Monday, March 26, 2012

Queerness in the Land of Mass Effect 3

So... my partner is completely and utterly obsessed with video games. Before we starting dating, I did not particularly care for them, but they are now growing on me. A particular topic has been catching my fancy as of late and it has to do with the recent release of Mass Effect 3. This video game series is without a date a new level of interactivity. Since the first game, players customize their main character Shepard. They could choose the sex of their character, race, facial structure, basically her/his overall look, then choose how she/he acts as they play through the game to affect the outcome. You can interact with a multitude of characters and have conversations, even realtionships, to which you can choose how your character reacts and thus how other characters react back... basically like a virtual version of those old mystery novels that asked you to flip to certain pages based on the options you chose.

Well Mass Effect 3 adds a whole new element of choice to the pool... sexual orientation. Yes now it is possible to have a queer Shepard by interacting with particular queer characters (both new and old) on the ship she/he commands. Now what I find interesting are fans' reactions. Some are just elated, while others are worried, while others are just appalled. I have seen some people describe how disgusting it is and ridiculous etc. But when you really look at it, the game content that actually visibly confirms the character's sexual orientation is when their is physical contact... and possibly some flirting. But the only animated sequences that are suppose to be the "gay sex"scenes, do not even show anything, only allude to sex. There is some kissing, they lay on the bed or something in their underwear, and then fade to black or pan away. This is the same set up for the straight scenario as well, but I have to ask why some of these fans find this so offensive or anything to get upset over. In general I do not feel a person should feel OK with one scenario and not with the other, but even if she/he is, honestly it seems like these "sex scenes" are extremely watered down and these fans are pretty much getting upset over something that is barely even there. Possibly it is because the game shows that queer relationships can be more than just unyielding sex and actually have emotional and romantic components, making it more threatening to the idea of "legitimate"heterosexual relationships.

But something that I find a bit more interesting, possibly because it is a bit more complicated, are those fans who are worried about this new feature affecting something like the integrity of the story line just as follows:
I just feel that after between 40 to 80 hours with these characters being straight that suddenly changing them would be a disservice to the character developments of the first two games. I'm sure many fans would love to have same-sex romances with current characters, but I think it would cheapen them to suddenly change their sexual orientation.
Views such as this always make me wonder about the speakers real meaning. Obviously someone can genuinely feel that a sudden change in the finale of a trilogy would affect the development, that is a legitimate concern. But I worry within this kind of comment, there is a kernel of homophobia and heterosexism. Why is it such a big deal that characters are "suddenly" gay and just because they were not a romance option before does that really mean that the characters could not be gay or bisexual then? Clearly that shows some level of heterosexism, of assuming that all these characters whose sexuality had not been a topic of discussion before were with out a doubt straight. But no worry, there are gamers out there who make this point and I shall end it at that!

I can agree up to a very limited point—to build into the narrative that every character is bisexual might push credibility, BUT really what some perceive as an "upending" of continuity comes down to a bias of (heterosexual) perception...
...Why would some[players] be incredulous about, say, Garrus "suddenly" being gay (and Shepard having the dialogue trees to allow such an option) but not about when a player has the option to sleep with MULTIPLE opposite sex partners on a very very small ship...Is this adolescent male heterosexual fantasy of bedding every chick in sight really any more credible compared to Garrus possibly being in the closet or only finally opening up to Shepard in the third act?

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad Bioware allowed same-gender romances in this game (besides just Liara)! Now gamers don't have to download mods or edit save files to make this possible. Bioware has been overall pretty great about listening to queer gamers' feedback. However, there has been some bisexual erasure as well. In ME3, there's a scene were Shepard has to tell Kaidan he's either "waiting for the right man," or "waiting for the right woman," not "the right person." Then, in Dragon Age 2 (where all love interests can be romanced by either gender), the character Anders ONLY mentions his previous relationship with the character Karl if the player is male, not female.