Last week was COMPUTEX. For those or you that aren’t familiar with the event, it’s basically CES Asia, but bigger and with many more models. This was my second year in a row attending. Last year I went as press and this year I worked a booth as a member of the PC DIY industry. I don’t want to do a full write up of the show, but I’ll just say a few words. It was an interesting show this year, but not nearly as spectacular as last year. This year I saw much of the same from the heavy hitters like MSI, Zotac, and ASUS. The most impressive things I personally saw came from smaller companies I hadn’t heard of before.
One thing that really stood out to me was the number of companies selling “gaming monitors.” If you google the term “gaming monitor” no definitive link comes up. Instead what you get is a bunch of articles ranking and reviewing “gaming monitors” and stores like Best Buy trying to sell them. The issue here is that there is no official definition or set of standardized guidelines for how to determine what actually is a gaming monitor. What this has led to is a flooded market of wannabes misusing the phrase to try to sell subpar pieces of equipment at higher prices. Of course a gaming monitor must be a monitor that a PC gamer would purchase for the purpose of gaming, but technically you can game on any modern monitor. I think it’s interesting that the term “gaming TV” isn’t actually a thing while “gaming monitor” is. When you google “gaming TV” similar search results come up, with mostly ranked lists and reviews, but in general it’s not a widely used term. To drive the point home: searching “gaming monitor” on Best Buy brings up a list of options while searching “gaming tv” brings up a list of random products, many of which are not even TVs at the beginning of the list.
What I noticed at COMPUTEX was that most of these smaller companies were selling “gaming monitors” as any monitor that’s curved and has at least 144Hz. In my opinion, the curve is not an adequate qualifier for a gaming monitor. Plenty of people purchase curved monitors and TVs for use outside of gaming. A curved monitor in no way provides an experience required by or exclusive to the needs of gamers. Arguably, a curved monitor doesn’t even necessarily improve the gaming experience. I think the 144Hz definition is a little bit closer because there are very few if any serious applications outside of gaming that require or even seriously make use of that much output frequency. Yet I still would argue that just having that high a frequency alone doesn’t necessarily qualify as a gaming monitor. Imagine, for the purposes of argument, that someone offered a 144Hz monitor that could only run a maximum of 720p. In 2017 would that be considered a gaming monitor? Again, it could definitely be used for gaming but would anyone seriously consider buying it? Most likely not. 1080p has become the standard minimum screen resolution for both TV’s and monitors and has been for a number of years, gaming or otherwise.
ASUS defines gaming monitors with a less than technical approach. They instead focus on the practical applications when defining their monitors as/for gaming. They refer to themselves as the “No.1 Gaming Monitor Brand”. Their main justification for that isn’t focused on specs or features though. Instead they list off game genres and how their monitors perform when playing them. They state that they are the “best gaming monitors for Cinematic Games” listing MOBA, RPG, RTS genres with some generic details about performance such as “immersive life-like visuals”. They do similar things with “Fast Games” listing FPS and racing, and “Console Games” listing no specific genres. This means of defining gaming monitors may be a little more specific and provides some practical examples for why gamers would want their monitors, but it in no way gives specific reasons for why these monitors perform better at playing these games. It’s important to note that ASUS’ gaming monitors do have a number of technical features that I believe do actually make them “gaming monitors” as opposed to just monitors that you can play games on, but those features aren’t being used by the company to define them as such in their marketing.
I think Best Buy does the best job of genuinely trying to define what gaming monitors are in an objective, spec focused manner. If you search “gaming monitors” on Best Buy’s site you will get a list of five features/categories: 1ms Response Time, 144Hz, IPS, G-Sync, and FreeSync. I like this list of features a lot. I don’t necessarily agree with the inclusion of IPS, but in general I like the idea that they have defined gaming monitors based on technical specs that fall outside of visual aesthetics of the monitor itself and at least 4/5 of the categories are features that only gamers would actually care about. I think G-Sync and FreeSync are the most important features for a gaming monitor and response time comes in at third. Hz frequency is at fourth. My personal priorities and preferences when picking a monitor are irrelevant though. What’s important here is that all of these monitors, with possibly the exception of the IPS section, are categorized by things that only gamers would take the time to care about and really consider as deal breakers when picking a monitor. I especially like that resolution isn’t part of the list. A 4K monitor is not definitively a gaming monitor. Plenty of people use 4K for watching TV and for work based applications like graphic design. Many if not most games still aren’t even capable of running in 4K.
As I’ve been trying to pick a monitor for my own rig recently, I posed the question to Reddit. I had an overwhelming percentage of people say that G-Sync/FreeSync and 144Hz were the most important thing when picking a monitor for the purpose of gaming. They even went on to say that if you have to choose between 4K and G-Sync/FreeSync that the Sync option was hands down more important for gaming 100% of the time. That feedback and my own research made me opt to buy an ASUS ROG Swift PG278QR. With my 1080 GPU, that monitor will give me the best gaming experience I can afford at a size that works for my needs, based on my research.
Personally, I think this is a really important issue. The industry should create a set of minimum standards and guideline when defining a gaming monitor to prevent companies from arbitrarily raising prices without delivering any technical/performance based justification for calling their product(s) “gaming monitors”. I saw so many nice looking, but ultimately non-performing monitors at COMPUTEX this year. Sure they would have given you at least 1080p at 60Hz, which is technically good enough. But that’s pretty much a standard monitor these days, whether you’re gaming or not. In the same way that mechanical keyboards must use mechanical switches, monitors should have some sort of defining quality based on the specs/features that objectively categorize them as “gaming” or not. Otherwise less experienced and unknowledgeable consumers will continue to be tricked into buying lower priced third party and first party units that ultimately deliver less than the current standard in high end gaming.
*Just wanted to take the time to mention that I finally started a Patreon page. I don’t expect to get rich, but after nearly four years of dedicated gaming content creation I thought it was time. Anything helps so even if you aren’t able to donate, please consider sharing the page.
Let me start off by saying that this post will most likely offend some people. As always, it is not my intention to offend but to speak honestly and openly about my opinions concerning the gaming industry and occasionally, as with this post, how certain topics in gaming are affected by the wider world.
There has been a lot of buzz after several reveals about Far Cry 5. In all honesty I’m not actually a fan of the Far Cry franchise. I own Blood Dragon because I got it for free. But I have never once played it or had the slightest interest in doing so. I also purchased the Apex Edition of Far Cry Primal, but that was on sale and my reasons for purchasing it are almost exactly the same reasons that I haven’t had any interest in any of the ones in the main series up until now. And to be perfectly honest, I haven’t actually taken the time to play Far Cry Primal as of yet. My interest in Primal was mainly because of the animals. I really liked the idea of being a beast master and after watching some gameplay footage of the player commanding animals to do his bidding I was sold. But just as important was the fact that this wasn’t a gun game. In fact it’s set in a time where guns didn’t and couldn’t exist. I have little interest in gun games and FPS is my least favorite of the shooting genre. But the main reason I’ve avoided the core Far Cry games until now is the narratives.
