2051: Mass Vexations Retrospective – Gontermanesque: A Tale of Stu Aspects

Title: Mass Vexations
Author: Herr Wozzeck
Media: Video Games
Topic: Mass Effect, with a dash of Heavy Rain, Dead Space, Dragon Age, and other assorted properties
Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure
URL: Mass Vexations 1, Mass Vexations 2, and Mass Vexations 3. Also, the TVTropes Page.
Critiqued by Herr Wozzeck

Hey guys, it’s your friendly Neighborhood Herr Wozzeck here, and… well, we’re gonna do something a little bit different with these installments of snark that I’m gonna be writing over the next couple of weeks. Let’s call it a hindsight commentary.

See, y’all probably have seen that it’s Mass Vexations on the snark block today. Issue is, I have no desire to snark the entire thing. And that’s for one very simple reason: word count. The whole trilogy is just too damn long for me to sustain any kind of full-length line-by-line snark, and it would be a fool’s errand to try to do the whole thing.

‘Cause let’s be real: Mass Vexations is wordy. I mean real wordy. And let’s break that down for a second: Mass Vexations, if we look purely at the fanfiction.net word count function (which admittedly includes A/Ns in this, but one set of variables at a time), the word count comes to just under 188K words. The median average of most novels is about half that, at 99K words. That’s bad enough, but it gets worse, because then Mass Vexations 2 and Mass Vexations 3 both boast a word count that totals at about 607K and 603K words, respectively. For reference, that means that both MV2 and MV3 individually are longer than Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Oh yeah, and there’s the fact that the entire trilogy’s wordcount eclipses the entire Harry Potter series by about 300K words, and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (which is the current Guinness World Record holder for the longest novel) by about 100K words.

You are crazy if you expect me to sit here snarking that entire mass of words line by line for any amount of time. I do not have that much time in the world to dedicate to such an insane project, and I say this as the guy who wrote the thing on the snarking block. Even a summary snark wouldn’t exactly work here.

But… well, let’s face it. It’s still a fairly problematic series in a lot of ways, and looking back… well, while I wouldn’t totally call it an old shame, there are a lot of things I would change about the series knowing what I’ve written now. So this time, I’m gonna go ahead and take the gloves off.

*takes gloves off*

Oh, it’s not because I’m about to go hard-core on myself: this is admittedly going to be a more serious affair than what you normally see at the Library, mostly because I think I’m going to go in deep with real critical self-analysis here, with more of a critic’s eye than a jokey-joke eye than usual. I’ll crack a joke or two here, but expect this to be more in the style of, say, a Lindsay Ellis video essay.

Also, I’m not really going to plan on tackling this thing in chronological order. I think, for me, discussing this particular previous work of mine is going to involve going at it and talking about the broader issues of narrative. We can nitpick individual typos and silly lines of dialogue all day long (and trust me, that’s in the cards, too), but for me, it makes more sense to talk about this from a standpoint of “here’s an aspect folks criticize/I think was a problem, let’s talk about it more”.

And if you’re wondering why I’m doing this? Eh, I felt it was time. I’ve been thinking a lot about these things for the past few years, across the time I’ve done FBA fiction and also these Library of the Damned snarks, some of which were written in conjunction with the writing of MV3. And… well, in the interest of full disclosure, I also discovered recently that there’s a line-by-line snark of the trilogy elsewhere on the world wide web that got started in September. While those of you who know one of my previous snarks know I normally wouldn’t mind that happening, in this case it’s written by someone who, in Hannity-esque fashion, failed to disclose that not only is he a former “friend” with whom I had a vicious falling-out, but that he made some contributions to the Mass Vexations universe that got excised (more on that later). Also, as best as I can tell given his past behavior regarding Mass Vexations and me as a person, he’s doing it to spite me.

You’re probably going to call this a product of bruised ego, and honestly, I can understand why you might think that given what I just disclosed. But here’s the thing: snarking things out of spite means that you lose a certain objectivity when you critique it, and doubly so when you fail to disclose your previous relationship with the fiction. Thus, I’m hoping that hearing some of these criticisms straight from the horse’s mouth proves to be an exercise in greater objectivity.

So yeah. Without any further ado, let’s get started!

So first, I guess the top thing to address? Let’s talk about the characters. Or, more specifically, the character, singular.

Yep, let’s start with our main character!

Gonterman-esque: A Tale of Stu Aspects

So we’re going to open up with this question: how is Art as a character? In my estimation, admittedly not that good. I personally don’t think he’s as bad as the worst Stus of SI fanfiction in the ME fandom, but considering the low bar some of them have set (looking at you, Subject 23 and Kye Jen), I’m not really sure that’s saying much, and from a writing standpoint it’s really not saying that much, given that most of the guys that came after me picked up the worst tendencies in character writing that I indulged in.

So yeah, I’m going to start by running down the checkpoints on the lithmus tests that most folks use to define Suedom. Here we go:

Character Abilities

So, we’re going to start with the basics, and the lithmus test that some people stupefyingly stop at before declaring a character a Stu: their abilities within the narrative.

Art starts off as a musician: so, you know, not a ton of combat experience, and all his expertise is in music. If we want him to have any importance in the games, therefore, we have to figure stuff out. Art’s solution to getting onto the Normandy?

Ashley gives me an odd look. “According to what you’ve told us so far, you have no military training, are a little out of shape, and used your first firearm barely two hours ago,” she replies. “What can you show us to show that you can get in shape fast enough to help?”

“I don’t have anything,” I say, shaking my head. “But sooner or later Saren’s going to find out that I helped you guys out. And I don’t know if he’ll have time or not, but he’ll probably be coming for me when he does. I don’t think I could stand up to Saren in my current state, and I’m one of a very small amount of people that knows the specifics of all this…”

“Protection…” mutters Kaidan. “He’s got a point Shepard.”

“That he does,” comments the commander. “But we can always take you on as a non-ground unit. You don’t have to go down and fight things with us.”

Well… “I don’t want that, though,” I reply, shaking my head. “You guys are going off to do great things, I can tell. I know I can’t exactly do much right at this moment, but this sounds like an opportunity that’s too incredible to pass up. And… I don’t know, ma’am. But I’d like to help you guys any way I can, and I don’t think sitting on a ship waiting for you to come back is going to do it. I’ll work as hard as I have to to make sure I can help you out if you take me on, you have my word on that.”

“Sounds like he really wants to help,” says Garrus.

“He doesn’t have combat training,” reiterates Ash as she crosses her arms. “But he’s got a strong will Commander.”

The first part is fair enough: safeguarding someone who knows too much would be a valid excuse to get him on the ship. But it’s the lack of combat training that really sort of muddies that. Especially since, later, Art learns how to shoot guns a little bit too fast: all it takes is one chapter that takes course across one sixteen-hour period and he’s suddenly fairly good with assault rifles, and good enough that he’s allowed onto the ground team on Noveria the next chapter. He also does learn other weapons as it goes on, and they all take about the same amount of training time for him to master so well that he’s able to stand side-by-side with military folks who are both the best at what they do and have been at it for years.

Yeah, that’s kind of a big bullshit moment from the early parts of MV1: but it’s what happens when you want to regurgitate the plot of the games and want to insert your character in there faster than he’d logically be able to get in there. Because the fast expertise with shooting a gun not only is unrealistic, but also ignores the psychology of a soldier whole-sale in favor of getting to the action real quick. (And yeah, there’s a whole thing about the psychology of killing people that I find problematic in this fic, but one point at a time.)

To be fair, that’s the only real ability-wise thing that happens: Art doesn’t really gain any special technological expertise, and he also never gets biotics. It certainly beats a lot of what other SI’s would do, especially Subject 23’s overpowered Aquaman/Iceman shtick.

But when you’re looking at the abilities there, you also have to look at what’s detracting from them. And… yeah, especially at the start of MV1, whatever physical imperfections Art has get quickly taken care of. All I really need to say is this bit here about eye surgery:

“All right, doctor,” I say. “I’ll get right to it. Oh, and when do you want me to come for eye surgery.”

“I’ll prepare it for tomorrow morning,” she says.

Incorrect punctuation notwithstanding, after having actually had LASIK in real life after this story, part of me glares at younger!me and is all “uh…”. Because yeah, laser eye surgery is way more complicated and has a much longer recovery time than I portrayed here. Actual laser eye surgery requires at least a week of not moving too much, an entire regimen of eyedrops that lasts a month, and not getting too close to bright light sources in the first 48 hours? Here, in the fic, he walks it off within 12 hours of the surgery. Also, and this could be slightly different in the ME universe, but laser eye surgery can’t be prepared that quickly, considering they have to test your eyeballs mostly to see if they can even do certain forms of the surgery, and that would certainly take long enough that it wouldn’t be possible the morning after a general physical exam.

Yeah, that’s a bit fast there, innit? And it moves by so quickly I’m surprised more folks actually don’t point out how ridiculous the laser eye surgery bit is!

And then there’s lines like this:

Heh. He’s fighting a hand battle with a violist, who is required by nature of his instrument to have strong arms and stronger hands.

Ah yes, because all violists are apparently built like Rambo now! Yes, watch him win the hand battle in which he vastly overstates just how strong his hands actually are!

There are also matters throughout the rest of the trilogy. For instance, there’s this, from the prologue of MV2:

It actually also ended up involving a lot of agility courses. Needless to say, I think my agility only improved with time in that thing. At my peak, I ended up learning how to crawl up and down the Citadel in rather short increments of time without anything holding me down. In any other case it would be illegal, but special passes do special things. So that was pretty interesting, getting to climb up the Citadel. I usually got the best view of the Citadel Tower money could buy for free thanks to that, so for this I was thankful.

Yeah, TLDR is that Art learns parkour. Unfortunately, it serves no actual purpose in anything after that, so it’s literally just something that’s there for the hell of it. Nothing really quite says “hey, this guy is Awesome McAwesomepants” quite like an ability that doesn’t serve any kind of function after it’s mentioned, right?

And there’s also the film scoring aspect of the whole thing, which, having navigated the music world… yeah, that part’s pretty bullshit. The film scoring process is more involved than “send applications in for a thing”, especially since that field is overcrowded enough today, nevermind a few centuries from now. Art breaking into the industry through a call for scores is not exactly something that happens, you know? And especially not on a major studio production that would be a huge, epic thing: a short film or a student film, maybe (and that’s a big maybe), but not a huge Oscar bait epic like what I was going for. And the fact that it propelled him to fame… yeah, no, not exactly. If it had been for film score, it would’ve tracked him along for film score unless there was a big attitude change surrounding all of that.

And then there’s other stuff. Like, for instance, Chapter 19 of MV1 where Art is able to pilot a Mako tank with no real driving experience, and then also being able to pull off drift on it (a tank!) a la the Mario Kart powerslide. That gets bonus points for Shepard being made to be indisposed mere seconds before Art has to do it, and then having Art do it despite the fact that Kaidan would probably be a better option anyway.)

So yeah. In terms of pure combat ability, Art isn’t technically overpowered by the standards of the universe, but he picks up his skills with such unrealistic speed that he pretty much is overpowered in spirit. He also miraculously can drive a Mako without having driven even a car before, he’s overpowered on the music front, and the disadvantages that he starts the story with are rendered totally meaningless by the time we’re a quarter of the way through MV1.

And that, by the way, is before we even get close to approaching all the chosen one stuff that runs through the entire series. But, even though the chosen one stuff does put Art on a pedestal, that is tied to other, much bigger problems with the way the series is plotted, so I’ll save talk about that for when I talk about the bigger picture there.

So that’s not a good start. But is he a likeable character? Well…

The Jerkass and the Scatterbrain

A common criticism I see with Mass Vexations is a critique of the scatterbrained narrative style. To give you a sense of what they’re talking about, here’s an example:

I’ve been hanging around Chora’s Den. And there is a hell of a lot on my mind that I’ve found out.

