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The framework is particularly useful as it facilitates the incorporation of ludological concerns, such as the study of game rules, mechanics and affordances. The authors associate these dimensions with three different modes of representation: pre-determined narration, real-time simulation and communication in a multiplayer setting p. The first dimension is shared with character representation in other media such as novels or films.

The videogame character is experienced by the player as a fictional being with a physical body as well as an inner life that includes their [4] personal history, motivations or personality. However, unlike characters in novels, videogame characters are also game pieces defined by game-related properties such as their abilities and usefulness in combat p.

In this second dimension, the player experiences them as tools; assets or in some cases liabilities for the achievement of game goals. The focus of analysis is thus on game rules and mechanics, possibly also on programming or even hardware Bagnall, , p. Since the ME trilogy is played in single player mode, I will shift the third dimension's focus to the relation between the player and the game characters as mediated by the playable character PC.

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The queering of the divide between player and PC through player identification, which in non-computerized roleplay has been termed the bleed effect Waern, , is especially interesting to a queer game analysis because it opens up new spaces for the negotiation of identities in and beyond the gameworld. The distinction between narrative and ludic experience is of course not as clear-cut as it appears in the framework.

Well-rounded non-player characters NPCs do not vanquish their status as fictional beings the moment they become part of interactive gameplay. For example, most players will be reluctant to shoot an NPC they already empathize with and ME frequently uses the player's emotional attachment to characters to present moral conflict. Another obvious connection between ludic and narrative character presentation lies in the ways an NPC's usefulness in battle influences their characterization along the gendered extremes often casually referred to as "badass" versus "sissy".

Neither is there always a strict temporal divide between narration and gameplay. ME's in-engine cut-scenes offer a hybridized form of storytelling between passive narration and interactive gameplay as they leave the player some, albeit limited, measure of control over the gameworld. Typically, dialogue is interrupted by the appearance of conversation wheels, allowing the player to influence the PC's responses. Scripted events with hidden triggers may also drive the plot while the player has full control over the PC and NPCs may engage in casual and largely player-independent conversations triggered during gameplay.

In the end, the distinction between narrative and ludic modes of representation see also Frasca, ; Aarseth, is an artificial one that might help structure game analyses but must not be understood as a dichotomy of separate and fundamentally different categories. In spite of these shortcomings, the framework has proven highly applicable to a queer approach to game characters. It offers a comparatively simple way of integrating ludic as well as narrative considerations, at the same time remaining sufficiently pliable to be consulted for expansive and intersectional applications of the queer paradigm.

That it can easily be supplemented with literary and cultural theory, as demonstrated in the following analysis of exemplary characters from the ME trilogy, is testament to queer game studies' ability to target very specific questions and identity constellations.

Hegemony and Heteronormativity : Revisiting 'The Political' in Queer Politics

Players of the trilogy assume the role of Commander Shepard, a member of a galactic paramilitary organization and Captain of the spaceship "Normandy" on his quest to save the world from a sentient machine race determined to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy. As a semi-customizable PC, Shepard can be either male or female, their physical appearance can be individualized, and the player has a choice of several personal backgrounds.

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The latter typically have unique narrative arcs in the form of optional side quests which explore their personality, motivations and relation to the PC. Ludic combat largely corresponds to established RPG conventions. Because each squad member has a unique skill set, the development of the fighting team, especially the balancing of strengths and weaknesses through team combination and the strategic distribution of skill points after level-ups, is a major factor determining success or failure. Although the game can be completed without extensively interacting with NPCs, engagement with the characters is encouraged through ludic and narrative rewards.

Completing the NPC's personal quests effects significant changes in approval, which may, for instance, unlock new skills or romantic potential.

Conversely, failing to engage with the NPCs has negative ludic consequences. Party members may die, choose to abandon the player, or refuse to be recruited in the first place. The most extreme case is perhaps ME2, where the entire squad, including the PC, may be killed in action if the player does not gain the NPCs' loyalty through completing their personal missions. Narrative decisions can thus influence gameplay and vice versa. Players may strive to gain an NPC's loyalty and protect them because they like the character in question or, equally likely, in order not to lose a particularly useful game piece.

Even though most character developing conversations are optional, it is safe to assume that most players will roleplay them due to the aforementioned narrative and ludic benefits. All ME games use a dialogue wheel to simulate conversations.

