Toronto Diary
5 min

The sexless gay sex of Mass Effect 3

I’ll be completely honest: I’ve never played any of the Mass Effect games. There’s something about the whole space marine concept that’s starting to feel a tad same-y to me, but I digress.

There has, however, been one area in which Mass Effect has risen above most other video game series: it’s one of the few games where your character can, if you choose, enter into a same-sex relationship. In all three Mass Effect games, it’s possible to enter into a lesbian relationship if you’re so inclined. However, you can enter into a gay male relationship only in Mass Effect 3, which I like to think is because gays are always late to things.

We are just the worst like that.

In a leaked cut-scene from the game, protagonist Shepard is seen seducing and subsequently in bed naked with another character named Cortez. While I’d be perfectly happy to let either of the two men into my uncanny valley, Penny Arcade’s Tycho Brahe took issue with how sexless the scene is. (And before you call shenanigans on him, it should be mentioned he’s straight. So while he may not play for our team, he is still on our team.) 

Two, when I think about all the Witch Sex I was havin’ in Dragon Age: Origins, and how “thorough” the physicality of it was, and I compare it to what is absolutely not being shown in this video, this much-vaunted “inclusion” is comparatively nominal.  Actually, it’s not comparatively nominal, it’s literally nominal. They didn’t pull the trigger. We talk about it briefly in the strip, in a goof around times context, but it’s srs biz: think about Jack in Mass Effect 2, how two completely different scenes act as furtherance of her character. They left a lot on the table when it comes to interpersonal dynamics. Not even that; the reality is that you’d be able to see it if it was on the table. They left it inside a drawer. Or maybe a closet.

And here’s the cut-scene itself, for your own review: 

Here’s the thing: is the scene sexless, as opposed to the various straight and lesbian sex scenes from other Mass Effect games? Yes, it is. Although part of me also thinks there might be more to it than simply the publisher’s unwillingness to pitch a tent on the isle of man.

First, consider the target audience: while there may be as many female gamers as there are male, not to mention a proportionate and rather loyal contigency of LGBT gaymers, fact of the matter is that gaming is still seen as a predominantly hetero-masculine pastime. So it makes sense that the sex scenes would cater to their perceived target audience. Do I agree with it? No, but I understand the thinking behind it.

Secondly, it’s still harder to pass gay relationships and gay sex — be it between two males or two females — by the boards who decide game ratings (ie, E for Everyone, M for Mature, etc). Actually, the same goes for movies and TV: it’s harder to get away with portraying gay themes without ending up with a higher rating, thus costing your audience. Once again, do I agree with this? No, but in business, sometimes you have to suck it up and play the game. For examples of this, take a look at the number of characters who were “de-gayed” when crossing from Japanese markets to North American, such as Super Mario’s Birdo and Vivian.

All this to say that I’m willing to extend them the benefit of the doubt, however hestitantly, considering how difficult it is to portray LGBT themes in North American gaming. Of course, if they just wussed out on the relationships over personal issues, then I’m, of course, willing to rescind the probation. 

The step forward you take won’t always necessarily take you as far as you want to go, but ultimately progress is still progress, no matter how small. Would it have been nice if the gay sex went further than it did? Of course, but at least we’re getting closer to that possibility. And if nothing else, at least the gaming industry has shown an understanding that not all of its audience has its head firmly up its ass, as exemplified by this post from Dragon Age II writer David Gaider, whose game also dealt with gay sex. (A little more intimately than Mass Effect 3, mind you, but still . . .)

And if there is any doubt why such an opinion might be met with hostility, it has to do with privilege. You can write it off as “political correctness” if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority. They’re so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. They don’t see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what’s everyone’s fuss all about? That’s the way it should be, any everyone else should be used to not getting what they want.

And the person who says that the only way to please them is to restrict options for others is, if you ask me, the one who deserves it least. And that’s my opinion, expressed as politely as possible. 

 

 

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