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Facebook’s Timeline, Mass Effect 3, and Changing Your Past

Source: http://www.facebook.com/MassEffect3.gg

Apparently, people hate the ending to Mass Effect 3. I mean really, really hate it. Compare the critics’ reaction (who typically write reviews after only a few days of playing) to the masses’ (who can submit a review whenever they want). Metacritic reports an average critic rating of 93/100 on Xbox 360, 92/100 on PS3, and 89/100 on PC. Metacritic users’ respective ratings are 4.9/10, 3.8/10, and 3.8/10. People were so outraged at the ending that they flocked to The Consumerist’s Worst Company in America poll, voting en masse for producer Electronic Arts. EA won the poll, beating out runner-up Bank of America.

Slowly but surely, the complaints transformed from “we don’t like this” to “fix this now.” And so began the demand for the developers to create a new, “fixed” ending. Less than a week ago, developer Bioware gave in to those demands and announced new DLC (downloadable content) that will expand upon the ending, offering players the resolution they felt the series denied them on the first go-round.

It’s a strange event. A company goes back and alters a creative work to retain their credibility among their customers. Stranger still is that the customers demanded that this precise thing happen. On some level, they expected it. They felt it was owed to them.

But maybe that’s not such an unreasonable request. It’s the direction the world is moving, isn’t it? When so much of our information is stored digitally, it becomes both permanent and permanently editable. Think about Facebook’s latest design: the Timeline. Love it or hate it, it does one thing very well: make it much, much easier to revisit your (or someone else’s) past. That’s a double-edged sword. Sure, other people can access old postings that you might prefer remain forgotten. But you can also access those old postings… and delete them.

If you want to scrub your past clean to present the world with a more refined version, you can. If EA wants to pretend that they didn’t make some major narrative blunders in Mass Effect, they can just write a new ending. Both Facebook users and EA/Bioware can change their past, hoping to change their present.

Unfortunately, this is the same motivation that leads George Lucas to endlessly tinker with Star Wars, adding out-of-place CGI, contrived self-defense, recasting roles, and ruining a great scene with melodrama.

The desire to change (for better or worse) indicates that all media, whether books, video games, TV shows, or whatever, are increasingly about a relationship between the creator and the consumer. Bioware gave in to demands for the DLC because they wanted to maintain a positive ongoing relationship with their customers. Facebook’s Timeline makes editing easier for users and searching for information easier for companies. Everybody gets what he or she wants through the magic of selective memory.

And luckily for the curious, despite the best efforts of PR teams, there will almost always be some record squirreled away in some Internet corner of the original Mass Effect ending, the unaltered Star Wars scenes, or the original inappropriate tweet by a Congressman long after the official version has been scrubbed clean.

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