Tag Archives: Mass Effect


The Beginning
of Empathy

In the summer of 2013, I started becoming aware of a movement to boycott the as-yet unreleased Grand Theft Auto V specifically because you couldn’t choose to play as a female character. In particular, there was a Jezebel article that articulated this rather loudly, but I also recall talking about it with an acquaintance on Twitter. We were talking about both GTA V and Saints Row 3, and my friend refused to even consider playing GTA V:  “I only need one open world gangland sim in my life, and GTA won’t rate for me unless it adds a female PC.”

At the time, I found this line of reasoning profoundly pretentious, ridiculous, and ultimately misguided. For one thing, I found it preposterous that people were getting outraged over something that had never been promised or even hinted at in the first place. For another, the idea that you would actively choose to not play what by all appearances looked like the greatest game ever made solely because you couldn’t choose to play as a woman—in a franchise that has historically gone out of its way to treat women as horribly as they can be treated—seemed ludicrous. (Indeed, as of this writing, there are only two games in all of Rockstar’s catalog where you can choose to be a female character: the original Grand Theft Auto and Table Tennis.)

Of course, this hullabaloo took place long before the game had even come out.  Once I finally got my hands on GTA V, I found a host of reasons to be offended that had nothing to do with the treatment of women, even as the game’s treatment of women was somehow even worse than I’d anticipated.

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of Empathy

Love’s Labor’s Lost

“Here’s the thing: being near you makes me crazy, but I can’t imagine being without you. Not ever.”

—Alistair to Grey Warden, Dragon Age: Origins

“I love Hawke. […] I say it a lot. It makes things clearer, takes away doubt when everything is crazy and people are dying.”

—Merrill to Aveline, Dragon Age II

“It’d be an awfully empty galaxy without you.”

—Garrus to Commander Shepard, Mass Effect 3

BioWare has a special place in my heart due to its combination of the RPG and third-person shooter genres, its story lines, and its devotion to non-player character (NPC) development. Creating my own character or customizing the set player character (PC), choosing their personality and behavior, and being able to replay the games with a different tone or overall outcome each time makes for a personalized gaming experience that helps me connect with the action and deeply feel for the PC as well as the NPCs. I always look for media that encourage intellectual and emotional investment from the consumer. But emotional investment is not always rewarded in the best way.

Naturally, I am talking about the option to romance NPCs. BioWare has earned acclaim for its representation of lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships in its games, and I applaud the company for its efforts to be inclusive. My heart swells with happiness when I hear the joy in a person’s voice when they discover that they can romance a female companion while playing as a female, or a male companion while playing as a male, or that specific characters can be romanced by a PC of any gender. There is no solid argument against how helpful and validating representation for sexual minorities can be, whether one is talking about film and television, literature, video games, or another form of media; and there is plenty of evidence supporting the importance of this representation to help normalize these marginalized sexualities in the public eye as well as empowering an underrepresented demographic.

However, there is still something common between all of these romantic possibilities: the flirting, the courtship, the intense feelings and declarations of adoration all count as nothing unless the player character ends up having sex with the romantic interest. Upon reading that sentence, many people may be baffled; after all, doesn’t every important romantic relationship eventually lead to one or many sexual encounters?

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