It didn’t start out as something I tried to do. It just happened. The year was 2012. I’d reached the point in Mass Effect 3 where it felt like I was one or two loose ends away from heading into the grand finale. Then, for various reasons, I stopped. It has been nearly a decade since. Somehow, despite the infinitely expanding spoiler galaxy that is the internet, I still don’t know how the first Mass Effect trilogy ends.
It’s not that I didn’t like Mass Effect 3. I did! It was a sequel to my favorite game about hanging out with cool aliens, Mass Effect 2, which in turn was a sequel to my favorite game about spending time with cool aliens in bad cars and worse elevators, Mass Effect 1. But when I realize the end is nigh in games where the central appeal is chilling with buds from worlds beyond, I tend to pump the brakes. I don’t want games (or books or TV shows or what have you) to be over, so I leave them in what I perceive to be a state of perfect stasis. Anything can still happen, forever. Never mind that it means I miss out on actual time I could spend with characters; brains are not rational things.
Obviously, I know about the controversy. It played a role in my slow abandonment of the game. I’d heard the ending was bad, or at least unsatisfactory, and I didn’t want last-second shenanigans hanging over a multi-game experience that I’d otherwise liked pretty well. But also, it was all anybody was talking about at the time, and I just got sick of hearing about Mass Effect in general. Whether the ending was bad or not, it was dispiriting to watch thousands of people shriek in eardrum-shattering unison for a studio to undo its artistic choices. It was obvious that the whole event was setting the stage for even uglier things to come—for it to become Just Another Day In Video Games every time a roving herd of self-proclaimed “fans” badgered and harassed developers over, say, altering a few butt shots that were in hindsight ill-advised, of their own accord. I didn’t want to be reminded of that any more than I had to, so I pressed pause on my Mass Effect playthrough.
Initially, I avoided spoilers out of a sincere belief that I’d come around to finishing the game in a few weeks or a couple months. Then a year passed. Then a year became two years, and two years became five. Around year six or seven, it became a sort of personal challenge to see how long I could avoid knowing the details of this thing, which had somehow become inconsequential despite their terrifying importance to one of the first internet mobs loud enough to go down in history. The moment already occurred, and it would have set a miserable precedent no matter what people were e-rioting over. Meanwhile, I no longer felt much for my particular permutation of the Mass Effect cast anymore. It had been years, after all.
It was surprisingly easy to just... not find out. I made a point of avoiding articles and videos that specifically mentioned Mass Effect 3's ending, but otherwise, I didn’t really go out of my way to avoid spoilers. I read plenty of articles about Mass Effect that didn’t concern the ending—including wild and unruly comment sections where anybody could’ve pounced on me, feral fury in their eyes, and recited every line from the final scene word-for-word. But it never happened. Here is what I know: There are three versions of the ending. They are color-coded for some reason. Each one has a name that probably reveals something about it, but I’ve forgotten them.
I acknowledge that by writing this article, I have probably doomed myself. Somebody on Twitter will make it their quest to spoil the ending for me, and they will probably succeed. That’ll be a bummer, because the Mass Effect remaster has rekindled my interest in reaching the ending for myself. But at the same time, I’ve spent nine years not knowing; I’ll live whether I ever find out or not.
As I said earlier, the reason I play these games is to hang out with characters I like. In the time since Mass Effect 3's ending unwittingly detonated an anthill, the game’s characters have—to a greater extent even than they had at the time—taken on lives of their own, and escaped whatever notion of “canon” contained them. Mountains of fan art, fan fiction, and discussion mean that I could live a thousand lives with them if I wanted. No ending can invalidate that, nor was it ever going to. Endings are just suggestions. They tell you that maybe it’s time to move on, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come back later.