Mass Effect 2 Screenshot

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.

Mass Effect Screenshot

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 aliensโ€”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 worksโ€”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.



Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
Brad Gallaway

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23 Comments on "Mass Effect 2 and the lack of homosexuality in space"

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another gay gamer
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another gay gamer
5 years 11 months ago
No one has a ‘right’ to anything, no. Just as a designer can ‘choose’ to not include people of different races in a game, they can ‘choose’ to not include people of different orientations. I can ‘choose’ to call one person ‘racist’ and the other person ‘homophobic’ and not buy the game. We have choice here, of course. Including the choice to speak up and say ‘hey, your content excludes people of color/people with disabilities/people of different orientations/etc.’ I choose can say ‘your game is no fun because your PVP sucks.’ I can also choose to say ‘your game is… Read more »
adembroski
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adembroski
6 years 23 days ago
Yes, I’m a little late to the show, but I wanted to comment. I think some people need to stop with the idea that gay “inclusion” in a video game is some sort of civil right. This is the last company anybody should be questioning on this front, is it not? Why must we suddenly hold them to a higher standard? And is it a higher standard to say, “You really should be appeasing every segment of the population.”? Video games (at Bioware, at least) are an art form, and art must (let me say that again: MUST) come from… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 5 months ago
but my husband and I noticed last night that the sex scenes for a female Shepard are WAY more tame than the sex scenes for a male Shepard. He played both ME1 and ME2 as a fem Shepard (he likes the badass fem aspect) and had no idea that the scenes were different for the male character until Xbox Live put up a ‘how to get your booty on’ video featuring the male Shepard. Not that the point of the game is to angle for MORE SECKS, but he was very disappointed that the developers treated the male-Shepard sex scenes… Read more »
Sean Riley
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Sean Riley
6 years 5 months ago

[quote=Richard Naik]Fear of backlash didn’t stop them in ME1 or Dragon Age, so I’m curious as to why they would suddenly be afraid of it now. If I had to guess I’d say this was EA’s hand at work.[/quote]

EA published Dragon Age too, though.

What’s changed here isn’t the company, but the intended audience.

Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
6 years 5 months ago
[quote=allison]Perhaps its the box Bioware put itself in: they’ve come so far in making games that take relationships (gay, straight, inter species) and make them routine. Now that they’ve removed it from a game series – the routine stands out. And not in a good way. Maybe moreso given some of recent backlash in the states? [/quote] Fear of backlash didn’t stop them in ME1 or Dragon Age, so I’m curious as to why they would suddenly be afraid of it now. If I had to guess I’d say this was EA’s hand at work. In a related note there… Read more »
allison
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6 years 5 months ago
Alex R, yes exactly. The game was written for a male Shepard and while you can play a very strong female Shepard – the rest of the game is very much designed for a straight male (human) universe. I didn’t even see a bone thrown (unlike Dragon Age – which did try more. Maybe that’s why I think it’s the better game?) Li-ion – I do agree that at least seeing a smart, strong take no prisoners female lead in a game is a wonderful thing. It does help. I’d also say that if they (Bioware) wanted a straight, hetero… Read more »
Psychocandy
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Psychocandy
6 years 5 months ago
[quote=Shane]Another point of view is always great, but i think you are looking at it in the wrong light. [/quote] That wouldn’t surprise me at all โ€“ also, I’m always ready to change my mind ๐Ÿ™‚ [quote=Shane] I say you are way to concerned at what teenage boys will think of it being in there as opposed to seeing something like a gay relationship as being completely natural. [/quote] Not exactly. I’m concerned that showing a homosexual relationship in a game just for the sake of it would do a disservice to gay and lesbian gamers, that it would feel… Read more »
Shane
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Shane
6 years 5 months ago
Another point of view is always great, but i think you are looking at it in the wrong light. I say you are way to concerned at what teenage boys will think of it being in there as opposed to seeing something like a gay relationship as being completely natural. I mean i am assuming you are referring to teenagers by saying “ooooh look i can haz lesbian sex lol!!1!”. As anyone with a mature sensibility would not make a comment like that – but appreciate the choice. Why is their always the “cliche” straight relationship to talk in a… Read more »
Psychocandy
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Psychocandy
6 years 5 months ago
… I hope none of you was offended by my post. I was just trying to bring on another (potential) point of view. As a bisexual (not homosexual, still…) gamer myself I felt that the choice not to include the chance of a homosexual relationship in ME2 could have a different meaning than just “we forgot/chose not to let you play as a gay Shepard”. I didn’t perceive it as offensive or else โ€“ I found the issue to be waaaay more awkward in Fable 2, for example, where the whole sexuality theme was just another gimmick to make people… Read more »
Sean Riley
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Sean Riley
6 years 5 months ago
@Alex R For what it’s worth, ME2 does suggest a reason why asari dancers are so common: A conversation between a bunch of guys on a stag party suggests that asari appear (either due to subtle biotics or something else) to emphasise their most familiar features to all races. For example, turians see the tentacle heads and see them as similar to turian head ‘fringes’. This actually makes some sense. As a species with natural biotics and a need to mate with many species, the idea that they’d evolve a way to be seen as possessing sexual selection characteristics across… Read more »
Alex R
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6 years 5 months ago
Hey Psychocandy, good news: there’s no need to guess at what would make gay gamers feel more included, because they’re speaking out about it. Spoiler: exclusion isn’t inclusive. Allison wrote: Now I understand the wire framing, but when all the dancers in the clubs are women, for example, it doesn’t really give much to the women who play your game […] http://whilenotfinished.theirisnetwork.org/2009/09/27/gender-swapping/ ๐Ÿ™‚ Hey, now, Li-Ion, don’t use my words against her =P I don’t Allison meant that the game doesn’t “give much to women” AT ALL (obviously, femShep is totally kickass); actually I completely agree with her that the… Read more »
Sean RIley
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Sean RIley
6 years 5 months ago
[quote=Estoc]Ugh. Interesting theory, but I don’t buy it. Take Jade Empire: more action game than RPG, yet it had the gay option. You do make a point, though. Being an old-school RPG, first intended to be PC-only, Dragon Age is more of a niche game. The Mass-Effect series is action-oriented and meant for the 360; it’s much more “exposed”. That may be a factor. Still doesn’t explain why they introduced the interspecies relationships. Wonder how Fox News feels about it :)[/quote] Jade Empire didn’t have a cover designed to evoke Halo. ( http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/comics/stolen-pixels/6802-Stolen-Pixels-145-Re-Your-Box-Art ). It didn’t have a focused Gears… Read more »
KCalder
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KCalder
6 years 5 months ago
I have to agree – in a standard CRPG sequel I could see not having expectations for the same diversity of relationships, and part of what makes them poignant is not knowing how far they will push the envelope. Before the Playstation era, even hetero relationships were almost completely taboo as well. But Mass Effect 2 is the poster boy for the idea of the continuity-based sequel. It doesn’t make sense to remove that freedom of choice having once allowed it. It’s just one more element in the game that I feel must have been pulled off the creative team’s… Read more »
Li-Ion
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Li-Ion
6 years 5 months ago
[quote=Psychocandy]Not including a gay option for Shepard, IMO, is a way to make homosexual gamers feel MORE included. [/quote] I might be a bit stupid now but I don’t get what you’re saying. How should completely ignoring them make gay gamers feel more included? I would say the exact opposite is the case. Especially in a game where inter-species relationships seem ok, but dare you if you want to kiss another dude. [quote]Especially knowing their past history (Jade Empire, Dragon Age and so on), I find that choice to be more effective than yet another mandatory gay romance. [/quote] So… Read more »
Kelly
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Kelly
6 years 5 months ago
Quick snip here… [quote=Psychocandy] … Not including a gay option for Shepard, IMO, is a way to make homosexual gamers feel MORE included. Especially knowing their past history (Jade Empire, Dragon Age and so on), I find that choice to be more effective than yet another mandatory gay romance. THAT would look suspicious, THAT would sound like the guys at BioWare saying “heh, we made it again: we managed to include the gay stuff, the minority’s happy, newspapers and websites will praise us for our open mentality, FTW!”. Dunno if I made my point, BUT the Recaptcha says 26 openworks.[/quote]… Read more »
Anna
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Anna
6 years 5 months ago
[quote=Psychocandy] See, my opinion is that BioWare decided not to include homosexual relationships in order to avoid said relationships being seen as mandatory in every single game they make, thus losing their strength and impact. During the last thirty or so years we’ve been shown that VG characters can fall in love, and recently (thanks mostly to BioWare I daresay) that homosexuality exists in the VG world and is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. I think that what the guys at BioWare wanted us to get from their game is that anyone’s sexual orientation is something completely normal,… Read more »
Anna
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Anna
6 years 5 months ago
[quote=Psychocandy]See, my opinion is that BioWare decided not to include homosexual relationships in order to avoid said relationships being seen as mandatory in every single game they make, thus losing their strength and impact. During the last thirty or so years we’ve been shown that VG characters can fall in love, and recently (thanks mostly to BioWare I daresay) that homosexuality exists in the VG world and is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. I think that what the guys at BioWare wanted us to get from their game is that anyone’s sexual orientation is something completely normal, just… Read more »
Estoc
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Estoc
6 years 5 months ago
[quote=Sean Riley]To be blunt? Because while RPG fans have been more open about letting gay options be in their games, shooters haven’t. Please see the Handle With Care issue. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_222/6614-Not-That-Theres-Anything-Wrong-With-That%5B/quote%5D Ugh. Interesting theory, but I don’t buy it. Take Jade Empire: more action game than RPG, yet it had the gay option. You do make a point, though. Being an old-school RPG, first intended to be PC-only, Dragon Age is more of a niche game. The Mass-Effect series is action-oriented and meant for the 360; it’s much more “exposed”. That may be a factor. Still doesn’t explain why they introduced… Read more »
Sean Riley
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Sean Riley
6 years 5 months ago

