Mass Effect developer Casey Hudson's announcement less than a day ago that same-sex romances would be given fuller and more explicit articulation in Mass Effect 3 has unsurprisingly ignited a spark among many followers of the franchise.
In previous Mass Effect games, only female versions of series hero Commander Shepard have had access to homosexual relationships—and these having been limited to members of an all-female alien species, and a dalliance with a rather bizarre petty officer. Hudson's Tweet implies that both female and male Shepard will be able to experience full-scale gay romance.
Some fans are elated, and others worried. But those who have taken to forums to express concern with Hudson's words do not appear to be motivated by cultural or personal objections to homosexuality. No—these players are worried about the consistency and integrity of the series's carefully-woven narrative. Will characters that have been established over the course of one or both of the previous two Mass Effect titles undergo implausible and abrupt sexual transformations?
candidate88766, a user on the ever-buzzing Bioware Social Network, summarized this concern nicely:
I just feel that after between 40 to 80 hours with these characters being straight that suddenly changing them would be a disservice to the character developments of the first two games. I'm sure many fans would love to have same-sex romances with current characters, but I think it would cheapen them to suddenly change their sexual orientation.
This argument appears to be quite persuasive. Many other people in the same thread chimed in to agree. Players have invested an enormous amount of time with these characters—they feel as though they know them, and are in a position to make certain claims of knowledge about their sexuality. Some users have gone character-by-character, detailing the why and how of their romantic background. A poster called Ghost Warrior writes:
Ashley- religious(they are not really for same-sex relationships),flirts and teases male Shep,but not Fem Shep. She has always been open with Shepard,maybe a little to much,so if she was a bi,it is in her character to admit it and go after Fem Shep,just like she did with male one.
Kaidan - similar to Ash. Always open,and sometimes nervous with opposite sex but never with men,which I think says something.
Jacob - very similar to Garrus. Some of his lines strongly indicate he is straight,and he has strictly platonic relationship with male Shep.
None of these three characters was available for a same-sex relationship in the earlier games. These users have concluded that though an individual may choose to conceal their sexual orientation, or experience a form of denial that exceeds concealment, it would be too much of a stretch to have a teammate's sexuality metamorphose out of seemingly nowhere. It's also worth noting that the scripting of a scenario in which a hitherto heterosexually-inclined character steps "out of the closet" would be creatively costly for BioWare. It would need to be extremely sensitive and complex, and would run the risk of becoming distractingly digressive.
This was all very convincing, until a user going by the name Captain Kibosh came along and rocked the boat:
I can agree up to a very limited point—to build into the narrative that every character is bisexual might push credibility, BUT really what some perceive as an "upending" of continuity comes down to a bias of (heterosexual) perception...
...Why would some[players] be incredulous about, say, Garrus "suddenly" being being gay (and Shepard having the dialogue trees to allow such an option) but not about when a player has the option to sleep with MULTIPLE opposite sex partners on a very very small ship...Is this adolescent male heterosexual fantasy of bedding every chick in sight really any more credible compared to Garrus possibly being in the closet or only finally opening up to Shepard in the third act?
The Captain makes a strong point. Haven't both Mass Effect games been riddled with narrative inconsistencies similar to the "harem scenario" mentioned above? I recall rather keenly my own disappointment when, having sacrificed Kaiden Alenko in the first title, none of my crew consoled Shepard her loss—despite the fact that she had been, up to that point, romantically pursuing the fallen soldier. Romances (and amorous one-off, for that matter) have never appeared to have the ripple effect one would suppose they would in real life. They have seemed, in this franchise, to be entirely local affairs. Why should one inconsistency be any more off-limits than another?
It remains a potentially knotty conflict: the Mass Effect developers would need to either (somewhat implausibly) reinvent some or all of the crew of the Normandy as bisexual, or stage creatively-expensive "coming out" scenarios for certain key characters of either gender. This, of course, doesn't take into account that BioWare could introduce new characters into the franchise.
There might be a comprise. Hudson's Tweet specifies that same-sex relationships in Mass Effect 3 will be "reactive to how you interact w/them in-game." Video games narratives are all about adaptability, and BioWare may be planning to address sexuality the same way they addressed sex. My Shepard is female, your Shepard is male; my Garrus is gay, your Garrus is straight. The game would interpret your play style and adapt the characters accordingly. But that's just a guess.
Wider options for Romance in ME3, including Same-sex [Bioware Social Network]
(Top image is from a Mass Effect mod, as seen on YouTube.)