Mass Effect, Romance, and Choice

The would-be shining star of my FemShep's redemption saga... except some guy in an office at BioWare said no, because fuck the players, that's why.
Oh Tali… the would-be shining star of my FemShep’s personal redemption saga… except that some bloke in an office at BioWare said no, because screw player choice, that’s why.

This was supposed to be a quick post on Google+. It’s never that damn easy.

When did I start finding Tali so girl-next-door adorable in Mass Effect? I was always a fan of everyone’s favorite Quarian, but only recently have I wanted to see the romantic side of her (in particular, the one that isn’t having hilariously drunken fantasies on the floor in Shepard’s bathroom).

I want to pair my beloved FemShep and Tali so freaking much, because Amanda  would have been awesome in that scenario (given how she handled her relationship with Liara, especially), buuuuut… because BioWare spent 3 games being unusually controlling (by BioWare standards, anyway), this will never happen.

tali_me3_reuninon_by_l_a_m_o_n-d51f09v
This would have been a very touching scene. If… you know, it had been able to happen. Artwork by L-a-m-o-N on DeviantArt.

Before I continue, note that the next few paragraphs will comprise a somewhat semi-angry but mostly passionate rant.

Apparently, girls can sleep with aliens (Liara, Garrus, Thane) and girls can sleep with girls (Kelly, Samantha), but with the technically genderless exception of Liara (the “genderless Asari” concept is one that was almost expressly penned as a controversy dodge), girls apparently cannot sleep with alien girls in the universe of Mass Effect, because obviously that would have been wierd.

Meanwhile, MachoShep is losing count of all the human, alien, and pansexual poon available to him, being the Captain Kirk action hero that he is. Even Kaiden can’t stop wanting him in Mass Effect 3.

Seems sloppy (innuendo NOT originally intended, but now found to be hilarious in a Fifth Grade sort of way by this sleepy and groggy blogger), if you ask me.

I don’t get that.

Liara, Morinth, and Samara are all Asari, and therefore technically they are genderless. I keep saying “technically” for good reasons. All three behave according to some form of feminine fictional archetype: Liara is the gentle/devoted lover, Samara is the stern and wise mother (mixed with a bit of warrior monk), and Morinth is the wild party girl/seductress sex fiend.

They are genderless only in theory and concept, because they are designed, acted, and regarded by everyone, both in and out of the context of the games, as fully female in every sense of the term (especially Samara, who eventually reveals that she has three daughters, one of whom is Morinth). All three are romance options for a male and female Shepard (even if Morinth’s romance has you suffering one of the greatest… *ahem*… cockblocks in videogame history).

Ergo, Female Shepard has the option of sleeping with the Space Opera-requisite Green Alien Woman, except they’re blue here, and according to BioWare’s official word, not actually women.

End rant.

I mention this not to dwell on the fact that Shepard is allowed to be gay/lesbian, but rather, I want that evidence on the table, because it’s oddly controlling in how it’s implemented.

Here’s the thing.

My character of Amanda Shepard ended up being utterly faithful to Liara through 3 games. I did not decide on Liara because “I am a guy and therefore girl on girl is hot”. Rather, I chose her as Shepard’s love interest because it worked well in the interests of Amanda’s character development.

I had started the game with Amanda being the perfect, consummate soldier: everything done by the book, the law is God, and not in possession of a scrap of available compassion. She’d been physically and emotionally scarred by watching slavers kill her family and all her friends on Mindoir when she was 16, and it made her into a ruthless, detached, and compassionless bitch who got her entire squad killed at the Battle of Torfan because she valued the mission above the lives of her squad, and these were people I can only imagine as being very present and well established in her life before that point.

the_butcher_by_a_stric-d4dl7ql
Not too much of a stretch to say this would be Amanda in her early days. Artwork by a-stric on DeviantArt.

Years pass. Shepard remains cold and detached, even from her own crew aboard the Normandy.

Enter Liara, the only legitimately kind and loving person who is willing to get that close to Shepard, and Shepard begins to thaw over the course of their relationship, and in so doing, finds in herself the compassion she needs to become strong enough to lead the whole galaxy and everyone in it to a new future free of the Reaper threat.

By the time of Mass Effect 2, Liara is the one who is frozen, and it is Shepard who returns an old favor by helping to remind Liara of her incredible compassion by being there for her and being a faithful but concerned lover.

Pretty much my favorite image of Liara/Shep. Picture by FolksNeedHeroes on DeviantArt.
Pretty much my favorite image of Liara/Shep. Picture by FolksNeedHeroes on DeviantArt.

Liara fixed and saved a broken woman, and was the only romance option in Mass Effect 1 that could have pulled off that narrative for me. Ashley wasn’t an option, and Kaiden was too much of a puppy-dog soldier boy to have made it work.

