Yeoman Chambers, We Hardly Knew Ye

In which a throwaway character's fate has the greater effect on the player.

Every once in a while there is a moment in a game which becomes the defining experience for the player. That moment which, if it is good, makes the player forget they are playing a game, and if it is bad, it breaks immersion or proves such a frustrating experience that the rest of the game becomes tainted by association. Mass Effect is a game that is arguably made with these sorts of moments in mind, but a lot of those moments seemed telegraphed -- your crew's disappearance, for example, was clearly supposed to be a Big Deal which would stick in the player's mind. I knew better, of course, which is why I acknowledged that my crew was missing, yes, but no big deal. I would rescue my crew after I finished all the missions still waiting around for me. The crew could wait. This would prove to be a mistake that would haunt me for the rest of the game, although I didn't know it.

I had, of course, made friends with all of the crew. That was going to happen one way or the other, especially given my own admitted obsession with completing every mission presented to me at the slightest provocation. I wanted to spend as much time in Mass Effect 2 as possible, because this was a Bioware RPG, which is more or less my terminal weakness. Most games, even games that I really enjoy, I can put off buying and playing for ages. A Bioware RPG, however, is generally as close to a Day One purchase as I can make it, and I will then proceed to play it for the next month or however long it takes to complete to a point where I am satisfied. If there's a sidequest I get stuck on, I might abandon it; however, if there is even the slightest chance that I can complete it, I will not abandon it at all -- and I knew for sure that I could complete those missions, so my crew could wait. They'd be fine, I reasoned, because games are full of false time limits and Mass Effect 2, I reasoned, would be no exception.

If you have played Mass Effect 2, you might be shaking your head in sympathy. See, I had gone through all of the crew member missions before they vanished, and the most interesting one had been the one for Yeoman Kelly Chambers, in that there wasn't an actual quest -- I think she's probably the only character with whom your interaction is completely conversation-based. At no time do you do her any favors, you merely chat about her background and at one point you can ask her to feed your fish so they don't die all the time. You can also have dinner with her at one point, which I did (of course), but then there's nothing else that you can do. Unlike some of the other crew members, you can't find a gift for her, there's nothing she wants from you, she just wants to talk. It's odd, because my initial read of her was that Chambers was a fairly flat character, but really she turns out to be this bright, cheerful, slightly naive young lady who really thinks that you are going to be great at this whole saving-the-universe thing. It is the trust that she seems to have for you that makes her endearing, that sort of bright-eyed optimism that seems so out of place in the world of Mass Effect, which is basically about choosing either the side that wants to dominate the galaxy or choosing the side that doesn't trust you because it thinks you want to dominate the galaxy.

So after I finished my loyalty missions and dropped off some smuggled goods, I headed through the relay to rescue my crew. Imagine my horror, then, when I arrived to rescue my crew and found Chambers in a glass pod, dazed and frightened, and confused as to what was going on. I remember that I was talking to my brother over XBox Live and as I exclaimed my surprise that she seemed to really be in trouble. There was a sickening moment where she screamed in horror, and then, as I related to my compatriot, 'they just turned Chambers into fucking chum.' There was a note of outrage in my voice, and my fingers had tightened white-knuckled against the controller. Chambers, the optimist, the one who was big on the whole 'everyone is great' thing, the one who trusted me to save the galaxy, her included, was a red smear on the inside of a glass porthole.

I couldn't reload -- I don't give myself that option in games like this, because I like making my decisions carry weight -- but this was almost too much for me. Other members of my crew were dead too (even some of the crew who I'd assisted), and members of my squad died during the final assault, but by that point I was so disgusted with myself for not riding off to save my crew immediately that I didn't care. I'd already failed, so a few more deaths didn't mean much. Even Mordin, who I absolutely adored as a character, was at least ready to die. Chambers never gave the impression that she was ready to face death, and in fact is so heartbreakingly terrified in her final moments that the instant of her demise remains one of the most uncomfortable things I've witnessed in a lifetime of playing games. All this for a character whose purpose in the game was to be nothing more than a way to get the player to check their messages.

The imminent arrival of Mass Effect 3 means that I will soon finish taking a new character through the first two games, and when I do, I can guarantee that I will be catapulting through the relay as soon as my crew disappears. My first Shepard may have failed Chambers, but it will not happen again. It is not a moment I think I could stomach being responsible for more than once.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.