Artistic Integrity

This is another post about the Mass Effect 3 ending.  If you don’t care, feel free to skip it.  However, this isn’t a direct discussion of the ending, but rather some of the counter-arguments to why Bioware should write a new ending.

Many of those opposed to Bioware releasing an updated/changed ending are hinging their argument on “artistic integrity”.  I have to wonder if these people have ever produced any piece of art in their life EVER.  See, I  have.  I have published stories.  I know that their argument is utter and complete bullshit.

First, comparing Mass Effect 3 to a painting is failure in and of itself – it’s not the same thing at all.  Visual art is subjective, no getting around that.  However, not one person is complaining about the visuals (other than they are almost exactly the same in all of the “endings”).  They’re complaining about the communicated art, the context if you will, that the visual art lives within.  That’s the bailiwick of writing, and no one, not me, not Stephen King, not J.K. Rowling, and certainly not the Mass Effect team, just writes stuff without editing.  Writing is ALWAYS constrained by the editing process.  Writers learned LONG ago that this is the best way to do it.  Don’t agree?  Go check out some fan fiction and then compare it to real published work.  Some of it might be good, sure, but on the whole the professionally edited stuff will always be better.

Why is that?  Because the artist can often loose their fucking way in the forest of creativity.  It’s happened to me more than once.  I’ve had editors say, “wow, this is jarring and just pulls you right out of the narrative.”  They were right, I made changes accordingly.  I could have fought if I really felt what they wanted changed was too important to the story, but at the end of the day, the old axiom that “to write is human, to edit, divine” holds sway.  Also, “The Editor is always right.”  It’s true, and it always will be.  Editors see things more objectively.  They say, “wait, this doesn’t make any sense.”  That’s their job.

Clearly there was very little editing on the ending of Mass Effect 3.  It shows.  And the company wouldn’t now be backpeddling if it weren’t true.  I may not have realized I wrote something badly, but when it comes back with a red line through it, I have to stop and think about it.  Most of the time, it’s dead on the money.  Why?  Because I’m too close to what I’m writing to see that it’s not making sense.  Bioware clearly had this same problem.

It’s funny, but the critics of the folks who want a better Mass Effect 3 ending seem to consider players as no more than audience.  Even if that’s all they were, the audience is the final authority on whether or not your art sucks.  Anyone who’s gotten to the point where they are arguing that the artist is more important than the audience has crossed the line into ego-mania and needs to step away.  The audience ALWAYS matters, and they always have the final say.  You can defend your work to them, but in the end, they decide if you succeeded or failed, not you, and not your artistic integrity.  However, players are NOT the audience here – they are part of the art.  They are an intrinsic necessity to the art form itself, and if they are unhappy with what the artist did, they have EVERY right to demand it be changed. They are, in essence, editors inside your story.  They see the work in ways you don’t.  And if they hate it, then you did something wrong, not them.

It’s funny that most of the sources backing Bioware and telling them not to change come from big names in the gaming industry that don’t want to face the same sort of criticism.  But an artist who refuses to accept that their art needs to change is no longer an artist, and instead is an egoist who should be ignored and rejected.

That’s about all I have to say on this matter.  I believe that many of the good people at Bioware understand now that they put out a highly flawed product, and that their “artistic integrity” wouldn’t be compromised by actually providing what they promised.  I’m sure some of them were railing against the ending before it went to press as is.  Probably the editors who were overruled by a combination of producerial fiat and distributor deadline.  I hope they have the chance at least to say, “I told you so.”

We’ll see at PAX East what happens, but personally I’m hoping there’s a Bioware panel where people chant, “HOLD. THE. LINE.” over and over.  They need to get the message, and it needs to be clear: have your artistic integrity but accept that you are not the only part of the art.

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