As a gay man, I’ve taken every opportunity games have given me to pursue same-sex relationships. However, I never thought I’d hear one of my prospective digital suitors ask if I wanted to have a child with him through a surrogate. But that’s what happened in my relationship with Gil Brodie, a scruffy and charismatic engineer in Mass Effect: Andromeda.
By my count, I’ve been in six romantic relationships in Bioware games between two men, but only two were with gay men rather than bisexual ones also available to female players.
While I’ve always been thankful to Bioware for giving players an option to pursue same-sex relationships in most of its games, it wasn’t until recently that the studio began creating queer characters who weren’t attracted to the player regardless of their gender. Mass Effect: Andromeda, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect 3 all feature explicitly gay characters, and without having to make a relationship speak to both sides, characters like Gil are more than just romantic interests for the player—they’re the subject of real queer issues taking place in the greater fiction.
Mass Effect: Andromeda, and its story of settlement in a new galaxy where humanity has never been, put a spotlight on a queer perspective of a particular issue: the biological imperative to repopulate.
As I had discussions with Gil, prompted in part by his friend Jill, a fertility expert for the humans who relocated to the Andromeda Galaxy, I saw he was struggling with what his role was in helping humanity expand in its new home. He realizes he wants a child, but as a gay man a child that is biologically his doesn’t seem like an option. During moments where he talked about Jill’s work he seemed upset that he couldn’t have a child of his own, claiming it never seemed like an option to him.
The interactions that followed with Gil had me meeting the friend in question, but not before the engineer and I confessed our romantic interest in one another. But as our relationship escalated and I was just about to head out on the final mission, Gil asked me if I would co-father a child with him with Jill acting as a surrogate.
Across the aisle, Dragon Age: Inquisition’s mage pariah Dorian was the center of another decidedly queer story, as Bioware took on a magical interpretation of conversion therapy and abuse of LGBT youth. Prior to meeting Dorian in-game, I knew his sexuality would somehow factor into his character based on an interview with writer David Gaider, where he stated Dorian’s interest in men “added an interesting dimension to his back story, considering he comes from a place where ‘perfection’ is the face that every mage puts on and anything that smacks of deviancy is shameful and meant to be hidden.”
After Dorian joined my party, he asked me to accompany him to a meeting set up by his disillusioned father. Between the sass and sarcasm, Dorian had told me he was on poor terms with his family, but never got around to explaining exactly why. When I played third wheel at this meeting, Dorian revealed to me his father attempted to alter Dorian’s mind and sexuality through dangerous magic after he refused to marry a woman for political gain. While I learned from colleagues that Dorian’s father wanted to meet with his son to make amends, I took the first chance I could to get Dorian out of there and away from his abusive father. While Dorian was defiant in the face of this abuse, it did have a lasting mark on our relationship as well, with him being unwilling to publicly acknowledge our relationship in the beginning in fear of the persecution he’d faced in his homeland. Just like Andromeda, Inquisition managed to echo real world issues in a way that was justified within its setting.
In most of my same-sex Bioware relationships, I’m used to feeling like my relationship with a man has been sterilized to fit either gender. My romance with Fenris in Dragon Age II was no different than that of someone playing as a woman, short of pronoun swaps. In the same game, Anders has a male ex-lover if the player is playing as a man, but this bit of information is omitted from female playthroughs. Kaidan in Mass Effect 3, a relationship I’d been waiting three games for, was only differentiated from a female player’s by it being unattainable until the final game in the trilogy. There was no real acknowledgement that, as a gay couple, our lives would be quite different. Mass Effect doesn’t tackle issues like homophobia, as those dated beliefs would likely have disappeared by the era the games are set in, but Andromeda still acknowledges a series of challenges and internal struggles that are exclusive to queer people within the context of its lore.
These stories wouldn’t have been achievable if Bioware had made Gil and Dorian pursuable regardless of the protagonist’s gender. The studio has typically looked for ways to make its romantic routes applicable to the player regardless of which gender they pick, which often leads to a lack of specificity that can undermine a character’s sexuality. Whatever their flaws, Andromeda and Inquisition both avoid that problem.
Bioware’s gay representation hasn’t been perfect. The original Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 didn’t feature any same-sex relationships for men, and the explanation for it, claiming protagonist Commander Shepard was a “defined character,” is unrecognizable compared to the Bioware of today. Even in Andromeda there’s a distinct lack of options for gay men, and the two that are there have notably less content than other romantic interests in the game. But in my romantic relationships with Gil and Dorian I’ve seen more of the life I’ve lived as a gay man than with Sky in Jade Empire or Zevran in Dragon Age Origins, where the queer aspects of our relationships were defined strictly by our being men, rather than any real portrayal of what makes a queer relationship different than a straight one. While there’s still a ways to go, stories like Gil’s show that Bioware knows how to leverage its own fiction to go beyond visibility and really dissect issues happening in the real world within the ones it’s created.
Kenneth Shepard is a Georgia-based freelancer who cries about videogame characters in public places and on Twitter @shepardcdr. Along with Paste, you can find his work at GamesRadar+ and CGMagazine.