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Midnight Skyline

On Evolution and Gentrification

Published onJan 11, 2021
Midnight Skyline

Mass Effect: Andromeda is better known for its creepy uncanny-valley facial animations and bizarre audio glitches from its launch days than being a good Mass Effect title. In fact, when the game came out it received so much heat from Gamers that it effectively pardoned Mass Effect 3’s ending from being “the bad BioWare product.” However, this isn’t a problem for me.

It’s not a problem because, in general, graphics not working properly don’t bother me so much as long as I can still understand what’s happening, and also because… I haven’t ever played Mass Effect. The franchise is, aside from what I’ve absorbed through cultural osmosis, opaque to me. This is what happens when you pick video games back up as a hobby and eventual focus of your writing side-gig as a twenty-something adult, a decade or so removed from your last console.

After a few dozen hours, I’ve found Mass Effect: Andromeda to be pretty enjoyable, even if it does still suffer from some graphical and audio issues. While overall it is a fairly linear game from a narrative perspective, each of the possible colony worlds you can visit are completely open to exploration, with natural experience gates forming around things like heightened radiation zones and deeper freezes.

One thing the game does especially well is create liminal moments, where a new story beat is far off in the future and you’re left to your own devices. Liminality is a tricky feeling to find in games, especially in open-world experiences like this. Other games might feel it necessary to fill every waking moment with stuff. I try to seek liminality out as often as possible, because the fuzziness, the lack of definition it creates, is fascinating to me.

Early on in the pandemic, a little game came out as a part of the Haunted PS1 ecosystem: Remember Places?, by Bryce Bucher. In it, you are stuck in a room with an old Gateway CRT monitor. The only things you can do are turn the light off and on and play an empty MMO on the PC, where you make friends with the game’s AI. It’s an exploration of loneliness and isolation, and I think I played it much too early on in the course of the pandemic, because I didn’t “see the point” until recently, when, after months of diligently staying indoors, I finally left my house — partially out of frustration, partially out of need.

The liminal space between our world in the past and our world in the future is one where we forget what the interior of a restaurant is like, where getting in our car and driving around town is like embarking in the Nomad on the surface of a world in another galaxy. It is not pleasant or interesting to know that the familiar world is gone, and that you can only get a sense of familiarity by playing alien experiences in a video game.

The Devon Tower. Photo: Kaile Hultner

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