The release of Mass Effect: Andromeda has brought BioWare a lot of attention, both positive and negative. Of particular note is the LGBT gaming community's concern surrounding Angaran squad member Jaal as a possible romance for Sara Ryder — and also for Scott.
After the discovery that Jaal was originally intended as a bisexual love interest but released for Sara only, BioWare's #LGBT fandom lost little time in organizing on social media, asking for what was originally promised. The hashtag #MakeJaalBi was created to bring awareness to the cause, citing a history of cut or sidelined bisexual romances in all Mass Effect games, particularly for male characters, and emphasizing the importance of inclusive representation, something that has long set BioWare apart from its gaming peers.
This week BioWare announced its latest patch, in which Jaal would be a love interest for Scott as originally intended, as well as improvements for the first transgender #MassEffect character Hainly Abrams.
From BioWare's latest statement and patch notes, posted by Conal Pierse:
Scott Ryder can now pursue Jaal as a romance option. There are several important reasons for this change:
Scott Ryder did not have a same-sex squadmate available as a romance option, nor could the achievement for completing three romances be achieved with only male same-sex partners. And as the angara have expressed their fluidity in how they perceive gender, it seemed only natural that Scott could have a relationship with Jaal.
However, we understand that a character’s orientation is an important part of what makes them feel real. The relationships with your crew are some of the most loved and cherished parts of our games, so we wanted to make sure we got it right. We consulted with members of the LGBTQ community, both externally and within our own studios. After carefully considering all feedback, we decided this was an important change to make, and one that made sense for Jaal, Scott, and the angara.
Our writing, editing, and animation teams worked together to ensure this change made sense for Jaal’s character, and the result is a relationship we hope feels as fulfilling and memorable for Scott as it does for Sara.
Most remarkably, the character change — or in Jaal's case, restoration — seems to be in direct response to fan feedback.
Fans Sound Off Via Twitter Hashtag
June is LGBT Pride Month and it's been a rough one so far, with gender-progressive #Netflix series Sense8 canceled on June 1. But here at least LGBT audiences have something to celebrate, and it seems largely due to fan diligence and studio response.
The Mass Effect fandom on Twitter in particular have been vocal and consistent about its desire to see Jaal as he was originally conceived — a possible love interest for both Sara and Scott Ryder.
After months of tweets, and some personal reassurances from #Andromeda staff that they were indeed taking fan feedback seriously, BioWare delivered.
Since the wording of BioWare's original statement on Scott's male love interests didn't refer to Jaal (or anyone else) by name, there's a possibility for enhanced romances for Gil and Reyes as well. Gil's romance attracted criticism for its heavy focus on having biological children with his female best friend, and Reyes' limited content marks him as more of a side character than full love interest. Consensus suggests that improvement to either/both of these would be positive steps. But Jaal at least is a lock.
Fans Sound Off In Celebration
Even a cursory look through #MakeJaalBi on Twitter will give a good picture of the LGBT fandom's relief and joy at Jaal's portrayal, a possible romance for both Ryders as originally intended, and the first alien male/male squad member romance.
Perhaps #MakeJaalBi's success is due to the fact that BioWare didn't need to make him bi, but make him bi again. Since Jaal was a love interest for both Ryders from the start, simply reverting him to his original programming seems easier than rewriting or adding entirely new content.
Whatever the case may be, for a major game studio to listen to and address fan concerns in a storyline context, particularly involving LGBT characters, is hugely significant. In today's political and social climate, BioWare's receptiveness and inclusivity is refreshing and all too rare.
And Jaal isn't the only character to get an update thanks to fan feedback.
Improved Dialogue For Hainly Abrams
Another major concern for BioWare's LGBT audience was the treatment of Hainly Abrams, the franchise's first canonically transgender character. Some of her dialogue in Andromeda struck gamers as unrealistic and potentially harmful, and BioWare's upcoming patch will remedy this.
From #Bioware's official statement on Hainley Abrams:
A New Level Of Fan-Studio Exchange
Whether fans are personally invested or not, this is a significant event that shows until now unprecedented levels of fan-studio communication. This opens the door for BioWare at least to continue including marginalized characters in their stories, and perhaps even integrating fan feedback into not only gameplay mechanics, but story and character content as well.
Andromeda's latest patch dropped at 8 a.m. PST on Thursday, June 8. Have you played the game with this latest patch? Tell us what you think in the comments below.