Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mass Effect 1's Sex Scene's Inequality

Alright, so, old news: Mass Effect's plot can, with a little effort made to develop a romantic relationship between the protagonist Shepard and one of three of his/her party members, involve a sex scene. How scandalous. This fact caused a bit of a stir for a little while, until people finally realized that there's less adult content in the scene than there is in some "We Are Heavily Implying Sex Is Happening" moments in PG-13 movies, and that the people making the fuss were making a lot of stuff up because they liked attention. Seriously, the scene in Xenogears where Elly's naked, vaguely-defined little sprite gets out of bed after supposedly having (undoubtedly unsatisfying and awkward) sex with Fei shows more and better qualifies as adult content.

Now me, I think that the scene's done tastefully enough, and is relevantly inserted into the plot and characters' relationship's progression well enough, that it's a good, reasonable, and worthwhile part of the game, not excessive or gratuitous. Opened can of worms that it may be to say so, I actually wish a few more RPGs included sex (in this relevant, not excessive way, mind) in their plots, because it IS a consideration for most people in relationships and their average lives--it adds to the relationship of Mass Effect, it helps to nurture the culmination of love and significance in the Aeon Social Link in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES,* and its less romantic, more casual and corrupt nature in the Fallout games helps to reinforce the savage setting and often amoral people of Fallout.

However, there is something about the situation that irks me greatly. It's been complained about by various people before, but now it's my turn to gripe: Why does the player have the option to pursue a heterosexual and gay female relationship, but not a gay male one?

Now look, I admit, it's not a scenario I would especially want to pursue, myself. But limiting the player's options to heterosexual or lesbian ones cheapens the whole affair. Obviously a significant portion of gamers are heterosexual males, so they're only going to be interested in one of those two options (and you can probably guess which one is going to be more popular with them).** But pandering to the larger audience and ignoring the smaller one this way makes the whole thing look like it's just a cheap, degrading attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator shamelessly, like something Final Fantasy 10-2 would do.

This is the kind of insulting pandering the comic book industry specializes in--pretending to be forward-thinking by including a few homosexual characters, but then making sure that pretty much all the ones that are in any way significant are hot girls. Want a Super Hero who's gay, actually important, and has characterization relating to but also going beyond his sexual preference? Apparently you have to go read a book about a kid named Thom Creed, because you sure as hell won't find an example in the genre's primary mediums.

Look, I want to believe that Mass Effect's sex scene and romantic relationship options were about more than fanservice. All other signs say that they were! But it's hard to argue that opinion with this kind of suspicious omission. I hope that ME2 will correct this with the additional option to pursue a gay male relationship. Heck, even just eliminating the lesbian option would almost be better--I'd rather have homosexuality included as an option in the game, being open-minded and all that jazz, but including one and not the other like this is not a step for equality.

* Look, the way I figure it, having Minato leave a small imprint of his DNA in her core CPU doohickey is, for an android like Aigis, most definitely a sexual encounter. Which brings me to a question I've had for a while that some of you (mostly just Trippy) will no doubt want to weigh in on: is it implied (or even canon) that Minato has sex with each girl that he completes a romantic Social Link with? I had originally thought he didn't, and that people were just, as is almost always the case, inappropriately reading more into it than was there...but since the last and most important romance ends with the robot equivalent of poignant love-making, it occurs to me that the others might have meant to imply sex, too. Thoughts?

** I admit that the lesbian relationship's usually the one I pursue, too, but in my defense, the male Shepard sounds like an idiot and comes off as a high school bully given an automatic weapon, Kaiden (the male romantic interest possibility for female Shepard) is a nice but ultimately kind of boring character, and Liara (the female romantic interest who likes Shepard regardless of gender) is a good character whose romantic relationship with Shepard is the sweetest, to me. Then again, maybe I'm just a horny idiot who rationalizes better than most others.


  1. Just thought I'd chime in because I'm currently 12 hours into Mass Effect and I'm almost as hyped as a high school cheerleader.

    I think everything's a little rudimentary to make much of a fuss over things, but at the same time, this rudimentary level of incorporation is exactly the time to be experimenting, so to speak. Build the foundations and work from there. From where I'm at in Fallout: New Vegas, which isn't far, I'm still quietly impressed at the Confirmed Bachelor option. It's subtle, and not ostentatious, but it doesn't need to be. It's just one aspect of a character that can be as complex as the perk setup and interpretation allows for. I mean, I'm a pretty heterosexual guy, but I still think there are character dynamics to be explored across various lines.

    Obviously, the series is already done, so I can't very well demand that later ME games do things any way other than they've already been done, but here's to hoping developers do more to expand their box without getting caught up in "we're being INNOVATIVE!". Especially in this regard: a poorly wrought sexual subplot seems like the ultimate shortcut to not being taken seriously from a writing standpoint. Done well, the possibilities are staggering.

    "the male Shepard sounds like an idiot and comes off as a high school bully given an automatic weapon"

    Oh, thank God it's not just me. Every single line is just a bit too pushy, and there's not much(any so far) candid expression to compensate. Even a moment of playful "I am Commander, hear me roar" here or there would help the all too serious demeanor. It could open the question of whether Commander!Shepard is just putting on airs to fuck with people. I'd LOVE that Shepard.

    On the topic of P3, I think the most broadly appealing - and appeasing - answer is that it's up to the player's interpretation. The game goes out of its way to leave it up in the air, after all, (even if it does force you into a romantic relationship in the first place). I would make a case for Persona 4's fighting game sequel/crossover apparently having the Friend Zone as a universal relationship status, but that game's "story" is a premier example of playing it safe.

    This post brought to you by HYPE moreso than relevant input. At least my backlog's hit the current gen. =\

    1. Always love to hear your perspective, sir.

      As far as Mark Meer goes (voice actor for male Shepard), he really comes into his role in ME2, if that helps. The actress for female Shepard sounds great in ME1 because she IS great when compared to Meer's fumbling, but once Meer hits his stride, one starts to realize that female Shepard, with nobody worse to compare to, sounds like a physically and mentally weary retail worker. So I would suggest staying the course with male Shepard, if you can put up with him for the first game.

  2. To follow up, let's go wild and foresee that homosexual inclinations and orientations are completely ostracized in the near future. I *still* don't see how it can't make for a compelling character, relationship, or storyline.