Objection! Mass Effect 3 And Sexuality

Objection! Mass Effect 3 And Sexuality

Objection! Mass Effect 3 And SexualityWelcome to Objection! Where we take the time to go on-depth on current gaming issues, and let you guys continue the discussion in the comments section. In this week’s Objection, we’re discussing Mass Effect 3, and Casey Hudson’s statement that same sex romances would be given more attention.

To sort through all the issues, we’ve brought in Adam Ruch, PhD Candidate and prolific blogger. He’s already discussed this issue on his own site, but we wanted to talk it out on Kotaku and get to the bottom of what sexuality means in a game world that is constantly in flux.

MARK: There was a bit of a kerfuffle amongst Mass Effect fans, in the wake of producer Casey Hudson’s assertion that same sex romances would be given more attention in Mass Effect 3. Strangely enough, it seemed that, despite the fact that homophobia is surely at the base of some of the concerns, plenty were more precious about the ‘canon’ of Mass Effect, and remaining consistent with what had gone on in previous games.

What’s your take?

ADAM: This is a great one, and I’ve been fascinated by the case of Mass Effect for quite a while now. I think this issue bears discussion in two major areas: the first is probably the more obvious social angle, the appropriateness and under-representation of anything other than straight-white-male archetype characters and situations, but also on a theoretical side. If people really want to talk about the canon, let’s talk about canon!

So, canon, in this sense, is the stuff that has happened – as in history, or the stuff that can happen, magical rules, speculative physics etc, in a fictional universe. Most importantly, it includes characterisation, and the relative stability of each character’s personality over time. A little bit different to the Canon of English Literature.

Anyway… The question I have for Mass Effect fans is this: in the canon of Mass Effect, is Shepard male or female? We all know that you can play as either a male or a female Shepard, but how does canon handle that kind of option? I think we have to really learn how to understand this kind of contingency in videogames in general before we can talk about any specific canon. At the end of the two games we’ve played so far, the “what’s gone on” is really quite different for different people. In some, Liara will present as attracted to a human male. In others, she’ll present as attracted to females. Does that make her actually bisexual? If she is bisexual as a character, then does that mean Shepard is actually a simultaneous hermaphrodite?

MARK: Wow. A hermaphrodite Shepard. I would like to see that.

I see your meaning though – it’s a strange one precisely because Mass Effect is designed to have this flexible narrative, particularly when it comes to how you relate to characters and how they relate back.

It’s such a powerful technique – one that enables players to engage with the game on a subjective level, and on an emotional level. That is, I suspect, one of the major reasons why people are so up in arms about the whole situation.

‘My Shepard wouldn’t say this,’ people scream. Of course he wouldn’t he’s your Shepard.

The strange thing is that because gamers have that kind of connection with Shepard and their version of the story, all kinds of problems arise when it comes to how the story continues to evolve.

I think on some level, because players have become so engaged with the existing characters in the game, they want said characters to have some sort of permanence. They want them to be the same, not only in their version of the story, but in all of them at once. And that obviously can’t be.

Objection! Mass Effect 3 And SexualityADAM: Yeah, I think you’re right about the possessiveness of the various Shepards. It seems to me that people are a little better at realising that each Shepard is a bit different to the next, but have more trouble with this regarding the other characters. People go out of their way to create distinctly different Shepard characters by playing the game a few times over, having no problem with the fact that those Shepards can’t obviously co-exist in the same universe. So, they don’t try to mash all those different character traits into one supposedly ‘real’ Shepard.

When it comes to the NPCs, and the love interests in particular, it seems to me (from reading many pages of that EPIC thread on the Bioware Forum) that people want to keep the NPCs consistent across the multiple playthroughs. That is, Liara or Ashley is the same character in the versions of the story where Shepard is male and female.

From a videogame software perspective, it would be trivial for those two women to be presented totally differently just based on the player’s gender selection. Who is to say that can’t happen? I’m not really arguing that its good or bad to think this way, but we need to understand why the reactions are so impassioned. I suspect that, because it makes the game more enjoyable, players don’t want to think of the NPCs as collections of programming switches, and would prefer to imagine them as personalities, like ‘real’ characters.

So, as players go through different scenarios, they reflect on what they know each NPC ‘would’ do in different circumstances, even if those circumstances can’t possibly happen in this given playthrough. So that’s why Liara is thought to be bisexual. In another quantum universe where my Shepard is male instead of female, I know I could get Liara in bed with him too! Its more pleasant, I guess, to think that way than to imagine that no matter what you do, NPC number 24 will present $romance_arc to $Player_Character WHERE $gender = male.

The problem that leads us to, though, is this great word they’ve come up with on the forum: “Shepsexual” characters.

MARK: Hold on man. Rewind it back. Please explain Shepsexual!

Objection! Mass Effect 3 And SexualityADAM: Shepsexual is this idea that everyone aboard the Normandy wants to sleep with Shepard, regardless of what gender he or she winds up, how he or she looks or behaves. It’s a great word! But it also shows just how difficult this situation is: on the one hand BioWare has the admirable goal of wanting to provide a more or less equal opportunity for everyone, straight or LGBT players (or just people curious to explore the story in different directions). On the other hand, we have a limited cast and time, so what we end up with is this universe where Shepard can end up sleeping with whoever they want, which is a totally unrealistic experience for anyone to wind up in.

The general fear of making everyone “bisexual” (along the same lines as Liara) crops up a lot in that BioWare thread. The speculation is that it will water-down the experience of romance in general, making them all feel a bit the same. I must admit I share a bit of that fear, if only for pragmatic reasons: cost of development, shortage of ideas etc. But in the end, I come back to the fact if I have to start all over, change the universe I’m playing in by altering my player-character’s gender, is it really true that those characters are actually bisexual? You can’t change your gender in the real world to see if you wife/husband boyfriend/girlfriend will still love you. It’s this weird extra knowledge we get as experience videogame players that allow us to judge the NPCs in these different ways. We don’t do this to other characters like: If Han Solo were female, would Leia still fall in love with her? She would have to for the story to work, so she must be bisexual!

