Mass Effect’s relationship with queerness has been fraught, to say the least, but eleven years later, one of the greatest mysteries regarding the sexuality of one of its party members has been answered. Specifically Jack, the powerful biotic outlaw from Mass Effect 2. In conversations with protagonist Commander Shepard, Jack implies she is interested in both men and women, but is only romanceable by a male character. Turns out, this wasn’t the case for most of the game’s development, but things changed due to fear of backlash from Fox News.
In 2021, Fox News might sound like a ridiculous thing to be worried about, but the series had a run-in with the network back in 2008 when the original Mass Effect launched. The game’s sex scenes were scrutinized on a mainstream news network (despite being relatively tame), and according to Brian Kindregan, who wrote Jack for Mass Effect 2, the fears of a second wave of controversy had her romance with female Commander Shepard removed fairly late into development.
“I was trying to chart out the arc of [Jack’s] romance, which for much of the development – it was actually very late that it became a male/female-only romance,” Brian Kindregan told The Gamer in an interview. “She was essentially pansexual for most of the development of that romance.
“Mass Effect had been pretty heavily and really unfairly criticized in the US by Fox News, which at the time… maybe more people in the world thought that there was a connection between reality and what gets discussed on Fox News. The development team of Mass Effect 2 was a pretty progressive, open-minded team, but I think there was a concern at pretty high levels that if [the first] Mass Effect, which only had one gay relationship, Liara – which on paper was technically not a gay relationship because she was from a mono-gendered species – I think there was a concern that if that had drawn fire, that Mass Effect 2 had to be a little bit careful.”
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This is the first time this explanation has been made public, and it would have maybe done Bioware and the Mass Effect series some good to have just been honest about the lack of same-sex relationships rather than going with the explanations it did back in the day. Which included implying that queer romance would take the game beyond its “PG-13 action movie” stylings and also claiming Commander Shepard was a “pre-defined” character who just could not be queer. Despite that not holding up in a series that lets you be just about anyone and have a wide array of possible values. It was just cowardice. Which, to me, is somehow more comforting than thinly veiled homophobic reasoning we got back then? None of them justify excluding people, but it at least sounds like a more coherent reasoning than “Commander Shepard is a heterosexual and you queers better get used to it.”
Thankfully, that didn’t stick, because my Shepard and Kaidan Alenko went on to be in an extremely gay relationship in Mass Effect 3.
Across the board, Mass Effect’s same-sex relationships have been spotty. Despite the insistence that Liara isn’t technically a queer romance because of her species’ mono-gender, the romance between her and female Shepard is widely considered a sapphic relationship. That was the sole “true” queer romance for the trilogy until Mass Effect 3, where Steve Cortez and Samantha Traynor were brought on as same-sex exclusive characters and Kaidan was retconned as bisexual. Queer men in particular had a rough go of it throughout the original trilogy, and while Mass Effect: Legendary Edition‘s remasters might be a chance to make good on some things, it seems unlikely that Kaidan will be romanceable through the whole trilogy due to a lack of a voice lines. Same goes for Jack, who, in a perfect world, would have been the problematic pansexual icon she deserved to be. Which, I guess she still is. Even if there’s no in-game explanation for why she suddenly shuts out female Shepard at the end.