Did you know that Mass Effect 2 was supposed to feature queer romance options?
That's right. Bioware's 2010 installation into its flagship sci-fi franchise was slated to launch with two unique same-sex romances. The characters in question, "Subject Zero" Jack and Jacob Taylor, had already been designed, voiced, and animated for their same-sex romance storylines. Right before Mass Effect 2 hit shelves, however, that part of their identity was cut, making them exclusively heterosexual.
So, what happened? The answer allegedly involves Fox News (shocker, I know), conservative culture, and Bioware's desire to keep themselves out of the papers.
What Happened to Jack and Jacob?
Sources differ on exactly what the reason was behind the cut. One theory does seem to rise to the top time and time again. Individuals from inside and outside of the studio claim conservative pressure from the media was the root cause of the change.
Originally, Jack and Jacob were supposed to be available to any player gender in-game. In fact, during an interview with The Gamer, Brian Kindregan, the writer behind Jack's character, admitted she was meant to be pansexual.
"It was actually very late that it became a male/female-only romance," he said, "She was essentially pansexual for most of the development of that romance."
Courtenay Taylor, Jack's voice actress, corroborated this in a separate interview with the outlet. According to her, she had always understood the character to be pansexual. Even she isn't clear on why that part of her identity "just didn’t get followed through."
"It’s funny to me because my understanding was always that she was pansexual...I was surprised there wasn’t a female romance possible," she said.
Only snippets of the once envisioned content are available in-game now. For example, Jack mentions briefly being a part of a polyamorous relationship between a man and a woman who she used to run heists with. This just makes it all the more obvious how integral to her story and how deep into the game her sexuality had been.
Jonathan Cooper, a cinematic animator for Bioware at the time, expressed a similar sentiment on Twitter. He was the one who animated the romance scenes for Jacob's same-sex plot. In a short thread, he explained that they took inspiration for Jacob's same-sex romance from the iconic film "Brokeback Mountain."
"We prevised Jacob as the male/male, matching shot-for-shot from Brokeback Mountain." He wrote, "We matched Brokeback so it wouldn't be unacceptable."
That was precisely the problem. Cooper claimed he was explicitly told that "American isn't ready for it" when the scenes were cut—despite employee protests. Taylor assumed the decision was a product of the time or perhaps Jack's sexuality was deemed "too obvious." Kindregan, however, had a more solid anecdote to give: Bioware didn't want a repeat of that bit of bad press in 2007 from Fox News.
Fox News Really Does Ruin Everything
Following the release of Mass Effect 1, a panel of Fox News correspondents got together to discuss the game and its "inappropriate" content. In the segment, titled "'SE'XBOX," a short debate between Cooper Lawrence and Geoff Keighley featured false allegations of "full digital nudity" and the comparison between having an entirely optional sex scene as a "small part of the game" and the opening Pandora's Box.
"They don't show women as being valued for anything other than their sexuality," Lawrence said.
Keighley attempted to dispute the allegations, but ultimately, after the debate, the assorted panel skewed heavily to one side. One claimed that it wasn't safe to have in the house as any children living there could potentially access it and the adult content. Another stated that he wouldn't allow it in his house, around his children.
They did note, however, that the game does have a "Mature" rating and ultimately parents do need to be monitoring their children's activities as much as they can.
"Mass Effect had been pretty heavily and really unfairly criticized in the US by Fox News," Kindregan said, "I think there was a concern at pretty high levels that if [the first] Mass Effect, which only had one gay relationship...had drawn fire, that Mass Effect 2 had to be a little bit careful."
He explained that while the development team was "pretty progressive" and "open-minded," there were still quite a few people in the nation who wholeheartedly believed what the outlet had to say at that time. Back in the day, Fox News did have a certain amount of social capital with the American people. The pressure came less from inside the studio and more from fear of backlash over "traditional values."
"It wasn’t like some anti-gay person high up on the Mass Effect 2 team saying, ‘we’re not going to have that'," said Kindregan, instead directing the blame at Fox and similar outlets, "A lot of us were asked pretty late to focus the relationships on a more traditional kind of vector."
What Can be Done?
So, what can be done about this? As it turns out, Bioware may already have the answer—they've actually done it before.
Franchise fans found out about a similar cut made to the latest installation in the series, Mass Effect: Andromeda. This caused notable upset within the community who demanded to have the content added back in. BioWare obliged, restoring the previously-removed romance in a later patch.
It's clear to see how players feel about this situation. In fact, we can even take Mass Effect 2's release as part of the argument. Fans were so incensed by the lack of LGBT+ options that several took it upon themselves to add it back in via modifications. I'd be lying if I said I didn't already have this specific category of mod queued up for when the Legendary Edition drops.
Players who are aware of this situation hoped that BioWare would make an attempt to reinclude the cuts as they did with Andromeda.
"There is also an argument to be made that the inclusion of these romances in the Legendary Edition would feel like a rewrite of BioWare’s previous sins – such as what they’re doing with the way they handle the character, Miranda." Aimee Hart, a contributor to Gayming Magazine, wrote.
Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case. Mac Walters, BioWare project director, stated in an interview with The Verge that the team had no plans to change "anything in the story or the way the characters or the plot points worked out."
"Honestly we had looked at, is there stuff on cutting room floors and things like that that we could bring in?" He said, "And a lot of times that isn’t really in a state where you can just resurrect it and use it. It actually would require rebuilding from scratch and at that point you’re diverting effort away from the remastering of everything else."
However, according to several BioWare cast and crew members listed above, this state simply doesn't apply to the cut content from Mass Effect 2. Still, Walters refuted the claims that the decision was made due to outside pressure. He instead attributed it to "compromises" made within the team for the story.
"No one has ever come to me and said we can’t do this because the media says so," said Walters.
Kindregan did what he could to preserve Jack's "non-traditional edge." When asked to revise the character, he purposely kept several references in to allude to her more varied background—a decision he still stands by.
"Maybe someday Jack will be portrayed as pan," he said.
I certainly hope so. After all, if the scenes are already animated and the dialogue already recorded more than halfway through development, who's to say BioWare wouldn't be willing to listen to their fans again?
All it would take is a little outside pressure.