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I guess I just like liking things

I first became aware of the term “headcanon” because of the Mass Effect series. You can click that link for a more in-depth description of the term, but it’s the tendency for fans of something to create scenarios in their brains that explain or enhance things that happen in the actual story.  “These two are friends but it’s not explained in the actual story, so in my head they met when they were on separate field trips from different schools and then wrote letters to each other and ended up as roommates in college” and on and on. People have headcanon for everything from My Little Pony to Star Wars to people they see in the mall (I suspect).  It’s generally harmless, but some people (as they are wont to do) get crazy over it. When you’re demanding that other people accept your headcanon as canon, you’re taking things to far. When something in a continuing story makes your headcanon impossible and you are depressed for days over it, you’re taking things too far.

Headcanon isn’t something I’ve really engaged in… until recently.

I started playing Mass Effect in March of 2012. A friend loaned me his copy with a cryptic “you’ll like this.” I mean, it didn’t seem cryptic at the time, but looking back it sure does now. I didn’t actually like the game that much.  Well, I didn’t like playing it, I mean. I liked the story and I liked the setup – not only are you trying to figure out what’s going on, then trying to stop what’s going on, but you’re also talking to people and learning about other races (and dating them, if you’re so inclined) and building a team. So, yeah, I liked the game, but playing it was a chore. It took me a long time to get a handle on the map and where I was going and how to get to other planets and how to hide behind cover in-between shooting things and, oh, yeah, there’s powers, too, but you can only use them once a minute or so, and then there’s the “Mako,” a truck/tank thing that is the worst thing to drive in any game ever … it was a lot to take in. I played through the game in a hurry, basically only doing the main storyline quests, partly because I wanted to hurry through, but partly because I didn’t understand the sidequests and how they worked.

Then I popped in Mass Effect 2. It started off with a twist, it was polished, it was bigger, it was better, it was awesome. I played it through to the hilt, going everywhere I could and doing everything I could (or so I thought – perusals of FAQs and boards proved there was a bunch of other stuff yet). When I finished it, I immediately picked Mass Effect back up and played it again, only this time hitting everything I could. Then I played ME2 again.  And then ME3 came out, so I played that.  Then I went back and played ME1 again on Hardcore, and then ME2 on Insanity (until I got stuck) and then ME3 on Insanity.  I finally got through ME2 on Insanity a couple of weeks ago, so I picked up ME1 again to play on Insanity.  Whew.  That’s a lot of Mass Effect, folks.

So why mention headcanon at the outset here? The Mass Effect series is different than other series I’ve played in that it lets you take your character from the first game and import it into the second, and from there into the third. Choices you made in the first game will change things in the next two. For instance, my first time through ME1, I got to Virmire without thinking too much about the game being anything special.  It was a standard shoot-em-up space RPG so far.  But when I got to the planet Virmire (and people who have played the ME series immediately are having that same feeling in their gut that I am right now), everything changed.  There are a series of decisions you have to make, and depending on what you choose, one or two of your team members will die.  The one instance, you can get through without someone dying, but the other one, you basically have to choose which person will die, there isn’t a way out.

It kind of blew my mind.  “Surely I’ll be able to get through this part and go back and help that other person,” I thought. “Nope!” said Mass Effect. “(S)He’ gone for good, all three games’ worth. And stop calling me Shirley.”

Sure, other games kill off characters, but this was different. It held more weight, and not all of that weight would be revealed until the next game.  And then again in Mass Effect 3, when you’re looking at the Wall of Remembrance, and it lists all of your teammates that didn’t make it. The “building relationships” game mechanic makes losing the teammates so much more difficult.

Sorry about the picture quality, but Commander Zwordling Shepard doesn't have time for your fancy picture takin' rituals.

Sorry about the picture quality, but Commander Zwordling Shepard doesn’t have time for your fancy picture takin’ rituals.

But it also is supposed to make you want to play the game again and make different choices… and this is where the “headcanon” comes back in. From the get-go, I played Shepard one way. (well, technically, from the get-go after I restarted because I didn’t know you could create a unique Shepard and I had gone with the standard dude. I only lost about an hour and a half of playtime on that guy.) You can see my Shepard in the picture I’ve included. She’s an Engineer and she’s Paragon all the way, dudes. If there’s a friendly or nice way to resolve a situation, that’s how she’s going to play it. Everybody loves her and they ought to, because she’s awesome.  It’s right there in the word “Paragon”! Zwordling Shepard stuck to her Paragon ways all the way through three games, using her Engineer abilities the best way she knew how, and the Reapers best watch themselves.

But now I’m through all three games a few times apiece.  And a) I don’t have all the achievements yet, and b) there’s 4-50 other versions of the game I haven’t played yet. There’s Renegade Shep. There’s Soldier Shep. There’s DudeShep. There’s ParagonVanguardFemShep. There’s RenegadeBaldDudeShep. There are tons of ways you can play Shepard. But when I fired up a second playthrough of ME1? I imported my ME1 character back in, partially to gain the advantages of having a higher-level character, but mostly because “this is my Shepard.” I intended to play through as a DudeShep the second time, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  “This isn’t Shepard” – I literally could not get past that. So Zwordling Shepard stormed around the galaxy again, kicking butt, taking names, and collecting crew members in the nicest way possible.

When I finished up ME2 this last time, finally collecting (that’s a pun, but you won’t get it if you haven’t played ME2, sorry) all of the available achievements, I took up ME1 and decided to check online for some hints on getting through it on Insanity and getting the remaining achievements. Turns out, to get some (many!) of the achievements, you have to play as a different Shepard. Engineer Shepards can’t shoot a sniper rifle for beans, and they can’t use biotic powers at all. If I wanted all the achievements (and I do), I had to play as a new Shepard.

And here’s where the headcanon comes in.

I made a DudeShep. He’s kinda ugly (no picture, sorry, so you’ll have to take my word for it), but he has ActualShep’s same green eyes. Why, you ask? Because they’re related, see.  Zoidberg Shepard is Zwordling’s … cousin, I think. I initially thought they were siblings, but he’s just too ugly. The green eyes run in the family. And Zoidberg is one cranky dude. Why?  Not just because I need the Renegade achievement, but also because he’s living in the shadow of Zwordling Shepard, and that’s a long shadow, I can tell you. Sure, no one else he runs into has ever heard of her (the weird (and unseen outside of my head) timebubble that has sent him on her same quest only affected him), but he knows what she did, and he knows he has to try to save the galaxy like she did, but he’ll be darned if he’s going to do it exactly like she did, that jerk. He can’t bring himself to be a complete jerk to all of ActualShep’s crew members, though, so he saves his biggest Renegade actions for those people he runs into on other planets. He knows too much about ActualShep’s friends to be able to be completely mean and uncaring towards them.

But the thing is, Zoidberg Shepard just landed on Virmire yesterday, and he knows what’s coming. Ashley. Kaidan. One of them isn’t coming back, and he knows he has to make that call.



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