MARK: It’s one of those incredible experiences that only games can provide. I think it’s also a testament to the incredible achievement in universe building Mass Effect, as a franchise, is.

Personally, I’m not troubled by the whole situation. If you want to talk about canon, and the need to have consistency within a world or universe, Bioware truly are the kings of creating a universe from the ground up and having the story flow through the universe, as opposed to simply creating a universe to specifically suit the needs of the narrative.

At the end of the day I feel like this whole debate is being bogged down by semantics. Part of the problem is that Casey Hudson himself isn’t always the best at explaining his own bloody game! I remember, after an interview with him a couple of years back, being completely confused about what the hell the whole ‘Shepard dying’ thing meant.

Part of me believes this whole thing is a ruse, and will mean something completely different within the game.

I think what people are really struggling with is the integrity of Mass Effect as a story, and inconsistency in the universe is, no matter how you put it, a threat to that integrity.

In Bioware I trust. [Salutes]

ADAM: Yeah, it’s a whole new kind of experience here, especially in games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout etc where there is a lot more to experience than just staying alive and killing the bad guys for a high score. These kinds of worlds are about the possibilities, not so much the concrete events that do happen. They’re also becoming more and more human, emotional, rather than calculated and tactical.

I’m really very glad to be involved in gaming at this point in history, where we are having these kinds of conversations out in the open, with mainstream games. I mean, the alternative would be to be not having these possibilities out there. Its all part of the growing up that I know you and I and a lot of our readers here want games (and gamers) to go through – but as anyone who has been around a kid or a puppy or anything else that grows up, its messy. The point is, we’re talking about it, its okay to talk about it, and hopefully some of the younger fans who are involved in the forum debates today will be the producers of tomorrow with better answers than what I’ve got.

I think I’ll join you in that salute to BioWare though. We need to remember that the most popular news network in the United States ran a story that called the first Mass Effect a virtual online rape game. The fact that they’re pursuing this stuff at all shows a genuine commitment to their art.


  • saying a lot but not saying much sums up this article pretty well.

    make a choice in character creation about what Shep’s sexual preference is. boom, solved.

    • Sounds like a pretty simple solution actually! I like this idea. For big game companies to record a few extra lines and make a few more animation really wouldn’t be that much extra work. In fact I sometimes wish all games would take twice as long to develop. There’s some really cluey ppl in the gaming-sphere, give them the time to flesh out ideas and stories, it can only help make games stonger selling because of available choices.

        • Maybe because for a lot of people sexuality isn’t black or white. Not everyone is either gay or straight, there are a lot of people in the world who’ve played for one team, then the other, or both teams at the same time. Or one team primarily but with the occasional dalliance during summer leagues maybe even just a one day game, okay before I take this sport analogy too far, my point is the for the vast majority (althought still not all) sex is matter of looking in your pants, sexuality is a far looser characteristic to identify and Bioware would reeeeally be opening a big kettle o’ fish by having people tick a box.

          • This is my view also.

            Not to mention that it’s almost always proposed by people who would rather not see the content.

            It’s a negative filter and not a neutral or positive box-ticking option.

            Far easier to just avoid the dialogue option, I’d think.

    • Except that this is an ignorant attitude, and oblivious to how this stuff really works. what if you want to change your mind part of the way though? How about realising that in the real world, sexuality is fluid and a person may identify as completely straight initially, and later find themselves attracted to their own gender, without it being a ‘revelation’ or something that was there all along? People change, people’s interests change.

      Lets face it. If, say, you pursue a lesbian romance with Ashley, then clearly *your* Ashley is at least bisexual. In my game, I don’t, and because that isn’t ‘triggered’ as such, *my* Ashley is straight. As long as the NPCs are consistent within each gameplay, then it isn’t a problem. Like they said in the article, stop assuming the only thing that changes from universe to universe is Shepard, cos the NPCs can be fluid too. You have your straight NPCs, I’ll have my gay ones. Both are perfectly valid.

      • This is one of the things I was getting at. People seem all right with the idea of multiple Shepards, but not multiple Ashleys or whoever.

        I can’t really make an assessment, even a gut sort of reaction, that says right or wrong, but its really interesting how people structure this stuff mentally.

    • You do realise that this wouldn’t be possible in ME3 because you can’t change your Shepard again like you could in the second game, and they won’t put the option in the first or second game because (except Liara) there were no same sex relationships in the previous games?

      Of course, if they announce that they will remedy this, I take it all back

  • I am still not sure what the problem is.
    Is it that they are going to make more npc’s sexuality change depending on the players gender like Liara?
    I would have thought Casey just meant more npc’s to provide more options.

    Anyway, I thought the whole deal with Liara was that her race has no sexuality or only one sex. So she would not be bisexual because, technically, she is not female.

    • I think in Liara’s case, the term bisexual has little to nothing to do with her gender. The “bi” bit would describe with reasonable accuracy her attraction to either/both male and female (humans), without reference to hetero- or homo-sexuality the way we do with humans.

      Because humans are all the same species, we don’t have a term for ‘non-human sexual preference’ that isn’t a criminal offence…

  • I’ll be happy as long as the sex scenes are like ME1s and less like ME2, DA:O or DA2s travisties.

    In other words less characters in underwear dry humping each other in the middle of the ship/camp and more tasteful and cinematic nudity.

    • I could NEVER figure out why the hell the captain of the Normandy would elect to get busy on the cold steel floor as opposed to his/her posh captains quarters. Seriously, its not like he’s sleeping in bunk beds…

  • I’ve always considered Liara, and Asari in general, more asexual than bisexual, in that they aren’t attracted to genders but individuals.

    As for the others, I think in many cases Bioware has left the door open for the possibility, although there hasn’t been anyone allowed in yet.
    I would greatly respect Bioware if such relationships were the result of the main character’s dedication to a single individual, such as fem shep remaining dedicated to Ashley, for the duration of Mass Effect 1 and 2 or simply displayed greater affection for same-sex characters while ignoring the other.

