Although I've had more than my fill of talking about Mass Effect 2 since my extremely popular and well-regarded review hit Metacritic, I have to admit that I'm not quite ready to let the topic go. Getting right to the point, I've been thinking about the way homosexual relationships were removed for the most part, and what a disappointing choice that was.
As a straight, middle-class family man who is most often assumed to be white, I'm not exactly the poster boy for talking about minority groups or those who might be disenfranchised by a larger society. However, I most definitely believe in equality for all and I feel like if we are ever to make any headway as a society, each one of us has to stand up and talk about issues that don't seem right, even if they don't affect us directly.
Now, it's granted that BioWare doesn't owe anyone anything except to produce a high-quality end product. Looking past BioWare and at the games industry in general, I am not a believer that developers have any kind of ethical obligation, or that they have a responsibility to include political or social statements in their software. If you ask me, developers are free to do whatever it is they want to do, and it's up to the consumers to decide who they want to support.
With those cards on the table, I have to admit that it was still bitterly disappointing to see that BioWare, who has effectively been the leader in promoting the acceptability and choice of alternative relationships in videogames, has now backpedaled and stepped away from the forefront. In Mass Effect 2, players who choose a male character can only choose to have romantic encounters with female characters on the ship. Players with a female character can only have relationships with male characters, aside from a brief lesbian quickie, which doesn't qualify as a true romance option in my view.
I'm quite puzzled as to why the option to have a true gay or lesbian relationship was not included. Although the original Mass Effect wasn't plentiful with its options (lesbian only, if Liara T'Soni is counted as female), it strikes me that their trend appeared to be generally toward more inclusiveness. Looking at their other recent hit, Dragon Age: Origins, characters have the option to have both hetero and homosexual relationships regardless of whether their character is male or female. All options are available, not to mention the humorous encounters at the kingdom's brothel.
Going back further, 2005's Jade Empire (Xbox) also supported both hetero/homo choices. Having demonstrated a willingness to "go there" before, why shy away from it now? Scanning the BioWare forums, there has been some mention that Commander Shepard is a "pre-defined" character, so I suppose players are meant to assume that the possibility of being gay is not within "his" personality. However, this flies in the face of giving players the option to create the kind of character they want (male/female/appearance options) on top of the devs' frequent insistence that players can play Shepard the way they want. (Except gay.)
Furthermore, I find it somewhat hypocritical that having a homosexual relationship with someone of the same species is not allowed when so many of the "acceptable" options are with aliens—who may or may not actually be as male or female as they appear. After all, who's to say what the definition of a Turian male is, or what a Quarian female has in her pants? There's even a few mentions in the game that the biologies of these alien love interests may be toxic or unhealthy in an interspecies situation, which gives an entirely new definition to the term "safe sex". These aliens, although humanoid in shape for the most part, have bizarre mouthparts, things that may or may not be gills, strangely-textured skin, and who knows what underneath their armor, and these are the "acceptable" options? I find it hard to understand the rationale behind giving a player the option to have sex with a being of questionable gender and potential toxicity while completely ruling out another being of the main character's own persuasion.
I don't presume to know for certain the thought process behind why this aspect of Mass Effect 2 was crafted the way it was, but I do know that I found it incredibly disappointing and almost cowardly, in a way. Including comprehensive alternative options wouldn't take away from the experience of anyone who chose not to partake of it, and would serve only to let gamers of varying orientations feel more included. I can't honestly see a downside, and can't think of any justifiable reason why such options weren't included given the content of BioWare's previous works—In the absence of such logic, I would hate to assume that BioWare felt it acceptable to include alternative options in its "also-ran" titles, only to remove them and "clean up" its most important franchise.
I hate to say it, but the phrase "second-class citizen" comes to mind.
In other news...
Still playing Shiren the Wanderer on Wii and still liking it.
Although it's much more straightforward than Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer (DS) and has a few tweaks that I'm not too crazy about, it remains an excellent place to start for people who may not be familiar with the Rogue-like genre. I could also imagine some children getting into this and enjoying it (I'll test it out on my son when he comes for the summertime) and as a gaming parent in favor of appropriate gaming with children, I'm of the opinion that we always need more titles like this.
On the portable right now, I'm still making my way through Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes on the DS, and still loving every single second of it. I really, really regret not getting the chance to play this game last year. Without a doubt, it would've been on my top-ten list, and is most definitely the best puzzler to have been released in '09. I know I'm treading dangerously close to "annoying broken record" territory by mentioning it as many times as I have, but they just don't come any better than this, folks. For those of you who remember what an unknown game Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords was, Clash of Heroes is Puzzle Quest all over again. Get in on it now, and you can be one of the cool kids by saying you beat it before everyone else even knew about it.