When I first raised this topic at Sexy Videogameland, I suggested that Mass Effect may have suffered a bit under what I call pioneer’s syndrome. If sex in games were a familiar and established thing, the fact that Mass Effect contained a customizable romantic scene would not have been such a big part of its advance buzz. And while it’s an opaquely detail-heavy game, with enough background and story elements to satisfy the appetite of traditional science fiction fans, I would never believe anyone who told me that the sex scene was not at least somewhat on their mind when beginning the game and when selecting characters within it.
Thus, to put it bluntly, the sex act became like an Xbox achievement, the whistle warp in Mario, or anything else you know’s coming, but just have to figure out how to accomplish. As Chris Dahlen put it in his column about the Mass Effect romance, character dialogue seemed to reduce itself to, “Keep talking to me and someday we’ll have that sex scene you saw on YouTube.”
In other words, sex in a game became game-like. I’ve often asserted that whether, and how deeply, to become immersed in a game is largely the player’s decision – instead of being primarily a developer’s task. So to be fair, perhaps I just didn’t emotionally engage with Mass Effect to the extent that I could have. Can’t help it – I was too distracted wondering which character I wanted to get it on with.