Happy N7 day!
You get it?
Okay, fine. I guess if you’re not a hardcore Mass Effect fan the joke is gonna go straight over your head. But whatever. The Star Wars fans get May 4. We get November 7. And that’s why I decided to do my first Mass Effect related post in ages.
Being that the next Mass Effect related game isn’t going to see the light of day for another couple of years, I decided that for this post I would finally get around to playing the Citadel DLC. Although it had been released months ago, I was waiting for Rick to finish his playthrough before starting my own, but GTA V and Last of Us and a million other things got in his way and we both forgot about it.
However, celebrating the 5th anniversary of the Mass Effect franchise seemed like a pretty good excuse to finally check it out. I was also psyched to finally play it because I’d heard that James Vega, the beefy gym-monkey voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr. was going to be a “romanceable” character. Which brings me to the other half of my title.
WARNING! Massive Spoilers Past This Point. Proceed With Caution.
I guess what they meant by “romance” was “drunken one night stand with upsetting power disparity issues.” Because as excited as I was to finally get to cuddle in James’ tree-trunk-like arms, I’m afraid the whole experience ended up feeling hollow and unsatisfying. And even though I hadn’t actually done anything other than play a game, I felt kinda dirty and sad by the time I was done.
I know I’m in the minority of Mass Effect 3 fans for wanting to romance James, often used by critics to highlight the “Jersey Shore-ification” of the franchise, but there’s something about this uber-earnest tough guy that hits me right in the ticker. I’ve never been into super muscle-y guys (those who have seen pictures of my husband, Rick, can attest to this), but I love the way James opens up to Shepard about his fears of not being a good leader and his obvious respect for his superiors in just super endearing.
And so in my head-cannon, a “romance” between James and Shepard was built on two people who need to be tough for a living finding comfort in a shared vulnerability. Not a solitary tryst that made James feel used and me feel like a sexual predator. Seriously, at some point during the party you throw at the end of the DLC, Shepard actually “checks in” on James to see if he’s wasted enough to jump in the sack with her.
And yet, since I’d booted up the Xbox with the sole intention of getting my chance with James, I had to follow through. As hollow and as unsatisfying as the experience turned out to be.
Which I guess is where I can finally start to feel sympathy for the Mass Effect fans who were so disappointed with the ending of our beloved trilogy. Every new option in a video game comes with expectations, and in a game that relies so heavily on role playing, personal identification with your avatar means that these expectations come with very really emotions attached. Which makes it hard to not be disappointed when your expectations don’t match the reality the writers have provided.
However, after reflecting on it for a while, I think what really upset me about the way things unfold between James and Shepard was that an interest in James seemed to have been limited to a physical relationship. Like he was too much of a “sexual ideal” to warrant emotional interest from a female Shepard. Which if the same dynamics were at play with a female character and a male Shepard, would have resulted in some serious outcry. Or, at the very least, some serious Renegade points.
And while I understand that this tact was probably taken purely as a result of the option being added after the game was finished, I couldn’t help feeling sad when my Shepard blackmailed James into making her eggs to keep her from telling.
Or maybe, we should just stop using the word “romance” when what we really mean is “bone.”