One of the biggest controversies about Mass Effect 3 is the fact that you can make Commander Shepard come out as gay or lesbian — or if Shepard doesn't come out, another member of your squad can. There's even a controversial video of a gay love scene.
When we met with Mass Effect executive producer Casey Hudson the other day, we asked him why they added this option to the game, and his response was pretty eloquent:
As a medium develops, you kind of uncover different perspectives that people have. It wasn't an issue if you go back to games like Baldur's Gate. All of the characters were little sprites that move around. I remember just being amazed that I could make a character walk across the screen, swing a sword, and stuff like that.
But things evolve smoothly, and at some point, you realize you need to change the way that you're doing things. With Mass Effect, we started out with the idea we had previously, which is [that] we'll build up what the player is able to do. You can be this character, but it's not just the character we give you. It's a character that you're designing how they're going to look, and you're going to have a lot of control over who you are. Then we'll add that you're going to have a romance. So, we'll give this character his romance. We'll add that you can be a different gender, so you can be a female Commander Shepard, and we'll have a romance for that. As we add things into the simulation, it starts to become a more and more complete simulation.
At some point, people realize that the things that are missing from the simulation become conspicuous absences. If we had a character that is exactly the way we designed that character, and that character had a single love interest and there were no options, I think people would see it like a movie or a book — where that's just the way it is. By adding things into it, people felt that we should just go several steps further and add in these other things that they would like to see. Our goal is always to be inclusive, so that's why we made changes for Mass Effect 3.
So why does Mass Effect include romance and sex in the first place? Did the designers ever consider leaving those things out? We asked Hudson, and he said it's surprisingly a lot to do with making the combat and inventory functions more interesting:
In a video game, you've got combat, and you're choosing what goes into your inventory, and all those things. For me, what makes those things interesting is that it's set in the story that you care about. You have relationships and squad members that you care about, and that's what gives meaning to all the actual game systems. The fact that you're modifying a weapon, if you know that weapon is the one that's carried by a character that you really like or someone that's your love interest-it means something different, and it kind of brings it into the realm of reality and makes you think differently about it. Squad members and characters' relationships are always a part of it.
And once you add romance in a story that's already highly customizeable, you are pretty much bound to keep adding options to make more players happy. (See the Shepard-Garrus romance.) But Hudson also told us that he draws the line at giving players absolutely everything they want when it comes to romance:
Some people will say, "Well, I should be able to romance every character." In real life, you don't have that possibility. You can't demand that someone falls in love with you.
Or people will ask, "What is the list of all the characters that I can romance?" But you don't get that in real life, either. You can't scan around the room and go, "Oh, that person would be into me, that person would be into me." You don't know. That's the excitement and anxiety of trying to develop a relationship with someone.