Monday, May 16, 2011

BioWare's Spreading the Equal Opportunity Love?

Bring on the same-sex, well, sex.
Gaming news has been bubbling with Mass Effect 3 news, especially in concern with the types of relationships that can be pursued in the end of the trilogy. Interesting enough, there seems to be conflicting information, as same-sex relationships will be available in Mass Effect 3, however there won't be any new options to romance. Barring change to either of these bits of information, that means certain, if not all, characters perceived as heterosexual by at least the game mechanics in the first two games will suddenly be homosexual or more likely bisexual. Debates about diversity versus character continuity have sprouted up, as BioWare has been gaining its own culture as a company with its bestseller status and new staked position in gender and sexuality topics.

What was interesting to me as I played through the Mass Effect games was that they effectively made available a lesbian option while skirting around a much larger topic they could have exploited. The idea of the Asari being genderless and seeing all species as potentially attractive is forward thinking yet generally unexplored, the closest we get to a similar strain of thinking is the character Kelly Chambers in Mass Effect 2, who is seen as rather quirky than insightful. The message the Asari could have told, however, is incredibly cheapened by the fact that they are blue versions of emphasized femininity, and in America, the sexual flexibility of women is much more acceptable (isn't it also strange that the Alliance only seems to be American people?). Liara T'Soni didn't cause any uprising or challenging of gender roles because it plays easily enough into the typified male fantasy; skeptics can just imagine how different that element of the game would have been received if, instead, Liara was a character that embodied hegemonic masculinity and responded to both Shepards amorously. The game does show how a player can personalize the game to themselves, but through advertising and the game structure, there is a canon that BioWare prefers over the others. The face of Mass Effect is a male Shepard, not a female one.

I have my feet in both camps; gender and sexual diversity in games is a progressive step and I endorse the inclusive attitude BioWare has been showing lately (looking back to the "Straight Male Gamer" episode), however they created Mass Effect like Star Wars, and created a world that is unapologetically the stereotypical space opera that caters to heterosexual men's tastes and comforts. The writers will have to do some fancy footwork to justify the sexuality change; though, it would be interesting to see Mass Effect deal with coming out issues, as that's likely the only route. Then again, I don't see the budding of homosexual desires in teammates to be completely out of the canon, as Garrus and Tali never showed romantic interest in the first Mass Effect, but in the second one, they did. Why not homosexual interests in the third? All of this worry might just be growing pains in the path towards diversity in games.

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