I checked my cell phone in the alley, and noticed that no matter where I walked, I did not get any bars, even when I discreetly checked outside of the alley. Well, shit. I’m cut off from everybody I knew. I’m… I’m really alone now.

Alone. That’s… terrifying, really. I mean, I lived by myself, but I was never alone. I had people I could trust. People I could talk to. People I could go to if the situation was right… Shit… This is a bit hard to swallow.

I’ll hang on to the phone, however. As a memento of a life gone by so I can think of all the people that will probably miss me most. I wonder. If I got teleported here, then what happened to my body over there? Did I die? Did I disappear? Did I get found in an alley somewhere in the city of Boston? I don’t know, and I never will. Well, you never know. Knowing my parents, though, they’re extremely paranoid, and they would throw a fit when they find out I’m no longer there. I just wish that I could somehow send them a message. Let them know I’m okay, that I’m still alive, and that…

Damn it, I’m getting all misty in public. Not good form.

And later in that same scene, there is this:

I guess also that since I know the events of the game, I can always just sidle along. Hiding it will be the tough part, though. Especially when we get to Virmire. Dear Jesus, I am not looking forward to seeing who gets offed in an incredibly tragic manner once we get there. I should say something, but… it’ll give me away. And people will think I’m insane. And then I’ll have no place here. It’s… Now that I think about it a little more, it’s actually a bit scary. It’s just… so wierd… Here I am, expecting prettyness and rainbows and all that, and in my first day here I’m robbed by batarians. The irony is palpable. Not like the Mass Effect universe was totally bright and happy anyway, but still, I was expecting it to be a bit more… civilized than this.

It’s just… I need to get used to the fact that this isn’t a game. I need to think of it like Heavy Rain. You fuck up, you die. No plot armor here. No second chances. No continues. No dying a lot. No becoming the object of the Angry Video Game Nerd’s rants, even if he wouldn’t do something this recent anyway.

John, I wish I could give you a pat on the back now. At least in the Fire Emblem universe you were able to definitively prove that you were from another universe. Here, I have no way to prove it, except maybe via what is most likely a vintage cell phone. And my glasses. Those too, but then again, if the Illusive Man can have that suit, chances are there are people in need of glasses. So I salute you. Also, because you’ve given me a tentative survival guide on how to survive being in another universe, and how to make friends in said alternate universe.

I’m just waiting for something eventful to happen. It’s been eight hours since I first got here, and all I can say is that being in the Citadel is incredibly fucking surreal, especially with all that’s happened.

But I know one thing’s for sure; the mindfuck has just begun.

So what you see there is a character who has trains of thought that go all over the place quickly, who drops in pop culture references every twenty seconds… Of everything that folks have criticized Mass Vexations for, this is one of the biggest criticisms that I keep seeing, and at first glance for me, it’s kind of a confusing one.

See, here’s the deal: for me, this was an attempt to portray a character with some form of ADHD, which I was actually diagnosed with at a young age (and yes, I was on the Ritalin regimen, same as how practically every other ADHD kid that grew up in the 90’s was). There’s a reason his thoughts keep flying around all over the place: he’s very much in a scatterbrained mindset, and he would think in terms of “here’s something, my mind is going to wander here for a second, now it’s back on the subject, oh hey, a random pop culture reference”. But also, that was a way to try to make the character somewhat relatable and funny, at least to my mind: what could be more relatable than a guy with trains of thought that, to my mind then, were amusing and comical?

So from that standpoint, their criticisms are weird. Woe be unto me, then, because in all the fireworks I was attempting to pull in the name of being “funny”, he kind of comes off as being a tryhard, and indeed the TVTropes page in its current form mentions this. But worse, is the fact that, in a lot of ways, this attention to that kind of also steamrolls over realistic character development.

Take this, for example, from Chapter 1 and the first time Art kills a man:

I come out of that victorious, putting the gun to his head and firing.

Oh God. The recoil. I fired at an angle such that my entire arm swung back the slightest bit. I can impersonate the Venus de Milo, so it’s not that much of a problem, but still… My funny bone… Ow…

Can’t let it get to me, though; I gotta do the double tap. I quickly fire it again, and the bullet goes into the helmet. I know Salarians have small heads, so I shoot it again, satisfied when I see blood seeping out from the cracks of the glass on his face-mask.

Taking a few deep breaths in, I realize what I’ve… Shit, I just killed someone. Someone who was going to kill someone else… but still… Shit, now I know how that guy from Southland must feel about this. The fact he was going to do wrong doesn’t change much. But… still… Fuck, I can’t believe I’m killing people in an alternate universe. What would Pupa say if she saw me doing this?

Shit. I haven’t got time to dwell on it. I’ll think about it later…

Gathering my composure, I stand back up, breathing in and out quickly. I look behind me and see that the other salarian and the turian are both dead. A pool of blue blood surrounded the turian, and the salarian was still, its face armor having shattered to reveal a few bullet holes in its head.

Quite full of carnage.

Now all that’s left is to hear Brad Pitt’s comically exaggerated Southern accent from above and this will be straight out of the bar scene from Inglourious Basterds.

He says he’ll think about it later… except that “later” never comes. The most we get out of it is a pop culture comparison to a TV cop drama, a reference to the Venus de Milo mid-kill, and a reference to Quentin Tarantino. It isn’t quite Kye Jen’s “too many video games” line, but in spirit it’s not much better, because what could have been an important character beat is essentially glossed over in the name of “hey, here’s an amusing train of thought, look at it and laugh!”

It also doesn’t help that the way Art treats his precognition can sometimes come off extremely sociopathic. I’m talking, of course, about Art freaking out about losing his precognitive abilities like so:

There’s no fucking way this is right! No. His squad can’t be alive! There’s no possible way they could be alive right now! No way whatsoever!

That’s not true! That’s impossible!

“Oh, Thank the Lord,” Jenny says, letting out an exasperated breath. “I still can’t believe it though.”

“Well, think about it,” comments Garrus. “He’s a quarian biotic. I’m sure you know it’s true somehow.”

Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!

This can’t be happening! What the fuck is Garrus’ loyalty going to be now? Now he has less reason to want Sidonis dead! I mean, come on, most of his squad was saved! And… No, this opens up plot holes too! How the hell did his squad survive? How do we know the mercs won’t chase them? What do I do now? How am I gonna break this to Tali? More importantly, how the fuck did the squad find out before the attack? How the fuck did they survive? And where the fuck does Sidonis fit into this? Why, God, why?

No… No no no no no. No. No. Hell no. No. No. I can’t believe… No. No.

Not one drop! I’ll taste it for you!

Because clearly, the fact that lives have been saved is less important than the fact that you can’t tell the future anymore, Mr. Winnie-The-Pooh-Reference-That-Only-Folks-With-Encyclopedic-Knowledge-Will-Get!

I feel like this is a pretty good microcosm of a big problem that plagues the character here, and elsewhere: his reactions are usually not rooted in anything serious, or are typically glossed over, owing to the narration’s constant attempts to crowbar in pop culture and other things like that in an attempt to look “cool” and “funny”.

And that’s the thing: the narration isn’t the only place this happens. Take, for instance, this bit of dialogue between Art and Shepard in MV1:

I shrug while looking at the treadmill behind me. “I’m struggling a little,” I say. “But you know what they say: keep pushing yourself, and you’ll get results.”

“Just don’t push yourself too hard,” she says. “We don’t want you suffering an injury.”

I wave a hand dismissively, chuckling. “I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that,” I say. “I’m usually so overworked about whether something is safe or not that… well, you know…” I lift my hands then. “Plus, I’ve had years of attempting to keep my hands safe,” I add to that. “Comes as part of the job description when you’re a musician, really.”

She rose an eyebrow at this. I shrugged as I continue. “Well, you know, I need my fingers to write music, and if I don’t have any fingers on my left hand I can’t exactly produce any notes on a viola,” I add.

She nods. “I see,” she says. “But you never can be too careful. Exercise caution.”

Because, as we all know, carpal tunnel totally leads to massive hemorrhaging the way a mass accelerator wound does.

Or what about this, from MV2:

“This your first time on Omega, kid?” [Aria] asks.

I frown at this, crossing my arms. “I’ll have you know I turned 22 just a few weeks ago,” I correct her. “And technically speaking, yes, this is my first time on Omega. On business, but still…”

“You have quite a mouth on you,” she says. “My first suggestion? Keep it shut; it might get you into quite a lot of trouble here on Omega.

“Like right now, when I shall let my security detail open fire on you for mouthing me off like that, you little bitch.”

Or what about this:

“You know what the worst part of all this is?” I ask.

“Not exactly,” says Garrus. “What?”

“It’s that there’s no fucking incidental music for this!” I say, crossing my arms as I shake my head. “That would have made things so much more awesome!”

I hear Ash groan as Shepard shakes her head.

What Ash should’ve said: “Art, we just killed Liara’s mother and just made a decision about saving the rachni where we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, could you maybe not bring an immature Facebook meme into this?”

You may start to notice a pattern: Art tends to speak out much more like an immature 12-year-old who’s trying to grab attention where everything is about him. And yeah, all this forced, lame humor keeps up in both the narration and in Art’s dialogue with practically every other character, and I’m sure there are people who could go through this line by line and start a counter on this thing. I wouldn’t recommend it because you’d probably be in the 300’s by the time MV2 ended, but you get my point.

So are they right to criticize that about the narrative? Actually, yeah: it’s an interesting narrative concept, for sure, but the execution is one of the things that makes him a fairly unlikeable character in some ways. In trying too hard to be cool and funny, the whole fic just winds up coming off as extremely forced and inappropriate, and the result makes Art a worse character in a lot of ways.

And it doesn’t exactly stop there, because then we get into the issue of…

Jerkassiness and Consequences

So the other main issue is that, of the above times Art acts like an obnoxious ass, he usually doesn’t get called out for it with nearly enough frequency that you would think this kind of behavior would call for. For example, let’s play the rest of that last conversation I quoted above:

I hear Ash groan as Shepard shakes her head. “Maybe if something else happens,” she says. “Right now, I’m concentrating on how we just did an entire race good.”

“You’ll regret this,” repeats Wrex in a half-grumble.

“We’ll see about that,” I reply, crossing my arms. “Who knows? Maybe you won’t have to clean up the mess at all. Only time will tell with that, I can tell you that much.”

“That works the other way around too,” replies Ash.

Garrus gives us all a look. “We’ll see how things pan out,” he says.

Yeah, see, there it is: they pretty much don’t even briefly tell Art take things seriously for three seconds. And no, this doesn’t even happen later in the fic: his more obnoxious moments throughout MV are treated as part of the squadmate banter, and not as something that requires him to get smacked around with a giant trout the way most people would. Again, this is a symptom of the tryhard nature of his comedy: I, of course not knowing what was inappropriate and what was funny, was so chuffed at how clever I thought my character was that, as a result, the squadmates wound up not really calling him out on his obnoxious behavior a lot.

Now, does that mean he was never called out for any of his actions? Not exactly. For instance, there’s this with Kaidan in MV2:

The lieutenant looks at me, his eyes wide as he shakes his head. “Art… I thought we were friends,” he says. “Listen to me because I’m your friend.”

No. Just no. You could’ve used a completely different argument, Kaidan.

Too bad I don’t have a gun… that would be great to go all Jules Winnfield on his ass. But not now. I’ve got other things in mind.

Before I can even think about it, my hand curls into a fist. It promptly flies into Kaidan’s face, and a harsh crack sounds as suddenly, he’s sent falling back. He catches himself on another chair, the free hand rushing up to his face as his nose starts to bleed. He glances up at me in shock, and I shake my head. Some of the bar patrons turn to look as I cross my arms, looking right at him.

