Mass Effect looks set to become an Amazon Studios TV show that will end up on Amazon Prime. According to Deadline Hollywood, negotiations are underway to secure the rights to the Bioware/Electronic Arts space opera RPG. Amazon Studios are doubling down on the Science Fiction and Fantasy business, with The Expanse about to have its final season, Wheel of Time premiering to reportedly healthy viewing numbers, and the streamer's version of Lord of the Rings just on the horizon, a new epic Science Fiction series in the library makes sense for Amazon.
"You will see us continuing to invest in fantasy genre of all kinds, we have a genre-focused team on the ground in Studios who work tirelessly with our creative partners on those slates, and you can look forward to more," Head of Amazon Studios Jennifer Salke said. That's all well and good as Amazon continues to swallow as much popular genre IP as possible with their near-limitless dollars, but a Mass Effect show, however, opens a huge can of worms.
Mass Effect is a milestone in the annals of interactive player choice role-playing games. The basic plot has Commander Shepherd setting out to prepare the galaxy's forces for an imminent invasion by the Reapers, a near-omnipotent robotic force that's out to destroy and assimilate all organic life. You get to choose what kind of character your Shepherd is: male or female, nice ("Paragon") or nasty ("Renegade", though this usually means "asshole"), gay or hetero, which of the romantically available supporting cast- both human and alien – to flirt with and ultimately have clumsy CGI doll-like sex within really awkward scenes, and many situations where your Shepherd gets to choose the fate of a fan-favourite supporting character. The game was designed to give the player a sense of ownership and investment in their version of Shepherd and ownership of the story through their choices.
Despite its utterly awful ending, oddly parallel to the terrible ending of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, Mass Effect is still beloved by fans who played the game. Its commentary on racism and tolerance, and moral questions about politics and genocide are as cogent as the best Science Fiction. Its treatment of LGBTQ romance might be awkward, but its heart was in the right place. The care with which its characters were written made them favourites for millions of players. You don't play Mass Effect for the combat, which was decently designed, but to hang out with your favourite characters and see how their stories turn out. That emotional investment in the characters is exactly what TV shows need to become a bingeable obsession for viewers. Garris is always going to be Shepherd's best friend and most loyal ally, and a potential alien boyfriend for a female Shepherd.
The problem for a Mass Effect TV show, then, is that it's impossible for it to be the Mass Effect show everybody wants. Is Shepherd going to be male or female, straight, gay or bi? Who's going to become Shepherd's love interest out of at least 10 unique supporting cast members? Who's Shepherd going to sacrifice out of friends and allies? Which factions will Shepherd choose to forge an alliance with and which will Shepherd piss off? Is Shepherd going to be by-the-book and virtuous or suddenly shove someone out the window? Is Shepherd going to punch a pushy journalist or put up with her? Every player of the game had a unique experience from their choices. A movie or TV show reduces their choices to a set "canon" for the show and could be ultimately unsatisfying for virtually every fan who ever played the game. Is the TV show going to make the most boring, generic choices or have a flawed, unpredictable, and much more badass Shepherd? All these are big decisions the showrunner is going to need to make. As long as Garris remains Shepherd's best bro, maybe everything else is tolerable. We'll watch this progress with interest, assuming the show happens at all.
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