I recently saw a brilliant short made by Max Landis chronicling the “Death of Superman” arc DC Comics ran a few years ago.

I’ve also been obsessed with Mass Effect and the impending release of the next game in the franchise in March.

I’ve always really enjoyed the storytelling in Mass Effect and earlier today I realized that the Death of Superman explains one of the reasons I enjoy the game and the story behind Mass Effect.

(Careful…. spoilers to “The Hunger Games” and “Serenity” are nestled below)

Nestled in the back of the “The Death and Return of Superman” sits a little nugget of wisdom. (Watch the whole thing if you have time. It’s worth it, if for nothing else Elijah Wood as Cyborg Superman. If not, I’ve jumped you to the end here.)

“The sacred suspension of disbelief, as far as death, had ended.”

Good stories should engender some kind of emotion. You should feel happy, angry, scared… run the list of emotions and a good story should make you feel that. That includes feeling sad and feeling a sense of loss. Those are real human emotions and the power of great storytelling is to take the viewer to those places we don’t like to go.

The death of a beloved character in a story can hit those notes with engaged viewers, maybe better than any other. Tell me you didn’t feel a shock when Wash was killed at the end of Serenity. And don’t tell me you didn’t get choked up in the middle of “The Hunger Games” when Rue died as Katniss sang her a lullaby. (Here’s an awesome fan video of that moment, but full o’ spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

When you take away the finality of death you lose the ability to have death mean something to the characters and, more importantly, to the viewers.

Which leads me to one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed playing Mass Effect so much.

The decisions you make throughout the game have a profound effect on how things play out. After several hours of playing I found myself caring about the other characters. It’s like watching 40 hours of your favorite TV show with characters you’ve grown to like, dare I say love.

And if you make the wrong decision, they die.

No more conversations. No more joining you on missions. No more romance options. No more banter with other team members. Done. Over.

In Mass Effect 1 you’re forced to make a decision about the fate of one of your team. There’s no turning back from that. That decision means that character is gone for good.

That precedent makes those decisions more real in Mass Effect 2. As a viewer I know that death is “sacred,” to use Max Landis’ phrase. These characters aren’t coming back, resurrected by some tagged on plot device. As a viewer I won’t get to see their story play out.┬áThere were times that I spent forever just trying to decide what I wanted to say and the decisions I wanted to make. I didn’t want to lose those characters.

And that’s brilliant. That’s great storytelling.

The reality and finality of death in Mass Effect takes the viewer deeper into the world and makes them more engaged in the story.

But Superman can never die. So why should I care.



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