Far Cry, in the main series, is traditionally about some guy going to some remote place where he has no business being and saving the natives. More often than not this ends up being a white man shooting up minorities but there have been some moments in the franchise where that wasn’t the case or didn’t necessarily have to be. Far Cry 4 makes the biggest departure from this by having you play as a Himalayan man fighting other Himalayans under the dictatorship of an insane Hong Kong gangster. Though I have to say that without looking it up, Pagan Min comes off totally white. At the same time though the game is still about a guy traveling off to somewhere remote that he doesn’t belong because the protagonist doesn’t actually live in the Himalayas. He was just visiting the motherland to bury his mother who actually was from there. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with plots about people, of any color, travelling to a faraway land to shoot up the locals. While some people might get offended by games like Resident Evil 5 (2009) where a white man goes to Africa and kills a bunch of Black people, I just find it rather boring. The entire idea is overplayed. As an African American who no longer lives in America, I for the most part find the narrative concept of an American travelling to faraway lands to better the lives of the locals to be hacky and unoriginal. The fact that it’s so common place says a lot about the American gaming market.
What I have always found the most interesting is that this issue of making games where Americans, mostly white men, travel to other places and kill the locals is a strictly American concept. Games with protagonists from other countries don’t commonly do this. Or at least not to the same degree in the same way. Games from Japan are usually not set in realistic places or they weirdly enough make the game about Americans. Look at Metal Gear Solid for instance. A Japanese studio, led by a Japanese man, makes a super long, iconic franchise about a white guy(s) doing a bunch of stuff in Russia and the USA. The only times they aren’t in white countries is when white villains have traveled to other places like South America (Peace Walker) and Afghanistan (MGS5) to start shit up. Games starring Europeans, like Assassin’s Creed, tend to have characters go about their adventures in their homelands. Ezio finally leaves Europe for Constantinople after two other full length games. That was more of a need to make the story interesting than a cultural thing. And at the time of the game Constantinople had a lot of European influence due to the Turkish Empire’s reach so it’s still a pretty reasonable location for him to go. A lot of Japanese games do this as well by recreating periods in their own history or at least other Asian countries they’re closely tied to. It’s only games starring American protagonists that commonly create plots where people from a country, again usually white, travel to other places and try to “save” those savage, primitive races from themselves. It’s that idea coupled with the same old FPS gameplay that turned me off of all the previous Far Cry titles.
The upcoming Far Cry 5 is a different story. Now I am not saying that this is the first/only game like this, but I can’t think of any AAA examples from earlier in my life (almost 25 years of gaming) that are this real and relevant to me as an American. Ubisoft may not make the best games in the world, but in recent years they sure do know how to pick a culturally relevant setting. This latest Far Cry is set in modern day Montana. And by modern day I mean like today. There’s no zombie apocalypse. There’s no coming out of the vault 100+ years after a nuclear war. There’s no disease that killed off most of the country. It’s just everyday racist 2017 USA. But it’s about a real problem with a real villain. GTAV may be in a realistic setting and it may have believable characters, but it’s not really about some larger social issue. It’s just the story of three guys trying to survive as best as they can. It’s a small story. It’s a personal story. Far Cry 5 seems to be about real life problems plaguing the entire USA today. And this isn’t about some visitor from a faraway land coming to help the locals. The playable character isn’t even from another state. You’re a local deputy. Sure you can choose your skin color in this one, but let’s all be honest and admit that in the real life scenario this Montana deputy is almost assuredly a white man.
This is a game where the developer asks the American market to take up weapons against their own kind. And not as monsters, mutants, or hypnotized victims. As normal gun toting, red blooded, Trump supporting Americans. There’s no other AAA like this and there has never been a time in this country where a game of this budget from a franchise of this level of established credibility has put American gamers in this position. This will be an experience like no other for everyone. White American players will be forced to actually sympathize with the enemies on the screen. Minorities will on some level finally get to experience what it’s like to be a white American male gamer. I can’t see myself not playing this game. And you can damn sure bet I’m gonna use a Black avatar. This whole experience sounds nuts. Honestly it’s sad that in 2017 such an experience sounds so off the deep end because it means that such experiences aren’t a normal part of gaming. I can list off tons of games where you kill enemies of any other race in various countries in various time periods. But when it comes to white American enemies, it’s basically never in a realistic setting. It’s a dystopian future or zombies or aliens pretending to be humans or some other such mumbo jumbo to defuse the situation. This will be a definite first for so many gamers out there around the world.
Now I’m not one to usually support politics in games, but that’s only a half truth. What I have an issue with is people inserting politics into games that aren’t political for their own grandstanding and agendas. For example, making Street Fighter V a discussion about sexism and female objectification is stupid. Trying to argue that the Mario Bros. franchise is an example of how people have been indoctrinated with sexism is just unfounded and generally ridiculous. Note I’m not saying that issues like sexism aren’t real issues. I’m merely saying that people tend to insert politics into games unnecessarily and often unrightfully because games and gamers are an easy target. So in those cases I’m all for the “keep politics out of games” argument. But when a game actually is political and intentionally is written about real political issues, especially in a realistic modern setting like in the case of Far Cry 5, then I’m all for it. If you go into Far Cry 5 thinking it won’t be or shouldn’t be political then you’re an idiot and you’re playing the wrong games. This is a political game and the entire experience, both in and out of the game, will be and should be political.
This will be a highly polarizing and political experience. I can already see some of the things that are going to happen. Live streams and YouTube videos of Mexican avatars killing white people. Fox News doing stories about how this game promotes domestic terrorism and violence against white Americans. Various hate groups and media arguing that the game paints hard working lower and middle class Americans in an unfair light. Trump will probably make a statement about the game at some point. I won’t be surprised if it gets banned in certain cities or even states. It’s become that kind of America. It’s gonna be a circus and I’m totally in support of that.
I’ve already seen a lot of people online saying that a game like this is inappropriate right now. I disagree. I think a game like this is most appropriate right now. It’s when things like this actually are happening that it matters most. It’s when people are already talking about this sort of thing and these sorts of fears that it matters most to make a game or movie discussing these issues. What I like most about what I’ve read so far is that the game is not taking extreme positions against religion or targeting certain races. It’s specifically villainizing extremism. A lot of people today are altogether anti-religious and think religion is the problem with American conservatives. But that’s an oversimplification of the issue. Supposedly this debate comes up in the game through the fact that you’re fighting a religious cult, but one of your main helpers in the game is a Black pastor. I really like this move because it shows that Ubisoft has really put some thought into how they want to portray these serious issues in current American politics.