    • Um, dude. Asexual means not having any sexual impulses at all.

      The word you’re looking for is Pansexual which is being attracted to personalities.

  • My main issue with this is the Shepsexual aspect (I can see this being used for other RPGs in the future).

    I’m not concerned about sexuality or even canon – because why should Manshep be able to sleep with Lira or Ashley, but not Kaidan? What’s the difference, right?

    But when you open up the options you’re offering players some sort of sexual buffet and presenting the idea that Shepard could bang anyone on the ship if he wanted.

    I like that they played with this in ME2 – if you haven’t set a romance option, at the point where Mordin would ordinarily offer you advice (especially if you’re planning on sleeping with Tali – or Garrus/Thane if you’re playing as FemShep), Mordin will confront you and let you know he’s not interested in ManShep that way – ManShep plays this off as a joke.

    Likewise, you’re rejected by Samara because hey, she’s got 800+ years on Shepard, and while he’s a pretty cool guy, she’s not all that impressed by him.

    I don’t have an issue with Kaidan being a romance option for Manshep or Miranda being a romance option for FemShep, so long as it makes sense for those characters to go for it. If I don’t want to romance Kaidan, easy, I don’t flirt with him. Duh! It’s no different than choosing Liara over Ashley, or Garrus over Thane. So long as it doesn’t pull a Dragon Age 2 where you lose ‘relationship points’ for rejecting an offer of carnal lust with a character that, for whatever reason, you simply don’t like that much.

    I have confidence that BioWare won’t make this kind of mistake with ME3 – the relationships are structured differently and in their own way are keyed into the story more than when romance options are available in other games, like DA2, Wither 2, Heavy Rain, God of War 3, etc.

    I have several ME2 savegames to import into ME3 when it finally gets here – the most important one to me is the one where I have remained loyal to Liara.

    I may start new ME3 or even ME2 games with the plan of exploring those alternate romance options, or I may not – that’s up to me.

    Back to my original ponit though, what if Kaidan isn’t gay? What if Miranda isn’t gay? Is there a reason that makes sense other than the raw throbbing sexual power that Shepard commands? If so, fine. If not… then why bother?

    People complaining you cant have every possible X v Y pairing in the game need to accept that maybe the reason ManShep can’t sleep with Kaidan is because BioWare just don’t feel like it – not because they have something against it.

    I appreciate the frustration gay gamers might have with being forced to adhere to straight relationships only from game to game, but that doesn’t mean all interests have to be represented in ME3 for the sole purpose of “because we can”.

    What I’d like to see a developer do is make a game with a gay protagonist and have a non-optional romance subplot. I think it would make a point to heterosexual gamers who refuse to understand where the homosexual gamers are coming from – and it also might help people (audiences and developers alike) to appreciate that sexuality isn’t a character’s defining aspect.

    Would Uncharted be a different game if Nathan was exploring the jungle with Eric instead of Elena? What if Alex was accompanying Gordon instead of Alyx? (I know Alex is androgynous, cut me some slack.
    Frankly I’ll be amazed if Marcus and Dom DON’T kiss at some point during Gears 3 – hell, Cliffy B should do it just so he can have fun blocking people on Twitter the day after launch.

    • There’s something in your response that offended me, but I’m having trouble putting my finger on it. For all that you state you ‘understand’, your post very much reads as coming from the position of societal privelege: i.e. that of a heterosexual white male.

      “People complaining you cant have every possible X v Y pairing in the game need to accept that maybe the reason ManShep can’t sleep with Kaidan is because BioWare just don’t feel like it – not because they have something against it.”

      Normally, this would be a convincing argument, but with the inclusion of Liara and then the travesty that was Kelly Chambers means that lesbian interactions (assuming you go with the ‘look’ of Liara being visually female by human standards) have always been part of the Mass Effect universe. The fact that gay male interactions have been (to date) barred reads as a deliberate exclusion. You can say ‘Bioware doesn’t feel like it’, but when you question WHY lesbians are included and gay men are not, you come to the conclusion that the powers that be decided that gay men should be excluded because they were unacceptable either to them or to the society in which the game would circulate. In essence, they placed a value judgement on the gay community and said that they were not welcome or valued. I am not stating that this was deliberate (although given Bioware’s history of inclusivity, I am hesitant to say it WASN’T deliberate, given that inclusivity appeared to be the norm rather than the exception), but if it wasn’t, it is an example of passive or subconsious homophobia: People not actively identifying as homophobic but taking actions that are homophobic–not hiring gay people, excluding gay people or portraying gay people in a negative light.

      In this case, the Mass Effect Team has, until now, painted gay people as non-existent, i.e. not being a part of the future galactic community. Or if you bring it back to the society we live in, it implies that gay men have no function in this society.

      Whether they meant it or not is largely irrelevant. It is what they did.

      “I appreciate the frustration gay gamers might have with being forced to adhere to straight relationships only from game to game, but that doesn’t mean all interests have to be represented in ME3 for the sole purpose of “because we can”.”

      I’m not sure you do. Essentially, you’ve just made a value judgement that has said that the frustration of a gay gamer is not enough to warrant representation. That representation is not deserved. That representation is either not necessary, or not desirable. You have added the qualifier “for the sole purpose of ‘because we can'”, which is nice, but the underlying meaning that comes through may not have been something you consciously wanted to say–but nonetheless said.

      Another reason that this is such an issue is that both Kaiden and Ashley were at some point originally intended to be bisexual characters–if you look at the cut content in ME1, they have partially voiced and fully scripted romance dialogues with a same sex Shepard. The fact that these romances were cut is an argument in favour of a deliberate exclusion, masquerading as a time or design choice. The fact that Asari lesbianism (hidden under an ‘asexual’ design) was left in coupled with Kelly Chambers’ exploitative lesbianism seems deliberately designed to titilate the straight male fantasies has made the Mass Effect series (and very much the Mass Effect 2 game specifically) a game that implicitly degrades lesbians as sexualised objects to satisfy the straight male (and one could argue in the character of Chambers, reduces women to sexualised objects to satisfy the straight male), and as mentioned, depicts gay men as non existent, and the only references are included as either ‘undersirable’ in the reference to male rape on board the Purgatory prison ship, or something to be laughed at, in the case of Mordin thinking your male Shepard is interested in him.