“Not good enough,” I say, crossing my arms. “For your information, I stopped considering you a friend when you denied Shepard the right to speak for herself back on Horizon. What comes around, goes around, Kaidan. Think about what I just told you.”

The rest of the conversation is a little long for me to show you here, but suffice to say Art is generally an ass throughout the rest of that conversation for a variety of reasons.

In response, Tali says this just after that chapter:

“Art, are you sure you should have handled that the way you did?” asks Tali as I come closer. “You didn’t give him a chance to speak, and you interrupted him twice. It’s not like you.”

“Well, Kaidan didn’t give Shepard a chance to speak, and he also interrupted her twice,” I say, rubbing my hands together. “I say it’s time someone gave him a taste of his own medicine, you know?”

“But why be so violent about it?” asks Mangdalar.

I shake my head. “Because he pissed me off,” I reply. “You know what I hate? I hate it when people are trying to tell you something and you won’t listen. That’s why I was so pissed at Kaidan. He should’ve let Shepard explain herself to him, end of story. And if I have to get violent to hammer that into his head, then so be it.”

Tali shakes her head. “I don’t like that you did that, though,” she says. “You should have been the better man and let him explain.”

But I can’t. Because I wanted him to get a taste of his own medicine. Or whatever. “I should’ve,” I say. “But I didn’t want to let him explain. I wanted him to know what it was like to be in Shepard’s shoes when he dumped her.”

The quarian looks a little dismayed at this, but before she can say anything I hear a click from Mangdalar’s mouth.

She only doubles down on it next chapter:

“About that.” The girl I’ve been falling for turns to me slightly, her voice a little icier than usual. “I… I still don’t think you made a good call with him there.”

Oh, seriously Tali? “Hey, he kind of asked for it,” I reply, frowning slightly. “I wanted him to know what it was like to be unable to explain yourself to someone hard-headed. You treat people the way you want to be treated, you know?”

Tali shakes her head. “Your definition of reciprocity is very strange,” she states. “You should have been the better man. But you sunk to his level. I would even say you went below his level.”

Kaidan himself also gives Art hell for it in MV3, particularly after he finds out that Art knew everything.

Speaking of which, there’s the whole long-running plot thread where Art feels he has to hide the truth about himself from everyone lest he get called crazy for kind of knowing how the events of ME1 and 2 are going to play out. This constantly comes back to haunt him throughout MV2 and even some parts of MV3, where one of the first reactions is that people call him out for betraying their trust like that. It even threatens his position on the Normandy, and he does notably lose a friendship in one case, even if he does get a bit too “woe is me” about it later on in MV2.

So yeah, Art does get called out, but I think it’s important to note that Art doesn’t receive blowback for a lot of the obnoxious behaviors that the fic tries to pass off as “banter”. That colors pretty much everything that happens after, because if you get the sense the other characters would have told him off well before this point and they don’t, doesn’t it cheapen the times when they do give him hell for his decisions?

And then there’s also the issue of…

Character Arc

So the issue with character arcs in Mass Vexations is an interesting one: for me, there were at least attempts at characterization arcs throughout the series. There are varying degrees of success here, and I think they vary wildly.

For example: we have Art’s character arc in MV1: where he doesn’t really take it super seriously and hoping that he’ll get back home via Virmire. This goes horribly tits up, and it was supposed to culminate in him trying to die at Virmire. Why he wouldn’t try to get himself killed any other time is anybody’s guess, but it would have meant to lead up to the moment he has with Tali in Chapter 16 where he finally reveals the truth about himself and says:

A tear rolls down my cheeks despite my best effort to hold it in. “Now… I’ll never know,” I say, my voice becoming shaky. “I’ll never know if it would have sent me back. And now I’ll never see Joc or Sturge or Mom or Dad or Pupa or Anneli or Augie or any of my other friends again. And I’ll never get to see my beautiful red viola again. And Ashley is dead despite everything I did to try and convince Shepard to save her. Now… I have to live with with all that… I… I don’t know… It’s just… I… I’ll miss them… And… I…”

I can’t take it anymore. But I have to stay strong. I have to. For my own sake. A knot forms in my throat, and I shake my head softly.

I feel a hand on my shoulder, and Tali looks at me. I can’t understand her expression… What is she feeling?

“Art…” she says, voice seeping in tenderness. “I… I had no idea…” She hesitates briefly, patting my shoulder and causing her to look directly at the two glowing daimonds behind the face mask. “Art… If it makes you feel better… You can come to me… I don’t care what the rest of the galaxy does… But you’re my friend. I can’t just let you sit here and carry this burden. If you have anything you want to tell me about this dimension that you’re from… anything at all… you can come to me. Let me help you carry your burden. You can tell me anything. Art… I’m here for you if you need anything. And I promise by Keelah that I won’t turn you away.”

What she tells me was completely different from what I expected. It’s so… beautiful… And… I didn’t think she would… She should have rejected me. Turned me away. But here… She’s offering me something… I… I can’t believe this…

And now I can’t hold the tears back. “Tali…” I say, just under my breath.

I don’t get to say anything else before she gathers me into her arms slowly. I instinctively wrap my own arms around her, and as she cradles my head against her shoulder sobs wrack my body. I close my eyes, and I finally cry all the pent up tears on her shoulder noisily. She simply holds me, patting my back comfortingly as she whispers soothing things into my ear that are just soft enough for me to not be able to translate effectively.

So that’s a fairly fitting climax, no? The problem is, it’s a decent climax to an arc that, honestly, is not very well set up. The result is that the characterization beat doesn’t really work.

One problem is tied to what I mention above with how the narration’s tryhardiness gets in the way of other, unrelated character beats: there’s a similar thing going on here, where he’s trying so hard to be like “LOOK HOW COOL I AM” that it kind of doesn’t leave any room to insert those kinds of beats. Thus, Art’s nostalgia isn’t super well set-up: most of these things that he goes on about in the ficbit above are introduced in the body of the same chapter, which is never a good sign as far as set-up and payoff is concerned. The bits that are included before now are also told and not shown, which adds an extra layer of wrong here.

That theme of lack of set-up and payoff recurs throughout the trilogy. There’s most of MV3, for instance, where Art winds up in control of the Normandy on virtue of Shepard being arrested and in the process of being tried for treason. In-fic, Garrus and Miranda co-control the Normandy with him, sure, but functionally Art winds up taking charge. The character arc I went with was not actually something I thought of when I started MV3. And I think that contributes to the main issue with his characterization in the first half of MV3: the “he’s not competent to lead” didn’t really come in until a writing-based reckoning I had midway through writing MV3. After that was when I wrote the Kahje chapter of MV3, where Thane gets killed because of Art’s leadership, even though previous chapters of MV3 didn’t really seem to follow a consistent thread of “Art is making stupid mistakes, what the hell is he doing” until possibly the Rannoch arc of MV3 (and boy howdy, are parts of that extremely problematic for reasons we’ll talk about later).

This also plays into some of the other arcs throughout MV2, as well. The Overlord arc, for instance, I don’t think really lands in quite the same way I hoped it would because, again, Art’s family in his previous living situation is not really established very well, so there isn’t as much payoff there as there could be there. Rael’s survival hinging on one thing also isn’t set-up super well, and I’m counting it towards characterization issues with Art considering that Art simply sending a message being all “be careful” would not be enough to really nudge Rael’Zorah into survival territory now that I really think about it.

A vast majority of Art’s characterization arcs throughout the MV series are not really plotted out super well. Thus, while you could argue that the arcs do exist, you can’t necessarily argue that they’re done well. And, as I’ve stressed elsewhere, it’s all about the execution, so if the execution is lacking, then it’s bad. And here, the execution left a ton to be desired.

And speaking of execution, some things are just flawed at a conceptual level. Including…

Art and LGBTQ Representation

This is actually not a super common criticism of Art as a character, but ultimately this is a failing I feel I should bring up because it’s a fairly big one on the scale of representation. I also do want to address this point because one thing to understand is that a vast majority of the Mass Vexations trilogy was written before I fully came to terms with the fact that I’m gay, and I think this is one of the bigger points of a rewrite that I would have to address just on virtue of that fact alone.

So, one thing you notice in the fic is that, yeah, Art mentions he’s bisexual. And yeah, some folks would probably dispute that “oh, no, it’s fine representation because it isn’t hammered in to death”. While true, that’s also a problem with the narrative. The TVTropes page, for instance, mentions this as one of its entries:

Informed Ability: Art’s bisexuality is rarely mentioned after Mass Vexations 1, since he never seems to note male character’s attractiveness and winds up getting into a relationship with Tali before the Suicide Mission. However, he did get mildly taken with James Vega’s muscles upon first meeting him, but that’s about it.

I personally am kind of surprised that sexuality is framed as some kind of “ability” (which, personally, I find to be eight kinds of problematic), but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring up a really valid point. Because yeah, Art’s bisexuality isn’t really explored in any real depth throughout the trilogy, as he just winds up falling for a girl and that’s that. And yeah, one throw-away line about liking James Vega’s muscles and finding krogan hot definitely isn’t enough.

And you might say that it’s okay, because ultimately, bisexuality can also rest on a spectrum of male or female preference. That would be fine, if it weren’t for the fact that the one gay interaction that Art engages in throughout the MV trilogy is incredibly problematic. I’m talking, of course, about Chapter 10 of MV1, titled after Edgard Varèse’s large orchestra piece Arcana. Right off the bat, that should be a warning sign, considering that the piece, like so much of Varese’s other works, is dissonant, violent, and often features instruments screaming in extreme registers. All you really need to listen to is the first few seconds and you’ll see what I mean:

And indeed, it doesn’t get better: the chapter has Art square off with the turian that Wrex wanted to kill, who’s converted into an extremely dirty old man with… well…

The story tries to frame it as being creepy, but if you look at the actual story, it’s fairly par-for-course behavior for gay bar adventures:

As I sip on my screwdriver, I hear someone get into the seat next to me. I hear the glass get plunked down on the table. Okay, that gets my attention. I turn my head and-

O-ho-ho-hoooookaaaaaaay… This is getting uncomfortable. Tonn Actus is sitting right next to me, giving me a look as I give a glance. Oh, shit. Yeah, this is uncomfortable. Don’t tell me this guy preys on younger people… It’ll be like O-Ren Ishii getting her revenge all over again.

“I noticed you outside,” he says. “You paced around here.”

Shit… I think he’s hitting on me. Or trying to. Either way, this isn’t entirely comfortable… Shit… Swallow it in.

“I just wasn’t sure what to think,” I reply. “This is the first time I’ve ever gone to a bar alone.”

At this, I see his mandible flex slightly. Oh, dear, I think he’s got some lewd thoughts going… “You don’t have to do it alone,” he says. “Here. The least I can do is buy you a drink.”

Okay, Tonn… Shit, this is creepy as fuck. Man, I’m in this way over my head.

The narration continues with a similar tone throughout the rest of the chapter, right down to when Tonn Actus takes Art home and has him engage in a striptease that is ripped straight from a chapter of Heavy Rain—a fact that the narration lampshades, by the way! Difference is, Tonn Actus isn’t holding Art by gunpoint, and there’s nothing to suggest that Tonn has really earned his “dirty old man” shtick apart from the age difference between him and Art. Sure, Art is creeped out by the touches that he gets, and it’s clear he isn’t exactly into it due to him being in it for Wrex’s armor, but that just makes it worse when you consider it’s the only time Art encounters any kind of same-sex contact throughout the series.

In hindsight, the fact that the story employs this as its only point of homosexual contact for Art really kind of makes Art’s bisexuality super heteronormative. Combine that with what the “Informed Ability” entry on the TVTropes page said, and… well, you got a recipe for disastrous representation on the LGBTQ front, something that wouldn’t be fixed until MV3 came along and introduced other characters on that spectrum (and even those aren’t 100% kosher considering that both of the gay pairings in MV3 suffer from a minor case of Bury Your Gays by the time the whole thing ends).

