I adore Bioware. The strides that the studio is making towards interesting, diverse stories is so much more than any other studio is managing right now. In a time when Ubisoft is saying it’s too hard to animate female characters, when huge game companies are refusing to make games with female protagonists because they’re convinced they won’t sell, when LGBTQ relationships are rarely seen in narratives, Bioware is making a difference. In their last game, Dragon Age Inquisition, they portrayed BDSM, affirmative consent, sexual preferences and transgender characters, all with the respect and nuance those topics deserve.
Mass Effect Andromeda’s marketing hasn’t shown any of that – which isn’t an issue, since neither did Inquisition, and to focus the no doubt sizeable marketing budget of such a huge game on a tiny topic within the narrative would be strange. But that also means that we don’t know what to expect – will Andromeda tackle the same range and diversity of topics as Inquisition? Will it be even more progressive? Or will Bioware step back from that in an attempt to be as mainstream as possible?
I very much hope it won’t be the latter. Having made such amazing progress towards diversity in their games already, it would be a huge shame to see Bioware doing what many other AAA games studios does: neglecting a huge section of its audience in favour of the 18-35 male demographic that dominates games marketing.
Bioware’s games have traditionally been very popular with women because they have a way of engaging with diplomacy, interpersonal relationships and bonding that you don’t often find in other games. Marginalised and neglected demographics look to games like Dragon Age Inquisition for something a little different from the norm, something that’s well-written and smart, as well as being a game with combat and base-building and all that.
I hope that Mass Effect: Andromeda carries on the good work of its predecessors. I would love to see more gay characters – Inquisition’s Dorian was the series’ first character that was gay rather than bisexual – as well as non-binary characters, women in positions of power, characters of colour, with different religious beliefs and motives, and villains with complex and nuanced reasons for being evil. Until games represent the spectrum of who people are in their daily lives, they’ll never seem fully real – and I, for one, am incredibly bored by the limited range of characters in the games industry currently. More diversity means more interesting stories.
However, it’s not just about the characters – Bioware’s plots and writing are fantastic, and I look forward to seeing where they take Andromeda. It’s set 600 years after the first three games, which could be an interesting concept to play with, and the protagonists are a brother/sister duo – again, I can’t wait to see what they do with that.
To go back, again, to Inquisition, the story was quite grounded; it was about a small area, or several small areas, and so it had to focus on grand plots within those areas. Andromeda feels large – it’s in space, after all – but to still be able to focus on the relationships between characters, and the dynamics within the crew, is what I’m really looking forward to. Space battles are great and all, but that’s not why I play Bioware games. I play them for love, romance, friendship, diplomacy and the silly set pieces like masquerade balls and weddings. I can’t wait for all that, but in space.