Jan 3 2013 4:00pm

Playing with a Joystick: Bioware, Mass Effect, and the Romance of Video Games

The Mass Effect Trilogy from Bioware and Electronic ArtsI've been thinking about this article for a very long time. Whether or not my fan-boyish squeeing would fall upon ears that just don't understand. Then something wonderful happened. In my Bromance post, user Clarketta brought up Dom and Marcus, one of modern gaming's more legendary bromances. And I knew it would be worth a shot.

Now, some of you might already be gamers, and if that's the case please feel free to share so in the comments. However, this article is directed to the romance fan out there that maybe has a significant other or child that plays games and they might be curious about it but have yet to take the plunge. I start with this, you should. Not only because it's incredibly fun, but gaming has come a long way since Mario saved the Princess, there are publishers out there that have focused entirely upon story-based gaming, and the best at this is the company known as Bioware, with one of their more popular titles being Mass Effect.

Set in a sci-fi setting, the Mass Effect trilogy is a role-playing game where the player takes on the role of elite marine, galactic super-spy/commando, and all-around bad-ass Commander Shepherd. As a player you have complete control of Shepherd. Want the good Commander to be a man with blond hair and a square jaw, done. Want a female commander sporting a pixie cut and blue eyes? Double done. You choose all of his/hers choices as she goes about saving all life in the universe from the technological horror known as The Reapers, helping a people doomed to wander the stars for their sins, befriending a barbarian race of aliens that knows little more than killing and destruction, and most importantly, who to develop a lasting, meaningful relationship with.

For the purposes of this article I'm going to focus on that last part, and most importantly my personal favorite romances from the options available to the player. There are plenty of ships out there to set sail on in the Mass Effect Fandom, and I encourage you to share yours, but here are my favorites.

There's just something about that blue skin...For Male-Shep, or Sheploo as he is known in the community, I always go with Liara T'Soni. Liara is a member of the race of aliens known as the Asari, a mono-gendered species of very long-lived women that enjoy peace, art, and the pursuit of knowledge. Every Asari is a kind of psychic and has access to a bit of space magic that involves the manipulation of things known as mass effect fields.  Shepherd first meets Liara while tracking down the rogue agent Saren. Unkown to her at the time, Liara's mother has sided with Saren and is working to pave the way for the Reaper invasion of our galaxy. Shepherd finds Liara on a planet where she is studying the ancient, galaxy-spanning civilization called The Prothean. Turns out that Saren had sent his soldiers to kill Liara, as bad guys do, and just like any super-spy would do, Shep saves the girl.

The relationship that emerges is similar to that of Spock and Kirk. You have the alien that values knowledge and peace over all else, and depending on your Shepherd, you have the soldier that trusts his gut. And just like Kirk and Spock, the two become very close and rely constantly upon one another. As Liara grows beyond the innocent scientist, she comes to know the darker parts of the galaxy, parts that Shepherd is unable to keep at bay, for certain reasons. Does Liara wilt like some weak, waiting-to-be-saved Princess? Hell no! She toughens up and takes on the world. She becomes essential to Shepherd's efforts against the Reapers, and like any other heroine worthy of being compared to Leia, she works constantly to make sure her Hero has what he needs to do his job.

He always was the pretty one after all...Which then brings us to Fem-Shep. Fem-Shep is a bad-ass. Plain and simple. The voice actor who did the work for the female Commander Shepherd is amazing. And a girl who kicks as much alien tail needs an equally tough and awesome partner. Enter one Garrus Vakaryian. Garrus is a Turian, a race of aliens that will put the needs of the many before the individual no matter who that individual is. Military service is compulsory and a part of life.

Garrus, however, is not your typical Turian. Garrus is a former cop that thinks that the bad guys in the galaxy should be punished, plain and simple. If that means putting them in the ground before they go through pesky things like “trials” and “due process”, so be it. As can be expected, this leads to some problems with his people, and family. Garrus has a falling out with his police chief, after pursuing an investigation of the believed innocent rouge agent Saren. It is during this investigation that Garrus meets Shepherd.

Garrus remains loyal to Shepherd in a way that is rarely if ever matched. You just simply can't have Vakraian without Shepherd. Even when Garrus has a falling out with his family, who think he committed one of the worst sins a Turian can, putting the individual before the community. Garrus never lashes back at his family; he constantly sacrifices for the greater good, putting the whole galaxy before himself, never leaving the side of the good Commander. If Garrus isn't the perfect romance hero, I just don't know who would be. The man is even disfigured in the line of duty!

Now the beauty of the Mass Effect series is that it consciously puts story and character before any other part of a game. The team behind the game put so much effort into world-building that you come to know and care for each and everyone of the chatacters. These are just two of the  10+ relationships open to Shepherd, whether you play a man or woman, a hard-ass soldier, or an emotional diplomat, the choices are all yours. And your Shep might not be my Shep, and that is ok.

So if you have time to kill, try out the game. If you aren't tearing up by the time you find out why someone else would have gotten it wrong, I will print this article and eat it. I will forewarn you though, as a certain video-game playing mom has put it, those writers at Bioware are all emotional hooligans.


