, against the Reapers’ extinction force and before the Catalyst’s expositive revelations about the purposeful cycles of conscious life throughout the known universe, Shepard is a nigh messianic figure in history, stature, and power. He is the key man at the center of the Universe’s most interesting and consequential scenes.

Mass Effect tells a video game story, with all those limitations. It’s a science fiction game that often turns way more action-adventure. Your party’s side stories often play just as prominently within the narrative (and are much more interesting). Shepard and his team of handpicked and happenstance folk are a threat or saving grace to elder machine gods and rogue A.I.’s created by other races and homecooked A.I.’s created by humans and every major xenopopulation in the known Universe.

Shepard’s squad is key, only together can they hope to win. But Shepard is made out to be the master variable in the equation. Like a heralded messiah, Shepard is the only one able to bring them all together, with all their conflicts and eccentricities, under his wing.

Because he is *Illusive Man voice* Shepard.

“Your confidence is singular.”

~ Leviathan to Shepard

By the end, Shepard is able to rally the aliens, friends of power, and old beasts like the rachni, the Leviathan, the krogan. He brings them all to the fight against the Reapers to stymie the grand cycle of “necessary” genocide. His power and charisma and companionship unite the Universe for a spell to stop the apocalypse. He fights for survival. And he has this vision in mind from the start, as a King might see out across the landscape of both space and time. Shepard’s actions, over the trilogy, simply realize his dream.

In an ultimate power fantasy, Shepard is the special Man, “the action man,” the messianic figure that has the vision, power, will, and determination to make everything right.

Do we need a special Man? Do we require a singular charismatic, powerful soul to save us all? Is there no way to think about stories of good overcoming evil without a strong handsome face that says and does all the right things leading the charge?

Mass Effect is super fun, so I don’t really care.