It started with a jacket -- this jacket. I bought it just because it looked cool. As a BioWare fan since Baldur's Gate II, I figured it was all right that I'd never played this one particular game -- it was still a legitimate show of support and not just being a poser, right? Right? My only other worry was that maybe these "N7s," whatever they were, weren't the good guys.
I quickly discovered that you can't just wear an N7 jacket, though. Or if you do, you aren't wearing it alone. You're in a community.
Strangers kept wanting to talk to me. Cool, fun strangers. I kept having to explain that I've played KOTOR, SWTOR, Jade Empire...
Strangers even tried to get me to bond with other strangers. "I just passed a guy down the block wearing an N7 T-shirt! You have to go talk to him!"
My awesome coworker Christine turned out to have the jacket too. "It's probably my favorite series. It's...you'll see." But it was getting comped a drink thanks to my false N7 status that finally embarrassed me enough to buy the three-pack and get started playing. And for 7-plus months, 745 saves and well over the 74.5 hours the game recorded, it lived up to the promise.
Oh, we started out a bit rocky. "It's a bit Uncanny Valley, but I guess that's cool..." "I can't believe how clunky the interface is." "No autorun key? Does BioWare hate my tendons?"
Pretty soon I was loving it, and quickly found that at least half the people I know did too. Christine flags down another coworker: "Nate, you played Mass Effect, right? Er, male or female?"
"FemShep is only Shep," he says.
Weeks went by full of long conversations about questions like whether Kaidan is shy and romantic or a pathological control freak (don't you think he plays awfully hard to get for a guy who spends all his free time lurking by the door of your quarters, pretending to check a screen?) and how the game hints that Liara is the canon relationship. (She's friendzone for me, but really makes me laugh. "This is an awkward situation!")
How practical it would be to recreate the shipboard uniform for cosplay, and whether I should knit or embroider NORMANDY onto my gloves. The discovery that most of us had played through first as an Infiltrator. And of course, the big question...
"Kaidan or Ashley? I never paid attention to either of them," says Nate. "Just didn't like them. Ashley was a bigot. Kaidan? Boring. I took Wrex everywhere. Wrex was my buddy."
I went from frantically dying under fire from geth I didn't even know how to spot, to one-shotting everyone unless my biotic squadmates got them first. From broke to 9,999,999 credits. Level 1 to Level 50. And finally...
"Suit up, we're going outside." Shoots out the side of the elevator, steps out onto the wall. Helmet on. Armor (my Shepard was in Ursa at that point) looking awesome. This is it, I thought. This is when we end it. This is epic.
Normally I semi-ruin things for myself by checking walkthroughs, just to make sure I don't miss any loot. This time I just ran forward. No idea what to do next, just charging at top speed hoping to find a way to take down the galaxy's most repulsive foe.
"That was definitely in my top 10 moments of gaming," I told my boss Nick the next day. "I feel like it's a really interesting game in terms of its relationship to technofear. A lot of sci-fi doesn't seem to really like science at all, and it always seemed suspicious here that people are using this technology they don't understand, but at the same time, you use your guns, your ships, your omnitool to do good things, and though humans aren't the dominant species it makes sense that we have to learn how to cooperate..."
I'm talking a lot because it's over now, I've joined the family. I understand why there were enoughto crew several squads. I've gotten good at shooting and made my set of choices for the first play-through and punched the bad guy in the face, and no one's going to have these Mass Effect chats with me anymore.
My boss replies, "Now I really envy you, because now you get to play Mass Effect 2 for the first time."