Now I’m prematurely giving Ubisoft a lot of credit for things that haven’t happened yet. It is extremely possible, and very likely based on their recent track record, that this game will only scratch the surface and then quickly fizzle out. The studio is great at picking settings. But they aren’t great at writing full-fledged stories. Take a game like Watch Dogs. Great premise, lackluster delivery. Every Assassin’s Creed since like three, if I’m being nice, has a similar problem. Great settings coupled with terrible writing. I’m also not expecting much from the gameplay. It’s gonna pretty much be the same FPS experience they always deliver with a couple new bells and whistles. I’m playing this game strictly for the plot and I’m hoping they don’t screw it up. They need to write an amazing, fully developed, powerful story and not pull any punches. If they just deliver that I’ll be happy. Also the game has coop and I’ve already planned to play it with my Mexican friend. A Black guy and a Mexican guy killing rednecks in the backwoods of America. That sounds like a YouTube series to me.
Now I know I went a little overboard in certain places in this post, but I was trying to drive home a point that too many Americans still don’t seem to get. I’m hoping Far Cry 5 is good and if it is good I believe it can do a lot to bridge that gap. Or start another Civil War. Both are totally possible in the current political climate.
Recently Kotaku put out an article complaining about Bethesda’s policy on review copies. You can read the whole thing here, but allow me to summarize the main talking points for you. Essentially Kotaku is unhappy with Bethesda because their general policy on review copies is that they don’t distribute them in advance of release date. And when they do release them in advance, as with the recently released Prey, it’s with such a negligible amount of time before launch that they might as well not have released them in advance at all. The author goes on to say that this is a bad decision on the part of Bethesda for a number of reasons. Some of the more important reasons are that A) Such a policy forces reviewers to rush out reviews too quickly to get a proper feel for them, often leading to lower scores due to an inability to adequately experience the game. B) The low scores hurt developers because supposedly some publishers, while it was never actually stated that Bethesda was one of these publishers, give bonuses based on Metacritic scores that hit a minimum of 85 or higher. The article states that Prey was resting at 80 at the time of publishing. C) Metacritic is a bad system that causes problems and somehow this is not only Bethesda’s fault but the responsibility to go against their own policies/beliefs is a must in the wake of the current system. That basically sums it up.
I really didn’t like this article. As a long time game reviewer, I don’t actually disagree with the author’s general opinion that it is quite inconvenient that Bethesda doesn’t give out their review copies in advance. But the bulk of his points, general philosophy, and reasons for judging Bethesda negatively are mostly preposterous and overlooking the bigger issues at hand which stem from a flawed reviewing industry, not a flawed development/publishing industry. That’s not to say that the development/publishing industry isn’t flawed, because it for damn sure is, but in the case of this article, for once the publisher can’t rightfully be blamed. For the purposes of discussion I’ll keep the conversation focused on Prey as the article did.
The first point that needs to be addressed is that Prey had a pre-release demo. It wasn’t on PC so that’s a fair point of contention but at least a demo was released a week in advance of the game, giving a large percentage of potential buyers the ability to try the game in advance and giving basically 100% of potential buyers a chance to at least see the game in action in advance of the launch date via services like Twitch and YouTube. I myself posted a lengthy playthrough of the demo a week prior to the game’s launch. Whenever a demo is released, reviews cease to seriously matter. Maybe not to developers but to consumers they’re nearly irrelevant unless you don’t personally have access to the demo. Demos have become a rare thing. Most AAA titles don’t get them anymore sadly, and for a really unethical reason too. But when a game, like Prey, gets a demo the reviews are at best just to read for kicks. Why do I need anyone to tell me whether or not to buy a game when I can play the game myself and make an informed buying decision?
Remember that the only true purpose of reviews is to help uninformed or on the fence consumers that have not played the game in question make a buying decision. They aren’t for people who have already played a game to read and either troll if they disagree with it or jerk off to it if they agree with it. People who have already purchased or played the game aren’t the target audience and honestly have no business commenting on a review unless it’s genuinely to answer a question from someone who actually is considering buying the game or to debate a legitimate point of contention with the review because they feel it misrepresents the game and/or misleads readers into making a bad buying decision. Otherwise reviews aren’t for people who have already played a game. That means that in the case of Prey very few PS4 and XB1 owners had/have any real need to look at reviews of the game. If you’re interested, you play the demo, which is long enough to get a fair understanding of it, and make your own informed purchasing decision. I played the demo, was unimpressed, and did not buy the game. I’ve yet to read a single review all the way through for Prey, because I have no legitimate reason to, since I already tried the game.
To address the author’s point about having to rush out reviews when given a short or no lead time to launch with a review copy. This is not the publisher’s fault. There is no law that says your review has to go out first. This is a personal issue with your business/industry that is made inconvenient by Bethesda’s policy. But so what? Bethesda, or really any publisher/developer, doesn’t actually owe review firms anything. Review firms owe Bethesda for providing them games to review, whether free or not, so they can continue to have a business. Really the race to be first published shows inherent flaws in the review industry more than anything else. A traffic based compensation system does nothing good for anyone because it leads to click bait writing, rushed content, and a general lack of quality in today’s journalistic system where marketing and social media do more than quality content ever will. Not to mention, such complaints show a lack of brand loyalty from your reader base. Or at the very least a fear of such a thing. If you run a quality firm then you should be able to retain your readership. If you can retain your readership then it doesn’t really matter if your review comes out first or not. But if you don’t run a quality firm then it would make sense to be unhappy about Bethesda’s decision about review copies because you’re always vying for the click bait audience to stay afloat. Yet that still isn’t Bethesda’s problem because it’s not their responsibility to keep review firms happy. In fact they would probably prefer if they all ceased to exist and just worked directly with private content creators.
The author’s second point about review scores and how they affect Metacritic numbers which can translate to bonuses is based on a lot of speculation. In the article it’s stated that his information on the subject is all anecdotal and he provides no specific sources for these claims. It’s also kind of weird to assume Bethesda knows nothing about how Metacritic works and how their review copy policy affects their scores. If anything this is an intentional measure to keep developers loyal to Bethesda by artificially controlling the numbers. Is that a bit scummy? Sure. Is it in any way an actual problem for the people at Kotaku, IGN, or any other review firm? Probably not really. I mean it’s not like those firms artificially control access to content or opportunities in the gaming journalism industry right?
