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BioWare Founder Discusses Relationship Inclusion/Exclusion


For years, BioWare has been turning out some fantastic RPGs and has always been pushing the envelope when it comes to the choices and control you have over the characters in the games. One envelope they push in particular is what they allow for relationships in their games. With their past two major titles, Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2, BioWare has received both praise and disdain for both the inclusion and exclusion of relationship choices in their games when compared to past titles. Dragon Age: Origins proved to let the player take complete control of your character and allowed for multiple love interests with an array of companions. Mass Effect 2, however, seems to have taken a step back from its predecessor, which had a very controversial 'lesbian' scene in the game if you played a female Shepard. The sequel seems to be devoid of any promiscuity between Shepard and anyone of a similar sex, but does allow for some heterosexual love scenes between various characters, depending on your gender.

There's been some backlash on the forums, with players demanding to know why these love interests are missing, and the response of locking threads has made some upset; nevertheless, BioWare has been pretty quiet on information regarding the issue. In a recent interview with Ray Muzyka, one of the BioWare founders, Andrew Smee over at IGN got a bit of a scoop as to reason for Shepard's apparent shyness with the same sex this time around:

"Dragon Age is a first person narrative, where you're taking on an origin and a role, and you are that character at a fundamental level. It's fundamentally about defining your character, including those kinds of concepts. In Mass Effect it's more a third person narrative, where you have a pre-defined character who is who he is, or she is."

"in Mass Effect it's more about Shepard as a defined character with certain approaches and worldviews, and that's just who he or she is. So we constrain the choice set somewhat, but enable more tactical choices and enable a deeper, richer personality, because it's more focused around defining one character, it's not as wide open"

"It's first person versus third person narrative, and the types of choices you get to make within that are related to that, whether you've got a pre-defined character or a wide-open character. Some of our games have been wide open, and some have been more constrained, and we'll probably continue both kinds of character development in the future."

Overall, he's basically saying that it's a difference in storytelling. In your first-person narratives you have complete control over who a character is and what the do, whereas in a third-person game, you are merely helping make decisions for an already defined character. While it is a bit of a cop out of a reason why the love interests aren't included (I'm still included to think that timeline/budget issues where a bigger reason) the conversation itself almost seemed to mirror an age old argument. If first-person is creating a character and third-person is merely control choices, then it comes down to being created that way or choosing to be that way, but that's just me oversimplifying a very bombastic issue, so take it with a large grain of salt.

A big thanks to Randy to bringing this article to our attention, and make sure you check out the rest of the interview with Ray Muzyka over at IGN.

Mass Effect 3 & Beyond [IGN]


Clockwork said:

I have a bit of an issue with this. If this is about Shepard as a "defined character" and him not being gay, then why can we make Shepard a woman and thus enable homosexual choices? That doesn't compute with me, and as much as I love Bioware, I feel this is something of a cop-out.

If it were simply a matter of, "Shepard is a pre-defined character and he isn't gay," then we shouldn't be able to make him female, or at the very least, making him female should change the romance options to males, so that they're all heterosexual as well.

malevoent yoda said:

this is just a cop-out, ME2 is a game where every thing is a choice and every choice effects the game. you can be extremely paragon or extremely renegade or anything in between choose what characters to be close to and decide every path in the game. but you can't have your character be gay? the explanation just doesn't fit with such wide options. it would be so much better if bioware just came out with the truth of why it wasn't in there being budget issues or even that they just didn't want it.

NaviFairy said:

I was actually on Bioware's side of this at first. I can accept the whole "Asari are technically asexual and don't count as a lesbian relationship." Any relationship with an alien species goes far beyond homo or heterosexuality, and I'm willing to let that slide. But then they had to go and introduce Yeoman Kelly Chambers. Sorry Bioware, but you lose that ambiguity when you make the relationship with a human character.

It would have been such a simple fix too. They killed off Navigator Pressley, which opens the doors for a new navigator that could be a male option for male Shepard. He could still swing either way to keep the romance options balanced for male and female, but wouldn't it make for an interesting character if there was a guy on board whose admiration for Commander Shepard took a direction that he wasn't expecting, and Shepard comforts him as he deals with his questions about sexuality.

RRRrrr said:

In addition to the Liara (and Kelly) thing, this still makes no sense.

I don't see how making choices in Mass Effect and Dragon Age are all that different to begin with. You customize a character, have a different origin (hello? Earthborn War Hero? etc.), and are shoehorned into the same plot structures (I cannot just say nothx to being a Warden in Dragon Age, same with Mass Effect for example). This also doesn't explain the recording of same sex lines in the game's code. Besides, why would an alien care if Shepard has a vagina or not...? And don't give me "dominant/submissive" relationship dynamic tripe.

