There’s been talk of a Mass Effect massive-multiplayer-online-game going ’round, much as there’s talk of an MMO any time a franchise is successful. On the surface such talk is often tempting. An open-ended exploration of a favorite franchise! Revisiting beloved locations and characters! Taking part in the ongoing story of the setting!
But like many fictional bids for life eternal, these temptations mask great peril. Let’s talk continuity.
Comic book fans are intimately familiar with this intellectual bugbear. When your favorite series’ writers can change every few years, emotional climaxes reversed for the sake of retreading well-trodden ground, and your hero can fall victim to ill-conceived redesigns whenever the suits decide to tap into their caricature of the latest zeitgeist, you learn to pick and choose the version you like and throw out the rest.
Of course, continuity can be a very good thing; an overarching narrative between related works leads to more storytelling opportunities and the potential for greater character growth. Most of all, continuity lets us tell new stories with old characters without having to retread the same well-trodden ground or invalidate past classics. But no story can last forever; the ever-wandering hero is as static a figure as the hero who never grows at all. Without an ending, can anything really begin?
A creator’s greatest challenge is knowing when to stop.