Mass Effect 3: Whatever way you swing

Romance image

Sadly, I couldn't find any images of the gay love scenes, so here's the fake lesbian relationship! PHOTO COURTESY OF BIOWARE & GOOGLE

By Alexander Leach

I don’t plan to play Mass Effect for a while yet – I have plenty of games, and Bioware games tend to have issues right at launch that I’d rather not bother with – but since it should be out by now, I might as well talk about it. The major issue I’ve been hearing about, aside from people yelling about the lack of female cover characters and DLC fear, is the addiction of gay romantic options. This has, of course, polarized people, upset that male Sheppard suddenly has (possible) preferences for men.

This really isn’t a problem. Bioware’s had same-sex romances before, particularly in their Dragon Age series of games, so this isn’t a shocking thing. They even cheated in the original Mass Effect, with Liara. Yes, I know she’s an alien race that only have a single gender that just happens to look female (and is a walking fetish stereotype – read my Bioshock Infinite blog for my thoughts on that practice), but the game itself draws attention to her perceived gender. Phermonal and psychic technobabble doesn’t mind control players outside of the game, so it’s still a scene with two women being intimate.

The issue I have is that Bioware doesn’t actually have gay characters.

All of the same-sex options in Bioware games are bisexual – if they can be romanced by someone of the same sex, they can also be romanced by the opposite sex. While there’s nothing wrong with having bisexual characters, they’re not the same thing as someone who exclusively prefers the same sex. Putting them in as the only option for same-sex romance feels like tokenism.

Anders and Hawke

Strangely, he never hit on my mustachioed blood mage in Awakening. He must prefer nobility (even though they were related!). PHOTO COURTESY OF BIOWARE & GOOGLE

Dragon Age was especially notorious for this: everyone remembers Zevran, who takes it into the realm of the comical. Dragon Age 2 only had characters that go both ways, (and personally I think it was a bit tacked on with Anders, but he was also completely different than his Awakening version). The Knights of the Old Republic series, including the MMO, have no mention of it whatsoever, probably due to LucasArts’ obsession with family-friendly content.

This leads me to the one problem I have with suddenly giving either sex of Sheppard same-sex options– it’s kind of out of the blue. Liara aside, Sheppard doesn’t exhibit any interest in the same sex in previous games (and as I said, the Liara thing has some bullshit fake-science reason).

Sheppard’s not exactly a blank slate: there’s options as to how he/she acts beyond the normal binary morality of the Paragon/Renegade system. And because Sheppard has never exhibited these preferences in previous games, it’s not entirely possible to play the character without evoking bisexuality. Well, if you avoid romance through the first and second game, you can, but it’s silly that it’s so limited.

It should have been something in the first game and onward, yes, but adding it now feels like a retcon.

Sheppard’s a more specific character than most avatar RPG protagonists – he has a specific background and a limited array of character traits which you can choose from. The blank-slate RPG character usually has multiple options, because people choose how they play; while not being able to choose Sheppard or Hawke’s species due to backstory is one thing, sexuality is another. Very few settings choose to model sexual discrimination in a way that would adversely affect the player, so there’s really no reason.

There’s also nothing preventing you from having other gay characters play a key roll in the story. Fallout: New Vegas had several gay NPCs who informed you of this fact, and we quite clear that they weren’t bi. So it’s not like Bioware would be breaking new ground in having characters with these preferences.

In fact, having NPCs develop relationships independent of the PC would be amazing. Baldur’s Gate had the Haer’dalis and Aerie relationship develop, and Dragon Age 2 did the same thing with Fenris and Isabella. But that’s for another blog post.

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1 Comment

  1. I liked the option of being able to have different choices for relationships in Dragon Age II. My character, a female, developed a romantic relationship with Anders, but only after having a fling with Isabella just because the option came up and I was like, “Why the hell not?” The best part? My roommate, who is a guy, walked into the living room just as the cut scene started. I laughed so hard at his expression. Also, you are right in Anders seemingly having almost a different personality in “Awakenings”. I had my character in that expansion flirt with him constantly, but I couldn’t get anything out of him.

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