This is all still bullshit. At least come out and say "there will not be any male/male" and end it something like that. Giving a flimsy example of third-person role-playing crap is just dancing around the issue. Wtf is third person role-playing anyway? What do these choices have to do with one of the few things a player has ABSOLUTE CONTROL OVER in these games? Unless they are writing some epic conclusion to fleshed out magical romances previously pursued for Mass Effect 3, which I highly doubt since the current romances are complete shallow jokes compared to what they were in Dragon Age, there is no reason to exclude m/m when femshep even gets f/f to a lesser extent. Whatever! They should just skip the charade and call ME3 third-person hetero shooter with RPG elements.

Decompiled said:

So Bioware think Shepard is too manly to be gay? Or a strong Female role model to be a Lesbian?
I still don't get it.

s parker said:

Bullshit, Bioware.

What they're saying is that sexuality is as unchangeable (and thus important) as the linearity of the story, because these are the two things you cannot change in the game. You can completely alter the character's gender, race, personal history, personality, military specialty, and a whole lot of other things, but somehow liking the opposite sex is integral to the character's "worldview?"

No. It would be incredibly simple to include an option at the beginning when you select your character's gender: "Gay? Straight? Bi?" That they fail to do even this shows that either they don't care enough about their gay and lesbian customers enough to include it, but they know we'll still but the game anyway.

There has yet to actually be a gay character in any of their games. If sexuality really is a such defining characteristic for their characters, why are so many conveniently bisexual? Gay content is an afterthought, and for merely deeming to include anything, Bioware gets credit as the most progressive RPG developer.

I really like their games. KOTOR is my favorite RPG of all time. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. They're not making games with this limited LGB content because they find it meaningful, but because it helps sell games to people who are desperate for it. This is why they cannot actually bring themselves to use the word 'gay' in an official press release like the one above. And it's why they make such half-assed excuses for not including it in new games. It's not about OUR gaming experience.

Scott B. Sweet said:

Homophobia, pure and simple. Bioware thinks no fag can be a marine and that all lesbians just need a good man.

BrianWilly said:

This is such nonsense, it's practically comical. He doesn't even answer the question, he just gives some vague, clinical brush-off that doesn't actually address what the querent was asking.

"So hey, where are the gay guys in this game, considering there were lesbians in the first?"

"Well you see, it's a third-person narrative."

...Um...okay? And? What about that have to do with anything?

g_whiz said:

As much as I enjoy this game and the franchise in general I'm inclined to agree. ME 1 had my very badass female Shepard in a very loving relationship with Liara T'Soni. Which I was reminded of at the beginning of Mass Effect 2 when she was arguing with me about leaving without her. Which I was again reminded of whenever I went into my captians quarters and saw her picture on my desk. Third person narritive or no, I was allowed to make these choices and they carried over (which apart from the limitation on gay male depictions of intamacy is really interesting). The absence of the ability to have same sex romances some thousand years in the future #where one would HOPE this would be much less a taboo) seems regressive and an oversight.

If sexuality were inherently inflexible and the gay Shepard is flying against his/her "third person narritive", why does one aspect of the character (Female commander) get the lukewarm girl on girl action and the other not? The answer I keep returning to is creator bias. Which doesnt sit to well with me in the face of such a flimsy explanation of them.

Matthew DH said:

what the bioware founder said is exactly the same point i tried to make in the forums! i feel so vindicated!

Limeade said:

It is a double-standard and hypocrisy. To say that Shepard is a predefined character, insinuating that Shepard is heterosexual, is nothing short of Ray making up an excuse as to why there's not a Gay Shepard specifically. Even putting aside Liara, ME2 introduced Kelly Chambers.

If (female) Shepard is entitled and allowed to be bisexual/lesbian in the ME series, this proves that the Shepard character has no predefined sexuality. Shepard can be non-heterosexual in ME2. If it is within Shepard's character to be bisexual/lesbian, then why not bisexual/gay? That is the double-standard. It is not okay for only Male Shepard to be gay, that's what I take away from this mess.

p said:

I agree with you g_whiz, but ME does not take place thousands of years in the future, more like 170.

Burr said:

Why didn't they just say that none of the other male characters in ME2 are gay? That would be a more logical and convincing excuse that fits within their artistic rights. Shepard is NOT pre-determined as they say, so it sounds like a completely idiotic cop out. However, clearly it could just be that they do not intend for any of the male characters Shepard encounters to be gay.

That they made the weaker argument instead of the more obvious one kind of belies their motivation.

RRrrrrRRr said:

Actually, Burr makes a good point. I would totally buy if the human males were straight. Aliens, not so much, but I'd love the option to at least hit on them and be refused.

NaviFairy said:

@Burr, yeah, that's why I was suggesting adding in a new character. I don't think they should have any of the current male party members be gay, that wouldn't fit with their characters. But I think something that could fit very well would be a character that looks up to Shepard as a hero, and the hero worship evolves into romantic feelings.

On a completely different note about romances in Mass Effect, why is Shepard the only person on the Normandy getting some? Sure, my male Shepard hooked up with Tali, but why can't I play matchmaker and get Garrus and Jack together, or Miranda and Thane? From going through all of the character's conversations it's clear they have very active sex drives, so why should Shepard be the only one to actually get any from it?

kybarsfang said:

So male Shepard is heterosexual, but female Shepard is bisexual? Even if you're expecting the players to play a "third person narrative," why bother making one different than the other? If you're going to make one bi, it makes sense to me to make them both bi.