      In essence, compared to its other works, Bioware’s Mass Effect series reads like it’s gender politics have been designed by a homophobic fourteen year old boy acting tough in the playground and sneaking looks at online porn.

      Normally, I am willing to accept that the game creators are either ignorant, or passively homophobic (and often choose to not purchase their products), but in Bioware’s case, it’s a little tougher to make a call. Honestly, had DA2 used the ‘defined character’ excuse to justify homophobia, I would have boycotted Bioware there and then. As it was, I had planned to finish the ME3 trilogy and boycott any further games from that development team, especially when the justification for the lack of homosexuality in ME1 was put down to a lack of a gay man in the development team (and apparently one of the sound engineers was a monogendered alien).

  • Pretty sure Ashley can only be romanced by ManShep in ME1 while FemShep gets Kaidan. Unless you used a PC mod or something.

  • Great article, I’ve followed (and participated in) that forum thread and others like it for a very long time now, and you guys pretty much nailed most of the arguments people have been having.

    I’m confident that, resource-wise, Bioware wouldn’t commit to something this early on in development (relatively speaking) if they couldn’t follow it through. Given their stated promises to invest more in the romance and relationship dialogue generally, I don’t think we’ll see a situation where bisexual or Shepsexual characters have identical dialogue or abruptly stop talking if unromanced.

    Mark, I agree with the semantics. One clear post outlining their motivations and intentions would go a long way to easing many of the fears and wildly unrealistic hopes that are out there.

    On Adam’s blog article, there’s certainly a fine balancing line between meeting player expectations and freedom of choice, and the believability of characters throwing themselves at Shepard by the dozen. Given the ‘opening up’ of Garrus and Tali in ME2 as love interests already, and the way this was written fairly well, I don’t think Bioware are above trying something similarly well-explained for ME3.

    Finally, it’s definitely a good thing that we’re having this conversation. The unfortunate reactions from many people to what is essentially optional and niche content are disappointing (and some of it is… pretty bad), but everything I’ve seen and read over many months of dealing with this issue indicates that most people welcome greater choice, even if they wouldn’t use it themselves.

  • I don’t like the idea of it because it’s not how the real world works.
    I’ve got a friend, she’s smart, beautiful, she makes me laugh and I’d marry her in a heartbeat if I was her stated gender preference. That’s how it is in real life… you cannot have everyone.

    Also, I don’t think it would be done well… not every game man is flaming, and not every gay woman looks like a lumberjack. Considering how it was done to Anders in DA2, I think it would be a shallow move designed to pander to a specific audience.

    • Even with new characters?

      And you just can’t compare DA2. Completely different writing team, different design team, different producers. ME3 has a much bigger budget and many more resources.

    • I second you on this one. I don’t really care which way people decide to swing, but you can’t just lump us all together in the same group.

    • You should have a look at some of the youtube videos up that show that bioware already had kaiden in ME1 and garrus, miranda and jack i think in ME2 as bisexual. I thought they were well done IMO.

      As for canon – as in real life, people are just not born and then instantly deicide their sexuality. Even once they have it figured out, some people change through life experiences, so people saying that change is not possible is just wrong.

    • And bioware are buidling real-world simulators now? My shepherd would bone half the galaxy if he could fit it into his schedule. Yours may be a pining romantic type, but mine is eye-raping every single person under his command. It’s only been the lack of consent that stopped man-man/man-alien/man-robot action so far aboard my liberated normandy.

      • “And bioware are buidling real-world simulators now?”

        This is exactly a question that I’m asking in different ways. Are we meant to believe in these worlds, even as fictional worlds, or are they game systems where the player-character is a little god who can do whatever he/she desires? I’m not saying that either one is better or worse, but beginning to think that we can’t do both at the same time.

    • Shepard of either gender should be able to give a shot at anyone because that’s totally up to the player.

      That being said, James’ mention of sexual orientation is an excellent point. We may have more proper awareness of various types of gender preferences existing within our society nowadays, in no way does said awareness indicate we are all alike. Want to introduce a new character who is bisexual? No problem. However, established characters have clearly demonstrated their sexual orientation. One of which (Jack) even plainly stated that she’s “not the girl’s club type.”

      Yes, give us control over Shepard’s decision making in the Mass Effect universe, but if his/her has the ability to overwrite the initial sexual orientation of the characters around him/her, that’s not called freedom, that’s called unrealistic. No matter how charismatic I become, I seriously doubt that my straight friends would flip their sexual orientation just to raise adopted babies with me.

      I don’t understand the need to warp the logic above just to please everyone. Discussion concerning Shepard’s sexual orientation is welcomed, but a bit unnecessary, as the very core of the experience is this: Shepard likes someone. It’s as simple as that.

    • People need to stop using Anders as an example. Yes, that romance was handled terribly. But Mass Effect is handled by a different team of writers than Dragon Age, and considering the outcry relating to the way that particular romance was handled, I think Bioware would have learned from their mistake.

      They aren’t going to just make a formerly straight character gay hoity-toity, nor is every romance-able character in the game going to be bisexual. That’s not the way in worked in Mass Effect, that’s not the way it worked in both Dragon Age games. Ashley, Kaidan, Alistair, Morrigan and ALL the romances in Mass Effect 2 were hetrosexual (even the intended gay romances that got removed were only for a few squad mates).

      • Exactly. It’s a dishonest comparison.

        Even more so because DA2 had a much smaller budget and much shorter development time than ME3 will. BW have already said they have the resources to expand and deepen all the interaction, not just romances.

