Critically-acclaimed game franchise Mass Effect had two same-sex romances cut because of criticism from Fox News, according to two designers who worked on the series’ second entry.
Action role-playing game Mass Effect 2 originally included additional same-sex love interests for main character Shepard, who can be either male or female depending on the player’s choices.
Jack, a female character, was intended to be romanceable by a female Shepard, while Jacob, a male character, could be romanced by a male Shepard.
Both romance options were ultimately cut before the game released, leaving only female-female same-sex romances with other characters and no male-male romance options.
In an interview with The Gamer, Brian Kindregan, lead writer for Jack, placed blame for her same-sex scenes being cut on Fox News.
The right-wing network heavily criticized the first Mass Effect game, released in 2007, for allegedly including “full graphic sex” between two characters, the player’s Shepard and a female character, Liara.
In reality, the scene featured partial nudity and a heavily edited sex scene between the two characters, and one critic who slammed the game famously recanted after watching it in context, saying she had “seen episodes of Lost that are more sexually explicit.”
But Fox News’ criticism — including branding Microsoft’s Xbox 360 the “sexbox” — and the subsequent outcry over two fictional females romancing one another was enough to concern executives at the game’s developer, BioWare.
“Mass Effect had been pretty heavily and really unfairly criticized in the U.S. by Fox News,” Kindregan said. “Maybe more people in the world thought that there was a connection between reality and what gets discussed on Fox News.”
He said that the Mass Effect 2 development team “was a pretty progressive, open-minded team, but I think there was a concern at pretty high levels that if [the first] Mass Effect, which only had one gay relationship, Liara — which on paper was technically not a gay relationship because she was from a mono-gendered species — I think there was a concern that if that had drawn fire, that Mass Effect 2 had to be a little bit careful.”
That led to Jack, who was originally written as pansexual, being restricted to only being romanceable by a male Shepard character.
“I was trying to chart out the arc of [Jack’s] romance…it was actually very late that it became a male/female-only romance,” Kindregan told The Gamer.
Kindregan’s revelation led Jonathan Cooper, lead cutscene designer on Mass Effect, to note that another gay romance had been cut.
Cooper tweeted that he’d animated scenes for both straight and gay romance options for Jack and Shepard, but that he’d also established designs for a male Shepard to romance male character Jacob. (In the final game, only a female Shepard could romance Jacob.)
What’s more, the studio mapped out the male-male Shepard-Jacob romance by recreating a scene from landmark gay film Brokeback Mountain.
“TIL you can’t romance Jack as [female Shepard] in Mass Effect 2,” Cooper tweeted, including a link to Kindregan’s interview. “I animated both scenes for Male & Female. We prevized Jacob as the male/male, matching shot-for-shot from Brokeback Mountain. Was told at the time ‘America isn’t ready for it’. Perhaps it still isn’t.”
Cooper said the designers matched Brokeback Mountain so “it wouldn’t be unacceptable — but different rules for film and games I guess.”
“Personally I still believe it was the wrong call to cut, as we protested at the time,” he added. “People with a problem with can go fuck themselves — they don’t deserve to play our games.”
We matched Brokeback so it wouldn't be unacceptable – but different rules for film and games I guess. Personally I still believe it was the wrong call to cut, as we protested at the time. People with a problem with can go fuck themselves – they don't deserve to play our games.
— Jonathan Cooper (@GameAnim) January 27, 2021
While Mass Effect 2 did include other female same-sex romances beyond Jack, it wouldn’t be until the franchise’s third entry, Mass Effect 3, that male Shepards could romance a male character.
One male character, Steve, was exclusively gay, while another, Kaiden, could be romanced by a male or female character.
BioWare recently announced a remastered collection of the series’ first three games, Mass Effect Legendary Edition, but it reportedly won’t be adding any new same-sex romances into the first two games.
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