Sunday, July 14, 2024

Will the Mass Effect Legendary Edition Re-Examine The Trilogy’s Homophobia? We Doubt It

The excitement for the Mass Effect Legendary Edition is very real. While the Mass Effect remaster may not have been the thing I wanted the most from BioWare – where is the Dragon Age 2 Remaster? – I hold some fond memories of the trilogy. Such as ditching school to play the third game, and excitedly talking about it with friends online. Unfortunately, it also brings up memories of how rampant homophobia shaped choice and romance in the Mass Effect trilogy, how damning it was towards its LGBT+ audience, and how, with some exceptions, that it was completely swept under the rug.

That may sound strange to some. After all, the Mass Effect trilogy gives you the option to romance Liara, an alien Asari, which is an all-women race, from the beginning as a female Shepard and they even added Kaidan as a male romance option in the third game. That isn’t even including Samantha Traynor or Steve Cortez – who are only available for same-sex Shepards. How can this trilogy be so homophobic, and give those options?

Let’s go back 12 years ago. In an interview with Kotaku Australia, Casey Hudson (Mass Effect 2’s lead project director at the time) and Ray Muzyka spoke to journalist Tracey John about the lack of homosexuality in the second game. I’ll be honest. It’d be a lie to say that it was enlightening in any positive way, and even John admits that it felt like they were given the ‘PR spin.’ But in that PR spiel was a nugget of truth.

“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.” Muzyka answered to John’s question. ” It’s just part of the design and the choices made for each game. It doesn’t mean that we’ve in any way changed our philosophy toward enabling choice. We love giving players choice, and we are going to continue to enable that for future games.”

Defined characters with a more defined view is an odd reason to give on why none of the Mass Effect 2 characters were available for same-sex relationships. At best it implies that the characters in Mass Effect 2 really were just all straight, or at worst it conveys that these characters couldn’t be at all queer because they were ‘too defined’ – whatever that means – to be so in the first place. Or the latter, which is far more likely, that Shepard couldn’t be anything but straight – despite a female Shepard already having the option to get down and dirty with multiple asari. Again, that was most likely handwaved away at the time, due to the conflicting conversation of whether Asari were actually an all-female race, or just completely genderless. But let’s be honest with one another, alright? The thought of a male Shepard being in any sort of queer relationship was just inconceivable, and it was obvious to see in the Kotaku interview.

It isn’t just Muzyka that put their foot in their mouth in regards to homosexual relationships in Mass Effect 2. Hudson stated that they still viewed love and love interests as if they’re picturing a “PG-13 action movie.” They even went on to explain that Tali’s age, experience, what she’s concerned about, all factors into what makes her character and shapes what sort of love interest she is.

Would her romance with a female Shepard truly make the game ‘R rated?’ Especially in a game where Miranda’s romance scene exists? I’m no prude, but that smells a lot like bullshit to me. It’s also just another example of how the perception of LGBT+ people at the time was so obvious in sexualizing us and our relationships despite knowing nothing about us.

Jack, despite having a past with both men and women, can only be romanced by a male Shepard.

Another example is Jack, who is literally bisexual, but is unable to be flirted with in the same way as she can be with male Shepard by female Shepard. It isn’t just Mass Effect 2 that we see that Jack swings both ways, but during her flirty conversation with Miranda Lawson in Mass Effect 3’s Citadel DLC. Jack – and arguably Miranda’s – bisexuality is clear, but only from a distance where it can be pushed to one corner and never interacted with in any meaningful way.

Alright fine, these comments and decisions were made nearly 12 years ago, people change, it was a very different time back then, and Mass Effect 3 made ‘amends’ by adding Kaidan and two other same-sex romance interests. Surely this means that BioWare is going in a step in the right direction? Maybe they’ll even make further amends in the new Mass Effect remaster to re-examine the homophobia in its decisions? Well, due to what we’ve already talked about above, I doubt it.

In the blog post that celebrated N7 Day, Casey Hudson – previously the studio GM of BioWare – talked about the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and what changes we could expect from the game.

“For many months now, our team at BioWare has been hard at work updating the textures, shaders, models, effects, and technical features of three enormous games. Our goal was not to remake or reimagine the original games, but to modernize the experience so that fans and new players can experience the original work in its best possible form.” The blog post continued, “Mass Effect Legendary Edition will include single-player base content and DLC from Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3, plus promo weapons, armors, and packs – all remastered and optimized for 4k Ultra HD.”

In truth, expecting anything but an update in visuals and animation was actually a losing game and would have, no doubt, ruined the original work’s ‘vision.’ But I’m not here to argue that the Mass Effect trilogy should wipe out its homophobia, because I just know that isn’t going to happen. I’m not here to point a finger and say ‘STOP ENJOYING THINGS’.

But I am here to say that the perspective of Mass Effect and Shepard as a character who only stands in for straight men has to be one of the most soul-destroying, and damaging things that BioWare ever did when promoting Mass Effect 2. I can’t even imagine how queer men must have felt at the time, or even queer women whose sexuality of their female Shepards kept getting put through grinder after grinder because BioWare didn’t have a clue on what their own fiction race was about outside of ‘hot blue women.’

BioWare has done a lot for queer fans, that truly cannot be denied. But they also owe fans an apology for the handling of queerness in the Mass Effect trilogy, and how it led to blatant homophobia in its perception of Shepard.

Play the game, I’m going to and I know I’m going to enjoy almost every minute of it. But folks? We deserve better.

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2 thoughts on “Will the Mass Effect Legendary Edition Re-Examine The Trilogy’s Homophobia? We Doubt It

  • Not a word about lack of m/m relationship up until Mass effect 3, no?

  • Even though the article does not use this exact wording, I think this point is addressed in the second paragraph.
    There is certainly more that could be written on this topic, and there are even some scientific works on representation in Mass Effect on the web, e.g. YOUNGBLOOD: “When (and What) Queerness Counts: Homonationalism and Militarism in the Mass Effect Series”

    What also bothers me about gay representation in the third part is the poor treatment of Steve Cortez. Much of his dialogue revolves around making it clear that he is a gay romance option so that no straight guy becomes “ninja-romanced”. And by the late design decision that he is a POC, all of his scenes are fully underexposed. With the latter, I could even imagine that being fixed in the remaster.

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