  • I tried reading this but my eyes just glazed over because the mention of Mass Effect seems to just make me lose interest in anything that is going on at the time.

  • “I’m commander Shepard and you’re my favourite root on the Normandy.”

    As long as there’s a story option for Shepard failing at the major quest because he was too busy doing the entire crew.

  • “MARK: Wow. A hermaphrodite Shepard. I would like to see that.”

    Skip to 4:33.

    It’s not the most sophisticated appraisal of the issue of intersexuality in gaming (or any serious social issue, in any popular media for that matter), they pretty much play it for cheap jokes for the whole LP, but there you go, hope you’re happy.

    To weigh in on the actual debate here.

    I’ve always subscribed more to the philosophy of sexuality being a more fluid experiential state, which can and oftentimes will change over the course of a lifetime, dependent on social factors, interpersonal, romantic and sexual experiences, etc.

    Of course there are cases where someone will be gay or straight their whole life without questioning it. But I don’t believe people are born with an internal compass that hard-wires their bits to seek a certain class of other bits, whether the bits are, alike or different.

    I’ve only played the second game, and that was only once through. But what I’m inferring is that Shepard is a pretty passionate dude, regardless of his Paragon/Renegade score. He shares intense situations with a whole range of people across genders, species and ideologies, and deeper emotions, friendships, rivalries are bound to form.

    I played a standard male Shepard and decided to woo Miranda over Jack, totally against my personal tastes (I loves me a girl with tattoos). But I never felt like that was much of a deeper connection of personalities, hell I took Mordin and Garrus with me on pretty-much all the missions where I was given the choice, I liked their weapon selections and biotic powers.

    It stands to reason that my Sheperd would develop closer bonds of trust with the scientist and Archangel than with the one chick with the visually pleasing outfit that he had a fling with. I haven’t had any real emotional experiences in my years of gaming but after the final boss, when Mordin almost went over the edge of a platform into oblivion I was glad that Shepard managed to grab him.

    Bringing this wandering, rambling train of thought back on track, I don’t think ‘precious canon’ is harmed by Shepard’s potential bisexuality, if Bioware can treat the subject a bit more matter-of-factly, as opposed to having Shepard suddenly start flirting with anything that moves on board the Normandy, it may set up some pretty interesting role-playing scenarios for players, a good discussion of this is Yahtzee’s Extra Punctuation column on roleplaying gay in DA2. It also, I think in a relatively tactful and non-proselytising way also addresses some interesting issues about sexual values, and promotes some pretty progressive views on sexuality.

    The best part is that this would all be subjective based on an individual player’s desire to explore the relationships. My Shepard wouldn’t have hooked up with Miranda if I hadn’t hit the wrong dialogue option, while still wanting the “shag a shipmate” achievement. Players who wanted to explore the development of Shepard as a character could look at how the experience of saving Mordin affected their outlook. Players who don’t care can hit the right dialogue options to get the standard hetero-romance over and done with.

    Again, like my previous rant on music and gameplay, sorry about the essay.

      • Thoughtful essays are the most welcome and appropriate responses to my own diatribes! My job is to get people thinking and then talking about what they think. Good on you 🙂

    • Thanks for this post, you make a lot of great points.

      I trust Bioware enough to have confidence in their ability to bring it off.

  • Bottom line is if your complaint is about canon it’s pretty flimsy and obviously diverting attention from your awkward emotions at just the thought of ‘cannons’.


  • im fine with them having homosexual options in mass effect 3, i just dont want to have to continually tell someone of the same sex NO THANK YOU, every time i make a joke ala Dragon Age 2.

    i think its wonderful to have parity but i dont want to be bombarded with crap for the sake of parity, even in mass effect 1, if you are nice to both Ashley and Liara, they go apeshit at each other about wanting to bang me, i dont need that crap when im just trying to be a paragon to both of them.

    give me 8 dialogue options for each conversation if you must: nice, mean, neutral, persuasive, threaten, reject advance, accept advance, *shoot myself in the head*, *shoot them in the head*

  • It doesn’t bother me that they have same sex relationships in the game, it takes all sorts to make a world, yet alone a galaxy.. It would only disappoint me if already established heterosexual characters start flirting with my character.

    For example, if Garrus, who has been my friend from the start, and seen my romance blossom with Liara, started to flirt. That would ruin the experience for me a little, although there are worse things that happen in games that make me have to take a step back and make my own explanation for what is happening. Like making up my own little stories in Fable 2 to explain my character’s behaviour since the real one isn’t too compelling lol.

    I side tracked a bit lol, I don’t mind it appearing in games, I liked how Dragon Age approached it, Zevran was game for anything, I told him I wasn’t and he never brought it up again.

  • I fail to comprehend how some can object to content that they can choose not to pursue and may never see. That makes no sense to me.

    But I was glad to hear this. My male shepard has been celibate for the past two games and I think an opportunity to pursue a romance in ME3 will round out that game and my character, quite nicely.

    I think the majority of people are just worried that this content will be implemented poorly. Sure you’ll have some less-than-enlightened folk who feel Shepards character is threaten by locking lips with another male. But overall, I think it is the question of implementation.

    Perhaps as it was mentioned, BioWare should’ve been a little more specific with what exactly is going to be added?

    I’m so much enthralled by the Mass Effect universe though, I’d happily spend a great deal of time exploring what sex and sexuality means for a galactic community and the specific species there-in.

    How does a life in an environment suit effect sex and sexuality for Quarians? How about the Krogan and the Genophage?

    We already know Salarians don’t go much for romance, due to their short life spans.

    Man I love these games…

    • Yeah, we might not care if we truly would never see it, but I doubt we wouldn’t see it seeing how they have to bring it up at some point. You guys want gay romances, fine by me, but make gay characters for your gayshep, don’t change the sexualities of all the established characters to pander to a handful of gay gamers, there I said it.

  • Honestly, this whole debate seems a bit insignificant to me. The idea of having sex in the ME universe is an entertaining diversion, but it’s not even on the list of reasons why I’m such a fan of Bioware’s body of work.

