Wednesday, March 24, 2010

ME2, pt.7: Social Letdown

Online, I've seen backlash against players accused of spend too much time concerned with sex in Mass Effect 2, complaining that they should just play a "dating sim" if they wanted it so bad. A quick word on that:

Games let us act out fantasies, and sex is a compelling one. My girlfriend, for example, was curious about ME2 because of its dialogue focus, but not enough to try it until I explained that it could lead to sex with other crew members. To some, sexual exploits may simply seem a side-effect of its novelty in mainstream games but I call it a side-effect of being human. If I were Shepard -- one of the most famous, charismatic, and single heroes in the galaxy on a ship full of svelte bodies and interesting personalities -- I would most definitely invest time in getting some action. See? I'm roleplaying.

Social Letdown
But the real reason for bringing up sex is that it best-illustrated a problem that crops up in ME2, which is that it occasionally restricted natural dialogue in unintuitive ways for unclear reasons, and at some cost to my emotional engagement.

In the quest for sex through dialogue, you may notice the following:
  • Sex happens only at a particular point in the story. Even if another character is "ready," you might inexplicably have to wait several missions before it happens.
  • Sex only happens with one person. If one character is "ready," another interested character will deny you unless you turn down the first partner. How do they know about my promiscuity? "Word gets around on this ship." Did they really learn about my exploits in the few seconds it took to walk from one room to another? Why can't I be Don Juan in my fantasy? How is Jack, "you just gotta know where to put it" suddenly such a prude?
  • A single dialogue option determines whether sex happens, and never reappears. If you misread the text or intention associated with that dialogue option, no amount of good looks, charisma, or natural dialogue seem to re-earn the opportunity.
None of these things jive with reality and only disconnect me from the situation. Perhaps there are mechanics reasons under the hood for the approach, but they really stand out because sex is spontaneous, sex is possible to keep secretive (for a time, at least), and most of all the opportunity for sex is malleable, especially through conversation. For a game that allows players to act out fantasies in dialogue, these omissions stand out.

Why not let the sex happen spontaneously? Why not more than once? Why not get with multiple partners? Why not use it for some interesting branching dialogue consequences? Why not give players a way to reopen the sex option? The current system simply feels artificially enforced for a nebulous purpose, which is not the first way I would describe relationships of reality or fantasy, to say the least.


  1. I whole-heartedly agree. The whole time I was trying to win over Kelly (very limited dialog with her), and I accidentally bedded Miranda... what? (accidentally on purpose) So I couldn't have said it better. And I could care less what they show or don't show... just give me the options for multiple arcs.
    Thanks for taking the time for all this, it's been an enjoyable read.

  2. Yarrrr, felt a little more compelling in the first I think. Tacky in the sequel :S

  3. I think of all the times my Shepherd came home to the Normandy after a hard days work of saving planets, cities, civilizations etc only to find that the beautiful Miranda he's spent countless hours yapping away with, only wants to... spend more time on her 'laptop interface thingamajig'?

    Daaaaaaamn son!!!!!

  4. Haha. Enjoying these comments.

    Shane: glad you're enjoying, as they're fun to write.
    Tom: I agree. I think writing this has made me come to the conclusion that in all things story, ME1 was a superior game. At least I remember it so.
    CalKi: seriously.

  5. Hear, hear! : )

    I wish they'd done it more like they did in Dragon Age--there you could do it as many times as you wanted and I think with different characters in the same playthrough.