I mentioned whoopee-making in the title so you know this post is about the barneymugging. So, fair warning and all. Now... Lets talk about sex, baby!
Now, I haven’t played Andromeda, so I’m only talking about the original Mass Effect trilogy here. However, I’m willing to bet SOME of the things I mention are still applicable, while others most-definitely were fixed.
Recently I was replaying through Mass Effect (again). In addition to being a “narrative” gamer, I’m a huge space nerd and I love RPGs of both the Western and Action variety, so it really appeals to me. However, this time I started being bummed out by most of the romance options. So many of them just...kinda suck, if I’m honest.
The first time I played through the series, I was MaleShep (Tiberius Shepard all DAY, muhfukkaaaaaaa!!!). He was mostly paragon, but not afraid to punch a baby when the universe was at stake. Over the course of the series, he flirted with anyone who displayed a passing interest in him (you never know who might want to be bent over a barrel and shown the 50 States) which is a whole metric fuck ton of people for some reason. But he only had eyes for Tali.
My first FemShep playthrough (Tiberienne, woo WOO!) was basically the exact same thing, because the T’s are parallel Universe versions of each other. However, Tiberienne knocked boots with a DIFFERENT dextro-DNA hottie with a heart of gold and shy demeanor. This Guy:
What I’m getting at (besides personality and innocence mattering more than handsome faces and phat asses) is that my first characters were straight monogamists. So at the time, all seemed well.
Then I finally got my hands on the first game, and it was time to play through the whole series. But! This time I planned multiple new Shepard characters.
I came up with many Shepards with different views, beliefs, personalities, and orientations. But this is where I started seeing the cracks in the game, and I don’t just mean Miranda.
For one, there’s the issue of homosexuality. I know the world was different in 2007, and that they didn’t add gay romance options until the 3rd game. But that’s only taking gay MALE characters into account, female characters can bludgeon the flaps with Liara.
And sure, I know, I know, Liara and the Asari are all supposedly genderless, but come the fuck on. Evolving on different worlds with different (though similar) atmospheres and conditions produced bird-like (Turian), bat-like (Krogan), elephant-esque (Elcor), amphibian (Salarian), mole-ish (Volus) and many other beings across a broad spectrum. However, out of all of these, the Asari are an entire race of “genderless” beings who happen to look like beautiful human women in Star Trek makeup? Gimme a break.
But that’s not all, obviously, or I would have called this...like... “Asari Design B Cray Cray” or some shit. Though, tbh, who would have noticed if it WAS all this post was about- given my peculiar predilection for tangentially related tangents.
But as everyone is well aware, TRT is the hottest new Ska band (with opening act: Peculiar Predilection). Where was I again? Oh yeah, boinking.
So yeah. Ladies can pet the cat with Liara, but dudes can’t dock their spaceship with any men until 3. Kinda shitty. Especially since MaleShep can’t get with Vega.
Boy’s gotta hard body and a gruff demeanor. I’ve seen straight ladies swoon (or...waterfall) over him, I KNOW gay men gotta be saluting every time he does a push-up. I’m straight, and I just wasted a whole paragraph talking about batter-dipping the corndog with the smokin’ hot human with the heart(s) of a Krogan.
But what options are we ACTUALLY allowed for gay male characters? I’m glad I asked! The game gives us Kaiden (who, unless he’s bi, is REALLY in conflict with the subtext of his “friend” on Jump Zero) and Esteban (Steve Cortez). Steve is AAAALLLLLL personality- kinda the definition of a butterface, if it also included the body- but just...SO sweet. But Steve isn’t just a really sweet guy with a sad backstory...he’s also the jumping off point for the whole crux/biggest inspiration for this entire post.
When you meet him, you find out he’s carrying some heavy baggage about losing his husband. The more he opens up, and the game reveals, the more just...fucking TRAGIC the whole situation is revealed to have been. This dude needs some serious therapy sessions. It’s heartwrenching to HEAR, I can only imagine the sleepless nights one would deal with having lived through it.
How does the game handle it? Well, FemShep can talk to him, let him know she’s there for him, and basically leave with a, “sucks for you!” whereas MaleShep has an extra option: Tell him, “the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else...” with a wink, plow the PTSD outta him, (SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T FIGURED OUT THAT THEY NAMED THE CHARACTER SHEPARD FOR A REASON... LIKE HOW HOLLYWOOD NAMES HEROES “JC”)then FUCKING DIE.
