BioWare Explains Why There's No Homosexuality In Mass Effect 2

BioWare's not one to shy away from intimacy in their games, even when it's caused controversy.

Mass Effect 2 is no different, allowing player-characters, both male and female, to romance members of their squad. Playing as a female protagonist, my Commander Shepard had the option to woo a few of the men on the team, as well as as a mono-gendered (yet decidedly feminine-shaped) blue alien Asari.*

However, through the course of the game my Shepard had eyes for only one character, the charming, likeable female alien, Tali'Zorah. No matter how hard I tried - believe me, I tried - my lady Shepard could not seduce her.

While I was at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last month, I spoke with Mass Effect 2 project lead Casey Hudson and BioWare head honchos Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka (in separate interviews) about restricting the intimacy of certain characters in the game. If the game's about choice, then why can't I pick the mate I want?

What follows is an excerpt from my full interview (where I also spoke with the doctors about their DLC strategy, the BioWare/Mythic group and the "tricks up their sleeves" for Mass Effect 3):

Me: Tali is my favourite character. But my Shepard is female and totally in love with her. Why can't my character engage in a romance with her? Why not have the option to have homosexual relations?

Casey Hudson: Everything new that we add still requires extra content. Some people might argue in a case like that you could just have the same kinds of scenes that just work with different characters. But we wouldn't really want to have it that way. You'd want to take a proper approach to designing those scenes, otherwise you'd see the same scene. So we kind of pulled back and looked at where we had to draw the line in terms of how much content we make. How much should we support? We actually added a lot more romance options because we have new characters and multiple options already in the romances. So we kind of pulled back and said, "Well, the love interest is part of the story and it helps you care about the characters in a different way." We still view it as ... if you're picturing a PG-13 action movie. That's how we're trying to design it. So that's why the love interest is relatively light ... That's another thing we did better than we did before. We really lock you into character. Tali is really interesting because the whole idea of her character and what she's concerned about and her experience and age - we kind of factor all those things, and we designed the love interests really around the particular characters because they're all quite different. So her (love scene) is a little more innocent and fun.

***

Me: (Same question.)

Ray Muzyka: In all of BioWare's games to-date, we've enabled a lot of choice. So you look at games going back to Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate 2, Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, Dragon Age, of course ... In future games we are going to enable more choice as well. That choice can come as a lot of things, it includes relationships, it includes having an impact on world events, among other things. It's an important part of our games.

Sometimes, in some of our games, we are going to have a defined character with a more defined view. Almost like a third-person narrative - where Mass Effect is more in that vein, Dragon Age isn't in that vein; you could see the differences between the two. It's just part of the design and the choices made for each game. It doesn't mean that we've in anyway changed our philosophy toward enabling choice. We love giving players choice, and we are going to continue to enable that for future games. That's a commitment for some of our franchises. For some other franchises we've had more defined characters and sort of approaches to things, and they've had a more defined personality and a more defined approach to the way they've proceed through the game and the world.

Some game franchises are going to be slightly different but that's part of our effort to diversify the portfolio and enable some franchises to have some more choice and some of them are around defining a more specific character, sort of a first-person versus third-person kind of narrative, but we know how important it is to our players to have that choice and we are going to continue to support that. We believe in diversity and we believe in enabling choices for our fans, it's important to us.

***

I got the PR spin, for sure. Though perhaps for a big franchise like Mass Effect, which is meant to appeal to the largest audience possible, homosexuality was considered to be too controversial for the general public (see the backlash against the female Shepard-Liara scene in the first game). Hudson did say, "We still view it as... if you're picturing a PG-13 action movie." So would including homosexuality make it "rated R"? Meanwhile, Muzyka suggested that different franchises offer different choices depending on the definition of the character, and for Mass Effect 2, the option of homosexuality wasn't one the developers decided to offer to players.

What do you think? Do you think that BioWare played it safe this time by leaving out the option for homosexual relations? Did you feel you missed something when you didn't have the option to romance same-sex counterparts?

*I'm not counting the Asari. Try having sex with Morinth and see what happens.

