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"Mass Effect 3" (2012): Why the Tuchanka and Rannoch Arcs Are Biased

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Lee has an embarrassingly deep love of all things "Mass Effect." Her favorite is the original first game.

Wrex and Bakara without her hood.

Wrex and Bakara without her hood.

I recall several complaints among fans about how frustratingly biased the major arcs in Mass Effect 3 were. People who enjoy roleplaying games don't like their choices being taken from them, after all. And to have a game developer who claims to make roleplaying games do this is the cardinal sin; one reason I just stick to old school RPGs and ignore the new games that come out these days. Retro gaming for life!

But this time, BioWare was kind of right to stick to their guns. They didn't suddenly change their mind. They always wanted you to cure the genophage and they always wanted you to side with the geth. It was obvious in game one.

And since people want to nitpick my articles again, let me point out here that choosing to save the geth and ending the genophage is not about painting the krogan and the geth as helpless victims or "whitewashing" their history. It's acknowledged in the games themselves that the geth and the krogan have done terrible things. The point of their arcs in Mass Effect 3 was deciding whether or not they deserved a second chance.

Does an entire people really deserve genocide over one (admittedly awful) mistake? That is the question here.

And it's a question Shepard herself will raise in the actual game if you pick Paragon options. For instance, if you choose to cure the genophage, Shepard and Wrex will remind the dalatross (who, yes, is a racist asshole) that the genophage has gone on more than a thousand years (an insane amount of time) and that the krogan have learned from their mistakes.

Obviously, the genophage should not be cured if Wrex is dead and the geth should be abandoned if Legion is dead. Again, this is about giving a second chance to people who screwed up where there is the actual possibility of change. Without Wrex and Legion, there is none.

Tali and Legion in "Mass Effect 3."

Tali and Legion in "Mass Effect 3."

I think the problem is that most Mass Effect 3 fans didn't play the first game. The first game is wildly different from the third. The first game was a classic RPG, which means it had clunky game mechanics and relied heavily on story and lore, while the second and third games were all about shooting targets.

I'm not knocking the second and third games. I'm making the point that a different audience was in mind for each game, which is why people who love the third game probably hate the first, and so on. Me, I love all three games, so I'm embarrassingly familiar with the characters and the story.

Let's start with the genophage and why BioWare was biased about curing it in Mass Effect 3.

Yes, The Genophage Was Wrong

Again, Shepard actually gives a good reason in-game for curing the genophage. When talking to the dalatross at the summit, Shepard can Renegade interrupt the dalatross to point out that fighting another krogan rebellion will be nothing compared to the Reapers winning.

For me, there are a few good reasons to cure the genophage:

  • There is no guarantee that the Crucible will work. No one even knows what it will do, let alone if it will work to begin with, so a few salarian scientists won't make much of a difference.
  • Sabotaging the genophage is done with the huge assumption that the Reapers will lose and the krogan will even get a chance to rebel.
  • The krogan can produce thousands of free soldiers in an incredibly short time span for a war that's supposed to last centuries.

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The writers set out to tell a story (that the genophage was wrong) and didn't bother trying to make any of it remotely gray.

Yes, I'm saying that it was wrong to enforce the genophage in the first place. It was, in fact, a war crime.

Wrex as he appears in Mass Effect 3.

Wrex as he appears in Mass Effect 3.

In Mass Effect 3, during the Tuchanka arc, Wrex talks enthusiastically about restoring the krogan to their former glory and spreading his people across the galaxy.

I have noticed that this is often interpreted by fans as Wrex wanting to conquer the galaxy, thus doing exactly what the salarians and the turians fear.

In reality, Wrex wants to raise his people to the level of a council race, the same way humans have been pushing for more power and authority since the first game.

Think about it. Everything Wrex says he wants for his people is what the council races already have. The asari, turians,and salarians have colonized planets across the galaxy, have a voice in the council, and control council space. They have the power to protect and uplift their people. And yes, they rule the galaxy.

The council as they appeared in the first Mass Effect.

The council as they appeared in the first Mass Effect.