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Hegemony and Heteronormativity: Revisiting The Political in Queer Politics (Queer Interventions)

The wheel presents the player with paraphrases of the actual answers, which will then be delivered by professional voice actors. Visual cues, such as colour codes, symbols or the position in the dialogue wheel, provide information about the tone of the PC's answer. Typically, answering modes include a diplomatic "paragon", a more aggressive "renegade" and a neutral answer. In some situations, these may be supplemented by other dialogue options such as inquiries or flirting. In the first two instalments, male Shepard can only express and act upon heterosexual desires [6].

Monogamy is strongly encouraged by the game system; achievements are only awarded for committed relationships to one NPC. Quests frequently involve the rescue of female squad mates or civilians, some of whom will inevitably fall in love with Shepard e. Placing notable emphasis on sexual and ethnic diversity regarding romance options, ME3 represents a break with the established canon.

Of the eight potential partners for a male PC, one is only interested in a casual fling, two are non-human, and two are male — one of them non-white. Nevertheless, same-sex relationships between men are ludically more difficult to unlock and offer several opt-outs to the player. The simulation system translates the heteronormative assumptions engrained in the franchise's history, its game rules and its text into ludic constraints or incentives emphasising normative expectations, which can only be experienced directly while playing.

If he survives past the first game, Kaidan reappears in ME3, this time as a romance option for PCs of either gender.

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His combat abilities and narrative complexity, too, are significantly upgraded, making it impossible to discard him as a flat character or stereotype of effeminate masculinity [7]. Provided that the player has made certain choices while interacting with Kaidan earlier in the game, Kaidan will indicate a romantic interest in Shepard regardless of their gender. However, if the PC is female, any reference to Kaidan's potential bisexuality will disappear from the game text.

For ME, the gay button theory is not entirely waterproof, though, for it only holds for playthroughs disconnected from the transmedia context of Wikis, Let's Plays, reviews, or walkthroughs. Kaidan may be perfectly straight within the time-space of one playthrough but bisexual in another.

The player's consciousness that these alternatives exist may alter the gaming experience of all playthroughs and "open up a queering discourse" Greer, , p. Arguably, it is precisely videogame narrative's continual state of emergence that helps to queer linear temporalities; to "bend the hetero-chrononormative frames" in favour of "complicated asynchronicities" O'Rourke ; pp.

Having said that, queerness in ME can by no means be reduced to a 'gay checkbox' on a character sheet. In the following, I will therefore examine how alterity is constructed and negotiated in game space through character analyses of three ME characters whose physicality is particularly foregrounded visually and discursively: the PC Shepard, the physically disabled character Joker and the queer of colour NPC Steve Cortez.

At first glance, ME seems to uphold a heteropatriarchal system championing the hegemonic male as normative ideal.


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The default version of the PC Commander Shepard corresponds strongly to the archetype of the seasoned soldier and war hero. The game's default settings as well as the major part of the promotion material show a white male in his early thirties; tall, broad shouldered and with a military-style buzz cut. He comes equipped with a variety of weapons from pistol to rocket launcher and is dressed in protective uniform. The gameplay reinforces the impression of physical strength and hardiness. During gameplay, Shepard is arguably the most useful game piece as he has more "talents" abilities and skills than NPCs and on average receives larger boosts to these talents with each level-up.

ME's blend of genres further emphasizes this connection to military masculinity.


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While the games retain RPG-specific characteristics such as the combat system and the emphasis on roleplaying, the use of military jargon, the prominence of guns and heavy weaponry and game mechanics such as taking cover are reminiscent of the first-person shooter Patterson, , p. The zoom-in function allowing the player to target enemies even leads to a temporary switch to first-person perspective precisely at the moment of taking a shot. Defined as "first-person shooters who allude to real military events, contexts, or language" p.

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The warrior archetype remains an important symbol of R. Connell's hegemonic male, the form of masculinity that is exalted at a given moment in time in a given cultural context. It is a "social norm [h]ardly anyone except in film [and videogames, one might feel inclined to add] can actually meet" Connell, , pp. Therefore, hegemonic masculinity produces alterity of sex, race, colour or ability that is consequently marginalized in society p.

David Morgan points out how military training links to "strong and hegemonic definitions of masculinity", chiefly "the construction of heterosexuality", to the point of emphasizing and rewarding aggressive heterosexism p. It is then all the more interesting how the hegemony of straight, able-bodied masculinity is increasingly called into question in ME as characters come out as queer.