Reprinted with permission from Tracey John.

Tracey John has written about video games for MTV Multiplayer, Wired, Time, Massively and ToyFare, and is currently an editor at UGO Entertainment.


Comments

    “We still view it as… if you’re picturing a PG-13 action movie.” So would including homosexuality make it “rated R”?

    I would not be surprised if this is their logic, it's insane. Homosexuality is no more normal nor can it be less innocent and loving than idealised heterosexuality.
    As a mostly gay guy who plays Mass Effect and DA I find the lack of meaningful homosexual relationships (Zevran, seriously?) in Bioware to be insulting. Shep-Liara feels like they're appeasing the lonely-man demographic so that they can have sexy 'lesbian' Shep without Bioware immediately looking hypocritical.

    Personaly I think it would suck if they made all npcs you could romance bi. In real life straight people don't just turn gay because your awesome and you flirt with them enough. To me it adds more to the game having some characters straight but others bi. I would like to see gay only npcs though that can't be seduced by the opposite sex.

      Because there seems to be no way to edit my comment I have to make a new one =(

      Just wanted to add that I do think the games should always have a homosexual option just not make every character bi. One or two bi characters would be fine though as well as straight and homosexual npcs.

      In future BioWare games I would also like to see members of my party start to form relationships and possible get together. Having the option to play match maker through dialog options would be awesome. Becoming friends with a party member and finding out they like someone and then giving them advice or going to talk to the person they like and letting them know how they feel type thing.

        You've totally hit the nail on the head there. There should be homosexuality/bisexuality options, but not every character needs to be one of those. Why can't Tracey's female character romance Tali? Because Tali is straight. There's your answer, plain and simple.

    I thought you could have a female lover in the game (Yeomen Kelly) if you were a female player.

    Tali is my fav too - glad I picked a male Shepard ;)

    Nothing but bullshit, they were afraid of a media backlash... i wanted to get it on with Miranda and couldn't :(

      maybe shes just not a lezza?

    Id suggest everyone go see the movie titled "This movie is not yet rated". It will help explain why gay issues are generally avoided in media that will be hitting the US.

    Im not saying its right or wrong but there are very real reasons its done.

    "Sometimes, in some of our games, we are going to have a defined character with a more defined view. Almost like a third-person narrative – where Mass Effect is more in that vein, Dragon Age isn’t in that vein;"

    Sorry Ray, that's total BS. Why give players the option in ME1 and not continue the same level of choice in ME2? Despite my FemShep looking and generally acting in character during my ME2 playhrough, not being able to continue the romance with Liara - or establish a new romance with a female NPC - did bug me, as I felt like my character was railroaded into being straight...

    I totally reckon they crumbled under public pressure. Here's hoping some of the backlash will result in more gay romance options in ME3...

    I think they crumbled under public pressure, especially when they received the publicity from the first title. There was no nudity this time either.

      You mean that amazing barrage of publicity from histrionic puritan dickheads that would have alerted thousands of people to a game they'd never heard of, made it sound far more titilating than it was and probably increased sales by a fairly large amount?

    The reason is simple:

    Girl On Girl is not nearly as "controversial" as Guy On Guy.

    Hence, FemShep can do Kelly Chambers in ME2, and Liara in ME1.

    I think Kaidan in ME1 was originally going to be bisexual but they removed that option.

    Because as we all know, bi girls are hot, but bi guys are just gay and in denial [/sarcasm].

    Regardless, BioWare seemed to be a tad scared from the Fox News "scandal" and as such decided to tone things down further in ME2. Unfortunate. I think they should have every kind of option. And not only that, but they should allow you to have more than one relationship. Gameplay-enforced monogamy sucks.

    I still like ME2, I just wish it had options for ALL tastes. Not just the tastes of mainstream mass-market nominally-heterosexual (i.e. trying-to-avoid-admitting-the-fact-that-90%-of-people-are-some-shade-of-bi) males.

    But unfortunately BioWare seem afraid of controversy. Maybe they need to realize that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

    They sounds like a couple of politicians. Firstly mass effect 1 has the option so you cant say it's for certain "franchises.