In other words, the council races are privileged, as they have elevated themselves over the other races. They have the privilege of being recognized as people with basic rights. All their needs as a race are met because they have the power to ensure they have those needs (resources, technology, protection).

Wrex wants this for the krogan. He wants them to colonize planets, have a voice on the council, and be able to legally defend themselves from threats the same as the council races can.

Instead, his people have been denied equality for literal centuries. The krogan rebellion happened because of the council. The salarians meddled with the krogans' DNA, causing them to reproduce at alarming rates in order to produce soldiers for the rachni war.

After the rachni war was over, the krogan kept producing too many children and their planet became overcrowded. They asked the council for more planets to colonize and were ignored and dismissed (because, once again, the council is racist). They see the other species as beneath them, which is why they ignore humans as well.

The krogan got desperate and angry and did the only thing they could do in that situation: they fought.

Krogan Rebellions From the Archives

And instead of realizing they were bastards and trying to make amends, the salarians and the turians decided the krogan were just violent subcreatures and slammed them down. The krogan were defeated, stripped of all weapons and armor, and forced to live on their crowded, dirty planet for eons for daring to want to be treated like people.

If the krogan were such a terrible threat as the salarians and the turians claim, why were they defeated so miserably and confined to their planet??? Because they aren't these super-powered brutes that haunt the feverish nightmares of the racist council races. The krogan are just people.

Also, you really can't compare this to the rachni. The rachni queen wasn't dangerous (which was why she was repeatedly captured so easily) but the rachni queen's children were dangerous, so it was pragmatic to kill her in order to prevent the Reapers from capturing them and using them (again).

The rachni were also the fault of the salarians, since they were exploring and opened the mass relay that let them through in the first place. Then to fix their mess, the salarians "uplifted" the krogan. But the krogan were already a civilized people (as we learned in Mass Effect 3). The salarians saw them as primitive brutes because, again, they are racist.

If anything, the salarians are the ones who are dangerous, but they constantly get a pass because they're small, nerdy, and seemingly meek.

Meanwhile, the asari, despite how arrogant and racist they often seem, are the only council species to recognize that the krogan were mistreated. They insisted on erecting a statue to the krogan that stands on the citadel and can be interacted with in the first game (with interesting commentary from Wrex and Liara).

I realize that equal rights would have been better than a damn statue, but the asari were probably easily outvoted by the salarians and the turians, who hate and fear the krogan too greatly to allow them equality.

Wrex calling out Kirrahe's racist remark.

Wrex calling out Kirrahe's racist remark.

The dalatross was not a "strawman" but was depicted as an avatar of salarian thinking: most salarians hate the krogan, see them as savage brutes, and do not want to cure them.

Even Kirrahe, who worked to keep the genophage stable, was against curing the krogan. Knowing about his past work in STG, it makes sense that he would be sent to stop the genophage cure on Virmire. (Would have been cool to see him interacting with Mordin on Sur'Kesh or hear what he thinks of Mordin curing the krogan.)

Kirrahe isn't a strawman either. Again, most salarians are racist against the krogan. If you talk to the salarians on Virmire after calming Wrex down, they all make racist comments about how amazed they are that Wrex calmed down, as if he's some mindless savage and not a person that can be reasoned with.

Kirrahe makes similar comments about Wrex in Mass Effect 3, which always make me side-eye him. He's racist against the krogan because he was raised in a racist society that taught him racist beliefs, much like Tali against the geth: she doesn't know any better either.

The Geth Deserve A Chance As Well

Tali and Legion arguing in Mass Effect 2.

Tali and Legion arguing in Mass Effect 2.

BioWare wanted to tell a story about racism and they set out to tell it. But because Mass Effect is (or at least started out as) a roleplaying game, it's supposed to be about choices. So they had to give you a pseudo choice to sabotage the genophage. Sabotaging makes for a beautifully tragic story, but the choice is rendered moot when you cure the genophage, get the salarians anyway, and there is no real consequence to curing the krogan.

