Mass Effect 3: Gay Shepard shows games are finally growing up
6th Mar 2012 | 14:23
The games industry is the youngest wing of the world of mainstream entertainment, having been in existence for a touch over 30 years. So it would follow that, as an entertainment medium, it's bound to be the most immature.
That's certainly an easy view to accept if you read the Daily Mail, watch Fox News or follow any of the other outlets which routinely portray games as an evil means of teaching kids how to be violent. But after three decades of making games, developers ought to be starting to grapple with the issues that affect everyday life, as films, TV, music and novels have done for decades.
And sure enough, they are - one classic example can be found in
While BioWare, surely, can only be applauded for reflecting real life in Mass Effect 3, and demonstrating that the art of creating videogames is moving to a more mature phase, it's debatable whether the gaming public is ready to embrace that new-found maturity.
As we discovered when we captured footage of one of the male Shepard's same-sex relationships and posted it on our YouTube channel. The response it engendered was extreme: in the first few days 400 Likes were drowned out by over 2,000 Dislikes, and a welter of homophobic comments were swiftly appended to the video (luckily, many of them were in Russian, and few of us can read Cyrillic script).
It was gratifying to see that the Neanderthals were soon being slapped down and ridiculed by more considered gamers: the backlash was swift and decisive, as you would expect in this enlightened day and age. But it was disappointing that there had to be a backlash in the first place. The one remaining image problem from which videogames suffer - a myth perpetuated by those who never have played games nor ever will - is that they are designed to appeal exclusively to teenage boys whose minds are exclusively occupied by porn and violence.
Which we all know is no longer true - just as we know that the ability to comment on web pages is like a magnet for lowest common denominator bottom-feeders.
It's annoying, though, for those of us who have struggled for years to get games accepted by the mainstream media as a valid, sophisticated, 21st-century entertainment medium capable of art and emotional subtlety to encounter such atavistic idiocy. The more seriously games are taken, the more ambitious developers will feel able to become - and the better games will become. It's a virtuous cycle.
SHEPARD'S FALTERING FUMBLES
Many of those who commented on the YouTube video claimed that they objected to it on the grounds of aesthetics, and it's true that it doesn't represent the finest moment in Mass Effect 3 - the conversation in a bar which leads to the seduction is saddled with rather awkward and clunky dialogue, leaving you feeling that BioWare stepped way outside of its comfort zone when making it. Which is borne out by the fact that the ability to play a gay male Shepard didn't arrive until the third part of the Mass effect trilogy. BioWare founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk told Kotaku that the move was in response to requests from Mass Effect fans for even more choice in the game.
Gay characters in videogames are unrepresentatively few and far between, although they did exist prior to Mass Effect 3: you can have gay relationships in The Sims for example and the Dragon Age series, plus Peter Molyneux has long allowed them in his Fable games. But game worlds are an awful lot less gay than the real one.
Andy Wasley, media manager at lesbian, gay and bisexual charity Stonewall, says: "We've certainly not had a Brokeback moment in games yet, if you like. In the big blockbusters like Batman: Arkham City, Uncharted and so on, there's clearly a lack of gay representation. It's a question for developers: do they think that normalising gay relationships in their games would add a degree of realism?"
Credit, then, is due to BioWare for - even in a slightly fumbling manner - introducing the possibility of gay relationships to the Mass Effect franchise - and in a way in which only a completely unreconstructed dolt could take offence, since it's entirely up to the player to select Shepard's sexuality. After 30 years, videogames are finally showing clear signs of dragging themselves out of their adolescent phase. And it's vitally important that gamers do likewise.
What do you think? Shouldn't we finally be grateful that