I mentioned it in the Shadow Broker review, but the final, optional Normandy scene between Shepard and Liara is some of the most emotional, amazing material in the series. but it’s even moreso when you’re talking about two women, having a serious relationship talk before one goes off to war, that raises it into greatness, something truly special in terms of video game writing. But, me, as a straight guy, could babble on for pages and pages of dribble, and still not nail how special that is. So, I decided to bring in someone who could. Without further ado, here’s a guest editorial from our own Lauren Ortega from the boards.
Lair of the Shadow Broker’s ending is when I completely fell in love with Mass Effect.
That’s not to say I didn’t already adore the series. But it’s the ending of that DLC after the big bad is defeated and you go over to comfort Asari Archeologist-turned-Intelligence-Provider Liara T’Soni that I finally realized I loved this series completely. Because during that conversation, my Shepard was able to do a quick dialogue interrupt and plant a big kiss on her while electric sparks from the ruined spaceship we’d just assaulted rained down behind us. Now is this scene a little on the cheesy side? Oh yes. It’s big, obvious, super-mushy, and even with the advancement of graphics no game company has yet been able to render a kiss that doesn’t seem kind of stilted and odd. But I love it all the same, and there’s a simple reason for that.
I’m gay, and I’ve been out of the closet since my late teens. I don’t think I need to get deeply autobiographical in an article about Mass Effect, but suffice to say I had some rough few years and had to do a lot of soul searching before I reached a place where I was fully happy and comfortable.* Through a lot of this, my main solace was through pop culture, from comics, movies, television, and literature. And if any of those pieces acknowledged that people like me existed, or gave me plenty of subtext to read between the lines with, I’d latch on and never let go. It’s why Buffy the Vampire Slayer still occupies a giant place in my heart, or why I remember every single scene from Imagine Me and You better than most classic films. I had a hunger for these images, and that alone made them important.
However, one bit of pop culture that I consumed offered an absolute minimum of things for me to latch on to. And that was video games.
If I mentioned that being a female gamer can sometimes blow chunks, none of that would come across as surprising. The industry after all is dominated by young men, and is generally unconcerned with catering itself to you. And if being a female gamer blows, then being a gay gamer can sometimes be absolutely fucking miserable. If you happen to be male, expect to be ignored or even mocked. If you happen to be a woman, expect the rare images to be slack-jawed fantasies of what young straight men think all things Sapphic entails instead of anything vaguely like what an actual relationship is.** And yet I stuck around, even when I was put on the sidelines and starved for images. Because the rare moments when things came together, or showed signs of promise happened to keep me going. “Games will get better” seemed to be something that was frequently stated by minority gamers, and we could only hope it would.
Well, it did, if slowly. And one of the companies to spearhead the way with that was Bioware.
Now I’m not going to sit here and say that this company is transcendent with its handling of characters or romantic options. The company still does mostly traffic in archetypes, and only recently has started to attempt to work beyond oftentimes easily classifiable characters.*** And it’s still an absolute shame that it’s taken all the way to Mass Effect 3 for gay men**** to have the same type of romantic options that lesbian gamers have.
But even with those complaints, I still have to give Bioware my thanks, because with Mass Effect they did do something wonderful for me. They made me actually care about a silly little romance involving a blue-skinned alien space babe, and my badass galactic spy.
And they did this by making the relationship between you and Liara….normal. See, no matter what Shepard you play, male or female, Liara is handled almost exactly the same. She’s an extremely intelligent, easily flustered, nice girl***** who’s attracted to Shepard because s/he happens to be a charismatic and awesome action lead. It doesn’t matter if Shepard looks like a male model, or if she makes Vasquez look femmey. She digs Shepard, and that’s all there is. When you romance her as a female Shepard there’s hardly a big fuss made whatsoever. You’re the heroine; she’s a possible love interest, what more do you need?
That right there satisfies me so much. I always wanted to be the action heroine growing up, and you can bet that I always wanted to get the girl at the very end. Mass Effect allows me to do so, and Lair of the Shadow Broker lets me get my big moment at the very end. I’ve righted wrongs, I’ve saved the day for now, and I get to do the cheesy cliché bullshit that James Bond has pulled off a billion times by now.
But I get to be the one to do it. And that’s enough to make it special for me.
*Well as happy as one can be anyway.
**Not that we don’t have a habit of latching to this either. You get starved for images, you tend to take anything.
*** I could mention that Bioware is still sometimes guilty of the common Virgin/Whore dichotomy that’s still common in our culture. The more morally dubious girl is forward and sexually confident, the nicer girl is usually flustered and if not virginal at least less forward. One of the things I actually kind of admire about Dragon Age II is how they subvert these common depictions by making the two characters both darker, and sweeter than one would expect.
****Really, it’s probably one of my biggest criticisms of the games. Same-sex relationships for women being been featured, but none for men is something I’ve had a deep problem with from the very beginning. Even more so when there’s plenty of evidence to suggest these options happened to be available early on.
***** And yeah, Liara’s a chick. I know the game kind of trotted out the whole “monogendered” deal almost as a way of explaining how it wasn’t a lesbian relationship you got started on with her. But she’s functionally a blue alien space babe, and you sure as hell are getting some sapphic fun on.