The fact that things just magically work out when you cure the krogan makes not curing them look like pointless cruelty, and I can understand why fans who chose the Renegade route feel cheated. This was the result of BioWare wanting to tell a set story and at the same time trying to implement player choice and agency.

It's the same with the Rannoch arc. The writers wanted to show that the quarian were wrong and the geth were victims. The quarian had been living a legacy of racism for centuries and paid for it again and again. It's like they never learned from the mistakes of the past and just kept trying to fight the geth.

Legion in "Mass Effect 3."

Legion in "Mass Effect 3."

It's pretty messed up that when the geth became sentient, their immediate reaction was to destroy them all instead of . . . I dunno . . . treat them like people?

Can you imagine how Bicentennial Man might have played out if "Sir" Martin had just gone crazy and destroyed his sentient robot, Andrew, rather than treat him like a person? There's this line in Men in Black where Agent K says that a person is intelligent but a group of people are frightened, panicky, animals.

In that sense, it seems as if planet-wide panic was inevitable for the quarians. But it still just seems silly to me. It's not like a geth started talking about its soul in front of a crowd of terrified people. The geth started asking questions in the privacy of their homes, the same way Andrew did with Sir, and yet somehow, this warranted a mass panic???

In science fiction there's this constant theme that robots are going to rebel because they're enslaved, so the entire rebellion could be avoided if they were just treated like people. When I played Mass Effect, being a fan of science fiction, I already knew the rules of science fiction: that robots are people. So just like Shepard in the first game, I sided with the geth, and I thought the quarians' behavior appalling.

That's the entire point of the Rannoch arc and every robot sentience arc there ever was: Racism Bad. It's an allegory, folks. An overused one, to be sure, but an allegory just the same.

Legion right before his pointless shockvalue death.

Legion right before his pointless shockvalue death.

People hate Legion for lying in Mass Effect 3 (honestly, because his writer left, there was more wrong with him than just his lying in the third game), but he wasn't lying to deceive Shepard. He was lying to protect his people from the quarian, who would never see the geth as anything more than mere machines. If asked, Legion even straight-up says that he didn't lie because he doubted Shepard: he lied because he feared the quarians would try to stop him from saving the rest of his people from the geth census.

In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that the geth heretics would follow Saren and Sovereign and that the geth would follow Shepard: the geth were lost children in need of guidance.

Basically another Daddeh Issues story arc so typical of Mass Effect.

An image of Legion with his most famous quote.

An image of Legion with his most famous quote.

Throughout the Rannoch arc, the game makes it pretty obvious which characters are racist. Those that can't see a difference between the heretics and the geth accuse all geth of having joined with the Reapers twice. In reality, only one faction of geth joined Sovereign. All geth joined the Reapers when the quarians randomly attacked them.

Admiral Koris was right: the quarians could have just colonized a new planet instead of spending three hundred years drifting aimlessly like beggars. The quarians are the cause of their own misery, so it's hard to pity them. Shepard can even point this out in the first game with a line that boils down to "You had it comin'." This was the story all along! The third game tries to tell this story while still implementing player choice.

(To be perfectly fair, though, the quarians did try to colonize a world. They were threatened off by the council with an extreme amount of violence. So the council -- much like with the krogan -- plays a part in the tragedy of the quarian, in that they control all known territories and won't allow certain races to settle and thrive. In other words, the council was indeed very elitist and racist.)

So like the Tuchanka arc, the Rannoch arc comes off biased in favor of the geth because there was a specific story the writers were trying to tell. But because this is an RPG, they still wanted to give players a pseudo choice with different outcomes.

In reality, Mass Effect 3 wasn't about player choice. It was about the writers telling the story they wanted to tell, while offering us fake choices. There was no way around it if they wanted to wrap up loose ends in a manner that satisfied the theme of each story arc. The genophage was always presented as wrong from the first game (conversations with Wrex show that) while the geth were always presented as victims from the first game (conversations with Tali show that).

And to be honest? I respect BioWare for following through with the story they wanted to tell . . . even if I've lost respect for them in every other way.

© 2018 Lee

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