And again, this is something that is an even worse problem given I’ve since realized I’m gay. And yeah, some of you might wonder why I take “ew, old man” as a problem here with the storytelling: considering that I lost my virginity to an older man, and then considering that some of my partners since have been older men, I will tell you that this chapter of MV1 plays into a rather ugly stereotype of the “old, lecherous gay man” that just shouldn’t be indulged in. The fact that Tonn Actus is treated in such an “ew, gross” manner really doesn’t sit well with me now.

Combine that with the fact that it’s a complete reimagining of what the canon version was (run to one of the fifty million other warehouses in the galaxy and shoot his ass down), and it’s just a disaster of epic proprotions.

So yeah. Art is a really bad LGBTQ character, and I’m surprised that not a ton of people talk about that aspect of the character, because all told it’s fairly problematic.

That Stupid Loyalty Mission

Yeah, Art’s loyalty mission was fairly stupid, too. For my taste, it was based on an interesting idea (what if someone’s identity got swiped out from under them by a doppelganger?), but yeah, it just went in a stupid, over-the-top direction. The Evil!Art is a literal Awesome McEvil, he goes to extreme lengths to get revenge, the amount of resources at his beck and call is really stupid…

His loyalty mission was kinda crowbarred in there, too, as a way for Art to spill the beans to Shepard. I still feel like the idea of Art having a loyalty mission is a fairly interesting one, because I feel like it’s the best context for Shepard to discover Art’s big secret. But… yeah, there are much better ways I could have found to deal with it than this. I don’t quite know what they are, but they’re better than what we got.

So if I Were To Rewrite This Character…

First, I’d excise the bisexuality angle and just make him totally gay. I’d have to find a new love interest at that point, but hell, there are a bunch of directions I could see that going, so it’s no big deal. Besides, Tali could have fun with a sassy gay friend, you never know. Then, I’d probably take a cue from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and have Art’s immature pop culture stuff be an actual character flaw the way Peter Quill’s immaturity is often framed throughout that movie. That, and I’d also massively tone it down, because man, that stuff comes off less and less like comical banter the more I read it.

And then there’s also the fact that, in all honesty, I’d relegate him to a supporting role on the Normandy. Maybe something like The Heart on the ship and all that. I think it’s tough to underestimate just how much I can’t get into the soldier mindset, so honestly I guess I’d have to make my insert character in a similar sense, you know? So there is that, too.

But overall, I think the main thing is this: don’t try so hard to be funny. I think the art of banter is a tough one as far as dialogue goes, but here Art was clearly trying too hard to be relatable by comedy, and because of that he just wound up being a dickhead to folks. While he does get better, it’s often said that first impressions are everything. And yeah, the first impression is not great here.

So that’s how I feel about my own character.

Now, of course, there are lots of over things over the course of the trilogy that wind up being fairly problematic, and it’s enough content for a series. So next time, we’re going to start by talking about what is probably the dumbest plot fail of the whole trilogy: that damn Chosen One crap.

So I’ll see you next time, folks! See you then!


78 Comments on “2051: Mass Vexations Retrospective – Gontermanesque: A Tale of Stu Aspects”

  1. BatJamags says:

    I feel like this is a pretty good microcosm of a big problem that plagues the character here, and elsewhere: his reactions are usually not rooted in anything serious, or are typically glossed over, owing to the narration’s constant attempts to crowbar in pop culture and other things like that in an attempt to look “cool” and “funny”.

    This is something that I’ve noticed in a couple stories I’ve read: the narrative is sometimes handled as a comedy and sometimes as a drama. It can work (Homestuck blends its mood beautifully, for example), but more often than not you get comedic moments where they feel inappropriate and dramatic moments cropping up unexpectedly in the midst of otherwise funny segments. From the samples you’ve provided, it seems like Art’s narration style might fit more effectively with a pure parody/comedy SI.

    • AdmiralSakai says:

      I was thinking the same thing, and in fact back when I first heard about Mass Vexations I assumed it was a pure parody/comedy and was kind of surprised when it started dropping all of these Serious Issues.

    • Herr Wozzeck says:

      Thing is, I didn’t intend him as a parody/comedy SI, and that’s important for reasons you’ll see in about… two weeks, I think.

  2. BatJamags says:

    I personally am kind of surprised that sexuality is framed as some kind of “ability” (which, personally, I find to be eight kinds of problematic),

    It’s especially bizarre because there’s a completely different trope for that. That should be listed under “Bi the Way,” not “Informed Ability.”

    • SuperFeatherYoshi says:

      Yeah, what’s up with that? I just got the mental image of some dude yelling “Bisexual power activates!” followed by a flash of rainbow-colored light and a transformation sequence.

    • agigabyte says:

      Well, in this case, it’s referring to his bisexuality being said to be a thing, but having no effect on the plot. However, I’m pretty sure there’s another “Informed [X]” trope that would fit better.

  3. AdmiralSakai says:

    The first part is fair enough: safeguarding someone who knows too much would be a valid excuse to get him on the ship. But it’s the lack of combat training that really sort of muddies that. Especially since, later, Art learns how to shoot guns a little bit too fast: all it takes is one chapter that takes course across one sixteen-hour period and he’s suddenly fairly good with assault rifles, and good enough that he’s allowed onto the ground team on Noveria the next chapter. He also does learn other weapons as it goes on, and they all take about the same amount of training time for him to master so well that he’s able to stand side-by-side with military folks who are both the best at what they do and have been at it for years.

    I also detected a bit of a plot-regurgitational element in this, in that Art “had” to get a combat position on the Normandy because he couldn’t interact with the Mass Effect universe in any way outside of the spotlight of the games.

    • SuperFeatherYoshi says:

      Yeah, when you think about it, letting someone you’re supposed to protect fight on the battlefield is really the opposite of a good idea. I know Liara does it, but she’s a powerful biotic, and she’s had combat experiences before.

    • Herr Wozzeck says:

      Yeah, you were right that there’s a plot regurgitation element there. Of course, that loses ground in MV3 where I went totally off the rails, but for MV1 and 2 that would definitely be the case. Because hey, what interesting plot elements can be wrangled out of just chatting with the Normandy’s crew on the off hours.

      It’s something I think I handled better in the Parallel Realities deconstruction, because there the main character is someone who has had actual combat experience. So, you know, there it goes.

  4. AdmiralSakai says:

    But when you’re looking at the abilities there, you also have to look at what’s detracting from them. And… yeah, especially at the start of MV1, whatever physical imperfections Art has get quickly taken care of. All I really need to say is this bit here about eye surgery

    Honestly I think this makes perfect sense as regenerative medicine is well-advanced and commonly used in ME. However, by that same token Art has not had access to that level of medical care for most of his life and it’s going to have an effect in making him much less generally healthy overall than the average human civilian.

  5. AdmiralSakai says:

    He says he’ll think about it later… except that “later” never comes. The most we get out of it is a pop culture comparison to a TV cop drama, a reference to the Venus de Milo mid-kill, and a reference to Quentin Tarantino. It isn’t quite Kye Jen’s “too many video games” line, but in spirit it’s not much better, because what could have been an important character beat is essentially glossed over in the name of “hey, here’s an amusing train of thought, look at it and laugh!”

    I could actually sort of buy this, especially if the story either went kind of a Deadpool route with the pure parody (and made Art’s dialogue actually funny and not just a stream of references), or made a bigger deal out of Art’s precognition and actually had him use it for things that helped the team.

    Also, I don’t necessarily think angst and panic are necessary for the first-kill bit. I think it is totally fine for him not to go into a meltdown and discover some hidden reserve of courage or heroism here, but he should still be aware of that fact. The SCP Foundation story Work Journal 3 actually does a pretty good portrayal of this:

    I haven’t been sleeping or eating, really. Just enough to keep me mobile. I’m exhausted, but it feels… distant. Removed. Like feeling pain when you’re heavily drugged. It’s… a little upsetting, but it’s helpful for the time being. I do need to try and sleep. I was convinced a helicopter was following me not too long ago. It peeled off a while ago, but it was following the road I was on for nearly half an hour. It got pretty low… I didn’t think they could do that. I didn’t really see any markings… even the glass was tinted…

    Bah. Sleep.

    I’m panicking. My heart won’t slow down, and I feel so twitchy. At the same time, I have this cold core inside that just keeps thinking…

    Part of me is terrified, but I also feel… sharper. I’m not crazy… there is something going on. God help me, someone wants me dead.

    There’s also something that ties into another point I want to make later on, but it first came to my attention in these scenes here- I feel like the placement of detail in the story is very strange, like Art spends a lot more time describing utterly trivial things than the things that would actually be important, and as a result his priorities seem extremely skewed.

  6. AdmiralSakai says:

    It also doesn’t help that the way Art treats his precognition can sometimes come off extremely sociopathic. I’m talking, of course, about Art freaking out about losing his precognitive abilities like so:

    There’s no fucking way this is right! No. His squad can’t be alive! There’s no possible way they could be alive right now! No way whatsoever!

    That’s not true! That’s impossible!

    “Oh, Thank the Lord,” Jenny says, letting out an exasperated breath. “I still can’t believe it though.”

    “Well, think about it,” comments Garrus. “He’s a quarian biotic. I’m sure you know it’s true somehow.”

    Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!

    This can’t be happening! What the fuck is Garrus’ loyalty going to be now? Now he has less reason to want Sidonis dead! I mean, come on, most of his squad was saved! And… No, this opens up plot holes too! How the hell did his squad survive? How do we know the mercs won’t chase them? What do I do now? How am I gonna break this to Tali? More importantly, how the fuck did the squad find out before the attack? How the fuck did they survive? And where the fuck does Sidonis fit into this? Why, God, why?

    No… No no no no no. No. No. Hell no. No. No. I can’t believe… No. No.

    I can sort of see where this is going- that Art’s precognition is his one trump card and also a powerful tool in ensuring Shepard’s success, and while he’s not unhappy that people are still alive the fact that events are playing out differently it should logically be a concern with life-and-death implications.

    The big problem is that Art, to my knowledge, never actually comes clean about his precognition or uses it for much of anything, and his reasons for doing so are incredibly suspect- the deaths of billions in the Reaper invasion don’t matter nearly as much as Art being (temporarily, as his predictions could quickly be verified to a high standard of proof) seen as crazy.

    This, again, ties into the plot-regurgitational elements of the work, and also to what I would say is the big underlying issue with MV (or at least the parts I have read): Art, even though he is now in it, seems to continue to think of Mass Effect as a video game that operates on video game mechanics. He talks about other characters in terms of dialogue options and loyalty missions. He remarks on odd elements of the environment because those elements are things a game reviewer would pay attention to as opposed to an actual person. He can’t change the future because the events in it are scripted. He doesn’t have normal reactions to people around him dying because those people aren’t real to him. Which makes his relationship with Tali a little bit problematic, and also makes me wonder how we are supposed to care about anything that goes on when even the POV character treats everything as just collections of polygons with no actual reality.

    • Zues Killer Productions says:

      An examination of a Self Insert who sees the people around him like it’s still just a game to him?

      That sounds…actually, I think that’s a clever idea. But that would require a massive amount of time and effort, and as we all know by this point, that’s something badfic authors don’t really utilize that much.

      • AdmiralSakai says:

        Yeah, I feel like if it was established that this very much was a video game and, for instance, he had to stick near Shepard because only the area within sight of her is loaded and otherwise he’d fall into the void, it would make for an effective parody. Alternatively, a character who thought like it was still a video game and treated people accordingly would make for a very effective villain.

        • SC says:

          We’ve had a character like that, unfortunately. His name was Kye Jen, and he claimed that he was desensitized to death due to “too many video games.”

        • Zues Killer Productions says:

          You mean Jeffery Cuddletrousers over there?

