Romance in cyberspace is for straight people only, apparently.
Earlier this month, the trailer for the much-anticipated remaster of the beloved Mass Effect trilogy was released. Being a fan of the games for the past few years I can’t deny that I was very excited to see them being revamped for a new gaming generation, though recent news surrounding the series has somewhat brought a pause to the hype for me.
In the past few weeks writers for the characters of Jack and Jacob Taylor, from the trilogy’s second instalment, have spoken out about how their characters were initially slated to be romantic options for player characters of the same gender. This content was scrapped prior to the game’s release. It has been suggested by these writers that a major factor for cutting this content was the backlash the original title received from Fox News for the graphic nature of its sex scenes.
This is not the first instance of these same-sex romance options being scrapped, both in Mass Effect 2 and elsewhere in the series. For instance, a few years ago, game modders found mostly intact voice recordings for same-gender romances for both human companions, Ashley and Kaidan, in the series’ first entry. And shortly after the release of the series’ 2017 spinoff Mass Effect: Andromeda, a patch update reinstalled a previously cut relationship option with the game’s male protagonist and one of his male crewmates.
It would almost be a separate discussion if these options were not even considered at any point in the development of these games, but that they were on the table at one point, and later abandoned, feels worse. That this has happened in multiple instances across the franchise suggests that the developers didn’t have enough conviction in their own work standing for itself, preferring a surrender to reactionary small-mindedness.
That’s not to say that the series has avoided same-gendered romances entirely; Liara was a romantic option for both female and male player characters throughout the trilogy, in spite of the backlash it received initially. In fact, I was first drawn to the series in my late teens after learning that my player character – the lead in the story – could potentially pursue a romantic relationship with another man in the third instalment. For someone who had only recently come out as gay, this felt groundbreaking. Again though, it was frustrating to later learn that this could have potentially been implemented from the start of the series, as PC modders had in fact proved to be possible.
The impact of representation like this extends beyond the effect it can have on an individual. It has been something I have been able to relate to with other LGBTQ+ friends: one of whom introduced me to this series in the first place; and another with whom I was, in turn, able to introduce to this series myself. It has been encouraging to see others feel immersed in these games as a result, rather than feel like they’re contributing to someone else’s story.
While the inclusion of same-gendered romances, or even LGBTQ+ characters more generally, in video games is not necessarily rare in 2021, that has not always been the case. While there are examples out there like Fallout: New Vegas’s Arcade and Veronica; or Dragon Age’s Dorian, Krem and Leliana; who are all well-written and clearly defined, this representation has come with a lot of resistance and mishandling. As such this recent news is not surprising, but instead serves as yet another reminder that despite seemingly good intentions game developers still might not consider this content important enough to keep off the cutting room floor.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is set to be released later this year on 14 May. It is currently understood that this cut content will not make it back into the finished product, which is a shame – because it would have been the perfect chance to retroactively add back what was lost for a whole new wave of players.