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Press Start: Gaming As The Grieving Process

Press Start: Gaming As The Grieving Process


One of my college modules this semester is on the history and psychology of video games. This week, our lecturer asked us if we could give him any examples of a game that made us see something in a different way. And after thinking about it for a while, I gave him my example; Mass Effect 3. 

I gave a short explanation on it that day but I felt like it could be an interesting topic for this week’s Press Start. Especially because it’s going to be three years since the events I talk about happened.

The background

I got into Mass Effect quite late, so I missed all the controversy about the ending DLC. I played the first two games in December 2014 because they were on sale in the PS Store. Unfortunately the third one wasn’t on sale at that time (and buying the whole Mass Effect trilogy as a bundle was more expensive for some weird reason) so I settled with one and two.

I spent several weeks playing through them. I didn’t customize the character or anything, I just played with the basic male, Shephard. He was an earther, a soldier, a sole survivor and played as a paragon. When it comes to romance. in one I went with Ashley but in two I went with Tali, and when it came time to do choices, I always chose the paragon ones.

Anyway, after spending a month at home in Spain, I came back to Ireland a bit annoyed because I hadn’t played the third one yet, even though I knew I’d get around to it at some point.

I’m getting to it

Three months later, my grandmother died. Without getting into specifics, she died unexpectedly in an accident. Living away from my family, I knew that at some point there’d be a moment where I’d get a call that meant I’d have to drop everything and go back. I barely remember anything after getting that call, and to be honest that’s for the best. It’s all a grief-induced blur. Mostly it was all that sense of “I talked to her 24 hours ago, this isn’t right.”

mass effect 3 image

After returning to Spain I decided I was going to spend another month there. Mostly because I wanted to make sure things were in order, but also because I needed it. I was very affected by the whole situation and, shortly after arriving, that manifested into a massive flu and a recurring pain in my right elbow (this still happens now when I get stressed).

I had nothing to do so I decided to play Mass Effect 3. And in a way, I realised that my grief manifested into the game and the choices that I made.

An End Once And For All

When I started playing Mass Effect 3, the first thing I noticed was how bleak it was. After finishing the prologue and hearing Clint Mansell‘s music, I was shaken. That scene where Shepard leaves Earth touched me to the core because that’s how I was feeling.

It’s true that the game has humour to it (the Citadel DLC is hilarious), but overall the game feels very defeatist. And yet, it had slivers of hope in it. Finding familiar characters in the game was similar to bumping into old friends on the street, who’d hug me and ask me if I was ok. And then there was Shepard, my Shepard as a paragon who was determined to keep fighting and try to find a way out.

It all came to head in the ending. A lot of people criticise the ending as “You take a lot of choices that lead you to just pushing a button.” And while I can acknowledge that criticism, I don’t necessarily agree with it. I see that final choice as the one the game builds up to. The way I played Shepard influenced the choice I took. I chose to destroy synthetic life. Sure, I killed all the reapers, and unfortunately also EDI, but I had maxed out that Effective Military Strength parameter and I heard on the internet that this ending hints at Shepard’s survival.

That choice put an end to the survivor’s guilt I had been feeling those past few weeks. I couldn’t bear the thought of Shepard dying, after all he had done. By choosing the ending that let him live was as if in some way I chose to carry on as well. I chose for Shepard to live, and in doing so, I chose to live. And when Clint Mansell‘s piano was heard again, this time it sounded more hopeful. There was hope in that ending; Shepard lived, and while he ended up separated from the Normandy and the crew, there’s a chance they’ll meet again.

If you ask me, they already have.

A final thought

Another thing happened around this time period. My friends from Infamous Quests made a Kickstarter to finance two more games. One was the first game on a new series called Order of the Thorne. As part of my backer rewards, I could write on a stone in a place called ‘The Isle of the Honored’. In previous circumstances, I would’ve written something very stupid, but this time I wrote a small eulogy to my grandmother. And I broke down in tears the first time I saw it in-game because it happened to be the first stone I clicked into.

I don’t really have a point here, to be fair, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I felt the need of putting it into words.

Is there a game that is close to your heart? What is it? Let me know in the comments.