Recently, much ado has been made about Mass Effect Andromeda for a variety of reasons. The worlds are not great, the storytelling is lacking, and the animation was craaap. One of the most standout things for some was just how poorly it handled LGBT stuff. Gay men got the shaft for partners (pun unintended), and a trans character was absolutely dreadfully done. This raised to the discussion about whether it’s better to try and fail or not try at all. Partly, the discussion touches upon whether this bad diversity was worth it or not.
Examining Mass Effect Andromeda’s trans character in greater detail
Let’s do the cliff notes version of this whole silly debacle. In Mass Effect Andromeda, the protagonist meets a trans character who came to Andromeda in order to escape persecution from the Milky Way galaxy over her gender identity. As Polygon notes, this has its own problematic issues since the Milky Way’s government has a large contingency of people who do not give two spits about gender. What really proves a problem is that this character immediately, without any reason to trust the protagonist, dead names herself.
Now, this is not inherently flawed. I have known trans people to dead name themselves, but it is rare to see from them. It’s often done when there is no other choice, and only with people they trust if they can help it. For a stranger, this character would not reasonably just tell the protagonist this. Just because Andromeda is more friendly doesn’t change that bigotry can exist anywhere. It also doesn’t change that you don’t usually just get over something by leaving a toxic environment. BioWare took the criticisms to heart thankfully. They modded the game so that much of the information she gave was only divulged if she trusted the player-character.
The negative impact of bad diversity
The first thing that comes to mind with that is that it reflects poorly. For instance, a gay character in a story who is just a walking caricature is not exactly positive. Especially not so when the character uses negative stereotypes. There is also the problem that bad diversity is usually the problem of people writing characters from different perspectives. For example, odds are that most trans characters, even gay characters, are by people who are neither trans nor gay. This doesn’t mean that you must have certain qualities that match the person you’re writing, but it helps to have that extra perspective when possible.
The positive impact of good diversity
The positives of bad diversity are few and subtle, but they do exist. And in my opinion, they are a lot stronger than the negative impact. While it is certainly disappointing to see bad diversity in a game, for the most part, there at least seems to be effort behind this. They may have failed to do it right, but odds are they will either never try again or try to do better next time. It’s typically not malice – at least not in this day and age. While there are outliers who keep sucking, they are the exception.
One gentle reminder is that for as much as “anti-SJWs” (for lack of a better term) dislike the trans character’s depiction, trans people dislike it quite a lot more for the reasons above. It is true that forced diversity can lead to lazy attempts by developers looking to check boxes. But as is, the lazy attempt is now at least somewhat better. And in the future, the people who mucked this scene and character up know what to avoid and know how to write that kind of character better. And in a character-driven game like Mass Effect, that’s paramount.
Overall, I view Andromeda’s trans character as an ultimately good thing. She may have sucked initially, but they made an effort to fix that. And we can at least rely on them learning a lesson from the writing gaffe. However, that is not to say that such a thing is above criticism as a result. After all, if they never criticized BioWare for its efforts (or lack thereof), they may never have bothered to fix this aspect of this rushed game.
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