The Song of the Shepard is a science fiction tale of vast proportions. Distant stars, forgotten ruins, ancient structures, and the untouched void of space fill its vistas. Wanton warriors, beautiful star-maidens, noble space-marines, brilliant amphibians, and incomprehensible monsters march through it . And all through the tale an ancient evil looms, growing ever closer, and closer.
Well, ‘Mass Effect’ is the name of the tale. ‘The Shepard’ is the name of a poem which tells this tale of light against dark; a long poem chronicling and codifying a particular version of the older story in the manner of the ancient sagas. The subject is futuristic. The content is of contemporary origin. The form is a new take on the ancient. And the theme (I believe) is timeless.
Mass Effect is the name of a video game. It was released in three parts between the years 2007 and 2012, produced by the Canadian company Bioware, to whom the copyright still belongs. Not having been a gamer myself until the time I encountered Mass Effect, I would never have believed a report that a form of media such as the video game could truly be art – could contain the work of artists, yes, but not itself be art.
I was wrong. And if you are a gamer, or someone who could reasonably game if they wanted to, and you have not played Mass Effect … go play it. Don’t read this. Come back when you’ve done. It is not only art and a first-rate role-playing game, it is one of the best stories I have ever encountered in any medium. I would even go so far as to say that it is to the genre of science-fiction what Tolkien’s legerandum is to fiction at large. It is dark. It is perhaps the darkest story I have ever let myself get into. And yet it is filled with light which can burn long after the shadows fade. Go play it. But don’t waste it, take it slowly, pay attention, keep a captain’s log, get to know the characters, make your decisions in character, remember that within this ‘subordinate reality’ (to borrow a term from Tolkien) those decisions really do matter … and immerse yourself in the story.
But if you have played it, or if for some reason you can’t, then welcome to The Song of the Shepard.
This next section here is just for anybody curious about the whys and hows of the work.
I was driven to put my version of the story into verse first and foremost from a desire not to lose the story myself; things fade over time and my notes will not be enough. But there were other reasons. The desire simply to tell – it’s not a desire looked upon as worthwhile these days, and yet I think it runs deep in the human race. The desire to share – not everyone is a gamer, and yet everyone should have this story. The desire to record – I’m not saying the lights are gonna go out, but …
For those interested in this poem’s precise relation to its play-through: it is not an idealized play-through constituting my idea of everything working out perfectly. It is a faithful record of an real first play-through, mistakes and ignorances untouched. I do grasp the story and world conveyed through the animation imaginatively rather than always purely literally, and I explore with a good deal of impunity. The story is broad, and was build for such imaginative explorations. But the actual chain of events is unaltered. These things about the story which are mine, are not me ‘changing’ the story. They are how the events of the game – remaining the same exact tale – developed as story in my mind. I believe that is the correct and intended use of the game.
For those interested in the form of the poem, it is loosely rhymed and built primarily on a four beat meter (four accents per line). For example, see Coleridge’s Christabel. The meter does vary from time to time to increase the interest of the rhythm, the primary variation being what is generally termed ‘ballad meter’ with four beats on the first line, three on the second – a distinctly lyrical sound. But the ‘base’ meter is the four beat. The poem is arranged into cantos (chapters), and further divided into three volumes, for the three ‘parts’ of the story. We think of poems as being short these days. They don’t have to be. This is what is called an ‘epic poem’ and in some ways it bears more relation to a novel in verse than what is normally called poetry these days. That said, though I have compared it to ‘the epics’ and in form that is the intent, I myself am a young poet, and have much to learn. The comparison is one of type – and that only loosely, not of skill.
It is time consuming writing, but if all goes well, a new canto will be posted every month until the conclusion of the tale. I would be very interested to hear any thoughts you may have.