          *points towards body bag*

      • Herr Wozzeck says:

        There’s a conversation in MV3 between Art and Kaidan that kind glances this topic, but you’re right in that yeah, it needed to be a better through line throughout the whole.

        The whole “through line” is a bigger problem throughout MV than just this, but I think this is a pretty good indication that, yeah, I didn’t really think about when I was writing it. But yeah, in retrospect, it jumps out, and holy shit is it uncomfortable.

  7. AdmiralSakai says:

    So, one thing you notice in the fic is that, yeah, Art mentions he’s bisexual. And yeah, some folks would probably dispute that “oh, no, it’s fine representation because it isn’t hammered in to death”. While true, that’s also a problem with the narrative. The TVTropes page, for instance, mentions this as one of its entries:

    Informed Ability: Art’s bisexuality is rarely mentioned after Mass Vexations 1, since he never seems to note male character’s attractiveness and winds up getting into a relationship with Tali before the Suicide Mission. However, he did get mildly taken with James Vega’s muscles upon first meeting him, but that’s about it.

    I personally am kind of surprised that sexuality is framed as some kind of “ability” (which, personally, I find to be eight kinds of problematic), but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring up a really valid point. Because yeah, Art’s bisexuality isn’t really explored in any real depth throughout the trilogy, as he just winds up falling for a girl and that’s that. And yeah, one throw-away line about liking James Vega’s muscles and finding krogan hot definitely isn’t enough.

    Yeah, when I read the first part of MV I legitimately thought that you were trying to write the character as completely straight. I remember in particular the bit where he was ogling Dr. Chakwas (of all people!) wondering if this was just bad writing or if you really had been that far in the closet and getting a bit concerned.

    • Herr Wozzeck says:

      Personally, knowing my sexual identity the way I do now, I really was that far in denial. I could go on a whole thing about that, but… Yeah, let’s just say that MV would have had a completely different romance track if I’d had sex-positive influences in my life before I wrote it.

      EDIT: Also, you want to know what the funniest thing is? You just reminded me of one of my least favorite pieces of feedback I got on MV3, in the chapter where I introduced Will and Nadeire Moskas. I remember one of my readers got angry that I was “pandering to the liberals”, for which I called him a homophobe and inwardly wondered why he missed that Art’s supposed to be bisexual. In light of what you just mentioned, I realize now that it makes perfect sense why he missed that!

  8. AdmiralSakai says:

    The story tries to frame it as being creepy, but if you look at the actual story, it’s fairly par-for-course behavior for gay bar adventures:

    As I sip on my screwdriver, I hear someone get into the seat next to me. I hear the glass get plunked down on the table. Okay, that gets my attention. I turn my head and-

    O-ho-ho-hoooookaaaaaaay… This is getting uncomfortable. Tonn Actus is sitting right next to me, giving me a look as I give a glance. Oh, shit. Yeah, this is uncomfortable. Don’t tell me this guy preys on younger people… It’ll be like O-Ren Ishii getting her revenge all over again.

    “I noticed you outside,” he says. “You paced around here.”

    Shit… I think he’s hitting on me. Or trying to. Either way, this isn’t entirely comfortable… Shit… Swallow it in.

    “I just wasn’t sure what to think,” I reply. “This is the first time I’ve ever gone to a bar alone.”

    At this, I see his mandible flex slightly. Oh, dear, I think he’s got some lewd thoughts going… “You don’t have to do it alone,” he says. “Here. The least I can do is buy you a drink.”

    Okay, Tonn… Shit, this is creepy as fuck. Man, I’m in this way over my head.

    The narration continues with a similar tone throughout the rest of the chapter, right down to when Tonn Actus takes Art home and has him engage in a striptease that is ripped straight from a chapter of Heavy Rain—a fact that the narration lampshades, by the way! Difference is, Tonn Actus isn’t holding Art by gunpoint, and there’s nothing to suggest that Tonn has really earned his “dirty old man” shtick apart from the age difference between him and Art. Sure, Art is creeped out by the touches that he gets, and it’s clear he isn’t exactly into it due to him being in it for Wrex’s armor, but that just makes it worse when you consider it’s the only time Art encounters any kind of same-sex contact throughout the series.

    Which also means Art is deliberately hiding the fact that he is uncomfortable from Actus while trying to… seduce(??) him under false premises to get the armor. And he’s doing this under instruction from Wrex, which means that really Wrex is the one taking unfair advantage of him and not Actus.

  9. AdmiralSakai says:

    And then there’s also the fact that, in all honesty, I’d relegate him to a supporting role on the Normandy. Maybe something like The Heart on the ship and all that. I think it’s tough to underestimate just how much I can’t get into the soldier mindset, so honestly I guess I’d have to make my insert character in a similar sense, you know? So there is that, too.

    I actually thought a good place for a self-insert who actually used his precognition would be a sort of Edge of Tomorrow/Mission Control style thing where he’s sitting at a terminal on the Normandy with a comm line open relaying to Shepard exactly what she’ll find around the next corner and what the consequences of any particular course of action will be. He could then get dragged into all sorts of shenanigans once Bad People start to realize what he is doing.

  10. Zues Killer Productions says:

    And… well, in the interest of full disclosure, I also discovered recently that there’s a line-by-line snark of the trilogy elsewhere on the world wide web that got started in September. While those of you who know one of my previous snarks know I normally wouldn’t mind that happening, in this case it’s written by someone who, in Hannity-esque fashion, failed to disclose that not only is he a former “friend” with whom I had a vicious falling-out, but that he made some contributions to the Mass Vexations universe that got excised (more on that later). Also, as best as I can tell given his past behavior regarding Mass Vexations and me as a person, he’s doing it to spite me.

    Some people just want to watch the world burn…

    But in all seriousness, I very rarely get into collaborative projects for the reason that humanity in general can get extremely petty. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any collaborations, but that stopped because I didn’t want to write a scene I had in my mind that I was afraid would taint the fic, and the other guy’s version was stopped because he couldn’t think of anything else.

    • Herr Wozzeck says:

      Oh yeah: dare I mention the part where the only reason I included the character was because said former friend essentially stalked me around the internet and couldn’t take “no” for an answer?

      I get into that a bit later, but holy hell, I can’t believe I still have to deal with that guy after so many years.

  11. Zues Killer Productions says:

    The first part is fair enough: safeguarding someone who knows too much would be a valid excuse to get him on the ship. But it’s the lack of combat training that really sort of muddies that. Especially since, later, Art learns how to shoot guns a little bit too fast: all it takes is one chapter that takes course across one sixteen-hour period and he’s suddenly fairly good with assault rifles, and good enough that he’s allowed onto the ground team on Noveria the next chapter. He also does learn other weapons as it goes on, and they all take about the same amount of training time for him to master so well that he’s able to stand side-by-side with military folks who are both the best at what they do and have been at it for years.

    Yeah, that’s kind of a big bullshit moment from the early parts of MV1: but it’s what happens when you want to regurgitate the plot of the games and want to insert your character in there faster than he’d logically be able to get in there. Because the fast expertise with shooting a gun not only is unrealistic, but also ignores the psychology of a soldier whole-sale in favor of getting to the action real quick. (And yeah, there’s a whole thing about the psychology of killing people that I find problematic in this fic, but one point at a time.)

    To be fair, that’s the only real ability-wise thing that happens: Art doesn’t really gain any special technological expertise, and he also never gets biotics. It certainly beats a lot of what other SI’s would do, especially Subject 23’s overpowered Aquaman/Iceman shtick.

    Truthfully, I never actually considered that. I’ll admit that I can see your point, but at least you showed Art getting training to use said weapons, even if the sequence is somewhat rushed so we could get in the action faster. Some don’t even bother with that, and either stick a guy who didn’t exactly have any training suddenly be a badass, or just say that his skill in video games is equivalent to real world combat.

    • Herr Wozzeck says:

      It’s still not far enough, though.

      Personally, when I went into MV, I went into it with the mistaken belief that most armchair critics go into when criticizing Rey from Star Wars as a Mary Sue: I assumed that overpowered abilities are the only metric by which a character becomes a Mary Sue, and I didn’t quite understand that it’s also how they interact with the world around them. Now that I understand that, I keep kicking myself, you know?

      • BatJamags says:

        I might disagree with you somewhat about Rey. “Mary Sue” is a difficult term because it has so many definitions, so I’ll just enumerate some of my issues with her.

        First, much like Art, her abilities are nothing special for the franchise, but she develops them unreasonably quickly and with no prior training. There are people who can do Jedi mind tricks, but they’re all fairly experienced Jedi with at least a few years of training. There are pilots who are better than Han Solo, but none of them are better at flying his own ship despite never having flown anything more complex than a speeder bike. Admittedly, Luke Skywalker is guilty of this too, but at least he knew he was Force sensitive and had some training in how to exploit that, along with some good wingmen and experience flying T-16 Skyhoppers, which are similar to starfighters. Rey has none of that and still manages to repeatedly show up Han at flying Han’s own ship.

        Second, The Last Jedi subverts our expectations by hammering in that there’s absolutely nothing special about Rey… so why does everyone care so much about her? She’s just some random person who got away with the Discount Death Star Plans Map to Luke Skywalker. The Less Competent Knockoff Imperials First Order and the Rebellion 2: Electric Boogaloo Resistance just decide she’s important even after she’s long since handed off the map.

        Third, much like every other character in The Force Awakens (and she was the only one for whom The Last Jedi didn’t even try to correct this problem), she has about as much personality as the action figures she was created to sell. I could forgive the first two points if she were genuinely likable or cool, but she’s just utterly generic.

        Frankly, despite supposedly being the protagonist, you could excise Rey from the entire Sequel Trilogy thus far and not materially alter the plot. Have Finn deliver the map and the glorified soccer ball BB-8 alone, have Whiny Darth Vader Fanboy Kylo Ren just not fight anybody with his stupid* crossguard saber, have Chewie go find Luke on his own, and have Ben (And why the hell would Han and Leia name their kid Ben? They didn’t even know Ben!) betray The Single Most Idiotically Named Being in the Star Wars Universe Supreme Leader Snoke on his own. Rey has contributed literally nothing to the Sequels thus far, other than giving the fangirls a vessel to ship themselves with Kylo.

        Is Rey a Mary Sue? I’d say she receives unwarranted special treatment from the narrative, so she meets my personal preferred definition for the term, but it’s a your-milage-may-vary thing. And she only contributes a tiny portion to my overwhelming tidal wave of hatred for all things Sequel.

        *Yes, I know it would theoretically be pretty useful. Functionally, it makes him look like even more of an edgy tryhard than Darth Maul, which is a seriously impressive accomplishment.

        • Herr Wozzeck says:

          I think, Batt, whatever dislike you have towards the sequel trilogy in progress leads thee to protest far too much.

          Rey, no personality? I’m wondering if we even watched the same movie now, because I would think the fact that Rey actually has a character arc throughout the two films kind of undermines that. I mean, there she is in Episode VII spending the entire running time running from her destiny (and doing so vehemently, I might add!), and then coming to terms with “no, actually, I should probably do something about this”. And then there’s Episode VIII, where she spends the entire runtime figuring out how to get Luke back to doing something and also figuring out what to do with Kylo Ren, and she shows quite a capacity for compassion there (which I don’t understand how that makes her someone with no personality, but hey). Which, BTW, she doesn’t ultimately get what she wants at the end of that: she ends the movie with Kylo Ren still on the Dark Side, and the fact that she doesn’t generally get what she wants and actually changes as a character throughout the series majorly undermines the Mary Sue argument for me, because if she were a Sue she’d remain a flat character throughout.

          Even the abilities thing doesn’t really hold that much water for me, because if you call Rey a Mary Sue you also have to call Luke a Gary Stu. I mean, you say that Luke’s aware he’s Force sensitive and then uses that to his advantage, but if that’s so why does he then have to go train with Yoda on Dagobah through a good chunk of Episode V?

