|Copyright: Paramount Pictures|
Way back in 1986, the filmmaker John Hughes was putting the finishing touches on his film Pretty In Pink; a cute little story about a teenaged girl named Andie who has to choose between her clingy, but sweet childhood friend Duckie who is in love with her and her “richie”, well-to-do, but sensitive crush Blaine. The film was being put through its paces with focus groups and, like most films, changes were made based on their feedback. It’s a pretty standard practice in the industry, and can be used to great effect to smooth out rough spots in a motion picture.
But the original ending where Andie ultimately picks Duckie for her prom date didn’t play well to teenaged girls. They wanted her to end up with Blaine, played by then teenage heart throb Andrew McCarthy. So the filmmakers went back and re-shot the ending that we now have in the finished film and a couple of years ago the Duckie ending surfaced on a DVD reissue as an special feature.
Not wanting to start a pointless debate on which was the better ending, I wish instead to examine the deteriorated dialogue between artist and audience. As Devin Faraci over at Badass Digest has recently opined, the modern audience has matured quite callously in the past couple of decades and has begun to co-opt the stories we storytellers are trying to tell. Wresting it away in fits of rabid fandom: a growing, vocal audience of dissidents is redefining how stories are told, pressuring artists to change their work for their satisfaction.
I’m talking about Mass Effect 3 and its controversial ending. The Mass Effect series is a video game space opera telling the story of a human military man named Shepard and his battle to save the galaxy. The story itself is engrossingly rich and detailed, with character development rivaling some of the best television shows and films of our time. With each game’s story clocking in at a minimum of 40 hours, the time commitment is greater than a full season of a television series.
For those of us (myself included) who have been with the series for nearly a decade, it was a shock in how brief and broad the ending to the series was. I would venture to say that it was quite vague. Many other gamers felt even more slighted and took drastic action by campaigning for Bioware, the makers of Mass Effect, to go back and alter the ending to be more pleasing to its fanbase. With much ado, Bioware has listened to the criticism and set a dangerous president by acceding to this request, reworking the ending for the “closure” these fans demanded.
As a storyteller I can’t adequately express how this turn of events disappoints and terrifies me. It’s artistic bullying. The audience has surpassed co-opting the author’s work with fan fiction and is now the chief editor of the creative process. Why is this terrible? Well, imagine someone who has no real experience doing what you do telling you how to do your job. Oh, and this person is your customer, your only customer; and if you piss them off then you lose your job and your place in the market. So what do you do? Acquiesce and lose your creative voice or stand firm and lose your audience? In the case of Mass Effect I will say that it’s betrayal on both parts. A loss of trust. The line of communication has been severed and dialogue has become political; polemic.