  • People around here know that it was originally intended that both Male and Female Shepard could romance Kaiden and Ashley in Mass Effect right?

    Male Shepard + Kaiden romance scene:

    Female Shepard + Ashley romance scene:

    This audio is present on the game disc which means that the same sex relationships were cut pretty far in development (long enough that their complete removal could break the game during final testing.)

    The rumor associated with the reason for change was that Male Shepard’s face model (a male model called Mark Vanderloo) did not want his likeness featuring in a gay sex scene. Apparently he threatened to remove Bioware’s rights to use his face if they did not make this change. Since Bioware had already spent a tonne on marketing Mass Effect with Vanderlooshep, they had no choice but comply. This rumor appears to be squashed with the inclusion of same sex romances in ME3 though.

    I’m not against the inclusion of Same sex romances in ME3. I’m concerned about how Bioware is handling it. According to one of the writers, Bioware has spent a significant amount of time on a “coming out” moment for Shepard should you choose that path. OK sure, but even if you choose too avoid it your going to witness a same sex relationship between two other characters, whether you like it or not.

    They really shouldn’t have backed down from including same sex romances in ME. Failing that they really should have included them in ME2. But I do think changing characters to become bisexual for the final game is a huge risk on Bioware’s part. It has the potential to be really good or really bad. Given just how much the story telling suffered with Drew’s (ME1 main story writer) absence from development of ME2 I don’t hold much hope.

    • That forum post was fake, and quite clearly fake.

      It was created to start ridiculous rumours and insult one of the Bioware writers responsible for Anders in DA2 (Jennifer Halpen).

      There is nothing of the sort planned for ME3, as far as we know. I highly doubt there will be.

      • Good to know. But unless that post about her getting inspiration for writing relationships from Twilight is also fake, then I’ll continue to concerned.

  • I had a bit of a fuck-up with my Shepard in ME2. In ME1 he was a tough guy who just concentrated on the mission. He knew there was urgency. Side quests? What side quests. Okay, there was Liara who shook her blue arse and farted out a pink mist of some sort, but Shepard talked to her because she knew stuff about the Prothean stuff he’s got in his feeble human brain.

    ME2 – there wasn’t the same sense of urgency. We toured the galaxy and did everything, we did, though Shepard was still quite bad-ass. But again – did a fair few of the side quests. But I really should have gone and done the remainder of the game as soon as the dead Reaper turned up – instead I just wandered about getting squad members. Maybe I decided “meh, it’s been there a while, it’ll stay there, dead researchers mean nothing”.

    On the other hand my Shepard’s not a slut – though Tali decided she wanted a go Shepard turned her down.

    I see what Bioware mean now about people getting attached to their Shepard. They’ve created a good story – people aren’t just attached to their own Shepard but to their own universe.


    I mean, there was a space squid trying to hump the Citadel – I’ve got more important things to deal with rather than trying to save that lot…

  • Canon is what they used in SWTOR to invalidate my entire KotOR experience. There’s nothing “precious” about it. OK, lingering bitterness aside, I don’t see how fans can have the luxury of protecting “canon” in a game that allows for so much choice and variation.

    It sounds like they’re taking a page from the Dragon Age 2 romances, which I thought worked fine. In DA2, one could assume that all four romance-able characters were bisexual, but only Isabela was written to be obviously so. The rest were open to interpretation. I thought Anders was clearly oriented according to whatever Hawke (the PC) was. If you played as a male, he would tell you that he and Karl were once lovers, while if you played as a female, he and Karl were just friends. But I think the “Merrill/Fenris model” worked well. To the best of my knowledge, they only show an interest in you if you flirt with them first. So, if your Hawke isn’t romantically interested in them, you can assume they have whatever orientation you like. It is possible to flirt with all four characters and reveal that they are all Hawke-sexual, but if you find yourself in that position and don’t like it, it’s your fault for flirting so freely. I think the Merrill/Fenris model is fair without being blatantly unrealistic (making it less obvious that everyone is Hawke-sexual). The trick with Mass Effect is that it is less clear about what counts as a romance-initiating dialogue option (DA2 uses the very obvious heart icon). For the Merrill/Fenris model to work in ME, that would have to be changed.

    I understand that one of the main concerns is that a character who in ME1 or 2 was only interested in the opposite gender might be changed to bisexual in ME3. If that is the change made, I see three outcomes. If Shepard is the opposite gender (so the NPC was already romance-able), then nothing will change. If Shepard is the same gender and doesn’t want to flirt with the character, then still nothing will change (according to the Merrill/Fenris model). But if you’re playing a same-sex Shepard and do want to start flirting, you can get your romance and be happy (the lack of interest in the previous game simply explained by it not being the right time, blah blah). Some people win, no one loses.

    As for specific ME characters, it makes perfect sense for Liara to be bisexual because Asari only have one gender and would thus have no innate reason to seek out one gender of a different species over another (except perhaps for the coincidence that they look so very much like human females, but whatever). She’s fine, in my book. They can keep some of the characters strictly straight if it makes more sense that way, but the problem is making sure players who want Shepard to have a same-sex relationship have fair (even if slightly different) choices. Having played Baldur’s Gate II, I can say that it sucks to know that other people (in that case, males) had three romance choices while I was stuck with one. But BioWare has made a lot of progress since then. I trust they’ll make good decisions for ME3.

  • Surely I wasn’t the only person who found Ander’s switch from straight to gay between games a little jarring? Can’t I have the same concerns here – sure it’s a different team, but it’s the same company, and their introducing the same sexual preference changes in their characters.