          And I don’t know why you think she would be useless at all: without Rey there, Luke wouldn’t have pulled that final hologram sacrifice at the end of Episode VIII, because she basically was like “look, you gotta make up for what you’ve done somehow”. Also, wouldn’t the Resistance have completely died off if not for the fact she shows up and moves the rocks out of the way at the end of Episode VIII when the Resistance is cornered by the First Order? And wait, isn’t Rey the only reason Finn gets out of the exploding planet alive? And isn’t she the one who leads Finn to the Falcon in the first place, and helps him get the map to the Resistance eventually? It also seems strange to me that you think the First Order would have no reason to look into Rey, because I would think “extremely powerful Force user who bested Edgelord in single combat” would be a pretty good reason for them to take some kind of interest in her.

          And I may also point out that we still haven’t seen where Episode IX enters the picture with all this yet. There’s plenty of room for Episode IX to subvert the whole “she isn’t that special” thing Episode VIII started (although I bet you anything most people who lament that part would then turn around and whine about her being special because of heritage if she did turn out to be special, so there’s literally no way the Star Wars team can win there), but for now, I think most of your points a little strange.

          (Also, and this isn’t necessarily about you, but I feel it pertinent to point out that the people most vehement about calling Rey a Mary Sue usually fall into that subset of Star Wars fandom which likes to pretend their misogyny is nowhere near as bad as it actually is. Ask that subset of fandom to elaborate, and they basically fall back on the whole “she learns too fast” thing, and they keep hammering it in even if you point out that Luke technically also learned really fast in Episode IV so why aren’t they complaining then?)

          (And BTW, about Ben’s naming: I feel it pertinent to mention that, you know, didn’t Han Solo spend a good chunk of Episode IV piloting the Millennium Falcon to get Obi-Wan over to Alderaan? I mean, that was what he was doing in the movie before the Death Star destroyed Alderaan! And didn’t Leia address R2’s message to Obi-Wan as well?)

        • BatJamags says:

          OK, you raise some fair points. I will admit that The Last Jedi alleviated a lot of my issues with The Force Awakens, so I’m probably clinging to some arguments that don’t make as much sense anymore. Plus, I’ll admit that I’m extremely salty about losing the old Expanded Universe, so if I protest too much, that may be why.

          I still feel like the movies were a bit too busy blowing things up to really develop her all that much. I still feel she took a lot of the darker sides of Luke Skywalker and made them the entire point of her character – much like The Force Awakens as a whole was bizarrely dedicated to regurgitating A New Hope, but without any of the charm. I’d sooner concede that Luke is a bad character than that Rey is a good one.

          The Last Jedi struck me as a desperate attempt at a patch job to cover up the total lack of substance in The Force Awakens. It does try to bring out some of her more heroic qualities and her interactions with Kylo Ren came very close to redeeming both of them in my eyes. They didn’t, because it’s basically blatant shipping fodder and nothing comes of it, but it was like something that could’ve been good. I’d have been more impressed if she had succeeded in swaying Kylo, since at least that would feel like a more deserved accomplishment. Instead, it shows us that, if anything, she’s gullible and thinks people care about her more than they really do.

          I’ll also point out that her biggest contribution so far is going and talking someone else entirely into doing something useful. That may change in the next movie, but it’s made things a little flimsy thus far.

          (Yeah, some people who don’t like Rey are just being pricks about it. I tend not to get involved in these sorts of arguments because I don’t want to be associated with those idiots, but you’ve brought it up a couple times so I wanted to try to defend my reasoning.)

          (If we’re being very generous about hyperspace travel times, Han knew Ben for at most a day or two, and didn’t seem to like him all that much. Leia knew of Ben, but only under the name “Obi-Wan,” and she never met him, except as a newborn. And don’t get me wrong, their naming their third kid “Anakin” in the old EU didn’t make much more sense, but it’s sad that the writers on TFA couldn’t just come up with a new name. Or, you know, have Han and Leia’s force-sensitive kid who joined the Jedi and later turned to the dark side be named Jacen. Because The Force Awakens doesn’t know how to do anything other than rip off other Star Wars stories. Like, I actually have a fairly neutral opinion of The Last Jedi, since it actually tried to do something new and interesting. It didn’t totally succeed, but at least it managed to give Finn some actual development, introduce Rose, who I like, give Poe Dameron some actual screentime, and have some interesting moral/philosophical dilemmas and intrigue with Admiral Holdo’s subplot. The tone was weird, Luke going all edgelord felt wrong to me, and my hopes of Snoke being a better antagonist than Kylo Ren were dashed, but there were actually things I liked. So of course they go and hand the third installment back to JJ Abrams, because Hollywood seems to have tricked itself into thinking that hack knows how to make a movie.)

        • Herr Wozzeck says:

          I don’t know if Rey and Kylo’s bits in TLJ are pure shipping fodder, but yeah, TLJ was decidedly better than TFA, so hey, it is what it is.

          (I think Abrams was a last-minute replacement because they have a time thing to hang on to: Colin Trevorrow was actually supposed to direct Episode 9 originally, but he got replaced by Abrams after The Book of Henry turned out to be a piece of shit that flopped hard both critically and commercially, so don’t blame Disney for that! Also, Rian got his own trilogy of Star Wars in the end, so hey!)

        • AdmiralSakai says:

          I thought for a good long while about how to join in on this discussion and came to the somewhat odd realization that I basically have no opinion of Rae one way or the other… which itself kind of speaks volumes.

          I actually really like the First Order because they were basically the Empire without some of the Empire’s more bizarre and archaic elements- less of a sausage fest and with fewer pseudo-nobles standing around in weird red robes. But I’ll be the first to admit that they did not live up to expectations. That’s kind of the way I feel about the New Star Wars in general, actually- it kinda-sorta addresses many of the 70s holdbacks that always bothered me about the series, but then it makes its own mistakes, many of them the same or similar, that since it has the benefit of hindsight it is a lot harder to forgive for. I know this is a very radical option but I almost think that a complete franchise reboot would have served it better, as it would have allowed modern writers to just rewrite the original trilogy (as they clearly wanted to do) without trying to stuff it in alongside said original and get bogged down with undesirable holdovers therefrom- I mean, they already scrapped the entire EU and took a highly revisionist approach to the Rebellion in Rogue One, so why not go for broke?

        • SC says:

          I feel like if we could dial the series back to Rogue One and then springboard from there, Star Wars could be remade into something undeniably awesome, but that would unfortunatley be asking a good fucking deal from the people with the power to make those changes. Too many years have gone by, and the canon is too solidified. Trying to change things now would just piss more people off than it would please, and the series would sink, no matter how much better it actually is.

        • BatJamags says:

          What’s interesting about the First Order is that they’re (theoretically) a group of leftover Imperial die-hards that make up for their reduced numbers and resources compared to the Empire by being more modernized and efficient. This was accomplished vastly more effectively with the Imperial Remnant in the old EU (I’ve not actually read the Thrawn Trilogy, but my understanding is that I’ve essentially just described Grand Admiral Thrawn’s attempt at reforming the Empire).

          Functionally, we get a poorly-named organization (They’re not an order and they’re so unoriginal that I’m fairly certain there’s literally not a single thing they’re the first of) that’s so caught up in their boner for the Empire that they make the exact same mistakes as the Empire, but much worse. Like, the Resistance didn’t even need the plans to the Death Star, BUT BIGGER Starkiller Base to blow it up with a couple fighter squadrons. And they trust apparently even more authority to an infamously unstable order of maniacally evil space wizards. Additionally, they’re trying to take over the galaxy, but they can’t even handle the Resistance, let alone the New Republic. They were apparently afraid to even mess with the New Republic until they built their huge, throbbing… battlestation*. And Snoke repeatedly shows his inability to keep his subordinates in check, to the point that Palpatine would be embarrassed to even know this guy. It comes to a head when Snoke is so utterly blinded by his own stupidity that it doesn’t even occur to him that Kylo Ren might be about to betray him. And or his part, Kylo is a whiny manchild who displays no tactical sense whatsoever. Like, while their leadership styles weren’t remarkably practical, we at least got the sense that Sidious and Vader were reasonably intelligent.

          *Plus, it’s hilarious how the NR just… doesn’t even care that five of their planets got blown to smithereens. As far as we can tell, they literally have no reaction whatsoever. Unless we’re expected to believe that that one test firing destroyed an entire interplanetary government, but then that level of destruction should’ve gotten some kind of reaction out of someone.

          On a broader level, the sort of chaotic nature of the Star Wars universe is kind of what I love about it. Maybe this is my history major showing, but I think some of the ’70s-isms in the Original Trilogy give it a lot of its charm. The way the saga was built overtime lends an epicness and sense of scale and tradition to it that no reboot could adequately capture.

          Plus, I can’t think of a single complete, hard continuity reboot that didn’t suck ass, so there’s that too.

        • AdmiralSakai says:

          Yeah, I think probably the biggest assumption going into my call for a complete reboot was that it would be handled by those capable of it, when as you’ve just outlined the series is not in the best of hands atm.

      • ME-Iron-Maiden says:

        On lunch so this is a quick point I want to make. Per the Codex, Mass Effect small arms have a shit load of aiming assist technology (which is a necessity given the metric fuck ton of environmental conditions that a Marine is going to encounter) so Art getting good at hitting targets quickly. Hell, boot camp only included a 3 hour session to get me trained and checked out for marksmanship on the M16A2 followed by a week of living on a simulated forward operating base for a crash course in being light infantry. Given that Ash gave Art an extremely intensive set of training, him being able to not be that much of a drag on the rest of the squad and given the tech of the day allows people to survive mistakes that would kill them with today’s tech it isn’t quite as bad as all that.

        The main detriments will be Art’s lack of genetic enhancements and his tactical inexperience (the latter can be corrected by Ash, Kaiden, Shep, and Garrus via more training sessions). Bottom line for my take on this: the problem exists but it’s more on the physical conditioning and lack of enhancement end rather than the marksmanship and weapons handling end.

        • AdmiralSakai says:

          I think that’s fair, but at the same time I got the impression that to be on Shepard’s ground team you had to at the very least be an experienced combat veteran if not Special Forces levels of trained, which Art certainly is not. That also makes Liara rather problematic, but Liara in general is problematic so it’s pretty much a drop in the bucket at that point.

          And that still doesn’t explain why they’re letting someone who is supposed to be in protective custody get into firefights all the time.

        • SC says:

          Liara’s entire character arc is a heap of issues, if you take the time to really look at it – she’s a super braniac scientist, even though by Asari standards she’s barely even a teenager, and it’s not like the Asari have to worry about not having enough time to do things, and this was all happening long before she met Shepard, so she really has no good excuse for moving as fast as she seems to be, which indicates that she’s got a case of Sue-smarts. She spends a large amount of time isolated from other people in remote dig sites and thus is a bit gunshy about social norms, yet two years after Shepard gets killed in action, she’s manipulating the system to the point where she’s the single biggest threat to the Shadow Broker’s reign in the galaxy (and then she dethrones the Shadow Broker, to boot, which makes Cerberus all but crap their pants because it means that one of Shepard’s staunchest allies now has direct access to all kinds of shit which could, and did seriously harm Cerberus’ organization). She has little combat experience in general, but keeps pace with highly trained soldiers and mercenaries, and two damned Spectres, one being considerably more seasoned at the job than the other, like it’s nothing. For her hundred-some-such years of age, she should have about the same level of control over her biotics that a human would, and yet if you bring her along with you against Matriarch Benezia, she’s able to whoop Benezia’s ass like it’s nothing – keeping in mind that Matriarchs are constantly talked up as being near-godlike with biotics.

