Tristan GreeneEditor, Neural by TNW
Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him
Having recently been raised to the lofty position of King of The Pansexual Realms (that’s the name of my duchy in Crusader Kings III), I felt it was my duty to chime in on the latest queer-related scandal in gaming.
The lead writer of Mass Effect 2 recently revealed the game was meant to have a pansexual character but, due to fear of criticism from Fox News, that idea was scrapped and the character was relegated to heterosexual interactions only.
This particular debacle is fun for me because it’s usually just the straights and the gays who hog the spotlight, but today we’re talking about pansexuals.
A quick explanation: I started off attracted to pots, baking dishes, and muffin tins. Eventually though, it was pans that did it for me.
The above sentence is a silly lie, but I wanted something goofy and aloof in the first 100 words of this article because anytime a queer person speaks out against something straight people enjoy we’re accused of being angry, petulant, or easily-offended.
I’m calm, fabulous, and almost impossible to offend.
A pansexual, simply put, is someone who can be attracted to people of all gender identities. Some of us think pansexual and bisexual are interchangeable. Some of us feel like pansexual is more inclusive – ie, some people think bisexual means “can be attracted to members of more than one gender identity but perhaps not all.” The distinctions are personal because there’s no governing body for queer people.
Gaming news outlet The Gamer today published an interview with Brian Kindregan, the lead writer for Mass Effect 2. In the article, Kindregan lets loose a bit of company info that, to the best of my knowledge, hadn’t been shared publicly before today. Namely that the character “Jack,” one of the player character’s romance options in ME2, was written as a “pansexual” character but at the last minute the developers allegedly removed any non-heterosexual interactions out of fear Fox News would be mean about it.
Per the article, Kindregan says:
Mass Effect had been pretty heavily and really unfairly criticized in the US by Fox News, which at the time… maybe more people in the world thought that there was a connection between reality and what gets discussed on Fox News.
The development team of Mass Effect 2 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.
Mass Effect is one of the most beloved gaming franchises of all time. It set the standard for action/RPG storytelling and, together with Dragon Age, eventually went on to become iconic for its in-game “romance” options.
Millions of words have been written on these franchises’ queer romance story lines. But, for posterity, here’s my take on that particular aspect of the games: Meh.
Don’t get me wrong, I love every game in the Mass Effect franchise. I’ll be first in line to play the remasters when they drop this year. But not for the romance and sex options.
People seem to remember these games differently than they really were. Mass Effect 1 only had a psuedo-queer romance line with a monosexual alien, and 2 didn’t have any queer romance options until the Shadow Broker DLC came out. And none of the following games in the franchise has ever included player options for anything other than straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
I suppose you can choose to be asexual by avoiding sexual interaction all-together, but that insinuates that people who feel like maybe saving the galaxy is more important than banging on a space ship must be asexual or that asexuals are abnormal.
Still, it bears mention that way back in the old days of (checks notes…) 2010, when ME2 was released, the world was a different place. The Mass Effect franchise did eventually help bring queer romance to AAA gaming and that’s a good thing.
Here’s the problem: it’s 11 years later and not much has changed. In 2010 Bioware decided that pansexual representation was less important than what the clowns at Fox News think. I truly believe the developers wanted to do better but, ultimately, the people creating the game are seldom the ones calling the shots.
Today, just about every AAA game developer has some sort of official statement they trot out whenever they’re about to release a product claiming they’re a “diverse and multicultural” team. But if the “diverse and multicultural” team isn’t in charge, then what difference does it make?
When a lead writer is told they cannot create the character they want to because the powers-that-be at Bioware were scared of the bigots at Fox News, it clearly demonstrates that these companies weren’t listening to minorities then.
And, as we’ve seen with the controversy over Borderlands 3’s awful treatment of little and disabled people and Cyberpunk2077’s failure to understand that sexual and gender identity involve more than just what’s in your pants and how high-pitched your voice is, not much has changed.
Sometimes these problems can manifest even when publishers and developers genuinely try to do the right thing.
For example, when I loaded up Crusader Kings III’s “Ruler Designer” to make my own character, I was happy and sad at the same time. It was great to see it had options for sexual identity that included more than just straight and gay – you can be bisexual or asexual! But, on a deeply personal level, I was pretty bummed out it didn’t include pansexual.
Unfortunately, as someone who identifies pan, I’m perfectly aware that my sexuality is usually an afterthought exclusively linked to trans and non-binary identities. In gaming (and life in general) this means I usually can’t expect any representation unless those communities are also represented.
Representation for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals may be inching slowly closer to something more in-line with their reality in the general population, and that’s awesome, but some of us are still left out by the people deciding whose existence is worthy. And it gets harder to understand why with each passing year.
Not only have pansexual people been around since the dawn of humanity, but it’s not like the general public are just hearing about us. Sigmund Freud coined the term “pansexual” in the early 1900s.
Yet, for some reason, including us is still too big a “risk” for most game publishers.
We don’t want you to put us in every game, but we’d like to be included wherever options related to human sexuality matter to the immersion, story, and sense of character a player experiences. None of us care if you don’t put us in Call of Duty or NBA2K21 because sexuality is irrelevant to the experience in those games.
What we want to see is fair representation. We’re not just the quirky sidekicks, insane horny villains, or sexually provocative alien/robot/monster weirdos.
At a bare minimum, game publishers need to stop capitulating to bigots. These problems are pretty easy to solve: hire and listen to queer consultants. If you’re working on a project that involves minority representation you should have a qualified representative from that community among your decision-makers.
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