N.B. The title makes a reference to an early term used for homosexuals, based on the belief that they were a third gender: uranian. A little LGBT history for you.
Having finished Mass Effect 2 last week, I’ve been gladly spoiling myself of various details. This includes the romantic options, and confirming that there is no same-sex option for my male Commander Shepard. The reason I played him was to ascertain if there were such options for him, in fact. Finding out I could not comfort and fall in love with Thane made me sigh in longing a bit (and resolved whom Ronia Shepard would be romancing).
IGN recently interviewed Dr. Ray Muzyka about Mass Effect 2, and they asked him about this:
GN: Will there be gay relationships for the male Shepard? Here at IGN we’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from the inclusion of gay relationships in Dragon Age; compare that with the somewhat conspicuous absence of them from the first Mass Effect, especially with the chance for a lesbian relationship.
Ray Muzyka: Here’s how the games are different: Dragon Age is a first person narrative, where you’re taking on an origin and a role, and you are that character at a fundamental level. It’s fundamentally about defining your character, including those kinds of concepts. In Mass Effect it’s more a third person narrative, where you have a pre-defined character who is who he is, or she is. But it’s not a wide-open choice matrix. It’s more choice on a tactical level with a pre-defined character. So they’re different types of narratives, and that’s intentional.
We’re not saying that one approach is better than the other. In our previous games, as we did in Jade Empire, as we did in KOTOR, as we did in Baldur’s Gate, and many games before and in the future, we enable those kinds of choices, whereas in Mass Effect it’s more about Shepard as a defined character with certain approaches and worldviews, and that’s just who he or she is. So we constrain the choice set somewhat, but enable more tactical choices and enable a deeper, richer personality, because it’s more focused around defining one character, it’s not as wide open. But that’s by choice.
It’s first person versus third person narrative, and the types of choices you get to make within that are related to that, whether you’ve got a pre-defined character or a wide-open character. Some of our games have been wide open, and some have been more constrained, and we’ll probably continue both kinds of character development in the future.
Really? Artful dodger Dr. Muzyka is not. More thoughts below the fold (with spoilers).
After dodging the lesbian relationship by calling the Asari non-sexed in the first game, I was curious how they would approach female same-sex relationships in the sequel. I, personally, do see the Asari as female, but that is a whole other can of gender and sexual theory worms for another post. Our own editor Alex explicated this after playing the first Mass Effect.
While no lesbian relationships occur for female Shepard (though she can stay faithful to Liara if that relationship happened in the first game–which is problematic, and a point to which I will return), she still has the option of having sex with two females: Samara’s daughter, Morinth the asari Ardat-Yakshi (though at the cost of her life–Morinth is the asari version of vagina dentata), and your administrative assistant/ship psychologist, Kelly Chambers.
What is notable here is that one of these options is a human female, not being able to be explained away by mono-sexed alien debates. To reiterate, Kelly Chambers is human and is female. Ta-dah! Lesbian sex in the game if you want it.
From this, it is very clear that the female Commander Shepard is bisexual, or at least bi-curious. But what if she isn’t? What if she is a lesbian, only preferring women? Or straight and loves the sometimes awkward and bumbling flirtations with men? You could play her that way, and your choices would be canon for you. And yet, female Shepard and male Shepard are really not all that different. The dialog choices they have available are the same, the way people react to them are the same. Why is it, then, that she is allowed to dally around with members of her own sex, but male Shepard is not?
A choice was made, and the choice seems made to capitalize on how sex between females is desirable by the mainstream. If they were to fully embrace Liara and female Shepard as a lesbian relationship, that would be one matter. But hedging out and saying this female-bodied alien is not really female, but has the body of one so that when the sex scene occurs there isn’t a discernible difference beyond blue skin…
I happen to see this as the media’s old trope that lesbian sex is okay, but don’t let them have a relationship. This is then codified in the sequel, where the only lesbian interactions you can have are of the sexual variety.
It is curious that these options would be included in pre-defined characters as such. This tells me that I can create my Shepard, but he or she isn’t mine, actually. No-no-no. My choices are limited beyond three options, they don’t really matter as my choices and how I may develop my character, who has many different options and trajectories, since I do not have to follow just one path the entire time. Many options, three different ways to respond (or five if you have either your charm or intimidate high enough), and things start getting complicated as to who my Shepard may be and the choices made.
I do not see any of the BioWare games I have played as wide-open choice matrices, to be honest. They are always fairly limited in how I can respond, though they many times offer more choices than I have in other games. The main difference, in this regard, for me between Dragon Age and Mass Effect is the fact that my choices are not as clearly marked as good/neutral/bad in the former. While an argument could be made that this is why Commanders Shepard have voice acting, and the protagonists in Dragon Age do not, I still believe it was likely a technical constraint of recording all that dialog. As it stood, the lifeless lump of character I had pulled me away from the supposed ‘first person experience’ whenever a cutscene occurred.
And yet, I have created characters in both games that mean something to me personally. We would not have created the My Commander Shepard series if we did not have this relationship with our Shepards. BioWare provides the tools for me to create my character and narrative. They can provide the plot and choices, I provide the reasons and protagonist.
I like BioWare, a lot. At this point, I suppose I still somewhat hope they can be fully forthright in their answers (particularly as they keep locking down forum posts dealing with these same questions). Prior to this, I was under the impression that same-sex male romances were not in the first game due to time constraints (a choice that perhaps disappoints me a little, but is something with which I have and can continue to live). However, answers like Muzyka’s continue to confound me, and make it easier to dissect their own words with their own logic in a not-so-flattering manner. If they simply do not want to put same-sex romances in the game, they should just say so, instead of coming up with poor excuses.