September 12, 2009

Mass Effect and Queer Relationships

Filed under:Gender, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 6:24 pm

I’ve been playing Mass Effect on my new (second-hand) Xbox 360. Wow! Videogames have sure come along a lot in the last two years or so since I followed what was hot and joined in on all the blog gossp. Just when I was feeling jaded (I went back and played some of my old favorites and they just didn’t charm me like they used to), I pick up a used copy of Mass Effect because I heard it had some themes in common with Battlestar Galactica.
Mass Effect is a thoughtful science fiction game. Sort of like a good book, only with a lot more choices than a linear story I sit back and enjoy.

I really appreciate that more games these days allow customizable protagonists. When I was a teenager, I pretty much had to access fantastical worlds through the eyes of a white male. Some of those protagonists were pretty rad (usually the quiet ones like Link and Crono because I had more room to imagine what they might be like) while others were obnoxious and oblivious (Squall, Sora). In Mass Effect, the default Commander Shepard is a white dude, but you can custom him to the point that he’s no longer a man. I’m playing the game as a butch black woman, and I bet I’m having an entirely different experience seeing her as a military officer and special agent than if I’d just gone with the default protagonist.

Only one thing about this game really irks me so far. (Well, besides having to kill biotic “terrorists” fighting for reparations that I thought were the good guys.) As a female Commander Shepard, I have the option of pursing a romance with a human male or an alien female. So I can play a queer romance, if I choose. I also can have a sexual encounter with another female alien. Awesome. But I hear that if I play a male protagonist, my romance options are with a human female or an alien female. There’s no option for a queer romance if I play a male character. I suspect the game designers
that their players are heterosexual males and want to indulge in a lesbian relationship through playing a female character. I understand games are a fantasy and indulgence, so why deny players the option of developing a romantic relationship between men? It looks like Mass Effect is an example of queer women getting a pass as long as they’re sexy and doing it for the indulgence of male players who watch. But because of homophobia, queer males get no airtime at all.

Is this inclusion of queer romances among women but exclusion of queer romances among men a trend in games these days, or is Mass Effect unique? The Sims is the only game I can think of that allows all around indiscriminate lovin’.



  1. [...] [...]

    Pingback by Posts about homophobia as of September 13, 2009 | Discrimination Law News — September 13, 2009 @ 4:35 pm

  2. cool that your blog isnt dead, i thought it was for a while

    i especially liked your “characters done right” entries

    Comment by otsim (1) — September 20, 2009 @ 5:32 pm

  3. Hi,
    The mass effect is really nice game.We will soon see the next game in this series.The Xbox is really a nice console and also provide great gaming experience.

    Comment by dvi-kabel (2 comments) — September 22, 2009 @ 11:39 pm

  4. Slightly OT, but:

    I… don’t know if you could really call Squall and Sora white. I think it’s probably a mistake to assume de-facto that anime characters are white, especially without considering the context. Sora’s got a Japanese name, Squall’s physical appearance was based on a Japanese man’s… I really doubt either was designed to be white, but people make that argument about anime characters all the time. I think it’s particularly pertinent where FF is concerned because switching from cutscene to in-game graphics kind of brings it out. Tidus and Cloud look a lot more white… until we see them in FMV glory and they both have really asian features.

    Comment by belderiver (1) — November 19, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

  5. Fair enough. But I assumed they were white as an uncritical teenage player who didn’t give much thought to race.

    Comment by Lake Desire — November 19, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

  6. As for “all around indiscriminate lovin,” Fable 2 does a great job. The issue here is that the player has absolutely no choice in character customization with regards to race. Additionally the entire Fable Universe seems devoid of race, save the mildly tanned gypsy’s, which in itself is rather irritating.

    I’m actually writing a paper about the portrayal of race, racism, and racial profiling in Mass Effect and Oblivion (specifically), while possibly discussing the lack of it in games like Fable, Zelda, Mario, etc. I would be exceptionally grateful if you (any and all) have any views you’d like to espouse with regards to these subjects :]

    As for anime/JRPGs and the like, I’m going to argue that we live in a world of Euro-centric (male power) aesthetics. Until recently (past four years or so) many Japanese artists have drawn the main characters (often male*) with European features, which I assume was an attempt to meet the said societal constructions. Think about hair type and colour, eye colour, height, aggressiveness, any number of things. I don’t know much of the history, but I would guess this began soon after the Western world reconstructed Japan following the end of World War II. Thoughts?

    *I will say that Japanese media (games, movies, anime) has a large number of strong female protagonists, especially in Hayao Miyazaki’s work.

    Comment by Orpheus (2 comments) — November 22, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

  7. I like the point you are making with this. I’ve never played Mass Effect before, but my friends have told me about it. They seemed to have left out that part about not allowing a guy with guy romance.

    Comment by Aaron Wang (1) — May 2, 2010 @ 7:25 pm

  8. Huh, I didn’t know that about the lack of m/m romance in Mass Effect. I played as a Tamil woman, and spent sooooo much time on the uniform colours! :-)

    Have you played Dragon Age? Like ME, there is no limit on partner combinations if you play as a female (although the most beguiling member of your team is also the hardest to seduce, grrr!), and apparently there is one M/M combination included in the game. The “Equal Love” mod opens up all the others. Go gamer community! The most frustrating part is that you have to break up with one character before you can seduce (I mean, “have a relationship with”) another one. *sigh*

    Comment by sarahbee (1) — March 12, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

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