The Writer’s Block Issue 4: Staying True to Your Own Intellectual Property

It’s been a while everyone, and I thought I would come back with a bang instead of a whimper. You’re going to have to bear with me as I let my inner geek out in its full glory though, as much of this article stemmed from recent happenings in my gamer world. The thing is, it’s a topic that affects all of us as artists, and is incredibly important in this information age. Protecting your intellectual property.

What a world we live in where absolutely anybody can voice their opinion to millions of people in an instant, where previously this type of commentary was reserved for critics and only had a noticeable effect when these critiques appeared in well respected magazines, newspapers or television shows. Now, a smattering of disgruntled consumers can swell into an entire movement within moments through social media outlets. I have a very high profile example in mind, and once again I apologize to the non gamers reading this, but this does affect you I swear.

Everyone’s a Critic

Imagine if your favourite author was nearing the end of their most recent book series. This series is one of your all-time favourites, has engaged you like no other and has a rabid fan base that can’t wait for the finale’s release. Once the final book is released, however, the ending proves to be a point of contention for many of the series’ fans. So much so that thousands of fans immediately begin to protest the ending and demand that the author rewrite their story to better please the disappointed fans. This is exactly what happened with Mass Effect 3.

An example of some of the backlash against the game’s writing…

I’m not going to go into a ton of details regarding this, but I’ll lay down the basics. Mass Effect is a series, in case you are unaware, in which the player has a staggering amount of choice in terms of almost every aspect of the game. In its entirety, the player constructs his or her own background story from multiple options, builds and destroys relationships depending on their actions throughout the series, all while trying to save the universe. The amazing thing is the amount of depth and weight that each of your selections/decisions have throughout the series. If you choose to save one character, for example, another may perish, or if you choose to pursue the affections of one character, others may treat you entirely differently or battle it out with that character for your interest. This can be normal role playing game fare, but what makes it so amazing is not only the fantastic storytelling, but the fact that all of these decisions carry through the entire series and further impact the overall story arch.

This may seem similar to a choose your own adventure book, like the ones you may have read when you were young, except the authors always knew where they wanted the story to go, and it has been mapped out to its climax since they started. The true genius of the series is how cleverly it masks its narrative under a guise of true choice. All of the aforementioned choices do affect the gameplay, but not in as marvelous a way as they seem to. Throughout each game, there is a solid narrative that does not veer far depending on your choices. The choices throughout do change things that carry through the series, but at its core the grand story remains the same. The plan was always for a trilogy with a definitive end, and a well-rounded narrative with a beginning, middle and end. The game’s developers, Bioware, certainly did provide this, admirably at that.

The fans were so incredibly invested in their characters and choices, and felt so “in control” of the game’s outcome, that many felt cheated by its ending. It just didn’t live up to their lofty expectations. How could it? They felt so strongly that petitions were quickly formed online to demand a rewrite of the game’s ending. Thousands of people donated money to a charity after someone had used the charity as a forum to demand the changes from Bioware. Once the charity became aware that many of the charitable were only donating thinking that it would guarantee results with Bioware, they offered the donations back as it was never their intention to be anything less than an honest charitable organization. Fans even sent hundreds of cupcakes to Bioware staff with notes attached detailing their gripes in a tasty, passive aggressive protest. I could go on for quite some time, but the point of my rant is that these consumers felt so entitled that they began to mess with the company’s artistic creation. To me, this is unacceptable.

To think that we, as a culture, now feel so empowered by the speed and easy access of the internet and our generation’s technological innovations, that we now demand someone change their creations to suit our wants and needs? If I don’t like a book, I put it down and move on to the next one. If a piece of art hanging on the wall is not to my liking, I may air my feelings in a forum, as is my right, but I would not demand that the artist repaint it. I wouldn’t ask George R. R.  Martin to not kill what I thought was the main character of the Song of Ice and Fire series, just because I liked him so much and feel that it would be better with them still alive and kicking in Westeros. Why? Well, because I didn’t write the damned thing.

Not hitting home yet? Think back to when George Lucas rereleased the Star Wars trilogy. Remember the outrage of the fans that he had changed scenes and added CGI effects, effectively changing the entire series, and made that the only version readily available to the public? Why can we condemn a director for changing his much loved films, but condemn others for not changing something we don’t like in their story? You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

What I’m Getting At

Needs more Snape!! J.K. Rowling, I demand a rewrite!!…..

Now that I have my preamble out of the way, I can get to the meat of my diatribe. The first thought that struck me when I read about the Mass Effect 3 debacle was how I would feel if I published a novel series and was forced to make changes to its ending. I would have spent years crafting and plotting the story’s nuances. The characters would have become my closest friends and bitter enemies, albeit in my head and on the page. To have seen something through, start to finish, and know exactly what I wanted to do with it would be an incredible feat. I would only hope that once it was finished and published that people would realize that it was MY creation that I chose to share with the world. Just because I could change entire chapters and plot twists at will, and potentially put the “fixed” product on the virtual shelfspace the very next day, does not mean that I should.

Think back to the last time you created something truly magnificent. Something you were immensely proud of. Didn’t it feel like it was a small part of you, that thing you created? Each piece of art is like your very own child. You toiled long and hard, and did everything in your ability to create something that was a true reflection of yourself, and something you could be proud of. You have let it loose into the world to go where it may, like sending your son or daughter off to college. Would you let someone demand that you change them? Would you turn back the clock and rewrite your child to be something different in the end? I don’t think I would.

Post Mortem

On June 26, 2012, Bioware released a free downloadable patch that added more expositional content to the end of Mass Effect 3 at the behest of the enraged fan base. Many fans are still unhappy with the ending, and many blog posts stated that the effort was too little, too late.

Like it or love it, just move on people.

This article is dedicated to the many talented writers employed at Bioware (founded in Edmonton, Alberta). It doesn’t matter what you write, or who you write for. The fact remains that you are artists, and no one should demand you change your art.