But if Tali had been an option, you bet she could have pulled that heart-mending off. She’d have done it differently, but she could have done it.

But BioWare denied that for 3 games.

This isn’t about hot steamy sex scenes or even the equality of the sexes or a political agenda to take before Congress. This is about being denied choice in a series that prides choice on being its number one feature and selling point. This is about writers arbitrarily shackling the players, who are in every sense their OWN writers.

Mass Effect is a unique series. It’s more defined and on-rails than say… Elder Scrolls, but at the same time remains remarkably open in ways that Elder Scrolls and its ilk could never be, and Mass Effect reminds you at every turn of every conversation that you are playing this all by feel or calculation, whichever you so choose. There isn’t some stuffy writer person in an office behind a desk defining Shepard, who he or she is, what he or she likes and dislikes, or how he or she behaves.

Except when there suddenly is.

I have no idea why BioWare gave me so much choice, only to cut out choices that would have given me even more interesting and genuine stories to tell in this truly wonderful world they have created. I have no idea, and at the end of the day, I don’t much care either. The choice was taken from me, and there is nothing they can say or explain that will make things better in that regard. They tried to dodge controversy once by making Liara (again I say, technically) genderless, and I cannot help as if that same brand of thinking was in play at making Tali a romance option for MachoShep alone, as if FemShep being lesbian was somehow a bigger PR sin than FemShep having sex with an alien.

Yet despite the fact that I am going on and on here about not being able to have my FemShep woo Tali, and despite the fact that there’s a big freaking huge picture of Tali at the top of this entry, this isn’t about Tali; she’s merely the spark that triggered this post.

This is about the player as their own storyteller, playing a game that encourages them to tell every possible story, only then being unable to tell the version of the story that they want, because some person had made a million dollar decision to deny them that ability at the last minute because it would have been “weird” or “controversial”. Apparently, there are sound files and full scale plotlines in the Mass Effect discs that indicate that Ashley and Kaiden were both supposed to be romance targets for same-sex Sheps in ME1, and Tali was supposed to be likewise in 2 and 3. So BioWare obviously fully intended this to be a thing, and then I’m guessing some suit from EA Games stepped in and said no even after the smoke had cleared from Fox News’ hilariously narrow crusade on Mass Effect 1’s 30 second sex scene that doesn’t show anything.

In a game about the power and effect of player choice, why not let the player choose what they think is squicky and weird and then allow them to choose around that thing? Don’t like space lesbians? Don’t play one. Don’t like Shep hooking up with Garrus Vakarian? Don’t have Shep hook up with Garrus.

For the record though, FemShep/Garrus is actually very sweet, and makes for an excellent story to tell.

Seriously. It may look weird at first, but it just works somehow.
Seriously. It may look weird at first, but it just works somehow.

Tali, narratively speaking, would have been a perfect fix for my broken Shepard’s woes.

It’s a shame I’ll never get the chance to really find out how that would have played out.

Peace, love, and choices,

Drew

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4 thoughts on “Mass Effect, Romance, and Choice

  1. In fairness, FemShep not being able to romance Tali says less about FemShep than it does about Tali. BioWare decided that Tali is straight. Ash, Garrus, Thane, Jack and Miranda are all straight, as well. Heterosexuality is far and away the most common sexual orientation out there. So making everyone you come across bisexual would’ve been unrealistic. While it might be nice for FemShep to have the option to show interest in Tali, and for Tali to say she’s not interested in women, it probably wasn’t necessary. (Actually, I know a gay guy who’s said that Gaydar is actually a thing, and that gay people can recognize other gay people. So FemShep probably would know pretty quickly that Tali’s not interested.)

    1. Drew Ellis Forester

      I agree, except for the bit where Tali shows an overt interest in Shepard after her loyalty mission in ME2 when she talks about Quarian intimacy (linking up suit environments) and then says that the only person she knew that she’d be willing to do that with would be Shepard. She says this regardless of whether Shep is male or female, but if Shep is female, the game just sort of ends the issue there regardless of your reply.

      Only MachoShep can take that conversation further despite the fact that interest in FemShep is shown (though fans often disagree about the particular level of interest).

      Also while drunk at Shepard’s party in Citadel, Tali audibly fantasizes about a threesome with Garrus and Shepard. I wouldn’t take that as a sign of serious commitment, but more as a sign that on SOME level, she’d love to consider that a possibility, but like everything else at the party, that bit is played mostly for laughs.

      1. Maybe she meant she’d link up with Garrus? They do hook up in 3, after all. Or it may have been less romantic, and more like seeing Shepard as a sister. Regardless, I suspect a Shepard interested in women would probably recognize that Tali’s not really interested in women.

        I never heard the bit about a threesome.

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