  • If we can agree that Mass effect is literature, then there are a number of principles that have to apply. Primarily, reading is a continuous transaction between author/text and reader; ideally both contribute to the experience. However video-games (particularly RPGs) are slightly different because the reader and author to an extent merge in the creation of the universe. However this merge wasn’t in perfect synergy in Mass Effect, and so far we have only been given Shepard to mould as we see fit, whilst Bioware have manipulated basically everything else (including characters). Since the author/text has intrinsically controlled the characters, consistency must exist for the reader (like books or film).
    Although the idea that one universe can be totally different from another is admirable, it is impractical, an ideological utopia for video-games. In consideration of the fact that ME is extending characters from previous games, they have an obligation to keep them consistent, however new characters will have greater versatility. RPG’s like ME aren’t quite ready to be distinguished from other pieces of literature yet, and so they still must follow the rules books and film have adhered to for centuries.

  • Having selectable options at the start would be an good if Bioware are going down this road.

    I do have one question in general though. If I make a IP like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, Am I to cater for everyone? Do I have to be politically correct and have GLBT options? If I don’t will gaming websites rip on me and say I’m “homophobic”? Must no one be excluded?

    I have blow average IQ but all things being equal should I be allowed to join MENSA?

    Just my thoughts.

    • It’s not generally about being ‘politically correct’ when there’s an audience willing to pay for the content. Suffice to say Bioware wouldn’t do it – and haven’t done it – if they didn’t think a large minority of players would appreciate the opportunity.

      David Gaider explains it better than I ever could (second post in this thread):


      It’s not entirely about including every possible option for every conceivable type of player. But given that the game already allows gender differences, and romance features heavily, this does seem like a fairly obvious next step.

  • I don’t understand the problem this article is trying to address.
    Here’s my views
    1) Shepard is advertised as a white-male, because that’s simply our generic view of a hero- its target advertising. Its a shame white-male-hetero seems to be all we think of when we hear “hero,” but that’s why the game advertises Shepard that way.
    2) Bioware, advertising aside, ultimately lets us define Shepard. I’m white, but my Shepard is black, because I modeled his character after one of my role-models I view as a true hero.
    3) If Bioware is focusing more on the homosexual romances, why should it concern anyone with a hetero Shepard? Unless you are particularly curious, you won’t ever see that part of the game.
    4) There is absolutely no reason why players should have to agree on who Shepard is. It is ridiculous to think Shepards are the same. Even the Universe. The decisions people make can be different to the extent that changes the lives of thousands of characters in the game universe. Some may live in one game, while another player may have let them die. With the vastly different outcomes and experiences among players, why are we concerned about Shepards sexuality having an effect on the canon? How the hell does the people Shepard sleeps with decide the fate of the galaxy the way other decisions do?
    5) The idea that was brought up regarding players choosing Shepard’s sexuality at the point of character creation doesn’t work. You may play as Shepard and be a horrible evil-doer/hero in one game, and be the complete opposite in the second game- once again, this change is even less fathomable than one switching sexuality. I am not quite sure how sexuality works, my experience is it is determined by factors we can’t control, and not up to us. I’m not sure if it is set in stone- I do have one gay friend, who when he gets really drunk, likes to make out with chicks.
    6)Another thing I heard was different Shepards existing in universes depending on the player, because the player molds Shepard- and that this should be applied to ALL characters. No, this won’t work. We can define Shepard’s sexuality because we are Shepard. We don’t controll the dialogue of Ashley, we don’t control her actions. Character’s like Ashley are common in all universes; they have set responses to any variety of situations. They may do things differently based on how we play, but there is no variation given a particular situation. To allow different Ashley’s (sexuality-wise) to be defined by the player, we would also have to create an entirely new Ashley that would have a different cause-and-effect response system. Doing so would mean Mass Effect would have no consistent cannon at all- because we exert god-like control to change the universe, rather than roleplaying as our own character in that universe.
    7) lastly, we can say this entire thing is already a non-issue. To consider mass-effect a roleplaying game, wouldn’t mean we have complete control over shepard anyway. Bioware could make Shepard ALWAYS gay, but we could still have choices over everything else. Limiting some decisions to a narrower set of choice doesn’t diminish much. Consider that we are already given a small amount of choices, whereas in real-life we could pretty much say whatever we wanted. We are already constrained to a limited amount of dialogue selections, but that’s reasonable- considering it is probably the most freedom in any rpg as it is. As long as Bioware doesn’t give us less controll than we originally had, than there is no problem, because we are still in charge of making the same types of decisions to the point we don’t forcibly contradict ourselves based on previous actions-
    8) As a disclaimer, I’m not saying that objections to Bioware’s decisions are rooted out of homophobia (even if some are). It is a lack of understanding on what role sexuality plays. The truth is, sexuality determines who we sleep with. It may determine who we love, but we have no control over other’s sexuality, and it is possible to be in love with someone whose sexuality deems mutuality impossible. So than, are we saying that sexuality is that large a factor in determining behavior? This is one of those “Don’t ask don’t tell” discussions. DADT is rooted in the misguided belief that sexuality is tied to your ability to aim a gun and be professional. Even if people disagree with this, than they must consent that they also disagree with Bioware, because who you sleep with in the game does NOT affect how Shepard performs in combat. It does NOT affect how what set of moral choices you are able to choose from. Since Bioware has ultimate control of what universes your mass effect journey can create, to disagree with them by saying sexuality is a factor in terms of how it influences (more specifically, how it does not) the canon is to break the canon itself. Its ironic, people who see this as hurting the narrative are actually contradicting their own.

    In conclusion: WHY IS THIS EVEN AN ISSUE??

