No restraints. No signs of torture. I don’t understand.

Whilst the world had been carrying on as the world tend to do, I immersed myself in in the Mass Effect universe with glee and a sense of great abandonment. I dusted Mass Effect off the week before the sequal was released, motivated to import my character to ME 2, which was the first single player game I had pre-ordered and played alongside everybody else. Catching up wasn’t fun. I’ve never played a third person shooter before. I’ve never played an RPG. And I’ve never played anything like Mass Effect. The learning curve was steep and the flaws in the original jarring.  The long elevator rides tried my patience, which I do not have much of to begin with. It was a novel and almost surreal experience at first, being on this epic adventure and yet still bound by the banalities of everyday life, like long elevator rides complete with music or even better, well worse depending on how you look at it, live news updates. And there was a certain every day charm to setting out on the final mission from the capital and as usual, spending so much time standing in silence in the elevator. Elevators on missions annoyed me with it’s lack of realism. The building could be on fire and my very well trained and equipped squad still used the elevator. This had to be a future with super magic rides immune to destruction, I wouldn’t live to see the fight with Saren if I was stupid enough to take an elevator in a structure which were being hit by heavy explosives and riddled with heavy weapon, tech and biotic power driven fire fights. It wasn’t a future I could particularly believe in and so it wasn’t one I liked. The ramps in ME2 which replaced the elevators were a great improvement.

The hacking in Mass Effect was a personal nightmare. I don’t have reflexes. Maybe that’s somewhat of an overstatement. I don’t have very good reflexes. And they’re not going to get any better, so I try to make do with what I have. The decryption didn’t give me any opportunity to do so. It was based on hitting either the A,B,X or Y button very quickly after the letter flashed up on the screen. An impossibility. On days where either my personal assistant or husband was around, they were handed the controller and asked to hack things, but when I was by myself, I simply missed out. On everything. Upgrades, resources, cash, clues. I was playing late one night when Wrex died because I hadn’t done his loyalty quest. After three hours of struggling through the vehicle part of Virmire, I scrubbed the mission and went back to get this armor. I finally reach the locker after another two hours, the combat scene was set up to hammer on all my flaws and I struggled to make it through, but I persevered only to realize on arrival that I couldn’t get it out because it was in an encrypted locker. At this point, I was ready to either cry or quit and tempted to give in to both impulses. Gaming is suppose to be fun. It’s a hobby for most and the whole point of hobbies is to provide entertainment and a time sick to fill free hours with. Gaming isn’t just a hobby for me. It doesn’t often fill empty hours, I rarely have enough usable hours in the day as it is and so spending any amount of time on anything is a big deal for me. That said, due to being sick and tired and in an incredible amount of pain most of the time, there isn’t much I can do when I struggle to function from one minute to the next and this is one of a few and I am grateful for it. It is most definitely escapism. Getting caught up in a story is the only time I ever forget about how much I hurt all the time. It’s also more than that. Gaming teaches me about my body in a way that I’ve never learned to appreciate it before. I don’t have very good reflexes, I lack proprioception, I dislocate joints very easily, strain/sprain/tear ligaments and muscles in a blink, I get migraine headaches sometimes with seizures if something is too flashy and bright and it makes gaming a challenge. But it’s not always an insurmountable obstacle. And that’s why I will struggle through a game that presents obstacles, it doesn’t feel like a waste of time, it feels like I’m learning to do something I wasn’t able to do before and that’s a pretty big deal for me. And sometimes the way around is to hand over the controller to someone else if the game asks the impossible. Or do without the goodies that decryption skills provided.

The Mako was by far the worst part of the game and if it had been included in the sequal, I probably wouldn’t have played either. It was a nightmare at the start and although being gunned down ate away entire chunks of my life greedily, it wasn’t all bad. I learned to appreciate games and moments in games that doesn’t lead me to rage quit. I learned that when you dislocate a joint repeatedly, it’s never a good idea to carry on under any circumstances, take a break and let recover at least a little bit. I also learned that when I’m getting hurt playing, it’s usually because I’m doing something wrong. I wanted to cry during the drive on Virmire that didn’t allow me to save and kept sending me back to square one to do it all over again. But I did it and three hours later at the end, chose to do it again. The second time took a wopping twenty minutes. Why the big change? Because I was forced to learn a skill rather than simply rely on luck. Also, I learned that the Mako could jump (who would’ve thought?) and how to implement that successfully.

For the most part, I struggled through Mass Effect. I couldn’t shoot properly, I didn’t use special abilities well,  I was overwhelmed by talent points and gear upgrades took a while to make it onto my radar and did not notice quite a long list of things until it was either pointed out or very near the end of the game. But by the time I reached Saren, none of that mattered. I had improved enough to beat the game. It sometimes feels as if everything I try to accomplish comes with a million invisible strings attached to it and just when I think I’ve worked my way around, cutting each one, I realise that they never quite disappear. I have to find ways to work with the strings rather than to fixate on trying to get them off. The strings are here to stay and that certainly hinders perfection. But it doesn’t mean I can’t win the small battles and that succeeding is impossible. I can play a game, finish it, enjoy it, even get better at it. Some I won’t ever start, some I’ll never finish and some are just bad for me in so many ways that they no longer appeal, but for the most part, the games I really want to play, like Mass Effect, may be difficult, but it wasn’t impossible. I imported my character with a sigh of satisfaction into Mass Effect 2 and in finishing it, it felt a little like finishing a really good space opera should feel; like I just couldn’t wait to unwrap the sequal and insert the disc. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. I love books and I love read and space opera is one of my most loved genre’s and finding a game where I can participate in the action rather than just sit on the side-lines and watch, that was worth every moment of agony it also put me through. That said, I wouldn’t want to play it again.

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