          I mean, I know that Bioware has a not-so-secret hard on for the Asari to begin with, but Liara’s character gets to be painfully obvious as the trilogy progresses, with the way that she just rockets from shy, clumsy nerd to A Person With Whom You Do Not Fuck in an incredibly short period of time, especially for an Asari.

          Ironically enough, if there’s a character Herr’s insert is legitimately better than in terms of how much bullshit they pull, it’s probably Liara.

        • agigabyte says:

          I agree with most of your criticisms, but beating Benezia is an issue less with the story itself and more with poor integration of story and gameplay (and ME1 had that issue a lot). Also, while keeping pace with SPECTREs is a bit much, I believe she did receive a fair bit of training from her Matriarch Commando mother, and I don’t find it hard to believe that she can at least perform better than a typical merc or moderately experienced soldier.

        • AdmiralSakai says:

          I think that the big problem with Liara was that they tried to make her too many things. She can be a powerful but immature biotic. She can be a shut-in academic. She can be a badass artifact-hunter who moves into organized crime. But she can’t be all of those things simultaneously.

          More to the point, Liara is a piss-poor scientist. She has maybe one usable insight into anything prothean-related over the whole game, and by ME2 that whole aspect of her character basically goes away. Not to be too much of an obvious wingman here, but CunkToad really portrays her a lot better in Semper Vigilo, particularly in the chapters Fermi Paradox and The Bigger Picture.

        • SC says:

          I agree with most of your criticisms, but beating Benezia is an issue less with the story itself and more with poor integration of story and gameplay (and ME1 had that issue a lot). Also, while keeping pace with SPECTREs is a bit much, I believe she did receive a fair bit of training from her Matriarch Commando mother, and I don’t find it hard to believe that she can at least perform better than a typical merc or moderately experienced soldier.

          That is true, she does mention that Benezia taught her some things before going off the deep end; and due to Asari physiology and how their genes adapt to the genes of other races, and the fact that Liara’s “father” is the end result of a romance between an Asari Commando and a Krogan Warlord, it’s not completely implausible that she’d have some fighting capability in her. I just think it got blown way the fuck out of the water from where it logically should have been.

          I get what you’re saying about the whole gameplay-and-story thing, and I know I shouldn’t always judge based on this metric. I’ve just played a number of games where the story actually does affect the gameplay, such as certain characters just flat-out being incapable of doing certain things because it’s mentioned or shown somewhere that they don’t have that kind of skill. It’s a habit I should try and tone back a bit.

        • SC says:

          I think that the big problem with Liara was that they tried to make her too many things. She can be a powerful but immature biotic. She can be a shut-in academic. She can be a badass artifact-hunter who moves into organized crime. But she can’t be all of those things simultaneously.

          More to the point, Liara is a piss-poor scientist. She has maybe one usable insight into anything prothean-related over the whole game, and by ME2 that whole aspect of her character basically goes away.

          The second part of your comment ties in with the first, there. She can’t be all that the devs tried to make her at once, so she wound up nixing what was supposed to be the big draw of her character in the first place. Tali is more scientific than Liara, because she consistently devolves into technobabble and has to catch herself and dial it back to layman’s terms, whereas Liara goes into a long-winded “yes, yes, my hypothesis…!” spiel maybe one or two times in the entire series, but those both wind up getting cut short by, “oh, I’m tired now, I’ma go lie down,” and then she drops the act altogether and makes a hard shift over to her Double-O T’Soni mindset.

        • AdmiralSakai says:

          I really think they would have been better off not putting her in a combat position at all and instead keeping her over a communications link in Mission Control. Then she could actually offer plot-critical scientific insights whether she was a squad member or not.

        • SC says:

          Oddly enough, they did the Combat Nerd thing better with Mordin. Like, you always, ALWAYS see him in the lab doing who-the-fuck-knows when he’s on the Normandy, and in combat, he kicks shit like nobody’s business.

          I think what Taco said on one of my Foreigners and Templars riffs is pretty spot-on: Bioware’s dev teams seem to hit their stride from the second entry onward. Character evolutions seem to make much more sense after a game has gone by and the writers have had time to sort their shit out.

        • SC says:

          Ultimately, though, this is a big reason why, if I bother with romancing anybody at all, I go for the people who specifically have no presence in combat – even the character who was supposed to be a shut-in academic wound up being pumped full of whoop-ass, and given how one-note the rest of the romance options are – a dude who’s a soldier and also biotic, a dude who’s a cop but USED to be a soldier, a girl who’s a mechanic and oh by the way she’s also a soldier now, a lady who’s a soldier and that’s pretty much it, etc. etc. ad nauseum – it would have been nice to have someone just be a gentle soul who’s into academic pursuits as part of the lineup, rather than, well, oh look, the nerd’s a soldier now.

          Hence why Kelly Chambers and Samantha Traynor (and to a lesser degree, Diana Allers) are my favorite characters aside from Tali, because I’m an unashamed Talimancer – they’re interesting without having to be soldiers; or rather, not in the sense that the entire rest of your team is. I understand that it’s a military ship, so obviously it’s gonna come as no surprise that everybody’s enlisted, but it sure would be nice to be able to get to know some of the computer folks or engineering team better than we do. Hell, even Joker gets a relatively bare-bones level of characterization: ace pilot with brittle bones who cracks wise and develops romantic interest with a computer. Boom, that’s his whole character in one sentence.

          (Oh, and Steve Cortez, I forgot about him. He’s got a pretty compelling character arc, too, and he’s just the shuttle pilot.)

  12. Zues Killer Productions says:

    And there’s also the film scoring aspect of the whole thing, which, having navigated the music world… yeah, that part’s pretty bullshit. The film scoring process is more involved than “send applications in for a thing”, especially since that field is overcrowded enough today, nevermind a few centuries from now. Art breaking into the industry through a call for scores is not exactly something that happens, you know? And especially not on a major studio production that would be a huge, epic thing: a short film or a student film, maybe (and that’s a big maybe), but not a huge Oscar bait epic like what I was going for. And the fact that it propelled him to fame… yeah, no, not exactly. If it had been for film score, it would’ve tracked him along for film score unless there was a big attitude change surrounding all of that.

    And then there’s other stuff. Like, for instance, Chapter 19 of MV1 where Art is able to pilot a Mako tank with no real driving experience, and then also being able to pull off drift on it (a tank!) a la the Mario Kart powerslide. That gets bonus points for Shepard being made to be indisposed mere seconds before Art has to do it, and then having Art do it despite the fact that Kaidan would probably be a better option anyway.)

    So yeah. In terms of pure combat ability, Art isn’t technically overpowered by the standards of the universe, but he picks up his skills with such unrealistic speed that he pretty much is overpowered in spirit. He also miraculously can drive a Mako without having driven even a car before, he’s overpowered on the music front, and the disadvantages that he starts the story with are rendered totally meaningless by the time we’re a quarter of the way through MV1.

    And that, by the way, is before we even get close to approaching all the chosen one stuff that runs through the entire series. But, even though the chosen one stuff does put Art on a pedestal, that is tied to other, much bigger problems with the way the series is plotted, so I’ll save talk about that for when I talk about the bigger picture there.

    Alright, so Art gets stuff really fast, despite reality taking much longer. So far, he’s flawed in terms of characterization and abilities, but he doesn’t seem like that bad of a character.

    Remember, there are worse things out there, so Art getting used to his new life would be…actually, I can see your point on this.

  13. Zues Killer Productions says:

    See, here’s the deal: for me, this was an attempt to portray a character with some form of ADHD, which I was actually diagnosed with at a young age (and yes, I was on the Ritalin regimen, same as how practically every other ADHD kid that grew up in the 90’s was). There’s a reason his thoughts keep flying around all over the place: he’s very much in a scatterbrained mindset, and he would think in terms of “here’s something, my mind is going to wander here for a second, now it’s back on the subject, oh hey, a random pop culture reference”. But also, that was a way to try to make the character somewhat relatable and funny, at least to my mind: what could be more relatable than a guy with trains of thought that, to my mind then, were amusing and comical?

    Because people could potentially take what you were writing the wrong way?

    • SC says:

      One of the big hangman’s nooses of comedy is the humor, itself: telling a joke you think is funny doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s funny to everybody else, and telling a joke that cracks everybody else up but gives you personal disagreements feels more like an obligation to the audience than you having fun. Especially when you’re in the throes of a condition where your brain is set to spaz out at all times, it can be hard to focus in on treading the line, telling jokes that you enjoy, and which someone else might enjoy. Hell, ADHD makes it hard to focus in on even telling the jokes a lot of the time.

      What Herr tried to do was the former: Art’s humor was based on something he thought was funny, but it failed to translate over to the audience somewhere along the way, hence the complaints.

  14. Zues Killer Productions says:

    He says he’ll think about it later… except that “later” never comes. The most we get out of it is a pop culture comparison to a TV cop drama, a reference to the Venus de Milo mid-kill, and a reference to Quentin Tarantino. It isn’t quite Kye Jen’s “too many video games” line, but in spirit it’s not much better, because what could have been an important character beat is essentially glossed over in the name of “hey, here’s an amusing train of thought, look at it and laugh!”

    *goes to the other fanfic*

    *comes back with a bodybag over the shoulder*

    I found some guy trying to copy Jeffery Cuddletrousers get himself shot to death after threatening the cops, and pissing the gamers off. I’m sure you’ve had something like that happen before, so how do I dispose of the trash?

  15. Zues Killer Productions says:

    Because clearly, the fact that lives have been saved is less important than the fact that you can’t tell the future anymore, Mr. Winnie-The-Pooh-Reference-That-Only-Folks-With-Encyclopedic-Knowledge-Will-Get!

    I feel like this is a pretty good microcosm of a big problem that plagues the character here, and elsewhere: his reactions are usually not rooted in anything serious, or are typically glossed over, owing to the narration’s constant attempts to crowbar in pop culture and other things like that in an attempt to look “cool” and “funny”.

    At the time I read it, I interpreted it as Art desperately trying to get home, even if he was to sacrifice himself in the process. Granted, Tali gives him hell for that line of thought later in the same fic, but I will admit that it’s honestly somewhat funny that outside of all that, Art tries to use his precognitive knowledge for the greater good…except I have no idea how MV3 went down, as I didn’t really read it.

    So, in layman’s terms, You were trying to represent the thought process of a young man with ADHD, but did it in such a way as to be “funny” so as to have some humor in it. That’s…that isn’t really funny dude. I get what you were trying to do, but the “funny” parts just kind of take away the fact that the character may/may not have ADHD, and I really don’t know what to say about that.

    • SC says:

      I’m sort of in agreement. I feel like much of the criticism of Art’s scatterbrained nature might have been mitigated if his condition were focused on in a more serious light, rather than as a shoehorn for comedic relief. It would have made Art a lot more likable as a character, and his ADHD could actually be an important plot detail as to why Shepard and their team would be hesitant to bring this guy into combat – anybody who needs a regular dosing of pills to keep focused could potentially be a liability when access to those pills is restricted for however long missions take. Onboard the Normandy, Art would have ready access to the medbay at any time he needed if he felt his mind drifting again, which would be a much safer route for him to go rather than being a frontliner, and in the suicide mission of the ME2 plotline, it could actually add a lot of drama to the situation if he wound up being among the kidnapped crew (or, say, if he were hiding from the invading Collectors and had to try and forcefully keep himself under control while the meds from his last dose are rapidly wearing off).

      • Herr Wozzeck says:

        See, the thing about it is that if I tried to go the heavily medicated route, it wouldn’t feel genuine, and I’d probably really bungle up the writing mostly because my ADHD is actually not that severe: I’ve been able to maintain relatively normal function in day-to-day interactions with people despite the fact that I haven’t been on ADHD medication since high school. And then you have to consider that it’s now been ten years since I’ve graduated high school…

        • SC says:

          That’s fair. You didn’t really clarify until now how bad it was on your end, so I was just kinda guessing and wound up picking a bit of an extreme angle.

