What The Mass Effect 3 Writers Didn’t Want Same-Sex Romance To Be

What The Mass Effect 3 Writers Didn’t Want Same-Sex Romance To Be

Mass Effect 3 became the game in the sci-fi series where BioWare finally opened up the relationship possibilities for players wanting to romance a character of the same gender, with characters Esteban Cortez and Samantha Traynor only available for wooing if you played as a male or female Commander Shepard.

Given the level of fan concern when news of these options broke, the moves to offer lesbian and gay romance options were going to face unprecedented levels of scrutiny. A new interview on the official BioWare site reveals that Dusty Everman and Patrick Weekes — the writers who worked on the Cortez and Traynor story arcs — knew that a critical lens was going to hover over their work and lets the pair talk about how they approached their duties:

PW: I worked hard to create a character who addressed her lesbian identity in a positive and intelligent way. My first draft of Traynor’s pitch was all about how her character arc would be about identifying and overcoming the challenges of being gay… and my friends and managers called me on it. I’d been so focused on writing something positive that I hadn’t made a real-enough character. So in the next draft (closer to how she shipped), the focus was on her as a mostly lighthearted fish out of water, a very smart lab tech trying to adjust to life on the front lines, with her identity as a lesbian present but not shouted from the rooftops.

DE: I shared the concerns Patrick had about writing something that felt real. I’ve never been romantic with another guy, so I couldn’t write from personal experience. Also, there seemed to be extra pitfalls associated with a male same-sex romance. Some players have concerns over being “ninja romanced” — where a relationship shifts from friendly to romantic to the player’s surprise — and those concerns seem greater for same-sex romances.

Both writers talk about approaching the characters from a place of relatable humanity first, and not as individuals who needed to be billboards for a certain kind of nobility. Whether you’re happy or not about these characters’ existence and portrayal, people like them exist in the real world and their inclusion into Mass Effect 3 makes the game more representative of the planet players fight so hard to save in the game.



  • I thought they did an excellent job with Cortez in particular. I felt like I could treat him like the rest of the crew with respect and as a friend without being misconstrued as something else. (After walking on egg shells around Anders, this was definitely an improvement.) Well done, BioWare!

    • On the other hand, I felt the actual romance thread with Cortez was a little odd.

      Here I was, trying to pick up a guy who is still mourning over the death of his husband. It just felt… wrong.

      Still, I romanced him because he was otherwise such a brilliantly written character.

      • I still wish there was a renegade quick-time event after the first time he mentions his boyfriend (or was it husband?) where Shepard gets way too angry straight away and kicks him off the ship.

        It would have been interesting to log the stats online and see how many people (and of what demographic) did it.

      • This is true, but if you think about it, the same was true of Thane. More or less.

        Just after he gets done telling you his story about his late-wife Irikah, you get the option to hit on him. While the switch from friend to lover is not tactful moment, I agree, their characters are simply too rich and beautiful to resist!

        Nonetheless, I’m not sure how I feel about the “rumor” that Thane was once a LI option for ManShep…

  • Mass effect 3 Spoilers!!!

    The End Blows.. It strokes the shaft..massages the balls…works the tip… And swallows the gravy….

  • I think they did handle this well for the most part, though they still came off a little as the token gay characters. Maybe if there were more known homosexuals in the universe it wouldn’t seem like that but when they discussed bringing in a gay love interest for Manshep my thoughts were “well that’s fine, but just because he’s gay he’s going to go for Shepard? You have to go for him? What if you don’t like him?”. Of course this spawned the meme that there is no gay or straight, just Shepsexual, and people without a pulse.

    Anyway, I realised that the relationship option is still really left up to the player. I do recall awkwardness in ME1 because I flirted with everyone, and had to choose between Liara and Ashley. The same problem repeats in ME2 (not for me since I made a decision and stuck to it, excluding others from my flirtatious advances) but it was still there. By ME3 you’ve probably been conditioned out of it. Plus, the critical moments for each relationship are staggered so you’re not going to cornered by Liara and Kaiden and asked to choose.

    The main problem, really, is that there’s so many hetero relationship options that any minority representation of homosexuality is going to seem token, or if you get equal representation you’re going to have like 18 crew members to talk to after every mission.

    All in all ME3 was well done in this regard.

