Your Shepard won’t be in the Mass Effect TV Series, and that’s fine
Deadline reported just before Thanksgiving that Amazon Studios was in talks to adapt BioWare’s sci-fi videogame series Mass Effect to television. Fans are apprehensive about the announcement, even though no additional details have been released. Like its sister series Dragon Age, Mass Effect allows players to create their protagonist and make decisions that will have a lasting impact on the story. Every Mass Effect player treasures a different version and Commander Shepard, the protagonist. Mass Effect side-projects like novels, comics, and even the spinoff game Mass Effect, Andromeda, have been deliberately removed from the core trilogy to avoid conflicts with any player’s journey. While it might be better to continue this tradition with new characters in the Mass Effect universe, it is unlikely that significant studios would agree to such restrictions or spend millions adapting a well-known property without including its most iconic elements.
Fans are concerned that a TV adaptation could create an “official” version that renders their playthrough non-canonical. Even though screen adaptations are known to make changes to the source material as they go (as they should), this fear overlooks the unique opportunities that a long-form adaptation could present for a modular, branching narrative video game. The best thing about a Mass Effect series is its ability to adapt the game while faithfully being unpredictable.
There is no sacred time frame.
Let’s start by saying that Mass Effect may not be the real one. You may have multiple versions of this story in your heart. You might have played as different genders and romanced different characters. Mass Effect is a fascinating trait. To hold any variation of the story as your own is to conflict with what makes Mass Effect so cool. This may seem like a reason not to adapt Shepard’s story for TV, but it would lead to the wrong assumption that the adaptation’s version is more “real” than yours. However, while many more people will see it, is this an argument against adapting Shepard’s story for television?
Suppose you worry that a TV version of Mass Effect might become more popular than the one you already know. In that case, your situation is similar to that of fans of other novels, comic books, or video games that have been given a screen treatment. The Mass Effect series is sure to take all the liberties it needs to be different from any’s playing of the game. It will be its product, regardless of the game’s variable nature. Rarely have adaptations of stories from one medium to the other satisfied all who love the original. That’s the nature adaptation. There is a balance, however. Screen adaptations almost always lead new fans back into the original material. Popular Mass Effect television series would increase interest in the game and encourage new players to take their unique journeys through the story.
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Over the past 20 years, screen adaptations of popular books have become more faithful and painstakingly faithful. This has been possible due to longer runs and a more robust fanbase. The built-in audience is what helps to generate hype about adaptations. This can lead to resistance to taking creative liberties when translating stories from one medium to the next. A large portion of the audience knows what’s coming and, whether they like it or not, this can reduce the enjoyment of the viewing experience.
The Mass Effect TV series is not required to follow the events closely. However, even if it does, the series’ branching narrative allows for fans to keep guessing even if they don’t invent or alter any plot points. An accurate adaptation of Mass Effect can take many forms, make curve balls and follow storylines that are difficult to follow or are rooted in clearly disastrous choices.
For example, 94% of Mass Effect Legendary Edition players avoided killing Urdnot Worx before the Virmire mission. They do because Wrex is a beautiful character and doesn’t deserve death. Additionally, sparing Wrex will lead to better rewards in the following two chapters. ( ME almost universally rewards mercy, which is a good message for an action game to have. As a story beat, however, a conversation with a member of a dying species that convinces them to help you end their best chance of survival is much less compelling than the desperate soldier who has to kill a member of their crew to accomplish their mission. The sound of the gunshots is still a constant reminder of the scene in the darkest version. TV shows might choose to tell the story less familiarly. It could be thrilling to see a Mass Effect version over which you have no control…