Christopher Morgan works for and You can find him on twitter as c_morgs65.

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Olivia Waite
1. O.Waite
The FemShep/Garrus pairing is one of the best video-game romances I've ever seen, and one of the better sci-fi romances as well. It's touching, hot, and properly (if briefly) brings up issues of biological compatibility for interspecies nookie. It's so thrilling they made him a romance option in the second and third games!
Christopher Morgan
2. cmorgan
I agree whole heartedly O. Waite, tried Kaiden once, just didn't work. And then someone told me what happens if you go after Jacob, and we all know the fate of Thane...
3. taragel
Heh. A friend just posted a long walkthru of what happened based on all the romantic choices she made while playing this trilogy. It was kind of hilarious but apparently there were things within the game that were still off-limits, and she was thwarted on several occasions (One was apparently the game didn't allow the male Shepherd to romance a guy. Although that changed in later versions I guess.)
Christopher Morgan
4. cmorgan
Yeah, that was actually a complaint the company recieved, their Fantasy Series, Dragon Age, allowed for m/m romances, while Mass Effect did not. ME3 introduced the possibility of m/m and kind of ret-conned Male-Shep, which admittadly would make for an awkward conversation with you significant other had you began romancing a lady.
5. Lex
OMG I loved Mass Effect and I will never admit it to my Gamer friends b/c the majority of them are guys, and you don't really want to be chicking it out in a boys world, but I played the game for the romance story almost as much as the Reaper killing, ass kicking, space exploring. Jacob was dull I thought and then the way things would go with him is kind of lame (glad I never went with him). Thane was one of three play through for me and I thought his was the most emotional. Thought how thing went with him added to the stories heavy dark tone more then any other. But I have to say I am a Garrus girl all the way! He had the most charterer of any of the romance options. he is brave, funny, sweet, award, and kind. awww dang I have go play the game again now!
Christopher Morgan
6. cmorgan
@ Lex

See, my Thane was always Jack. I love her as a character and her story, but I was kind of let down in how they resolved her arc in the end. I just couldn't pick her for my "cannon" Shep. I'll admit though, writing the article may have sparked just one more playthrough.
7. Lex
I never romanced Jack myself by I liked her as a companion. I rather liked how she ended up training others. Though I was kind of upset she didn't hop on my ship for more adventuring....that sounded dirty...I was a little upset that i didn't get to take everyone with me to be honest. Male Shep for me though was all about Tali'Zorah. I wanted to see under that mask dang it. I am not accepting the photo as real. lol Didn't see it didn't happen! Her relationship with her people and there way of life I found to be one of the most interesting dynamics in the game.
8. Danielle1234567
Ohhh I loved Mass Effect. I played female and yeah Kaden was a little dull and self righteous. I loved Thane. Lone assassin being brought down in every aspect of his life but still fighting... sigh! I did a garrus walk through for the second game but I thought of his character more as a friend of shepherd. Dang I may need to find time to play the third again and try out the Garrus romance there.
9. swartzcl
Oh, Chris! Only you can get me to read a whole article about Mass Efect. You have no idea how many hours I've spent listening to my son go on and on about this game. I have the whole blink-and-nod thing down to perfection. Now I actually want to go home and play the game with him.
Christopher Morgan
10. cmorgan
@Danielle See I could never get behind Thane, though the prayer in the third got me right in the gut.

@Swartzel AWESOME! You shouldn't feel alone, I did the same thing to my wife, finally she agreed to play it, I think to shut me up, but she fell into the story as much as me. Though I think she prefer's Bioware's take on fantasy, DRAGON AGE, more.
11. kickstand_kris
Guilty as charged here....LOVED the romance theme included in ME games. I played as a fem-shep who romanced Kaidan, but my husband played as a male-shep who floated between Miranda and Ashley in the third. lol. Unlike cmorgan though, I played the game first, and then told my husband about it, and refused to shut up until he played the game too! :)
Christopher Morgan
12. cmorgan
I could never get behind Kaidan and Ashley myself. Miranda I was on the fence about, but Jack remains my all-time favorite. I just wish she had a better ending....

As long as your spreading the video game love, I approve! :D
Lina G
13. lechealpina
Awesome article! I've showed it to my husband (the gamer or the family), since he's been trying for so long to convince me to play with him any video game, a very unsuccesfull experience -so far-. Maybe this is the trick! Sell it to me as a romantic sci-fi epic adventure and I'm in! No wonder I was bored out of my mind trying to play Call of Duty & Portal, no romance there...

You should make a list of all the games that have epic romances or something along these lines, to help us pick more games :-)

PS. My husband said to tell you and I quote: "encourage him to write more about the romantic side of video games".
Christopher Morgan
14. cmorgan

That's great to hear, granted there is a bit of gun-play in Mass Effect, but the relationships and story take priority. It's well worth it, trust me. Tell your Husband that I am on it.
15. biochemgirl
I love gaming. My hubby and I play games together a lot on the xbox, while we do family time on the wii. We love the Mass Effect trilogy, Gears of War, Halo, Final Fantasy, you name it. I love the options in Mass Effect. My husband was a little wary of it at first, since mostly he plays "shooter" type games, but he really got into it.
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