    What’s weird is that in a series of games with about 120 hours or so of gameplay (not counting repeat playthroughs) we’re spending so much time thinking and talking about a few minutes of lvoe scenes. Granted, dialogue is a big part of the game too and dialogue is how you develop your relationships, but still.

  • “Mass Effect 3 [was] where BioWare finally opened up [freedom of choice] with characters Esteban Cortez and Samantha Traynor only available for wooing if you played as a male or female Commander Shepard.”

    As opposed to what? A transgender Shepard? 😛

    Methinks somebody forgot to add a “, respectively.” to the end of that sentence.

    Otherwise, good article. 🙂

  • I’m surprised they can write anything at all with those legs of ham taped to their wrists. Good for them.

  • One of the genres greatest strengths is that in a sci-fi future universe you can have a world advanced enough that what sexuality you are becomes a non-issue and therefore your characters become strong representations of those minorities in a conscientious world.

    One of the biggest weaknesses is that the real world is not at all like that, and a disconnect is made with the audience. Homosexuals now are still treated more unfairly these days than they should and that’s actually a part of our culture, to have them show as a person with that attribute.

    It’s a dilemma you can’t have pro-gay people in the future, because there wouldn’t be any, there’d just be ‘pro-people.’ But you also can’t not have pro-gay people because that’s how big media recognises them today, allowing our fictional characters to be grounded in realism.

    • So much of the way BioWare handled this stuff irritates the crap out of me, and feels entirely too unbelievable.
      First of all it annoys me that 2 characters in the game exist ONLY because someone felt the need to have gay characters in the series. (in the last installment of all things)

      The second thing that bugs me is that apart from the 2 new additions, every other character you can have gay sex with doesn’t have any other homosexual aspect to their character, other than that they will sleep with you. I’m not saying that they should prance around the ship in a campy way, but the characters are basically straight with the option of sexing them with a same-sex character. It’s similar to the way black characters in recent games are being written. They’re white characters with a black texture and voice. Beyond that, there is nothing specifically “black” about their character. Blacks and Whites/Other races don’t have the same mindsets, motivations, interests etc.

      Third, they completely ignore species when it comes to the sexing. I seriously find it hard to believe a human Shep would find some (if not all) of the other species attractive enough to bang.(I mean can you seriously imagine a real-life human female wanting to kiss Garrus?) And that’s assuming the species even reproduces the same way as humans.

  • i wouldnt know if me3 was any good i like any real member of the human race chose boycott it to send a message that homosexuality is not acceptable in the gameing comunity or any other

  • Whilst I think Bioware did a fantastic job with the 2 homosexual characters with Steve and Samantha I feel they really let down straight Femshep players where the only straight choices were either Kaiden Garrus compared to Male Shepard who had 7 straight partner choices, whilst Thane was understandable considering he was terminally ill, Jacob I thought was just cruel and I’m shocked that there was no romance option with James especially considering that he was interested in Femshep especially with how much Bioware hyped up this character. Not to mention you can only romance Garrus if you romanced him in ME2.

    • Yeah the lack of options for femShep was really jarring and bizarre. Perhaps they had player telemetry that relatively nobody romanced Jacob, and Thane’s was never going to work.

      But it was still strange that new players with straight femshep had no options if they hadn’t picked Kaidan to survive Virmire.

  • Hey, how about they stop making a big issue out of the same sex relationships (which was great, but I’m cynical, so why are they talking about this now?) and focus on the ending debacle with all their effort and time?

  • I thought they handled the same-sex relationships very tastefully. We didn’t have either preachy lectures or stupid stereotypes. They were characters that just happened to be same-sex romance options.

  • So the Dev is saying he wanted to make a gay character who wanted to overcome trials and tribulations, had a hard time, had to fight for equality etc etc etc…

    He wanted to make a bad stereotype.

    What they ended up with was oh-so-much better.

    The sexuality of the characters was so much better handled. It was never a focal point. Cortez just mentioned sadly his husband was killed, how he had loved him. It was never IM GAY AND I HAD DIFFICULTY!!!! Traynor was just a woman who loved women, not IM GAY AND I HAD DIFFICULTY!!!!!

    Thank god those devs took a step back and re-did the characters.

  • The only part I have to say I didn’t like was that Cortez’s husband was recently killed – and I would have thought, based on the dialogue – that it was too early to romance him. As someone above mentioned – it just felt ‘wrong’ to romance someone in grieving.

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