Compared to the final product, Mass Effect 2 originally had several more same-sex romance options — including Jacob Taylor.
Last week, it was revealed via The Gamer that BioWare changed Jack’s sexuality from pansexual to heterosexual over the course of that game’s development. It’s a long-time question many members of the Mass Effect community have wanted to know the answer to for over a decade. Jack explicitly states in conversations with Commander Shepard that she has been with men and women. But because of the infamous exaggerated backlash to the first Mass Effect’s sex scenes from Fox News, her romance with a female Commander Shepard was cut. Brian Kindregan, Jack’s writer for Mass Effect 2, said the change happened very late in development.
Now, we know Jack wasn’t the only character whose sexuality was changed. Former Mass Effect 2 Lead Animator Jonathan Cooper took to Twitter to reveal this information after the report about Jack’s pansexuality came out.
“TIL [Today I learned] you can’t romance Jack as Femshep in Mass Effect 2,” tweeted Cooper. “I animated both scenes for Male & Female. We prevized Jacob as the male/male, matching shot-for-shot from Brokeback Mountain. Was told at the time ‘America isn’t ready for it.’ Perhaps it still isn’t. We matched Brokeback so it wouldn’t be unacceptable — but different rules for film and games I guess. Personally I still believe it was the wrong call to cut, as we protested at the time. People with a problem with can go fuck themselves — they don’t deserve to play our games.”
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It’s disappointing to know. Jacob is known among the Mass Effect fandom for being a character who could have had much more screentime, especially in Mass Effect 3. Even so, the series could have led the charge on LGBTQ+ representation by having a queer black man in Mass Effect 2′s main cast. And, by all intents and purposes, many developers wanted this and fought to have it in the final product.
Mass Effect still stands as a quintessential series to not just the LGBTQ+ community in games, but the industry as a whole. Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, which is rumored to be released in March, will surely be a testament to its legacy. Much like fellow news writer Ken Shepard, Mass Effect was an integral piece of media to my relationship with my queerness. While its queerness is largely seen as complicated nowadays, it has paved the way for LGBTQ+ inclusivity in many games that have come out since.
For that matter, I personally don’t think it’s so much about America not having been ready for a character like Jacob. It’s clear several developers on the team, like Cooper and Kindregan, were ready for a Jacob Taylor and a Jack even at the time. People like these characters have always existed and will continue to exist in the real world. The higher-ups in charge of Mass Effect had the privilege of deciding what the series communicated as acceptable or not — and they decided to bow to the bad-faith controversy Fox News heralded.
While it remains to be seen, I don’t think Mass Effect: Legendary Edition will implement cut content, so I don’t expect to see the Jack and Jacob same-sex romances this year, or ever. Fox News no longer has the power and relevancy that it once did, but the absence of that content, freedom, and representation for queer Mass Effect players will sadly always be felt. Anyone who had and continues to have a problem with queer characters has to simply deal with the reality — that was true then, and it’s true now.