As far as big budget video games go, Mass Effect has traditionally been a pretty progressive franchise that allows for a variety of different romances, depending on your character’s sexual orientation. But during the development of Mass Effect 2, one potential affair was apparently tweaked due to a scaremongering news clip.
Players of the galactic role-playing heist game might recall a certain mercurial character named Jack, who over the course of the game reveals that she had once been a part of a throuple with a man and woman. But, bizarrely, Jack could only be romanced by male Shepards in the game — which left some fans feeling confused. Well, there’s a reason for that.
According to a recent interview conducted by TheGamer with Mass Effect 2 writer Brian Kindregan, Jack was actually initially conceived as a pansexual character who could be into anyone. Polygon has reached out to BioWare for comment regarding this anecdote.
“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,” Kindregan says. “She was essentially pansexual for most of the development of that romance.”
But after Fox News aired a segment that made a big fuss out of an optional sex scene in Mass Effect 1, the writer’s room got skittish for the follow-up. In the clip, the participants say that allowing a sex scene in a video game is like opening “pandora’s box” because kids could potentially see it.
“They don’t show women as being valued by anything but their sexuality,” one personality says of the first game, which is a bold assertion given that it allowed for players to choose a female protagonist. The pundits proceed to lean into their ignorance, claiming there’s full nudity in the game, which there is not. Even so, the segment was a big enough deal that the news network influenced the development of the sequel.
“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,” Kindregan says. “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.”
And so the romance was changed in the eleventh hour of development, though by that point, some dialogue lines that hinted at a different route had already been recorded and put into the game. That’s why Jack seems pansexual, despite not actually being available in that way. (Some fans modded it back in, though.)
“I’ve worked with lesbian developers who have come up to me and said like, ‘Why is Jack not into me?’” Kindregan says. “And I have to say ‘I’m so sorry, it’s partially my fault.’ But I still stand by the thing of keeping her with a more varied background. Maybe someday Jack will be portrayed as pan.”
It’s been years since Mass Effect 2, of course, and during this time, BioWare has released games that include options beyond heterosexuality. And when the developer falls short, fans make noise. Following the release of Mass Effect Andromeda, players discovered that one character had voice lines that referenced a potential gay romance that wasn’t actually in the game. Following a backlash, BioWare updated Andromeda to allow the pairing.