comScore Queering Mass Effect: F***ing Aliens Is the Point

Queering Mass Effect: F***ing Aliens Is the Point

 

Shepard and Garrus leaning in close to talk in Mass Effect 2.

Mass Effect’s Dr. Liara T’Soni is canonically one of the sexiest beings in the entire series. BioWare introduces a wealth of alien species in this spacefaring video game, among them the Asari, a blue-skinned, humanoid people who are attractive to every other species. That’s why Liara is the only romanceable alien in the first Mass Effect game, which was originally released in 2007. She’s also the only romance option available to both male and female versions of the player’s character, Shepard; the other two options, Ashley and Kaidan, are romanceable only by either male or female Shepard, respectively. So, in that first game, the only way to have a queer romance is to fuck an alien—but that’s a queer act in and of itself.

There has always been controversy surrounding the romance options in Mass Effect. The first game drew heat for showing too much of Liara’s skin during the sex scene, and BioWare has admitted to cutting queer romances with human characters from the trilogy for fear of backlash. There are even voice lines for some of these romances available, which modders have used to add them back into the game.

Unfortunately, the newly-released Mass Effect Legendary Edition doesn’t do this officially, despite BioWare offering more queer romance options in its other series, like fantasy flagship Dragon Age. That said, it is possible to queer Mass Effect by embracing monstrous desire, which may be more appealing than players initially think.

Monsterfucking and alienfucking are inherently, historically queer. As Ana Valens wrote for The Daily Dot last year, “We see our queer selves in monsters. We see the queer bodies we desire in their beautiful grotesqueness. We see the narratives that define our queer lives. There’s no better role model for the transgressive queer than the fantastical beasts of our collective imaginations.”

From Frankenstein to Dracula to Ursula, monsters have been queer-coded for centuries, and LGBTQIA+ audiences have always seen ourselves in these creatures who are forced to exist on the outskirts of society. A large swath of the community has also come to be sexually and/or romantically attracted to these creatures.

It’s possible to exorcise that desire, to some extent, through fantasy and stories—books, comics, movies (think Venom or The Shape of Water), and of course, video games. In the second and third Mass Effect games, as well as Mass Effect: Andromeda, players are able to romance multiple alien species. Liara is still an option, as are other Asari, though the scale of these relationships varies from just sex to full-scale romance, depending on the player’s choices.

Tali talking to Shepard in Mass Effect 2.

But it’s not until Mass Effect 2 that players can seduce and fall in love with non-humanoid aliens, like Garrus Vakarian, Tali’Zoriah nar Rayyah, and Thane Krios. According to Mass Effect canon, getting intimate with these aliens means enduring possible allergic reactions, chafing, and other adverse effects, not to mention the logistics of learning each other’s cultural signs of affection and figuring out how to fit mismatched bodies together.

One could argue that these relationships are still heterosexual, since FemShep can romance Garrus and Thane, and BroShep can romance Tali’Zorah. However, since alienfucking is rooted in queer desire, pursuing these relationships means forming queer romantic attachments—which may be why so many women, especially those in the LGBTQIA+ community, repeatedly romance Garrus.

Garrus and Tali’Zorah also have fervent fandoms because they are permanent squadmates across the entire Mass Effect trilogy. Since neither is romanceable in the first game, Shepard can bond with these characters as friends, then introduce romance to the equation in Mass Effect 2 and, if they so choose, keep that going in Mass Effect 3. For players who are initially turned off by the idea of alienfucking, or who want to ease into it, these romances are written in such a way that it’s possible to explore slowly, with characters who feel safe.

Plus, the fact that these relationships build consistently over all three games means the writing is even more robust and evocative, because players get attached over hours upon hours and get to experience multiple stages of the relationship, without the somewhat rushed feeling that can sometimes come from a single- or two-title romance. A similar experience can be had with Liara, Kaidan, or Ashley, but since these characters are hardly present in Mass Effect 2, when Shepard is going through major transformations as a character, the attachment may wane or change.

BioWare has seemingly recognized the fandom response to aliens in Mass Effect, as evidenced by the introduction of more alien romances in Mass Effect 2 and even the romance options in Andromeda. In April, the company also released a Garrus body pillow case that shows the Turian in a saucy pose, and it’s been sold out for weeks. BioWare may not advertise it as such, but some buyers may have been compelled to purchase the pillow case for the sake of continuing their exploration of monstrous desire in their actual bed, with or without a partner.

A body pillow product image featuring Garrus from BioWare's Mass Effect.

It’s important to recognize that alienfucking in a video game can feel revolutionary for players who may want to work out complicated feelings about sex, gender, and desire in a virtual space where no one is watching. Although the alien and monster sex toy market has existed for a long time, whenever “a new fetish” is clocked by someone who gets paid to write salacious headlines, people’s fantasies are put on display to be ridiculed, with participants themselves called out for their “disgusting” behavior.

Embracing these desires can therefore feel dangerous or worthy of judgment, which is where properties like Mass Effect become so important. No, the game isn’t all about sex, but romancing characters is a key component of the story for plenty of players. Ordering a silicone dildo based on Turian anatomy may feel like a step too far for some, but exchanging “I love yous” with Garrus or Thane or Tali’Zorah in-game can feel just as freeing. And then, of course, there’s fanfiction, which can be a comfort zone or a bridge (or both) for players who want to further explore outside of the games themselves.

LGBTQIA+ Mass Effect players who are upset about the lack of human-to-human queer romances are valid in that anger, and should hold BioWare accountable for removing these options from its titles. A new Mass Effect game is on the horizon, and hopefully it will follow in the footsteps of Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect Andromeda, which both offered queer romance options with human characters.

Players deserve to have as many options as possible, especially in a world where there are so many characters and so much to explore. But alienfucking is an equally valid way to queer the series and form homoromantic attachments, regardless how many people will attempt to kinkshame those who choose to do so.

(images: BioWare)

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Samantha Puc is the co-creator and editor-in-chief of Fatventure Mag, as well as an essayist and culture critic whose work has been featured on Bustle, The Beat, The Mary Sue, SheKnows, and elsewhere. She mostly writes intersectional pop culture analysis with a particular focus on representation of LGBTQ and fat characters in fiction. For more, follow her on Twitter.