In the 11 years since Mass Effect 2 launched, fans have often wondered why Jack – a character who specifically references times in which she became intimate with non-male romantic partners – is only romanceable if Commander Shepard is a man. As it turns out, this wasn’t supposed to be the case. Jack was originally written as pansexual, but her relationship conditions were changed towards the end of development due to concerns about the mainstream media’s reception to the first Mass Effect game.
After Mass Effect launched in 2007, Fox News hosted an extraordinarily tactless panel pertaining to the game’s depiction of sex. As expected of the time, sex was spoken about as if it were completely taboo.
The panel instigated a domino effect, which led to baseless criticism not only towards Mass Effect’s sex scenes, but also the fact that it included a non-straight romance option in Liara T’Soni (Kaidan Allenko was locked into a straight-only relationship arc until Mass Effect 3).
“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,” Brian Kindregan tells me. Kindregan was the lead writer for Jack, Samara, and the first critical path mission on Horizon in Mass Effect 2, and also did the first pass on Grunt and Tuchanka, “She was essentially pansexual for most of the development of that romance.
“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 continues. “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.”
Interestingly enough, Courtenay Taylor – who played Jack in Mass Effect 2 – also expressed that she was originally supposed to be a pansexual character. In a recent chat with our own Kirk McKeand, Taylor said:
“It’s funny to me because my understanding was always that she was pansexual. So I don’t know if that’s just something I inferred from the character or something that she said that maybe got cut. I was surprised there wasn’t a female romance possible because that was my understanding. I think it was the time, you know? That was, what – 2008/2009? The industry has changed exponentially since then, and BioWare was leading the charge on that. I don’t know if it came down to a budget constraint or maybe someone being like ‘this is too obvious’ because everyone was like ‘of course she’s a lesbian.’ But my sense was always that she was [pansexual] and it just didn’t get followed through. Of course, the community modded it immediately so you can have it your way.”
As Jack’s writer, Kindregan explains that he didn’t necessarily agree with the decision to change her sexuality. He understands why it happened, and says “it wasn’t like some anti-gay person high up on the Mass Effect 2 team saying, ‘we’re not going to have that’.” Instead, it had to do with the firestorm of controversy that Mass Effect had received back in 2007, and attempting to minimize the amount of critique that would be directed towards the community by outlets like Fox News again. “The short version is, a lot of us were asked pretty late to focus the relationships on a more traditional kind of vector,” Kindregan says.
“I’ve definitely heard a lot from people who were surprised that Jack turned out to not be open to that,” he continues. “I understand why. I would say that there were a lot of seeds planted in her conversations that certainly implied that she was pansexual – she once specifically references being part of a thrupple. She says there was a guy and a woman she was running with that invited her into their robberies and into their bed. She definitely references those things. That was explicitly to start sending the message that yes, this is a character who is pansexual. In the eleventh hour revision of cleaning that up, she’d already been partially recorded with voiceover. Not all of that could be changed.
“I would say even with the things I could change, and I don’t know if this was the right decision or not, I still saw her as a character with an edge,” Kindregan says. “Not edgy, but with an edge of not following traditional norms. I think I might have, even during the revision process, kept some of that stuff in there with a sense of like yeah, this is a person who’s been around and done a lot of things, went off the farm and down to Paris.”
Ultimately, though, Jack became a romance option that was exclusively available for male Shepard, despite the fact that both her writer and actor agree that she was originally supposed to be pansexual. 2010 was only three years after the infamous Fox News Mass Effect debacle, and so BioWare was reluctant to follow through on some of the ideas that were specifically put in place early in development. By the end of production, the only non-straight romance options in the game were:
- Kelly Chambers, who is not a squadmate and does not disqualify other relationships.
- Samara, who expresses that she has feelings for you but ultimately turns you down – Kindregan compares it to someone saying, sure, I’ll be with you, but I’m in love with this other person and I’ll ditch you for them if they come calling.
- Morinth, who literally kills you less than a single second into having sex.
“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.”
Keep an eye on TheGamer.com at the beginning of February for our Mass Effect Day – an entire day of deep-dive articles dedicated to one of the best RPG series of all time.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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