  • And this is an issue…..how? More importantly, WHY? The player already chooses Shepard’s sexuality and, from what I’ve gathered, that is what will determine what goes on. It’s OPTIONAL. And, there isn’t a such thing a canon in the Mass Effect universe. Again, the individual player decides the major events of the story, particularly the further along the story goes. Mass Effect is, at it’s heart, about cause and effect; choices that are made and their inevitable consequences. How things play out are just as different for each individual player as their Shepards are. The romances are pivotal only in the sense of helping/further defining a specific individual Shepard which WILL be different for every player, for every playthrough solely dependent upon the player’s CHOICE. There a linear story arc that’s developed by those choices and people need to remember that it’s the player that decides that. Example: My Paragon, War Hero, Infiltrator heterosexual femShep who romanced Kaidan in ME1 and stayed faithful to him in ME2 will no doubt get back in ME3 because that’s what and how I chose to play it. I saved the Rachni Queen, Wrex and the Council in ME1. I saved the genophage cure, rewrote the geth and destroyed the Collector Base in ME2. (wasn’t kidding about the paragon description) Did every player do those things? Please…..of course not. Sure, I’m definitely not the only one who did but just as many, if not more, didn’t. They did the opposite or some other variation by doing some but not all. The real question is how all those different decisions made will affect the outcome of their playthrough. The point I’m trying to make is whether Shepard or the other characters are heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual is, in essence and overall, up to the individual player. Just because Bioware includes the programming for a specific character who may had appeared heterosexual in a past game to be a romance option by the same sex in the third and final game doesn’t necessarily mean that it will happen across EVERY players’ individual playthroughs. The player has to make that choice in order for it to happen. If a player doesn’t want it, than don’t go with the flirty, romance dialogue with that character. Simple as that.

  • As a Professor of History and someone who has recently done a lecture on the history of gay and lesbian representations in comic books and literature, I thought I might weigh in on some of these comments.

    1. Historically, in the United States, it is “more” acceptable for characters to be straight or bisexual-lesbian than gay male. The reason for this depiction is rooted in the white heterosexual male culture that sees lesbianism as a fantasy and objectifies female sexuality. Had Bioware simply announced they were adding in more female romance options for femShep — I suspect we would never heard a peep and appeals to “cannon” would be notoriously silent.

    2. I think the debate of “consistency of character” misses a bigger point: Let’s face it — some of the characters on the Normandy could have been attracted to you the whole time, but never decided to mention it — perhaps they were shy, or unwilling to come forward, or saw you as interested in someone else. Who is to say that “Joker” hasn’t been hiding a crush on fem or male shep this whole time?

    The problem is not about consistency of CHARACTER — it is about consistency of a modern-day “heteronormative” universe. Ahh, always nice to whip out those fancy academic words! (you get an Achievement for using three correctly in a sentence.) the problem is that when someone is used to being in a universe that defines gay as “abnormal” and straight as the only desirable choice, as women as sexual objects — that breaking beyond those choices upsets not the GAME’s universe but your own. To imagine a world where men or women might explore their sexualities with men, women, or even apparently aliens — without fear of reprisal or apology — does not violate some mystical game cannon, but an internal reaction, especially among male gamers, who suddenly realize in such a world maybe THEY could be the ones objectified.

    Like Asians and blacks in comic book portrayals and movies, there is a clear ‘acceptable” set of roles we have for such characters — first they are invisible. Later they are villains. Later still they can be sidekicks or minor characters, usually either to be comic relief or to die tragically. But in all of these roles, except as villain, the “outsider” character is originally neutered. Only the villain can have sexuality — and then only threateningly, as a predator. Whether it was fears of black rapists in the south after Reconstruction or the idea of white women being “Shanghaied” into white slavery — or the modern equivalent that a gay man in the same shower will want to rape every straight male.

    3. Why does it matter? Because art reflects societies norms. And we are seeking, in role playing games IN PARTICULAR, to suggest the roles we play MATTER and shape those universes. Role playing games have tried to elevate themselves — especially since Fallout 1 — to suggest that players’ choices MATTER.

    Designer’s choices matter. And to particularly have developed the possibility that the characters could be romanced and remove it at the end of development was sloppy and a step backwards for Bioware, especially since they have been exploring some of these issues even in the so far unmentioned Jade Empire as well.

    3. One final thought in this extended diatribe — my apologies — is to address the idea that is said “you can’t always have everything in real life.” Well, true. But Shepherd’s universe by nature is artificial. We know that some choices are polar — you may choose to do A or B. In love, Shepard’s romance options apparently only work for those who set foot on the Normandy, or in one case, with a consort. The fact is even those players who are requesting Bioware allow romance for Kaiden / Ashley same sex and other same-sex relationship have not been saying (to my knwoledge): oooh, I wanna bang the Illusive Man! Give me a hot smoking (as it were) part of that Sheen action!

    I do not claim Bioware was homophobic in making the original decision — but it is clear that catering to homophobia drove them to remove same-sex male options. Whether in terms of perceiving there might be sales issues, negative gamer feedback, or the supposed lawsuit mentioned due to an actor’s homophobia — which seems unlikely, I don’t think any actor under contract once signed gets to control content unless they have better lawyers than the studio (which I doubt), ultimately they scripted more gay choices originally and scrubbed them clean.

  • There isn’t canon in Mass Effect. That’s part of what makes it so great. Some of the developers have even mentioned, “in our books and comics, you will never run across something that conflicts with your playthroughs of the Mass Effect games.” I’m sure it’ll become more and more difficult for them to maintain that as Mass Effect gets more games and books and movies, but if they’re truly dedicated to it, they can do it.

  • All this complaining and political correctness, drives me insane! While I have not one bit of a problem with a homosexual character in a game; hell in one of my own graphic novels/games I’ve been working on- I gave the main character quite an intimate relationship with a male character- though I modeled it more after the way, warriors/soldiers/ and fighters of the ancient world treated and viewed such relationship…

    In other words it doesn’t match up to anything people of today view male/male relationships (most of it being stereotypical because of media- and gay community itself). I did this because I thought it would be different and interesting- and so far the feedback has been positive. But on to what I was going to say… Yes the majority of gamers are straight white males, and most game developers are straight white males.; so most of the protagonist are going to be straight white males lol.

    I think more gamers of color, or homosexual gamers- should get more into game designing, if they want to be represented- and in positive ways. Again the homosexual options in Mass Effect didn’t bother me one bit- and quite frankly I find the complaints of it very stupid- because you don’t have to pick them.. However I get tired of the political correctness, and the complaining really.

    Back in the day, I remember reading how girls didn’t like how they were represented in games (and still are in many cases)- now today there are more females involved in game developing, and more will follow of course.

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