    • Herr Wozzeck says:

      Yeah, it’s not good ADHD representation, and it’s not good comedy, so it really doesn’t work.

  16. Zues Killer Productions says:

    What Ash should’ve said: “Art, we just killed Liara’s mother and just made a decision about saving the rachni where we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, could you maybe not bring an immature Facebook meme into this?”

    You may start to notice a pattern: Art tends to speak out much more like an immature 12-year-old who’s trying to grab attention where everything is about him. And yeah, all this forced, lame humor keeps up in both the narration and in Art’s dialogue with practically every other character, and I’m sure there are people who could go through this line by line and start a counter on this thing. I wouldn’t recommend it because you’d probably be in the 300’s by the time MV2 ended, but you get my point.

    So are they right to criticize that about the narrative? Actually, yeah: it’s an interesting narrative concept, for sure, but the execution is one of the things that makes him a fairly unlikeable character in some ways. In trying too hard to be cool and funny, the whole fic just winds up coming off as extremely forced and inappropriate, and the result makes Art a worse character in a lot of ways.

    I can (try) to expand on that-a twelve year old kid saying that kind of stuff would probably make everyone else wonder what the heck is wrong with them if they actually said stuff like that. I’m not gonna lie though, a 12 year old being forced to mature (or at least act mature) due to circumstances that are way out of his/her control and trying to adjust to that sounds almost exactly like what happened when my Mom moved with my Step Dad when I was in 5th grade.

    But at least we can all agree that, stepping back for a minute, that Art is…a very strange character to say the least. While he isn’t a total Sue (The humanity that was souped up and hunting Wooly Mammoths in the timeline comes to mind), in an attempt to be not Sue-like, he ironically makes everyone look at him, and glare at what he’s supposedly trying to be funny.

    • SC says:

      You know, even this could have been spun in a more serious light, to decent effect: Sometimes, people who witness traumatizing events turn to humor to try and take their mind off of what just occurred, and speaking from experience (one time I went to a Burger King which was very much gang territory, and two different groups of guys wandered in who didn’t exactly look happy to see each other – nothing came of it, but damn if I wasn’t counting the seconds until my life ended in the crossfire), a lot of the time, the humor is noticeably bad, because the person telling the jokes is clearly going through some shit, and thus, they aren’t telling jokes that make sense, or that feel natural, or whatever else. Art could have used humor to deflect from the horror of watching someone’s mother die right in front of both theirs, and his, eyes. The rest of the, “dude, what the fuck?” from the crew that Herr suggests he should have put in could even have built up some nice tension which could have been acted on later.

  17. Zues Killer Productions says:

    Speaking of which, there’s the whole long-running plot thread where Art feels he has to hide the truth about himself from everyone lest he get called crazy for kind of knowing how the events of ME1 and 2 are going to play out. This constantly comes back to haunt him throughout MV2 and even some parts of MV3, where one of the first reactions is that people call him out for betraying their trust like that. It even threatens his position on the Normandy, and he does notably lose a friendship in one case, even if he does get a bit too “woe is me” about it later on in MV2.

    I recall Shepherd being pissed to no end because he lied about what was going on, and tried to keep it a seceret, when he knew potential intelligence that could’ve helped save their asses. And for what happened in MV1.

    I find it ironic that Jodie, the Main Character of “They who fight Monsters,” actually does something similar, but with a different context: trying to hide that she has Aiden with her rather than knowing what happens in Mass Effect. Especially since that fic is a massive deconstruction of “Parallel Realities” with Stupard being Stupard.

    • Herr Wozzeck says:

      The thing about Jodie in that fic is that there it also plays into the character’s fear of being used by the Alliance to do their dirty work the same way the CIA did to her in her original time period. But there, it was in service of a character arc, because then when confronted with the question of what to do, she does ultimately decide “you know what, fuck it, this is too important”.

      I think that was an arc that Art desperately needed, but that he never got.

  18. Zues Killer Productions says:

    First, I’d excise the bisexuality angle and just make him totally gay. I’d have to find a new love interest at that point, but hell, there are a bunch of directions I could see that going, so it’s no big deal. Besides, Tali could have fun with a sassy gay friend, you never know. Then, I’d probably take a cue from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and have Art’s immature pop culture stuff be an actual character flaw the way Peter Quill’s immaturity is often framed throughout that movie. That, and I’d also massively tone it down, because man, that stuff comes off less and less like comical banter the more I read it.

    And then there’s also the fact that, in all honesty, I’d relegate him to a supporting role on the Normandy. Maybe something like The Heart on the ship and all that. I think it’s tough to underestimate just how much I can’t get into the soldier mindset, so honestly I guess I’d have to make my insert character in a similar sense, you know? So there is that, too.

    But overall, I think the main thing is this: don’t try so hard to be funny. I think the art of banter is a tough one as far as dialogue goes, but here Art was clearly trying too hard to be relatable by comedy, and because of that he just wound up being a dickhead to folks. While he does get better, it’s often said that first impressions are everything. And yeah, the first impression is not great here.

    So that’s how I feel about my own character.

    Now, of course, there are lots of over things over the course of the trilogy that wind up being fairly problematic, and it’s enough content for a series. So next time, we’re going to start by talking about what is probably the dumbest plot fail of the whole trilogy: that damn Chosen One crap.

    So I’ll see you next time, folks! See you then!

    At least we can all sit here, discuss our past, and try to support each other when we feel that our past isn’t really worth it.

    And for the most part, I’m actually kind of proud of you Herr. I don’t think may authors would actually come out and say “that is not as good as I imagined it and here’s a list of reasons as to why,” and use that as an opportunity to discuss what they would want to do if they rewrote it.

    *hands Herr a redemption cookie*

    With all that being said, I can’t wait to see what you say about…the scene in which the Prometheans get knowledge of Inception Dream Science.

    • Herr Wozzeck says:

      Oh my God. Stay tuned for next week, then, because I go full ham on all that mystical Prothean bullshit with a friggin’ nuclear bomb.

      • Zues Killer Productions says:

        *gets inside a Fallout Bunker*

        Can’t wait.

      • ME-Iron-Maiden says:

        *hands over a 2 kilogram antimatter device with a yield of 47 megatons and retreats to my Normandy-class frigate for observation with a bucket of jalapeño popcorn*

  19. SC says:

    Oh hey, since we’re discussing MV anyhow, Mass Effected showed up in the related riffs and this opening bit from chapter one suddenly seems incredibly relevant:

    The funny thing is, though, that I went into Mass Vexations as an attempt to deconstruct the whole SI genre. In retrospect, I’ll be the first to admit that the deconstruction attempt wasn’t entirely successful until I finally hit the third part of the trilogy, as the first one does work better as a straight example of the genre. But still, it was an attempt at a deconstruction, if not of the whole than at least of parts

    • Herr Wozzeck says:

      Well, now you know why.

      My third installment of this series has some thoughts about MV3 as well, though, so just stay tuned.

  20. BatJamags says:

    I guess I’m feeling ranty tonight (I was complaining about a bunch of stuff in the Secret Clubhouse and then I come here and end up writing a longer-than-expected post about Star Wars), so let’s keep on a roll here.

    I have issues with self-inserts as a genre, and I think some of the analysis here is helping me figure out why. Simply put, most people are not cool or interesting enough to be the protagonist of a story. Making someone who should, by all rights, be a completely normal(-ish) person into protagonist material is very difficult to pull off without some degree of Stuishness. I guess I see the appeal of an unspecial everyman being thrust into a position of importance by random chance, but I’ve never really understood the appeal of that person being the author specifically. I still feel like I haven’t fully put my finger on why self-inserts bother me so much, but all of that is definitely part of it.

    • SC says:

      Part of it could be audacity. SI authors, by nature of the genre, believe that they know how they’d behave in the canon setting if they were ever thrust into it, or like to imagine things turning out real cool for them in the long run. Or, rather, for the sake of the story, they have to believe that, or at least look at themselves and make what they feel might be reasonable guesses, otherwise the plot gets stymied and they don’t know what to write.

      Skallagrim on YouTube has a video which puts a pin in the matter as far as medieval fantasy is concerned – summed up, it basically amounts to, “nobody will understand what you’re saying because evolution of language is a thing, your weapons will mark you as some kind of criminal because you don’t serve a king, you won’t necessarily take the princess’ hand in marriage for saving the kingdom, you won’t be a hero, your fancy gun will run out of ammo and you’ll be fucked, all the qualities of life you’re familiar with won’t exist and you’ll be forced to adapt to inferior hygienic means…”

      In the case of Mass Effect, it’d probably be more like, “You’ll either be some hapless nobody who has no idea how anything works or what most people are saying because you lack the essential tools that literally everybody else has, and odds are good that the first time you see a Turian or an Asari close-up in real life, you’ll be terrified or get super grossed out despite whatever you may think of their video game representations. Like as not, you’ll end up pissing somebody off and getting murdered, the hell beat out of you, or C-SEC jumping down your throat, and if it’s the latter, you’ll wind up in the system, jumping through hoops left and right as the most annoying bureaucratic process this side of the Sol System hits you like a fucking truck.”

      By all means, feel free to add your own edits if I left anything out, there.

      • BatJamags says:

        That’s pretty spot-on, really. It’s pretty much that or you’ll get lolowned by a husk or something in your first five minutes. Or end up as this creepily obsessed but functionally useless Shepard fanboy who pops up every now and then with a useless request to join-

        My god.

        It all makes sense now.

        Conrad Verner is a self-insert!

    • agigabyte says:

      Honestly, if I was ever to write an SI-style fic, I’d use OCs with skill sets that would hopefully at least keep suspension of disbelief from being completely broken. If I did an actual SI, then it just wouldn’t work as anything except a slice of life work, because I lack the applicable skills for anything to do with the main plot of most any work. Not to mention the problems listed in SC’s comment, which could only be even partially mitigated with a very conveniently particular set of skills—probably the sorta things that would really need multiple characters.

      • SC says:

        If I did an actual SI, then it just wouldn’t work as anything except a slice of life work, because I lack the applicable skills for anything to do with the main plot of most any work.

        But what if it was a Slice of Life canon?

        • agigabyte says:

          That could certainly work, but I don’t know that I follow any slice of life fandoms, so it’s kind of a moot point.

          Honestly, I kinda want to do something with The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson, because they have medical technology in several countries that far exceeds much of their other stuff, meaning they could actually keep the characters from dying of medieval disease. Although, I’m not sure if the higher oxygen content is enough to be hazardous to Earth-humans. That’s something I’d need to figure out.

          And now I’m rambling, so I’ll cut this off here.

        • GhostCat says:

          It’s not just the oxygen content, but also the pressure that you have to consider. That’s why there’s different air mixtures for diving at different depths; the greater the pressure the less excess oxygen it takes to cause a problem.

        • agigabyte says:

          And now that I think about it, an Earth-human would be at a significant physical disadvantage compared to a Roshar-human, because the latter are sturdier–it’s a significantly higher-gravity world–and a fair bit taller, thanks to the high oxygen content and some magical influences here and there.

          Just goes to show that in order to make an SI into anything that isn’t set in contemporary times work at all, let alone well, you have to put oodles of thought into it–far more than most SI authors do.

      • ME-Iron-Maiden says:

        Here’s an idea: a Library SI (complete with the interns joining in) with the solution to the Reaper threat being Bifocals and other mad scientists converting Mass Vexations into a monolith-o’-text we use to create an artificial singularity that traps the Reapers forever in another dimension. Or we could use smaller bits as walls-o’-text to one-shot each Reaper piecemeal (while saving some to drop on Kai Leng and other hated characters).

        • SuperFeatherYoshi says:

          And don’t forget to sabotage the crap out of the Andromeda Initiative! Come on, people, we gotta nip this in the bud!


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