I will say though that if it is in fact true that the minimum score for developers to get a bonus is 85 on Metacritic then that’s another example of a totally unbalanced and unrealistic expectation of success. An 80 is a good score. For some it’s a great score. Personally I hate the number system for reviews. As a reviewer who genuinely tries my best to be fair and honest with every single review, whether AAA or indie, I find picking the number to be the most difficult, most stressful, least useful part of writing a review and judging a game/movie. First off, it gives people an excuse not to actually read the review. Many people just look at the number and don’t take the time to try to understand where that number comes from or if it’s even legitimate. We’ve all read at least one review where the number said one thing but the review said something completely different. It’s also extremely difficult to be completely fair about choosing that number. I have a system, as I’m sure most experienced reviewers do, and I believe in my system. I’ve crafted it over the course of writing more than 100 game reviews. Yet even today I still struggle with making sure I’ve actually picked the right number for a game. Other than supporting Metacritic, there’s little gained from the number in terms of actually helping the consumer. It also hurts developers more often than helps them in a world where standards are so high that an 80 is supposedly considered a weak score.
While I may agree with the general idea behind the Kotaku article, my point still stands. The article is not motivated by a genuine desire to help consumers or developers. It’s selfishly motivated to help review sites continue to take advantage of a system that is unfair to begin with often at the expense of developers and consumers alike. I may not completely agree with Bethesda’s choice to not distribute review copies in advance, but I 100% support their conscience decision not to support these review sites that have become so arrogant that they believe they can dictate the way publishers do business. That is the right of the consumers who actually pay for their games. Not those who get their software for free regardless of the situation. Before you ask, yes I am aware that Kotaku is blacklisted by Bethesda. But the article is not written with a focus on Kotaku. It’s written for review sites in general and as such should be discussed in that way.
Last week, it was reported that BioWare Montreal is being downsized. This is the team responsible for producing and maintaining Mass Effect: Andromeda. The downsizing not only means that the onsite team will be shrinking but also that the game, as in maintenance/updating, story DLC, and sequel, will be put on the backburner for an undisclosed amount of time. Multiplayer maintenance and updating will still be handled by the remaining team.
First, let me make sure you understand what “downsized” means here. According to the sources reporting, this does not mean staff members of BioWare Montreal were fired. All of the ones who have been taken off of Mass Effect: Andromeda appear to have been transferred to other studios under BioWare or other extensions of EA. The bulk of which seem to have been transferred to EA Motive, also located in Montreal.
I have to applaud EA for this move. Usually when projects like this are broken up, people in the development industry are not treated this well. I have read countless stories about entire teams being fired with no notice. Projects like Scalebound get scrapped out of the blue and everyone involved gets left out to dry. And even when people do get to keep their jobs, they often have to transfer to other studios a world away. That’s not just true for the gaming industry. I have a friend right now who’s being forced to choose between moving overseas or losing his job with less than a week to make the decision. In this economy, labor getting screwed over is common place. EA not only letting these people keep their jobs, but stay in the same city is a truly commendable move in a time where companies often don’t care about the wellbeing of their employees past what the law requires. So for the first time in years, if not ever, I have to say kudos to you good guy EA. You’ve earned that.
As far as Mass Effect: Andromeda being put on ice for a while, I’m totally fine with that. In fact, I’m in support of it. I just recently finished Mass Effect: Andromeda with a 96% completion. It took me 94 hours. I still plan on putting a bit more time into the multiplayer. It was/is a good game and I very much enjoyed it. That being said, it’s a buggy mess with tons of glitches. I enjoyed the plot but I felt that it was a bit smaller than I would have liked. The fact that the game takes place in a new galaxy and only one new race was introduced really irritated me. Even the villain race is just the new race after having gone through massive genetic mutations. You only get six party members. The plot wraps up pretty well while still leaving room to grow, but overall I expected better considering what was delivered in Mass Effect 2 & 3. It’s because of this that I think a real break is needed.
I don’t want paid plot DLC like in Mass Effect 3. I don’t want a rushed out, badly written Mass Effect: Andromeda 2 like every Assassin’s Creed since Revelations (2011). They can continue to expand the multiplayer, but I really want the Mass Effect: Andromeda campaign to be considered closed. What I want is a top shelf Mass Effect: Andromeda 2.
History has shown us that no good can come from annual releases. Excellence isn’t bred from creating never ending games that keep piling on more and more paid DLC. Good games take time, preparation, and patience. Here’s what needs to happen and why I believe Mass Effect: Andromeda riding the pine for a while is not only a good decision but the right one.
The first thing that needs to happen is that BioWare, and by extension EA, needs to accept that Mass Effect: Andromeda 1 is finished. They don’t need to try to add anything more to that game. It’s a full sized adventure. It has a conclusive story. It already takes a good number of hours to complete even without ever trying the multiplayer. All they should do with that game from here on out is work on patching the glitches, improving the graphics issues, and continue to support the multiplayer. Everyone, including the consumers, needs to move forward based on the thought process that the next Mass Effect plot based experience is going to be Mass Effect: Andromeda 2. No DLC. No additional difficulty modes. No frivolous crap. Any unanswered questions like the whereabouts of the Quarian Arc should be left to be answered in the next full game.
The second thing that needs to happen is everyone involved in production and the next game in the franchise needs to just leave it alone. Step away. Don’t worry about it. Don’t think about. Work on other IPs. Get Dylan completed. Get Star Wars: Battlefront II completed. Don’t make any announcements about Mass Effect: Andromeda 2. Don’t promise any release dates or windows. Just let it take a rest. Don’t try to force it out. Every writer is told that the worst thing to do when having just finished a piece of writing is to look at it again right away. Don’t do it. Your head isn’t clear yet. You haven’t mulled it over. You won’t be able to look at is unbiasedly. The whole team needs to just go off and work on other things. And hopefully not together.
After a fair amount of time, by which I mean literally a year or more, has gone by then someone can reopen the Mass Effect: Andromeda file. This does not mean start developing. This does not mean put a team together or back together. It simply means that certain key individuals should start to look back at the game in order to begin thinking about the sequel. Look at the flaws apparent in the first game and think about how they can be prevented in the next one. Think about the general direction of the plot. See if people are still actively playing the multiplayer. After much discussion, they can start to make a general plan. Really just ideas about the direction they’d like to take.
Finally they can start to set down some real plans and expectations. Set some goals and create a soft timeline. Again, no actual development has taken place at this point and we’re nearly at the end of year two since the dissolution of the team. Still no announcements to the public. I hate when games are promised too far in advance. It forces a deadline that most likely won’t be met and an expectation in the public which will then lead to negative reactions when not delivered on. I would rather they never announced games until they had already gone gold so there can be no debate about whether or not the game will be released and when. Again I point to Scalebound.