To be blunt?

Because while RPG fans have been more open about letting gay options be in their games, shooters haven’t. Please see the Handle With Care issue.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_222/6614-Not-That-Theres-Anything-Wrong-With-That

Allison
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6 years 5 months ago
I played thru Me2 as a female Shepard and it’s clear from the way Sheridan sits to the way she dances to the way she interacts with the Asari dancers, etc that she’s just a female version of the same wire frame as the male Shepard. Through many of the scenes I would turn to my wife and say “look, she’s acting like a guy again”. Now I understand the wire framing, but when all the dancers in the clubs are women, for example, it doesn’t really give much to the women who play your game (I mean even Fable… Read more »
Psychocandy
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Psychocandy
6 years 5 months ago
I think the answer to your questions is hidden somewhere in these lines you wrote: “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 [and so on with Jade Empire and stuff” See, my… Read more »
Li-Ion
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Li-Ion
6 years 5 months ago
I found it curious that every remotely female… thing in the galaxy wants to get into my Shepards pants (even Krogan), but not a single dude even hits on him. Starting my second playthrough as a woman it’s even worse. How come it’s perfectly ‘normal’ that you can flirt with a two-legged reptile or aquaman and get to ride on their purple phyton, while trying your luck with Jack or Miranda isn’t? Don’t tell me Jack wouldn’t go both ways… Ok, you can always argue the whole crew is straight… and _all_ the NPC you encounter, but I don’t buy… Read more »
Estoc
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Estoc
6 years 5 months ago
Good point. I’ve been fuming about it for days. (Not about the lack of gay relationships, which I merely found disappointing; about the “Shepard’s not gay” comment.) Casey Hudson really shot himself in the foot when he said that. There is two way to look at the Liara/Female Shepard relationship from the first game. On the one hand, Shepard may be attracted to Liara on an aesthetic level, in which case, nothing stops her from being attracted to women in general; on the other hand, Shepard may be able to transcend aesthetics, which pretty much shows when she has sex… Read more »
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