In the few days since Electronic Arts and BioWare let fans start playing the first 10 hours of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I suspect things haven't gone according to their internal marketing plan. Instead of people sharing the cool moments they're having in space, they're retweeting the awkward animations and various examples of a lax attention to detail. It's utterly dominated the conversation about Andromeda, with animation loops becoming the story, not the game.
I've rarely seen the Internet so ready to tear a video game limb-from-limb, as has been the case with Andromeda, a game that isn't even released yet. It's been a bloodbath. People clown on games all the time, but something feels different here; the knives are out for Andromeda. The last time I saw the Internet this hungry to consume a game alive was after the release of No Man's Sky, when hype met reality, and folks went from disappointment to calling for the heads of Hello Games.
What's remarkable about all this is that the people who've turned Andromeda's animation quirks into a certified meme include fans who've been talking up this game's release for, quite literally, years. They're the diehards, people getting legitimately excited for events like N7 day, and reading codex entries during their lunch.
Few franchises garnered a more hardcore fandom last generation than Mass Effect. Since BioWare puts such an emphasis on story and characters, people become deeply attached to these worlds. In a lot of ways, Mass Effect represented the apex of what people want from video games—a combination of cinematic storytelling and the opportunity participate in and shape what's happening. It's why the whiplash to Mass Effect 3's endings was sharp enough to prompt BioWare to issue a patch, trying to address fan concerns. It's a blessing and a curse to have people care that much about what you're creating. It's what leads to moments like this.
You end up with a legitimate comparison of facial animations in previous games, compared to Andromeda, with more than 300,000 views…
...to isolating specific, awkward moments in cutscenes…
...to the natural endgame, full-on-mashups with other memes...
And lo, the Internet circle is complete.
Compare the reaction to these Andromeda glitches with how players greeted ridiculous Battlefield 1 errors last year. It resulted in endless goofs about what could go wrong in the game:
If anything, videos like that got people more excited for the game. (Provided it didn't launch with as many problems as Battlefield 4, which had the truly bad kinds of glitches.)
There's another crucial difference between Andromeda and Battlefield 1, as well: one is built on seriousness—a central subplot is the genophage, where one race attack another through weaponized sterilization—while the other adopts a serious moment in history for aesthetic purposes, and doesn't shy away from players bending the rules of reality. Yet, Battlefield 1 is rooted in real history, while Mass Effect is the game with blue space aliens running around. And Andromeda's goofy animations are the ones that have people up in arms? Why the disconnect?
What sits underneath the jokes and memes is a plain, uncomfortable truth: Maybe, actually, this Mass Effect game is bad, and everyone's been waiting half a decade for something that won't live up to our hopes and dreams. The trilogy was a fluke. And it says something when the gaming community's most questionable actors are also sorta losing it over the game.
Ever since the game's reveal, groups of political correctness conspiracy theorists, always seeking a new target, used their tinfoil hats to argue BioWare was infiltrated by a clan of social justice ninjas dedicated to making the women in Andromeda less attractive. Right. (They're also doing awful things like tracking down individual animators on Twitter. Harassing someone's social media isn't going to suddenly make the faces look better in Andromeda.) It's gotten bad enough that BioWare had to publicly push back about false reports regarding certain employees.
"We respect the opinions of our players and community, and welcome feedback on our games," said BioWare general manager Aaryn Flynn. "But attacking individuals, regardless of their involvement in the project, is never acceptable."
You'd think that'd go without saying, but history has illustrated otherwise.
The existence of conspiracy theories, even ones with toxic motivations, indicates how deeply a universe has ingrained itself with the wider gaming populous. You get angry at something because you, on some level, care about it. People really care about Mass Effect, are desperate to fall in love with a new entry all over again, and in the absence of counterfactual information, despair.
Much like Mass Effect's own Reapers, there's an observable cycle to how this tends to play out—a snowballing effect. When one person finds a glitch or quirk, people look for others, and as those get shared more widely, it creates the perception that it's all anyone is talking about. Most likely, it's a combination of factors that came together at once, fueled by the class clown nature of social media, in which the thirst for retweets fuels people to try and one up one another. If someone else can get thousands of shares by uploading a GIF that shows the game in a bad light, maybe you can add cheeky music to it and get even more attention.
A debate I recently saw play out seemed to summarize the current situation:
"Hey we are all having fun laughing at some bad animations in Mass Effect but people celebrating the game being bad is pretty shitty," said one Twitter user.
"Nah," said another user in response."It's an EA game. As a general rule they are not the good guys. Nothing wrong with enjoying it when they faceplant."
"the game isn't even bad," said a different fan. "people are just STILL salty about me3. It's been 5 yrs. It's a game. Move on."
I'm not trying to wag my finger here too much here; the GIFs are funny as hell, BioWare and EA knowingly released this demo into the wild, and there's no reason for you to pull a punch just because a developer has worked on a game for a long time. But even still, the virality gave me pause. It's why I wrote this tweet, a tighter version of the article you're reading now:
Every few seconds, like clockwork, it's getting more retweets and likes. Tick, tock.