Now, in the third year since the game was iced, start building that team and make sure communication is honest and open. Ensure that everyone understands the desired direction for the game and is on board with it. It’s not about getting the best people when making a game. It’s about getting the right people that together can make the best game. And in the case of Mass Effect, the goal should be to make the best game. BioWare should not be settling for good enough. The Witcher 3 should be dethroned with this franchise. Mass Effect Andromeda didn’t even come close. That’s the bar they should be shooting for.
Then it’s as simple as making the game as they’ve done so many times in the past. Don’t rush. Continue not to make promises to the public. Don’t get bogged down by dates. Make the best game possible and take the time it needs to create and test that product. By the end of this process the market will be not only ready, but begging for the next Mass Effect game. Then when the game is actually ready, make the announcement, deliver The Witcher 3 level quality or better, and reclaim the throne.
People didn’t lose their jobs (supposedly). The franchise hasn’t been cancelled. This is just a much needed break. BioWare should use this opportunity to take the right steps to craft the best damn Mass Effect game ever made. Ideally the best damn game ever made period. I am fine with Mass Effect: Andromeda being put on hiatus because if handled correctly, this is a great opportunity for the next game in the series to come back stronger than ever thought possible. Here’s hoping they do it right this time.
I don’t consider myself a proper trophy/achievement hunter. I make it a point of getting at least one platinum a year just for appearances. But really I hate trophy hunting and very rarely find a game that I genuinely want to collect the trophies for. Recently, in the midst of playing Ratchet and Clank (2016) and Mass Effect: Andromeda, I started to realize exactly what it is I hate about modern trophies so much.
For this year’s platinum I decided to do the latest installment of the Ratchet and Clank series. I have platinumed every one since the PS3 released (the start of trophies) and will continue to do so. I thought it was a good choice for 2017’s platinum and decided to get it out of the way early so I wouldn’t have to think about it again until 2018. My platinum for 2016, The Division, was super annoying and down to the wire. I finished it in December. Ratchet and Clank is never terribly difficult to platinum, but it took me three playthroughs to get it in this one. That should never have happened. The reason it took so long was because of one common, but badly executed, trophy.
“Death By Disco” is a trophy you get for using a specific weapon, the Groovitron, on every type of enemy in the game. This trophy has become standard for all Ratchet and Clank installments and technically it’s stupid and troublesome, but I have no real beef with it. What I do take issue with is how the trophy is managed. You are required to use the Groovitron weapon on every enemy in the game, including bosses, and this isn’t too difficult a task. What is difficult is trying to figure out which enemies you have yet to hit with said weapon. Especially when you’ve already completed your first playthrough. This is because they don’t take any measures to tell you which enemies you have or haven’t already hit with the Groovitron. Meaning I had to play through the full game a third time, making sure to waste time hitting every enemy with it, having no idea how many I was still missing.
I got all the way back to the boss of the game, for the third time, and still didn’t have the trophy. Used it on the boss and then got the trophy and finally the platinum. Here’s the problem with this. I don’t know why I got the trophy when I did and not before. I know I used the Groovitron on that boss in my previous playthroughs. In fact I’m pretty sure I could find footage of it on my older Twitch streams if they haven’t been removed yet. But there are a number of factors I can’t account for. Maybe I used it on that boss before but then died so it didn’t save that I had used it on him. Maybe you had to do it all in one playthrough and I had missed one along the way in my second playthrough and then was forced to replay the whole thing again. Maybe I used it on the boss previously but during a point in the fight where it didn’t count because the boss was in a transition period. These are all very possible theories. None of which I should have to be wondering about right now. This trophy is a prime example of a really bad trend in the way many if not most trophies are handled today.
There is no transparency in the progress of so many of these types of trophies. Insomniac Games could easily have provided a progress list in one of the menus or even the gallery area you unlock after beating your first playthrough. Each level could have a list of enemies that haven’t been hit with it in the world selection screen. There is any number of ways that this trophy could have been presented in a way that was helpful without making the achievement of the trophy any different. But instead they just leave you to fend for yourself and trust that the game isn’t screwing you over, which in my case I can’t honestly believe is the case because of the conflicting evidence I’ve already mentioned.
Lots of games have this same problem today. I’m currently playing Mass Effect: Andromeda and while I have more than 80% of the game completed in my save file, I only have 75% of the trophies. Some of the remaining ones are easy or plot based and I just haven’t done them yet. But many of the trophies in this game are really annoying and they’re number based. My least favorite example, which thankfully I’ve already completed, is “Fireworks.” This is achieved by performing 100 power combos. While I find this trophy annoying, I have no problem with it at face value. Bioware took the time to create a system where you can combine powers to create special reactions in enemies. Of course they want you to use it. Honestly it’s not really my play style. I’m a pretty committed long range sniper, so I rarely use powers. I played all three of the original Mass Effect games as a hard solider class, literally learning no biotics except the shared power ones from your squad mates and I basically only used the passive shields and maybe charge occasionally just for kicks.
One of the best parts about the franchise is that you can literally play the games however you want. There are five classes of weapons, several powers, and a ton of power combinations. You can fight however works best for you. Yet I still have no problem with the fact that Bioware decided to force me to get up closer to the action so I could make use of biotics and create power combos. 100 is a lot, but it’s not an illegal amount. The only problem is you have no way of knowing how many you’ve done. Nowhere does the game tell you how many power combos you’ve made. This is pretty inconvenient when you have to do 100 of them. That’s not something you’ll accomplish in one session. So it would really help to have some sort of counter located in a menu. But at least with power combos you could manually count them if you really wanted to. The same cannot be said for the “Fastball” trophy. This requires you to throw an enemy with a power called “throw” into another enemy 25 times. First of all, that’s actually a lot harder than it sounds. I honestly can’t say if I’ve truly done it even once, which is the even bigger problem. This difficult trophy with no indicator also has no counter. So not only do I never know if I’ve even accomplished the task, I have no way of knowing how many more times I need to do it. What is the reason for this? It’s unnecessarily troublesome even though it’s a problem easily fixed.
Back in the day, there were no trophies. There was only the game percentage. You did everything in the game and you got 100% completion. They still have that. Mass Effect: Andromeda has that. But it in no way reflects your acquisition of trophies. In the old days, most things had a visible counter. Banjo Kazooie was the worst game ever for collectibles because all the music notes reappeared every time you returned to a previous level. But at least you knew how many you had missed. The game told you exactly how many you collected every time you entered a level and it told you how many you had yet to collect for the first time. Is that asking too much from modern developers? I’m not saying get rid of dumb collectible trophies. I’m not saying get rid of annoying number based trophies like “win x number of matches online.” All I’m saying is that games should at least give the player the courtesy of letting them know how close they are to actually getting those annoying trophies. That doesn’t seem like a ridiculous request in 2017.