    And to assume that a relation such as this would not be "innocent", is a joke.

    I would much rather no comment that this scripted answer that took them 3 months to come up with.

    In fairness, true bisexuality is not common in real life, and it would be a bit weird to make all characters bisexual just to enable this stuff.

    Kelly Chambers is there as an option for the girls anyway (I know she doesn't get the full love scene, but she doesn't get it with the guys either, to my eternal irritation... had to remain true to Liara, none of the other female love interests in ME2 were my type at all!).

    The true answer is probably that Bioware didn't want to devote resources to something which would bring them more controversy and probably wouldn't sell games anyway. Can't blame them. They did it in ME1, they did it in Dragon Age, they hardly need to go around including homosexual love trysts in every single game they make. People should go hassle other companies that haven't had the balls to go in that direction ever.

      The Kinsey Reports say "hi."

      If by "true bisexuality" you mean "equal levels of same-sex and opposite-sex" attraction, you'd be correct, but that is not the definition of bisexuality. The definition of bisexuality is "simultaneous presence, to any degree, of both same-sex and opposite-sex attraction within a single subject."

      And by that definition, literally 90% of the human race is bisexual (although granted, there is more opposite-sex than same-sex attraction, in aggregate). Yes, this is Mass Effect and there are lots of aliens, but you were talking about real life.

      You are probably right that BioWare simply wanted to avoid controversy, however.

    Personally, I'm pretty sure I paid for a space action adventure called Mass Effect 2 and NOT the Rocky Horror Picture Show: Space Edition.

    Surely, someone, somewhere is working on the game that would satisfy your homosexual relationship tastes.

    No, this is not being homophobic; I just want a good sci-fi game, and could care less who hooks up with who(m).

      Having an option to engage in a relationship (be it opposite-sex or same-sex) doesn't mean you have to start caring about who shacks up with who.

      And the mere presence of a same-sex-male option does not instantly make the game "Rocky Horror Space Edition." Having an option you don't take does not lessen the game. I didn't have a love-interest on the first time through (partly because the whole "upcoming suicide mission" is bad for the libido, and partly because the only female I really liked was Samara and she's non-romanceable, and also because none of males I liked were romanceable), but the option to have love-interests didn't "damage" the game for me.

      The game gives you the option to play as a renegade. I usually play as mostly-paragon, so I didn't take most of the renegade choices. But having the ability to play a much meaner character didn't detract from the game.

      Again, no one complains about the presence of a same-sex-female option.

    That was quite simply the most appallingly transparent question-dodging disguised as marketing speak. The shareholders would be proud.

    Doing a scene with Tali and a woman would have taken time Bioware simply didn't have.

    It's not marketing speak, and if you people actually knew anything about making games you might come to realise this.

    It's not simply slapping her mesh onto a girl skeleton and pressing the "animate player fucking" button.

    Even if it was a frame to frame copy of the Tali and male cut scene, each scene has to be re-animated and re-lit to suit the new models.

    Then you have to re-write scripts, get the new lines recorded, and so on and so on.

    This all takes time and resources. Something like this might take a week or two, and that's a week or two where they could be doing other things in the game beyond the one choice only a small percentage of people think they would like to explore.

    And then, if it is cut by the censors, you've wasted all that time anyway. Better to kill it at the drawing board than go through that time and expense.

    So yes, maybe it does have something to do with fear of censorship in a lose kind of way, but only on a very basic cost-over-time kind of level.

    I really wish more people could get hired to make games, so we wouldn't have to see such inane and intolerable bullshit comments like we do when articles like this are written.

    Because if you did know what was planned for games and what ends up cut from the final versions, you'd realise there isn't some big conspiracy to fuck you as a gamer over - it's simply a mathematical necessity because time and resources are limited.

      Hey genius -- check Youtube, and see that they *did* devote the time and resources to create a fully voiced romance scene with Fem Shep and Tali. After doing the work, they cut it out. So, basically, everything you said is bullshit.

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