Mass Effect And The Power Of Choice

January 29, 2013 — 1 Comment


Earlier this year, I finally beat Mass Effect 3 on Xbox 360.

The famous Dialogue Wheel that has become a trademark of Bioware.

The famous Dialogue Wheel that has become a trademark of Bioware.

To fully appreciate the significance of this achievement, I have to begin my story in the summer of 2008.

I was living in my seminary apartment, working as a chaplain intern at Holy Redeemer Hospital, and counting down the days until the end of the summer when Sara and I would get married.

I had just spent too much money on a 47 inch LCD TV as an early wedding present to myself. This large TV revolutionized the video game experience for me as I finally got to experience games in HD.

With some of my free time in the evenings, I should have been studying for my ordination exams or helping Sara with wedding preparation, but I spent the majority of my time playing through a game called Mass Effect.

The game takes place in a future where faster-than-light travel is made possible by some alien technology called mass effect relays. I won’t go into too much detail about the plot of the game here. If you are interested, you can check out a previous post I’ve written that describes more of the setting of the game.

What astounded me about Mass Effect was the element of choice in the game. From the very beginning, you are presented with countless choices. You can choose what your character looks like, what their past has been, and what special abilities they should have.

Your choices in those three areas will influence dialogue for the rest of the game – and all the dialogue is spoken!

For example, if you chose to be a man who had survived an attack on a remote planet, people will reference your past when they talk to you, and of course, all of your responses will have a male voice.

In addition, throughout most conversations, you can select what you want to say between a choice of often six statements. So conversations can have an incredible amount variability.

As if this weren’t enough, you can often choose which missions you want to complete and in which order. And, you guessed it, your choices influence the game. If you wait too long to choose to rescue somebody, they’ll be mad by the time you get there.

If you haven’t been able to tell by now, I loved playing through Mass Effect. So I was thrilled when Mass Effect 2 came out in early 2010. To my disbelief, I could import my character from Mass Effect 1 into Mass Effect 2. All of the decisions that I made in the first game carried over into the second one.

By the time I finished Mass Effect 2, I could tell that the story was set up to lead into a third game.

Mass Effect 3 came out in early 2012, and I was anxious to see how my choices would bring about the conclusion of this epic trilogy. By this point, the amount of dialogue options – all voiced by big name actors like Martin Sheen and Carrie Anne Moss – was staggering.

Shortly after Mass Effect 3 came out, there started to be a lot of commotion in the gaming community about the ending. People were very disappointed by how the game ended. After playing a trilogy for hours and hours, they were so anxious to see how everything would end, and then it was a total letdown.

I have to tread lightly here, because I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody who hasn’t played these amazing games yet. So this is all I’ll say about the ending.

The letdown for people was caused by the idea of choice. Throughout the entire series, people were led to believe that their choices impacted the world around them. However, during the last scene, the player ends up in a situation where their choices are rather limited.

People were frustrated because for so long, they saw the consequences to their choices play out over the course of three games. But in the end, many of those choices didn’t give them more options as they faced their final decision.

Although I can understand the frustration of many people, I have to admit that Bioware managed to make a video game series that was unforgettable from the beginning to the end. It was such a thought-provoking franchise that I’m writing about it nine months after beating the game.

So here are some reflections from my experience playing the Mass Effect games.

1. Every choice matters.

Throughout the series, the games did a great job of showing how little choices to help somebody along the way would come back to help you later on. And this made me consider the way we make choices in real life.

The course of our life is often determined by our little, daily decisions. Sure we are occasionally faced with significant life-altering choices, but every day we face insignificant choices. And those little choices set us on a trajectory in life.

A choice to exercise today will impact the condition of my heart when I’m 45. My choice to floss my teeth tonight will have an impact on my dental bills when I’m 55. My choice to hang out with Lylah today will influence my relationship with her when she’s a teenager.

Nothing is insignificant. Our feelings might disagree, but our character is determined by our little choices.

2. Sometimes we have limited choices.

Just like the ending of the series, there are times in our lives when we don’t have complete control over what’s going on. There are times when we wish we had more options than what’s before us. But that’s not always the case. We can despair and get jaded. Or we can embrace the situation in which we find ourselves, and exercise the choice we have.

We might not always be able to choose everything in our circumstances, but we can certainly choose how we will respond to them. To see some more about this, check out a previous post I wrote.

3. When we have a say in things, we are much more engaged.

This is an important leadership lesson. When people are given a choice, they are much more likely to buy into the experience.

What made the Mass Effect games so memorable was the idea that it was my story. I played the game how I wanted to play it. I had a different experience playing the game than my friends, and I was completely engaged because of it.

If you lead anybody, make sure you give them a say in what you are doing. There’s no faster way to kill creativity and engagement than to take somebody’s choice from them. When you include people in decision making, you create allies, compatriots in your work, and they will be much more willing to put in the extra effort to succeed with you.


Wow! That’s quite a lot to chew on! Thanks Bioware, for creating such a great franchise! And thank you for sticking with me on a longer post.

How can you use the power of choices in your work and personal life?



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I'm a pastor, writer, speaker, husband, father, and follower of Christ, to name a few titles. You can find my contact information in my About page.
  • scrhill

    I like your point that the choices we make today DO have an affect on our life in 5, 10, 15 and 20 years from now. Thanks for the encouragement.