Some people might be thinking things like counters take away from the challenge. Those same people probably don’t like life bars in games. To them I would say, I’m not demanding the game forcibly show you your trophy progress if you don’t want to see it. That should be my choice as the player to decide if I want to know my progress of just organically get the trophy. Let’s be honest, these trophies aren’t going anywhere. They’re only becoming more prevalent as more games go open world. Collectathons and actionthons are an easy way to pad the playtime of any game. (Glances at Assassin’s Creed) No one, myself included, should be surprised by the proliferation of these trophies or expect them to disappear. But I don’t think it’s ridiculous to expect the games to at least let you know if you’re actually making progress towards completing them or not. There’s even collectible tasks in Mass Effect Andromeda that don’t tell how many things you need to collect to complete it. Who thought that was ok? Of the 56 trophies in Mass Effect: Andromeda, 16 of them are bullshit task/collectible trophies with no counter. Not counting the 19 story based trophies, that’s 43% of the trophies in the game. Almost half the entire achievement experience is doing annoying repetitive bullshit or collecting things, without any means of knowing how close you are. That’s a problem.
If developers want to be lazy and pad their games with crappy challenges, that’s one thing. You don’t technically have to do them. But if people do want to take the time to fully complete the experience they should at least be able to know how close they are when they want to.
This week I published an article defending DICE‘s choice to feature a female Stormtrooper as the main character in the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront 2. I have literally never defended DICE before and I have nothing but disdain for Star Wars Battlefront, but I cannot stand badly made arguments and that’s exactly what all the sexist bullshit since the trailer dropped is. I published this article on Gaming Rebellion but here’s the introduction:
Recently the Star Wars Battlefront 2 trailer was released and the most surprising news of all was not only does this game actually have a single player campaign, but apparently it stars a female Stormtrooper. If you haven’t watched it, I’ve embedded it here so you can now. It’s certainly worth the two minutes. Did people complain about the fact that the trailer kind of ignores the chronology of Star Wars? No, not really. Did people complain that the game campaign appears to place you as a member of the Empire instead of the Rebellion? Not from any comments I’ve seen as of yet. Did people complain about the fact that the game makes it seem like the Imperial troops were genuinely unhappy about the end of their tyrannical dictatorship? Not in the slightest. Did people complain that the campaign appears to star a female protagonist? This is the internet. Of course they did.
You can read the rest right here. Please check out my Author’s Archive for other articles by me on Gaming Rebellion.
It seems all anyone can talk about right now is Mass Effect: Andromeda. And rightly so because that game is awesome. I’ve spent the better part of the last three weeks just trying to find time to play it. But what I find most interesting is how much discussion around this game is focused on the romance options.
I saw a very interesting question on Twitter in reference to Mass Effect: Andromeda, but really it was more about Bioware games in general. This person asked the question “Do you prefer romance content in a BioWare game to be specific representation (e.g. gay) or available to any char?” This is a profound question. In one sentence it brings up various issues like sexuality, consumer rights, creative control, and social responsibility. Now I don’t actually believe there is a correct answer to this question. By nature this is a subjective question, starting out with the words “do you prefer”. I don’t even really have an interest in answering this question with this post, but rather to bring up some talking points that I think are important when discussing questions like this one.
The first thing that I think needs to be said is that everything is not for you. By you I don’t mean any specific group in particular. You can be Black, White, homosexual, heterosexual, transgender, Muslim, Christian, or any other such identifier that creates political and/or social divisions between people today. I can say with 100% certainty that there is at least one piece of entertainment that you are not the target audience for. Target audience is important and it’s important as consumers to recognize the role it plays in our lives. Video games, movies, television shows, novels, and basically any other form of mass entertainment today costs a lot of money to create and distribute. And regardless of what you want to think, companies and investors get involved in these projects to make money.
Whether right or wrong, most businesses today target a specific audience when creating a product, even when not entertainment, because it’s considered to be the most effective way to predict and garner an acceptable amount of sales. You can’t please everyone is a statement that’s never been truer than it is today and the fact is that companies not only know that but they take that advice very seriously. Developers target a specific population when creating a video game. Every decision they make is considered through the lens of how it will sit with that target audience. That’s not to say that people that don’t fall within that target audience can’t experience and even enjoy those games. It’s merely to state that the developers can’t and aren’t trying to please everyone. Nor should they, because statistically speaking trying to please everyone leads to lackluster games and lower total sales.
The point of the target audience issue is not to say that you don’t have a right to your own opinion if you don’t fall into the target audience. It’s simply to provide a context for how smart businesses conduct business. The fact is that the opinions of people who don’t fall into the target audience just don’t matter as much if at all as those who do. And the only way to change that is to show numerically that your group’s opinion has an actual effect on the developer’s business that outweighs or at least matches that of the target audience. I think the sexism in games discussion is a great example of this. Many people, both men and women, often complain about sexism in games. Whether it’s the objectification argument or the weak female characters argument, or whatever other issue, it’s very apparent that games today and for basically the entire history of video games with humanoid characters in them have swayed more towards the supposed interests of men than women. Is this fair? Absolutely not. Is this based on profit focused business decisions? Absolutely. We can see that while not as quickly as many people would like, this trend is changing. Today there are more games geared towards a female audience. Today there are more games that star a female protagonist. Some people may see these as good things. Some people may see these as bad things. And some people don’t care either way. But what’s important is that these changes have nothing to do with gender politics, fairness, or ethics. They have to do with profits. The percentage of female gamers and men who don’t mind playing female centered games, that actually spend money on games, is growing. That qualifier about spending money is really important. In fact it’s the most important part of the sentence.
Take someone like my girlfriend for example. She has played a number of games, but has not paid for a single one of them, other than as gifts for me. That means that for all intents and purposes, her opinion about the state of women in video games is next to worthless to the industry because even if games were in no way sexist or biased against women there is no data to show that such changes would increase the amount of dollars someone like my girlfriend would spend on video games. It’s only in recent times that people who want less sexist games and actually will have a noticeable effect on the market are organizing and voicing an opinion. That’s the only reason these changes are starting to take place.
Many people continually argue that games treat homosexuals unfairly. That may be true, but it has nothing to do with fairness. It has to do with the fact that the intended target audience for most games where sexuality plays a factor is heterosexual. But I guarantee you that if tomorrow someone could promise beyond a reasonable doubt that they had an idea for a game starring a gay male that would garner 100% of the world’s homosexual population to purchase a copy that EA, Ubisoft, Bethesda, and every other AAA developer would be lining up to bid on it. Even just a guarantee of 100% of the currently gaming homosexual population would be enough to get that game made. This isn’t an issue of ethics or equality. It’s an issue of business and regardless of how you feel about that, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s the way things work. The best way women can change sexism in games is to avidly purchase games that aren’t sexist and encourage other women to do it as well and then to post about their purchase and why they made that purchase on both social media and official game forums. That change is not going to occur as a result of obnoxious documentaries, feminist blogs, and Twitter battles. It will occur when the market shows itself to be more profitable when not being sexist with evidence directly linking the profits to not being sexist. I’m of course using “sexist” as a stand in word for “making female gamers happy”. I’ve yet to see anyone present an idea for a plot based game that would evenly satisfy players of both genders, be written realistically and well, while also making the gender of the character actually matter to the plot and player. But I digress.
