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You finally did it. After over 100 hours of gameplay, Mass Effect just about had you walking and talking in real life as if you were really video game’s protagonist himself, Commander Shepard. Now, after all three games, you may ask yourself: I have relapsed once again, and played through the third and last episode of the trilogy, but this time I have come to a different perspective of the game: Mass Effect is a video game that defines good and evil. The game creator uses a plethora of addictive gameplay in order to convince the player that there are always consequences to our actions. I will argue that throughout the Mass Effect Trilogy the morality system has been strictly defined, and the game creators of Bioware gives us all an interesting insight of real-life morality today of “living life to the fullest”. I will conclude that this morality is in fact correct despite of the many philosophies or perspectives that may be on the contrary.

Paragon vs. Renegade

In the first two games, Mass Effect (ME) has had two paths of morality, that is defined by Boiware of course, which are paragon and renegade paths. Each path is taken by making in-game dialogue and action decisions as Captain Shepard, and each decision has permanent decisions throughout the whole trilogy.

The word “renegade” is defined as a person who deserts a party or cause for another, and in this case, the player-controlled Captain Shepard may choose to desert others for his own greed and desires that don’t consider the opinions or lives of others. If the player wants to follow the renegade path, the player must choose dialogue options that are located always at the bottom row of the dialogue options tree in the game. The dialogue from these options make Shepard seem like someone who has little to no patience for small-talk with anyone. Often times you will cut off a character’s heartfelt story with sarcasm, or you may just tell them to get to the point for quick information. In some occasions, you may choose to kill instead of going through a long process of listening and investigation. For example, in Mass Effect 3, Captain Shepard and his crew find themselves in an ambush of a Krogan Warlord, Urdnot Thrane. Knowing that he has the advantage, Urdnot starts on a philosophical rant on why he kills and oppresses for the “well-being” of his race, but there is a renegade option to shoot the gas tanks on top of which Urdnot is standing on in order to kill him. This option ends his conversation along with his life, but you can take the path of paragon and wait through the 4-minute speech of a soon-to-be-dead video game character.

The consequences of the renegade path are for the most part are completely negative. Choosing to cut people off with smirky remarks will make them mistrust your judgement, and eventually push them away permanently from your circle of allies. In this path, Shepard mey gain much respect, but it is usually through intimidation and threats. This path seems to be a more tyrannical leadership in Mass Effect. The renegade may also receive monetary benefits through intimidations, receiving money instead of just a pat on the back. The renegade path may lead Captain Shepard to his death, as exemplified in game. In one of the missions to help crew member Samarah, Shepard gets to choose between killing Samarah’s psychopathic daughter, Morinth, or accept Morinth as your lover, killing Samarah. At first, it may seem good to have a nice playmate at the moment, but Morinth ends up shredding Shepard’s brains to pieces as they make love. The benefit of renegade is faster gameplay and many laughs, but brings death to others in the galaxy, and at times, jeopardizes the galactic mission.

A paragon by definition is a model or pattern of excellence, and Bioware defines Captain Shepard’s excellence as a person of good deeds and merit. Playing as a paragon you'll have to find alternate ways to save the day. It can be tough, there's no question about it, especially with that easy way out just sitting there on the decision wheel. The paragon in Mass Effect is one of verbal speech and by listening. You can convince others into doing the right thing. Sometimes this implies that you must choose a large amount of dialogue options that questions characters about their motives, and at other times it means that the player must sacrifice a thrilling to-the-death battle for a simple conversation. While the renegade tends to “cut to the chase,” the paragon in Mass Effect conforms to having interpersonal relationships with others through constant information. This is especially true with the crew members of Captain Shepard’s ship, the Normandy. Paragon points may be obtained if the player constantly checks in with every single crew member of the ship in order to figure out what are his/her needs after every mission. Doing so may even consist of just asking crew members what is his/her opinion of recent missions, or of other crew members. The paragon option in general does mean more extensive gameplay for the player, and a lot of water for Captain Shepard’s throat.

The Verdict: Concluding remarks

It is said that “no good deed goes unpunished,” but in the Mass Effect universe, the paragon is given his/her reward almost always. Shepard may receive information from characters more slowly in the game, but will eventually save time in the future. The paragon path makes Shepard seem like a person who thinks in a wider perspective than the renegade. Leaving behind personal emotions for the greater good of the galaxy, paragon Shepard tends to be a leader of service and unity, even if it means death from Shepard’s part. Every paragon decision gains the willing respect, and it may even consist of love and appreciation. The paragon in Mass Effect creates unity in the galaxy, and brings down many biases and prejudices within races both human and alien. Consequences include surviving crew members, and more allies to join the fight against the ultimate enemy in the end.

What does Bioware want the player to learn?

In the end, the paragon and the renegade versions of Captain Shepard have one purpose in mind, to save the galaxy from the genocidal Reapers. The renegade and paragon paths simply are just the means by which Shepard makes that happen. At the end of Mass Effect 3, the player has the same decision in the end. This type of morality of the game seems to speak out to all players. It teaches that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, there is always one universal purpose, and in Mass Effect, that purpose is galactic as well. Yes, at times, the serious player may feel emotions of regret when they choose to kill off crew members, or they may feel good listening to others, but the ending is the same. [SPOILER ALERT] No matter what path the player takes, Captain Shepard dies saving the galaxy. Whether he died as a ruthless and feared tyrant, or as a worshipped leader, he dies. The moral of this game clearly states and teaches that we all will die eventually, and all we are going to take with us are our memories and actions.

From a personal standpoint, I agree with the morality of Bioware in the sense of our purpose of life here on this Earth. Of course, everyone has their own religious or philosophical beliefs, but what we all know commonly is that we are all going to end up six feet underground. How we live this life is completely up to us. We are the players of our video game of life. There are obvious exaggerations from both sides with renegade being the galactic Joker, and the paragon being the angel in the Mass Effect universe, but the ultimate ending is death. There is no neutral moral led Captain Shepard, there is only hot and cold. In Mass Effect, the player is rewarded greatly and has more options if their Captain Shepard exceeds in one path or the other. If Shepard tries to be a little of both, the game is not enjoyable whatsoever, and one cannot reach their full potential. What is learned from the morality of the trilogy may be considered to be a life lesson within itself: live this life to the fullest in order to reach your full potential, because we don’t always have a guaranteed tomorrow. This type of morality pushes the player to strive to exceed in whatever their heart desires being good or bad, but clearly states that bad decisions bring bad consequences, and good decisions bring good consequences.

Bioware’s Mass Effect Trilogy preaches a very insightful moral that pushes the player live a progressive lifestyle. We are taught that we are agents of our own lives, and that we can choose our consequences according to our actions. Morality of good and bad is defined throughout the series through examples of life and death, and can be applied to our lives today. With all this said, only we can choose whether or not we want to live these principles or not. We hold the controller.