Wednesday, 30 January 2013

I Am Commander Shepard


Don’t ask me what led to this question being raised – I can’t remember – but at the end of a conversation taking place the other week the wife asked me if I would have liked to be Commander Shepard. As in, for real.
I have invested the better part of the other night explaining why I regard Shepard’s story as highly as I do. That story is told through the Mass Effect trilogy of games (accompanied by books, comics and apps), and as regular readers of this blog might have noticed it had its impact on me. The question is, therefore, a very valid one; and as such I have to say that at the most basic of levels my answer is a “hell, ya” call to arms. At the more interesting level, the serious one, the question can be expanded to contain any literature hero one might have encountered (potentially including non-fictional ones). Given that at the moment Shepard is undoubtedly the most dominant hero character I can think of, I will try and answer my wife’s original question.

When I do think about it, as opposed to giving out my instinctive shot from the hip, my answer would be “no”. I mean, just look at the life of this Commander Shepard if you will:
  • Shepard did not have the happiest of childhoods. When first creating the character, one has to choose from varying degrees of potentially traumatic childhoods.
  • Shepard is an institutionalized soldier who has been through the most grueling of training (N7; nothing tops that!).
  • Shepard had a very tragic event in the recent past, just before the first game starts. Again, upon character creation you need to choose from events such as “sole survivor”. Not nice.
  • Before the age of thirty, Shepard becomes totally dedicated to a single cause. There is no way around it, really; here’s someone without much spare time for playing Mass Effect.
  • At around the age of thirty our hero dies in space, to be resurrected some two years later following the efforts of both friends and villains.
  • Still in the early thirties, Shepard [finally?] dies. Dying while saving the galaxy still counts as dying.
Look at this list. I have to be insane to give up my comfortable life for that. Or would I? Perhaps the admission price is worth the chance to own the captain’s quarters in the coolest spaceship ever, mingle with aliens and sport biotic powers? Let us therefore examine things further.

Assuming I am willing to accept the glory of being Commander Shepard together with all the crap the goes with being the first human Spectre, there is the matter of me being somewhat different in character to the esteemed Commander. Somewhat significantly so.
For a start, my preferred Commander would be a woman; I am a man. Differences do not come any more basic than that.
More importantly, I would never make the same choices Shepard is routinely making in the game. When the first impossible mission would knock on my door in this no longer a video game reality of a world, you would not see me going “let’s kick ass!”; you would probably find me locked up in the ship’s toilets. In the better case scenario you would witness me delegating away mission pleasures to better qualified red shirts.
In other words, I cannot be me and Commander Shepard at the same time; the two, I am very glad to say, are incompatible. I hope that when called I would rise to the occasion, Shepard style, but I am far from optimistic about the odds of that happening. Let us be optimistic and assume that I do: in that case, I can certainly say I would never make the same type of choices the Commander makes in the game. Instead of fighting the baddies, I would try to intercept communications; instead of blowing things up I would try to engineer solutions.
It all comes down to one simple truth: by definition, I cannot be both Shepard and myself at the same time. In other words, there can be no serious answer to the original question my wife asked me.

The only question that can still be asked is whether I would like to experience what Shepard has experienced first hand. To that I can provide a simple answer: Sure I do. In fact, over the last year or so I have been doing exactly that for prolonged periods of time.
When you think about it, It really is a case of the sky's the limit. I was Bilbo, I was Sam and I was Corwin. Now I am Commander Shepard.

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