So when looking at Mass Effect: Andromeda or any other game, remember that just because you don’t like something doesn’t necessarily matter because you may not even be the target audience. I’m speaking as a Black male and I know games are rarely made for me. I wish developers would come out and say their target audience for a specific game outright, but that would never happen because people take things too personally. Making such an admission would cannibalize their sales just because of how petty people are. I wish we lived in a world where people could be told they aren’t part of the target audience, buy the game anyway, and attempt to objectively critique it from the point of view of the target audience, but if anything our society is only getting farther away from such a high level of reviewing and purchasing maturity.
The second thing that needs to be said about Mass Effect: Andromeda¸ and Mass Effect as a franchise, is that it’s not a dating simulator. Many games today have romance or at least sex in them, but very few AAA games are made with romance/sex as the focus of the game. If you like romance/sex in games then you should just be thankful that Mass Effect has it at all, because it doesn’t need to. The games are not about finding love or physical love. They’re about being a human tasked with saving humanity. Romance options aren’t a mandatory part of the game and they have little bearing on the actual story other than how they affect your personal decisions. You can play through the entire franchise without pursuing a single romance and it will not affect your main plot experience in any noticeable way. And if you’re taking you role as Spectre or Pathfinder seriously, like the games intended, then you aren’t letting romance options cloud your judgement. I played Mass Effect one as the default white male, heterosexual Commander Shepard. Though I had more of an interest and general liking for Ashley Williams compared to Kaiden, I chose to sacrifice her. It was a hard choice. But I did it because I believed that Kaiden, because he was a biotic not because he was a man, was more useful to my mission than Williams was. That’s the point of the games. Making hard decisions that a true leader would make in those situations for the good of the mission and by extension humanity. If you’re not making your decisions based on what you believe the best leader would do then either you’re playing the game incorrectly or you’re playing the wrong game. While yes I do believe that everyone has a right to play a game the way they want to and should be able to enjoy that game, I still believe that when a developer makes a game they have an intended use and that playing completely outside of that use and judging the game outside of that use is wrong.
I’ve written about my sister and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time before. She loved riding Epona, but did literally nothing else in the game. When she asked me to make a file just for her it was one of the proudest moments of my youth. But once the game started and she realized she couldn’t ride the horse from the beginning she immediately put the controller down and lost all interest. My dreams of being the proud brother of a gamer girl were crushed. Would it be right for my sister to say Ocarina is a bad game because she couldn’t fulfill her goal of riding the horse indefinitely? Of course not. The fault is hers for going to a serious adventure game looking for Barbie Horse Adventures: Wild Horse Rescue (2003). The same rules apply to Mass Effect: Andromeda. If you went into that game hoping for the best dating simulator that let you fulfill whatever your alien romance fantasies are and couldn’t, that doesn’t give you the right to call Mass Effect: Andromeda a bad game. Because it’s not sold as an alien romance simulator. That’s not to say that Mass Effect: Andromeda is a perfect game outside of romance/sex options because it’s most certainly not. More than 50 hours in, let me tell you it has a ton of issues. But the fact that I can’t have the imaginary love life I was hoping for doesn’t give me or anyone else the right to trash the game because that’s an inappropriate focus of judgement for this particular game/franchise.
The intention of the developers is my next and last qualifying point. I believe in creative control and artistic license. I’ve written about this issue many times before. As a writer, with collegiate training in fiction writing, I take creative control/freedom very seriously. There’s nothing I hate more than when people who don’t write say something should have been written differently for subjective reasons. There are technical reasons that fictional writing can be considered bad. These can be debated, but I’m all for people critiquing technically bad writing. But when it comes to the subjective interpretation of characters, I get really angry when people argue that something was done badly just because it’s not the way they perceive or experience a type of person in their own life.
Good writers write what they know. Sadly, today many writers in many forms of entertainment are being forced to write things they don’t know. I’ve written several pages of blog posts about the representation of minorities in video games and how it’s for the most part been done pretty badly in AAA games. But I don’t blame the writers. I blame the studios. Because I know that the entire system is built on prejudice. I have no problem with the fact that some White guy in Montreal can’t seem to write a Black character that’s not offensive and built on stereotypes. It’s very possible that the writer has little to no personal experience with Black people outside of film and television. Being from LA and having spent five years of my life in Philadelpha, I can also say that it’s very possible that this same White writer actually does know a number of Black people who are literally walking stereotypes. I have no problem admitting that I personally love fried chicken, am an excellent dancer, and have an extremely nappy and all natural afro. If a White guy only knew me in a specific setting, such as a bar, there’s an excellent chance that if he tried to write a character based on me that it would be considered very stereotypical. And that’s not his fault. A White guy from and currently living in Montreal is not the correct person to be writing a Black character of either gender from Detroit. What needs to happen is the studios need to hire Black writers to write their Black characters well. And the same goes for Latinos, Asians, women, homosexuals, and so on. I do not believe that game writers today set out to write offensive or stereotypical characters. I believe studios are too cheap to hire additional writers and too prejudiced to hire the correct ones when they try to create more diverse characters in their games.
Qualifications aside, I still don’t agree with the idea of telling a writer that the way they wrote a character or interaction is wrong in a work of fiction. I’ve already said good writers write from personal experiences. That moment that you might think is completely ridiculous may very well have happened to that writer in their personal life. And you telling them that their life is unrealistic is not only untrue, but it’s unfair to make such a claim. It’s also beside the point though because writers have a right to tell the story they want to tell. That’s what fiction writers are hired and paid to do. They aren’t telling your story. Again, if you aren’t the target audience, they might not even be telling a story for you. They’re telling the story they wanted to tell. And if you don’t like the way that story is told then by all means go to college, study writing, write your own stories, figure out how to get distribution, and tell the stories you want to tell. It’s really difficult and it’s really insulting when people talk down to the craft of writing and those who are paid to do it professionally.
Now that we’ve covered some of the more important qualifiers of this discussion, let’s get down to the actual business at hand: sex in Mass Effect: Andromeda and by extension all of Mass Effect.
