Rants & Essays

N7 Day and Disappointing Video Game Romance

Femshep-N7-Day Happy N7 day!

You get it?

N-November… 7th?

N7?

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.

James Vega | N7 Day And Disappointing Romance | Gamerwife.com

Image Source: Mass Effect Wiki

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.

Seriously?!

Ick.

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.”

Vega Muscles and Tats | N7 Day and Disappointing Romance | Gamerwife.com

Image Source: Mass Effect Wiki

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    Falafel
    November 7, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Well, we’re all so glad that you didn’t get exactly what you wanted, you selfish cunt.

    • Reply
      Mariko
      November 7, 2013 at 1:04 pm

      Let me be very clear. At no point do I say I that expect or deserve to have my expectations as a player catered to by game developers. I have strong respect for game makers as story tellers and I am totally on board for them taking games in characters in directions that differ from how I might “want” them to. This article was meant as a way of exploring my personal feelings in this regard, as I was actually rather surprised that I had such an emotional reaction.

      I had no problem with the ending of Mass Effect 3. I found it very appropriate and was frankly a little embarrassed by the outrage from fans that followed. But having had an experience that provoked an unexpected emotional response did help me to better understand the attachment that fans have to their franchises. Being disappointed is fine. Demanding changes to match your expectations is not.

      However, this issue of the power dynamics at play in this “romance” do deserve exploration as they are definitely problematic. Which have been the point, but I think they warrant examination none the less. As does your decision to categorize me as a “selfish cunt” for having a personal opinion.

  • Reply
    Osama Dorias
    November 7, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    “…warrant examination none the less. As does your decision to categorize me as a “selfish cunt”…”

    You’re absolutely wrong Mariko. His comment warrants deletion, not examination 😉

    • Reply
      Mariko
      November 7, 2013 at 2:27 pm

      I chose to publish this comment because I wanted everyone to see how hateful and ignorant people can be. I know it is unlikely the author will read my response, but I am proud of this piece and I am not afraid to defend it.

  • Reply
    Nerd Burger
    November 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    haha November 7th. Classic. I think it’s lovely to have a little bone in my games. I do get a lot of romance in my sims characters though.:)

    • Reply
      Mariko
      November 7, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      Nothing against boning in games, I’m just confused by the video game convention of using “romance” to refer to sexy times.

  • Reply
    Regina
    August 20, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    I agree with everything you said. But I have to say that the other FemShep romance options weren’t treated much better. Almost ALL the (straight) romance options for FemShep made me feel like a sexual predator. The LIs seemed so … reluctant. She had to persuade every. Single. One of the straight ME 2 options. Practically throw herself before their feet. Jacob? Almost rape-y. I can’t even … Ew. Good thing that I never even tried to romance him, ’cause boooring. Garrus? He felt so uncomfortable about Shep hitting on him, at least at the beginning. He outright told her that he “doesn’t have a fetish for humans”. He wasn’t as awkward or uncomfortable with Tali (in ME 3), despite her looking even more human than an asari. Also, you can’t do the romance without using renegade dialogue. Thane, too, was oh so surprised about Shep’s interest in him. I don’t know about BroShep, but I know at least that Tali had a crush on him since ME 1. I would have liked the ME romances much better if at least one of the ME 2-options (preferably Garrus, I have to admit) had been more enthusiastic about the romance, or – God forbid – even suggested it himself.
    Only Kaidan seemed to be really “into” FemShep (and then he was a romance option for BroShep, too, in ME 3, all of a sudden), but he is just so boring …

    • Reply
      Mariko
      August 20, 2014 at 7:30 pm

      Yeah, as I said, I tried to romance Garrus, but it just didn’t work out. And Jacob? Knowing that he just sort of shows up in ME3 with a baby-mama and no explanation didn’t really make we wanna go there. And Kaidan. ME1: Boring. ME2: Jerk. ME3: Almost interesting, but he’s still not Garrus. I understand that romance can be a tricky thing in games, it’s sad the even a pioneer like BioWare still feels the need to use a “predatory” model of courtship.

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