(END SPOILERS, BUT SERIOUSLY THE 3RD GAME IS FIVE OR SIX YEARS OLD NOW)
What does this game have against Esteban? Dude can’t catch a break and prolly feels like a humanoid black widow, since everyone he sleeps with dies horribly.
Then there’s Jack. The emotionally stunted headcase and walking cliché (“I’m a remorseless killing machine because I’m CRAZY, but deep-down I’m still an insecure little girl. Can you see this persona is a defense mechanism yet? Because I have way more issues to snap at you for, asshole! I KILL PEOPLE!!!”). After underlining all the points I parenthesied through dialogue and Loyalty Missions, MaleShep characters can choose to lust-and-thrust Jack. Because, again, only Shepard’s womb-broom (named Normandy SR2) can sweep away mental illness.
There’s an idiom out there, “don’t stick your dick in crazy” (or for ladies...don’t slide your slit ON crazy, I guess). But in Mass Effect, the mantra seems to be, “your dick CURES crazy.” I’m not gonna stay focused on Jack, as plenty of other (much, much) better articles have covered it in depth. Instead, I will praise one aspect of making whoopee with Jack and use it as a super smooth segue into my next point. Pay attention, this shit is a fucking art, people.
At least when you press the baby button with Jack, it’s only a casual encounter. But the rest?
Look, EVERY romance option in the trilogy is fucking unhealthy. They’re all born out of traumatic, life-threatening situations with high levels of stress & emotions. You might realise that you’ve never heard an elderly couple who was married for many years use the previous sentence when describing how they met.
For instance, in ME2, all the romance options occur RIGHT before the “suicide mission”- a mission so dangerous that the chance of survival hovers around “suicide”. Tensions are high, as the potential fate of an entire GALAXY rests on the shoulders of a handful of people. Then you and someone you’ve been flirting with entangle lower beards.
Look, that makes sense to me. If there was any sexual urges sparking between people, then there’s no better time to act on it than right before death. Impulsivity rides high when the reaper comes knocking. But afterward, Shepard is expected to remain faithful and monogamous until the end of time.
I had a FemShep who was bi, and also she didn’t want to be tied down. In the first game, she romanced Liara. In the second, it was Garrus (she likes strong yet shy characters, she thought they paired well with her assertiveness). What’s cool with Liara is that, due to her diminished role, she gives the player out in ME2. Sure, you can rekindle if you want, but she doesn’t pressure and seems pretty agreeable. Then the third game happened.
By ME3, my Shepard was gonna knock boots with James Vega. But before she could let him shoot twixt wind and water, she was approached by her previous flings. The choice was, rekindle with Liara &/or Garrus, or have a fling with James. I already knew how she felt, so I let Liara down first- foolishly thinking she was still an understanding adult. Liara. Was. Broken. It sucked, and the guilt crept in, in spite of Shepard’s efforts. Then came time to call things off with Garrus. Have you ever seen a sad Garrus? Holy fuck. It’s like an abused puppy.
The only time the game isn’t guilting you into a long-term monogamous relationship is when the character won’t be alive/playing a very large role.
It’s very restrictive. Suppose I don’t want a long-term deal, just a casual encounter. Maybe I’d like to keep my options open, maybe I’m bi. Maybe tensions are really high and I just wanna see what them Dextro-DNA folk are all about. Now this next part isn’t even as well accepted as bi (which isn’t as accepted as being gay, etc.)
But what if I’m poly?
There have to be more people out there who are. Where’s that option at? Because it’s not just about 3Ways. Maybe Shepard has a genuine love for Garrus and Tali (sorry to keep reusing them, they’re just my favorite). Maybe I want Kaiden (for... some reason) AND Liara. What’s the chances of that happening?
Three games until there were options for gay men. Guilt trips for anyone who’s not looking for commitment. No games for poly male or female characters, bi men, or any trans Shepards. For a game about choices and playing a role, there sure are a ton of restrictions, particularly when it comes to cattleprodding the oyster ditch (or any variation thereof).
Now, let’s get it straight: I fucking LOVE Mass Effect. I wouldn’t play through it so often if I didn’t. But loving something is not the same as ignoring flaws or avoiding criticism. The difference is like a healthy relationship vs unhealthy. Like a child, I love this game and can see its potential, but that doesn’t blind me from it’s flaws. I want the best for the series, because the series is the best. But in its current state, I don’t think it’ll impact someone the way, say...Fallout 2 impacted Kotaku’s Patricia Hernandez.
But hey, I bet Andromeda will be just...SO great, right?