My name is Elizabeth Wright, and I would like to start this by thanking y’all for getting me into RPG playing with Dragon Age. I’ve since devoured DA II, KotOR, Jade Empire, and, my favorites, the Mass Effect series. And that is what this letter is about.
I have mental disabilities. My doctors still aren’t sure what all of them are- they bleed into each other, so OCD causes panic attacks and agoraphobia mixes with social anxiety. Down beneath that is something they have struggled to put a name to- my emotions don’t react the way they’re supposed to. Something as simple as a change of dinner plans can have me curled into a ball and screaming. It is frustrating and humiliating, and it makes living a normal life at times impossible.
I’m sorry to get so personal, but, the fact is, your games have really helped me. They provide an escape, to worlds that aren’t exactly nicer than our own, but in which I can be a hero, someone who saves the day and falls in love and can get covered in darkspawn blood without needed to scrub my skin raw.
One thing I do before I play every game, or, indeed, read or watch anything dramatic and story-based, is to check for spoilers. This isn’t so much a habit as a survival technique- very little things can set me off, and my mind reacts very, very poorly to surprises, particularly negative ones. They rarely cause panic attacks on their own, but combined with other stressors, they can easily set me off.
The Tuesday that Mass Effect Three came out, I wasn’t in great shape. My favorite college basketball team had just won their conference championship- but I’d had to leave the nailbiter of a game early, unable to stop crying, not entirely sure where I was. And on the following Wednesday, I had an appointment to have my wisdom teeth removed. I had set the game on a bit of a pedestal, and the first hour or so were fantastic. Shepard reunited with her love interest (Garrus), the new combat system was an enormous amount of fun, and it was great to be back being a badass. I exited the game when it was time for supper, and afterwards did my usual routine- I checked TVTropes and the message boards for spoilers, mostly to find out which quest would get me Javik.
Spoilers had, of course, leaked out months earlier (the leaked script, the pirated games, etc), but I had made a bit of a point not to read them. I didn’t really consider them “real,” and after all, I had quotes promising me a golden ending if I worked hard enough, and no need for multiplayer if I didn’t want to. (I thought that I might play with my brother when he got a copy of the game, but otherwise the amount of social interaction inherent in the concept seemed like a bit more of a stressor than a stress-release).
TVTropes, in fact, was how I found out that I just spent over eighty dollars on a game I would not be able to play.
It is not, in and of itself, that the game had a bittersweet ending. I played and greatly enjoyed Dragon Age II, after all. It was more the fact that I had not been prepared for this, that no one had told me to be prepared for this, and that, quite honestly, nothing in the previous games suggested I needed to be prepared for this. I had assumed there would be bittersweet endings- I had assumed there would be tragic, miserable endings. But I think my definition of “fantastic, definitive ending” was a bit different than yours.
I am not writing this to blame y’all. You are not responsible for my illnesses or my reactions. I am writing this because I need to get it out into the air, because I am still trying to cope with how something that helped me this much could hurt me this badly.
Upon reading the spoilers about the impossibility of a happy ending, about what happens to the crew, about the fact that Shepard and her friends are permanently separated and she is more than likely dead and there is nothing that the player can do to prevent this- I began to cry. I went downstairs and talked to my mother, and we went for a walk, one of my usual coping mechanisms. I tried to sort through my emotions. I had been in a none-to-pleasant state to begin with, and this loss of my escape mechanism was tipping me over the edge. Now all I had to think about was the surgery tomorrow. When I returned home, my sister made a mild unflattering comment.
I then had the worst disassociative incident of my life so far. When I could control my own mind and body again, I was halfway down the street.
This was not y’all’s fault. This is an illness. As I said, I have had panic attacks from things like dinner plans changing from one thing I like to another thing I like. That does not change the fact, however, that I spent eighty dollars of my own money on a pleasure activity that in fact harmed me, or the fact that I received no advance warning that this would occur, or the fact that I still cannot get my thoughts into the form of a letter that I can actually send.