Hey, Mass Effect 3 is just a couple of weeks away. Who are you planning to bang?
No, I’m serious. Which one of the BioWare digital sex marionettes are you planning on shtupping right in the middle of a desperate battle to save the universe? It’s the most important decision you can make in the game, and fortunately BioWare has a piece of hot space tail for every fantasy and every taste on board the Normandy, the swinging-est ship in the galaxy. Even if your “thing” is blue-skinned lipstick lesbians, you’re covered in this sexy smorgasboard. There’s achievements and trophies riding on this decision, wink wink, so choose your sleazy pick-up lines from the dialogue trees wisely.
And if you’re going to be trying to work out the right path through the dialogues to get to the sleazy pick-up lines that win the heart(s) of anything with vaguely humanoid tits, then certainly you’re OK with a character making a come-on to you, right? Uh-oh- what if it’s a male character and you’re playing a male character? It’s that dreaded GAY AGENDA, they’ve come for your dicks! Silly BioWare, video games are for straights!
Sarcasm aside, it’s rather unfortunate that BioWare’s otherwise respectable character-driven RPGs truck in such juvenile nonsense and facile depictions of sex and relationships. I’m certainly no prude and I’m all for games including mature, adult depictions of sex and sexuality in any form- because that’s life. I’m glad that they’re inclusive and realistically include both gay and straight characters, but the sum of it is that their whole intimacy shtick on both sides of the equation are so poorly handled that it’s an embarrassment that so many conversations surrounding their games loop around to who screwed who. Call me old fashioned, but I’m playing these games to see robots and aliens- not to have some kind of silly pubescent fantasy of conquest and virility.
Don’t get me wrong- I know that this content is optional and just like everyone else I’m looking forward to another pop sci-fi romp through a particularly well-developed game world. But I find myself actually kind of dreading Shepard’s inevitable sack-hopping betwixt human and alien, the awkward dialogue trees leading to penetration, and the laughably bizarre sex scenes that make any given grade-Z Skinemax softcore look like Last Tango in Paris. I remember playing the first Mass Effect and during the sex scene with Liara I was terrified my wife would walk in and I’d have to explain not the sex, but why it was so bad.
I despise how their games parade around characters as a kind of sex buffet for the players to indulge in. It’s inevitable that you start wondering which characters can and can’t be bedded. And there’s barely anything organic, natural, or realistic about the way the relationships progress. In Dragon Age, you just had to give a character enough presents to shift their meter all the way up and then you could start putting the moves on them. Jealousy could be assuaged using the same method.
They throw in the big-chested bad girl, the stern and strong-willed woman warrior, the fragile and broken abuse survivor, the chaste paragon of virtue…plenty of archetypes for the horny player to choose from. For the ladies and gay men, there are always a couple of men on the buffet. None of whom are as stereotypical or sexualized as the women. You can even screw an animal in the first Dragon Age. No orifice is off limits- provided that there’s scripting for it.
It’s such a silly, immature perception of how to incorporate relationships and intimacy in video games and it’s amazing that it’s both celebrated and given a pass by gamers, including those who are looking for greater maturity and sophistication in the stories that games tell. The first sex scene I ever saw in a video game was in the Golgo 13 video game for the NES, and it was more classy and mature than anything in a BioWare game. Duke Togo and his paramour and seen embracing in the window of a building, and the lights go out. Simple, yet evocative. It’s that whole implication thing. No booty-rocking on the bulkheads required.
Ironically, one of the better relationships I’ve seen in any game was actually in a BioWare title- Dragon Age II. Provided you followed a certain path, the relationship between Hawke and Aveline remains platonic. They’re very close, but eventually she falls in love with another and Hawke is sort of left with this “well, what about me?” sentiment. It’s an almost tender evocation of unrequited, unspoken love and it’s also hugely realistic. If you’ve ever been in a friendship with someone like that with a similar outcome, it rings true in a way that none of the ridiculous skirt-chasing that BioWare’s characters get up to can ever be.
Sure, the sex isn’t necessarily the focus of BioWare’s games and I’m certainly not lining up to slam Mass Effect 3 on that basis. But the fact is that since the first Mass Effect, these sexual rendezvous have become a part of their brand identity, and it’s already old, predictable, and worn out. I’m over their whole sex partner buffet concept.
What I’d like to see is for sex and intimacy to grow naturally out of the character writing and situations rather than from menu choices and player agency that’s driving the game toward it. Video games writing has a long way to go to get to that point, and as long as so many gamers are thinking about games like the BioWare titles at a groin level we won’t get there any time soon. At this point, a BioWare RPG without the sex puppet buffet wouldn’t be a BioWare RPG, and that’s really kind of sad. They risk becoming little more than Harlequin romance-fantasies for a generation of gamer nerds.