I’m a heterosexual male and I’m not happy with the way sex/romance works in Mass Effect: Andromeda. I still stand by my previous points that it’s very possible that my opinion as a Black male is irrelevant to the studio and that the game isn’t about sex in the first place, but I also believe that as an American born citizen the First Amendment gives me the right to voice my opinion on the subject. If you too are an American citizen or are also a citizen that comes from a country that grants people the right to voice their opinions freely then you are free to read, consider, ignore, refute, agree with, or attack my opinions on this subject and I hope you do so in the comments section. I will not be Twitter battling about this post, just so you know. Meet me here, where the article is published, and I’d be happy to thoroughly discuss the points argued here and any other ones you’d like to bring up in detail. Please know in advance that any attempt to get me to debate this post on Twitter will end with me telling you to “leave a comment on the blog” with a screenshot of this paragraph.
First thing I’m unhappy with about sex in Andromeda is that it’s still too human-centric. Regardless of your character’s gender and/or sexuality, you can get with humans and Asari and be granted some form of actual sex scene, but the same is not true for any other race in the game. The one Turian option just gets to roll around for a second fully clothed and in armor. First off, why can’t Turians ever get out of that armor? No this is not an admission of some weird personal interest in Turians. It’s a statement about how I hate the narcissism that humans continue to show even when creating fictional scenarios. But what’s even worse is how unfair this four race romance limit is. Krogans need love too. In four games you still can’t romance a Krogan. And in this one there’s actually a decent abundance of female ones. The Angara are the new race on the block and they’re right up there with Asari on the hotness scale. But there’s only one female that can be romanced in the entire galaxy and she’s in the most inconvenient place, can’t be fully romanced till the end of the game, and even if you do pull it off you don’t actually get a sex scene. There’s only one male option as well, but at least he lives on the ship. Specieism! All sentient races that can fight alongside you should also be able to be romanced. And every sentient race in the galaxy should be up for grabs at an equal level of let’s call it “exposure”. That doesn’t even address races like Batarians, Volus, and Vorcha if you’re into that sort of thing, which you have every right to be in a video game.
My second issue is why is it so damn hard to play the field in these games? My record for any one playthrough of any Bioware game from any franchise is two romances. That is not realistic. If you’re a space traveler wandering literally an entire galaxy, you should be able to get it done more often than that. What would Captain Kirk say? You should be able to have a different partner in every life supporting solar system if you want to. I really like that they finally made it so that you can get with people outside of your ship mates. But there’s so few options available. And everyone seems to be aware of your romance business. Am I to believe that all females across the galaxy talk this closely? That’s the real stereotype in this game. Not all women are gossips and not all of them demand monogamy. Looking at you Cora. I’m speaking as a person who did a heterosexual male playthrough, but I’m sure there are people who played as other types of characters with other interest who felt similar levels of irritation with this vastly underwhelming space nookie limit.
My third issue is why is there that one casual sex character in Bioware games? They like to pick one female character to be the “whore” character rather than just creating a plethora of characters, some of which might be into the idea of a one night stand. In Dragon Age II it’s Isabela. In Andromeda it’s Peebee. And along with that, why don’t you get a proper sex scene when you go the casual route with Peebee? Don’t short change my experience for not committing. That’s not even how it works in real life much of the time.
While I’m not personally affected by it because of the way I choose to play romance in games, I definitely don’t agree with the fact that the options for homosexual playthroughs are even more limited than the straight ones. But to be fair I would argue that the human narcissism problem needs to be brought up here again. For me I make it a point not to romance humans unless it’s after having already romanced all the aliens I can. If I know I can trade the human for an alien later then I’ll go for it. No this isn’t a gender thing. It’s a species thing. My favorite part about Mass Effect is being able to meet and interact with different and sometimes new races. I think that’s the real point of the games. It’s about being a human and realizing that in the grand scheme of things you’re just not that important unless you’re part of something bigger such as the Nexus or the Citadel. I think choosing to only fraternize with other humans takes away from the experience of flying to new planets and meeting new races. So for me, whether gay or straight, I find human romance options extremely boring. But it’s important to realize that sexuality in the gay or straight discourse is a strictly human system. And one of the things I really like about Mass Effect is that it goes out of its way to drive that point home.
Are Asari lesbians? No not really. How can a race of all females technically be queer? So technically if you’re a female character and you romance an Asari it’s not really being a lesbian. But if that is the case then you would have to argue that being a male character and romancing an Asari isn’t really being straight either. But then at that point could you not technically apply that to all alien races and say that any romance with any non-human when your character is a human is not technically gay or straight? The dictionary definition of both hetero- and homo-sexual only applies to humans having sex with humans or more specifically a member of a species only having sex with another member of the same species. We don’t apply the term homosexual to men who have sex with male sheep. We just call it bestiality and move on. Now if sheep were fully sentient and able to express themselves to us maybe we wouldn’t just call it bestiality but for now those social issues don’t really exist. So then at that point romancing Jaal, Peebee, Avela, Vetra, and Keri aren’t technically gay or straight options. Meaning that there is only one option for heterosexual male characters: Cora, two options for homosexual male characters: Gil and Reyes, two options for heterosexual female characters: Liam and Reyes, one option for homosexual female characters: Suvi, and actually three options for either male or female bisexual characters.
From a purely scientific standpoint, the game is actually not biased for or against hetero- or homo-sexual males like everyone claims. Instead it is biased against people who choose to play under very human-centric rules of sexuality. The problem more comes down to the fact that people, being limited to human ways of thinking and feeling about things, are projecting human gender types and social norms onto alien characters and equating those options as falling within the gay or straight discourse. I would argue that goes against what Bioware wanted/wants to do with romance in these games altogether. All that being said, Turians, Krogans, Salarians, and Angarans all have males and females so if you do choose to apply human sexuality to these non-human romance options then yes the game is biased towards heterosexual males and homosexual females with five options a piece. But I would argue the real bias here is in the presentation.
Bioware has been quoted as describing the romance sequences in Andromeda as “softcore space porn”. That’s only half true because it only happens in the case of romancing humans and Asari and only in heterosexual or lesbian scenarios. The rest of the races and sexualities are given the bad television treatment. A lead up, screen goes black, a fade in after the fact, and a lead out. Disappointing. If I might steal a quote from the great Chris Rock, “Don’t take my clothes off and not f@$k me.” Not giving everyone all the sex options they want is one thing. But not giving everyone the same quality of sexual experience depending on their sexual interests is just plain offensive. It’s just blatantly showing favoritism.
I do realize that this is a much more in depth game than something like Fable so you can’t just romance everyone in the game because it would either lower the quality of the experience or cost too much money to produce. But I feel like in general there could be a lot more romance options for any type of sexuality you choose to play as and a much more level presentation of those romance options.
This was a fun post. My girlfriend thinks I’m weird for having written it. I’m curious to know your thoughts on the subject of sex in Mass Effect and video games in general. Leave me a comment. Feel free to include screenshots. 😉