The Power of Supportive Characters: Narration in Bioware Games (Kristine Jørgensen, University of Bergen)

As the developer of some of the most celebrated role-playing videogames, Bioware has positioned itself as the master of narratively based games. Parallel to a debate in game studies about whether videogames essentially can be considered a storytelling medium, Bioware has developed games with compelling narratives that have drawn players to game series such as Baldur’s Gate, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age.

Focusing on Bioware’s newest game, Mass Effect: Andromeda, this talk will argue that the design of supporting characters is the most powerful tool used by the game designers to create interesting narratives. With reference to research on the role of empathy for fictional engagement, and the role of complicity and interaction in videogames, the discussion will identify techniques used by Bioware and demonstrate how sophisticated narrative features are integrated with gameplay through interesting character design.

From Large Blue Cups to Strip Mining:  Mass Effect Trilogy and Its Politics (Paweł Frelik  Maria Curie-Sklodowska University)

Although not without problems, the Mass Effect trilogy (Bioware 2007, 2010, 2012) remains one of the most critically-acclaimed games of the last decade. It has been praised for the construction of its characters and its narrative while many reviewers have also emphasized the level of detail of the games’ imaginary universe and the complexity of their storylines.

At the same time, the trilogy remains deeply problematic when it comes to its explicit and implicit politics. For all its progressive treatment of gender, it promotes stringent monogamy and sexualizes Asari to the point of caricature. Even more seriously, it is driven by a fiercely neocolonial and neoliberal logic, which – in an instance of ludonarrative dissonance – unreflectively combines the Wild West scenarios with late-capitalist patterns of subjugation of nature and economic exploitation.

In my talk, I will map and discuss these and other contradictions that underwrite the Mass Effect games as well as attempt to answer the question whether they are inherent in the trilogy’s game genre at large or are informed by specific decisions of Bioware’s developers.