"Sci vs. Fi" runs Karpyshyn's comments over shots of the game's iconic aliens, the Asari - blue-skinned women with fleshy folds instead of hair. We see the game's hero at a nightclub, having an Asari exotic dancer perform for him, as well as clips of an Asari "consort." Just to be clear: As Mass Effect's head writer lauds his own work for its subversion of traditional sex roles, we see images of a stripper and a prostitute.
The Asari stand as the most powerful species in the galaxy, and they have the ability - and desire - to breed with any other species. The primary love interest in the game is Asari, for both male and female characters. That's right: The easiest romance to develop in Mass Effect is with a blue-skinned, bisexual, hot alien chick who prefers to date outside her race.
You can see the Star Trek formula at work. The Asari are a species of super-feminine females. Men receive similar treatment. They turn up as the super-masculine Krogan. Looking like bipedal snapping turtles, the Krogan are a warlike species that were defeated and rendered nearly infertile in a big war. Now on their way to extinction, the Krogan work as mercenaries, gleefully wreaking havoc whenever possible. The Krogan destroy; they don't create. Also, they have four testicles.
In your Mass Effect crew, you have a species that breeds with anything and a species that can hardly breed at all. You have the option of making sweet love to the one with blue breasts and killing the one with a double scrotum. What is BioWare telling us?
Humans are the Problem
It makes sense to write sci-fi that explores gender in today's world. Francis Fukuyama has suggested that increases in life expectancy (which favors women) in the developed global North and the practice of aborting female fetuses in the less developed South may result in a gender divide between the two regions. Female and male cultures.
Mass Effect's hyper-gendered aliens don't speak to any present concern. The Asari character is shy, articulate and apologizes frequently. She's like a Canadian. The Asari species comprises matriarchs, strippers, prostitutes and occasionally commandos - fine entries for Captain Kirk's Guide to Women. The Asari and the Krogan have no alien ways about them. They serve only to fill tried-and-true BioWare roles: good-girl romantic interest and tough-guy mercenary.
BioWare set out to produce archaic sci-fi, and they accomplished their task too well. They offer us wisdom that was meaningful 30 or 40 years ago: Deep down, we're all human, baby. That's a pleasant sentiment, but today's future is about what it means not to be human.
Genetic engineering, life extension, and artificial intelligence will evolve humanity. After playing Mass Effect, I can't wait for this to happen. The future can't possibly be as dull as blue Canadian chicks. Younger generations, because they're bored and because they were born on a planet, not on the ground, will set these technologies loose. One good showing of the youth vote and the U.S. will legalize human cloning. We'll become our own aliens. The prospect scares me, but I want the view from the moon.
Ray Huling's a freelance journalist in Brooklyn. He can't wait to escape from New York back to Lovecraft Country.