Mass Effect vs Dragon Age: The Typical Male Love Interest
It would be more than fair to say that roughly 50% of my interest in RPGs come from the ability to romance different characters. Indeed, some of the worst parts of the gameplay (the Mako in ME1, the Fade in DA:O) are over-ridden and muddled through strictly because I know some gooey romance scenes await on the other side.
I am shameless and give no fucks about this particular aspect of my gaming life.
For my first playthroughs of both games, I decided to be classicly boring and stick with the relatively white bread, stoic, heterosexual male/female pairings. Because those were inevitably going to be canon and being canon is it’s own compelling force. And romancing a woman seemed like fulfilling fanboy fantasies, rather than developing a deep emotional relationship between two same-sex characters (I’ll comment more on same-sex playthroughs later, but I was proven wrong).
Anywho, here I am, a racially indistinct character in both playthroughs and my options are British ginger Alistair Thierin and Kaidan Alenko who has dark hair, eyes, and dark skin. Sort of a Russian last name. I’m sticking to my guns that Ashley and Kaidan are POCs. So, I guess that kicks the white breadness to the curb as far as ME is concerned. Overall, ME is much more populated with POCs and Aliens. Space racism doesn’t seem to exist 200 or so years from now. GJ humanity.
But there are so, so many white people in DA:O. Anyone who isn’t a Qunari, Elf or Dwarf is a white person. Aside from some questionable accents (Zevran Arainai sounds like Antonio Banderas) most of these different species are portrayed as having white facial features.
OK, now that we have race out of the way…
What else makes these dudes so incredibly typical and basically boring?
Kaidan is a bit of a downer from the get-go. He chastizes your hilarious pilot Joker (voiced by Seth Green) in the very first opening scene and you’re like “oh geez, this guy is gonna be a barrel full of laughs.” His group comments are insanely un-inspired to the point of being laughable “wow, big place” he remarks when you first enter the Citadel. No shit Kaidan? On Therum his only statement is “those look like bathroom tiles” when you encounter Liara trapped inside a Prothean device.
Aside from some incredible voice acting, his character is bland and written poorly. There are a few romance conversations where I have no clue WTF he’s talking about. He’s just rambling and I’m not sure if it’s about our mission or our blossoming romance and I’m just like…”We’ll Bang, OK?” He’s clearly game for romance and doesn’t mind being teased and there is generally very little awkwardness. He’s mostly straight-forward, morally upright and concerned about “taking things slow so as not to upset anyone else.”
He’s a sweet kid. A little absent-minded, but sweet. No real reason to hate on him, unless you’re a dude trying to bang Ashley, and then clearly you will let him die on Virmire. I’ve heard tell of others pegging him as whiny but he doesn’t seem to want too much coddling about his personal demons or decisions for the future. He talks to you about his past, but I’m not seeing how that should classify anyone as “whiny.” Hell, Joker bitches at you for a full minute and accuses you of treating him differently because of a disease you didn’t even know about.
And then there’s Alistair.
Alistair has zero hope of moral compass swaying, much like Alenko. They will both comment and generally disapprove if you do things that put innocents in harm’s way or if you break some kind of moral law.
No blood magic or intimidation if you want to win Alistair’s approval. No cheating people out of money or property. Strangely enough, he seems unswayed by things like helping young children or women…Leliana and Wynne are all over the approval on those tasks and Alistair could hardly give a fuck.
He does tend to whinge a bit more than Alenko about his past. He’s really hung-up on Duncan and will constantly remind you that he loved him more than anything ever. At times I was tempted to be like “move on, dude! We have a blight to attend to.” But then I felt bad about even thinking it. Alistair has had a rocky road and the only thing he seems to do well is Grey Wardening. So, can you blame him for getting a little misty-eyed when his father figure passes?
I can’t really get on board with people who openly HATE his character because he expresses emotion to you, or generally lacks confidence in certain areas.
It’s not typical, hetero white male behavior. It’s downright bizarre to have a dude defer leadership to you (esp. since he’s the senior Grey Warden), which is an exciting part of the gameplay as a female Grey Warden. On the flip side, it’s almost un-nerving when he has you involved in major decisions that will shape his future. Makes you realize just how powerless he’s been his entire life.
Alistair seems to get the most crap for being sensitive and expressing his emotions, for showing his grief in a non-typical way. It’s quite strange to encounter a man in a video game facing these particular challenges. The immediate response by many is to mock him, but that does a disservice to a creative team who spent a great deal of time developing real and interesting characters in defiance of gender and sexual norms.
The need to reference Alistair as being whiny and annoying strikes at the heart of his being compassionate, emotional, sensitive and lacking self confidence. Traits that society teaches us are inherently feminine. So therefore, bad qualities for a man to possess, yes? Well, then why is a good chunk of the fanbase hung-up on Alistair?
I’d say Alistair is easily the better written and therefore better played character over Kaidan, which is bizarre given the fact that Alenko has a three game arch. But let’s just say his loyalty to Shep isn’t exactly rock solid and that doesn’t win his character points in a game about amassing loyalty. Right?
Alistair and Kaidan are like the meat and potatoes of the Bioware romance world. Dependable, hearty meals that will fill you up if you’re looking for that sort of thing. But then you bring sexy magical species and aliens into the mix and it’s easy to overlook these dudes for something more exotic.
I was going to make a joke about Garrus being a chocolate covered grasshopper, but I think I should just stop while I’m ahead. More ruminating to be had next week!