Dr_Vile said:

I have to agree that this seems like a complete cop-out. First person versus third person narrative? Rubbish.
The only difference between Dragon Age and Mass Effect is that in the latter you cannot choose to be a species other than human. In both games, your surname and family are pre-defined, you can alter the appearance of your character and role-play a personality for them, which is done by picking from pre-defined conversation options.
As far as I can see, the only difference is that Mass Effect is a more mainstream game that attracts more than just RPG gamers.
As others have said, Femshep players can choose to engage in a romantic (although non-sexual) relationship with Yeoman Chambers, and even if Bioware insists on continuing to deny that the Femshep/Liara romance is a lesbian one, it doesn't change the fact that Femshep must be at least bisexual in order to find Liara attractive.
Honestly, I'd have a lot more respect for Bioware if they just came out (hah) and were honest about why there's no m/m lovin'. Not necessarily a sexual relationship, but at least a romantic one. Most likely, it's in order to appeal to the fratboy demographic (otherwise known as the 'ohmigod lezbians r hawt!' brigade). That's just my opinion, of course, but I'd have a lot more respect for Bioware if they were to cite this as a reason for including f/f but excluding m/m relationships, rather than trying to wriggle out of it by giving some lame excuse.

Fredy said:

Bioware has disappointed me. I would have been fine if they just said "The writers were uncomfortable with creating a scene like that but hey it doesn't mean he isn't curious." That I would understand. A little messed up but hey not every straight guy out there wants to write/create the GAY SCENE.

But noooooo. These people go the extra mile and pretty much destroy all the brownie points they had been accumulating since Jade Empire and blurb that it's a different type of story telling and hence Male Shepard is straight while Female Shepard is canonically bisexual. Even though half the lure of their little campaign was giving the gamer unprecedented control over the decisions and outcomes of the game. The worst part is that it's so obvious why Female Shep is bisexual. Even more so why not Male Shepard.

Mass Effect is a great looking game but I'm not gonna continue with a series that so obviously supports some sexist double standard.

Gee I just had a serious case of verbal diarrhea.

naruhodo said:

Yeah, if they wanted Shepard to be such a controlled character, then he would only have one romantic interest and not the options. It's BS that they think a high-ranking soldier can't be gay.

I think that the most ideal thing to do would be to set the "romancable" characters somewhere along the Kinsey Scale of 0=exclusively hetero and 6=exlusively homo, where if they're a 2 or less, then the same-sex Shepard can only have a "bromance" with them, and if they're 3.0 or higher then it gets easier for Shepard to really woo them and have a real romance with them. That way Shepards of both sexes can flirt with whichever of the "romancable" characters they want, and will just have varying levels of success depending on the NPC's sexuality. Unfortunately, this seems too sophisticated for Bioware's games at the moment.

Scott said:

So why did my totally hetero Shepard just point out last night what a killer bod Jacob has in a conversation on the ship?

And he does, too.

And Jacob is totally crushing on Shepard, too.

IgnusDei said:

honestly folks, i don't think Bioware would've done a good job of portraying a believable gay relationship, romantic OR sexual, at least not without using Torchwood as a reference point (and dear lord, that would've been pure cheese). It would be something if they had a gay writer and gay animation director, but i doubt they do.

To be perfectly blunt, it'd be like an episode of The L Word as written by Ron Jeremy. Consider that idea for a moment.

BrianWilly said:

To respond to IgnusDei, Bioware has already DONE well-received gay romance options in the past...Dragon Age being the obvious example, but also in Jade Empire and even Knights of the Old Republic. Mass Effect 1 itself had a possible lesbian relationship.

Gay content in games has been around for some time now -- Fable, the Sims -- and industry has not actually collapsed on itself, contrary to the way some devs are acting. A lot of that has to do with the exemplary way that Bioware themselves have acted in the past, which is what makes this particular interview feel so much like backpeddling/cop-out/whatever.

TheFilmTwit said:

I find this a strange stance to take now, considering that Bioware/Black Isle has never shied away from issues of sexual orientation in the past. Jade Empire had viable relationships for both lesbian and gay characters, and going back further, in Baldur's Gate 2 there are signs of a hastily dropped (probably due to Wizards of the Coast)lesbian plotline between the main character and a female half-elf from the first game.

I won't parrot all the points of everyone else, re: "If femshep can be bi, why not manshep?" even though I agree with them because I don't need to restate the obvious. I realize that Bioware can't just come out and say "EA won't let us," but I've got to say it smacks of that to me. A lot.

Kula said:

I was seriously suprised when I found out there was no gay romance option. In the first game there were 3 straight romances and one lesbian romance. Surely it wouldn't be too much to ask for just one gay romance option?

In the sequel there are nine possible straight romances and three lesbian ones!

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