WARNING. This post will contain spoilers for the Mass Effect series. If this is a problem, please feel free to bookmark it and come back after you’ve finished playing through!
Previous posts in Andrea Plays Mass Effect:
Intro and Some Thoughts on Community
So, Joker. In part one I discussed the problematic way Bioware addressed (or didn’t address) Joker’s disability in the series. I mentioned in passing that in Mass Effect 1, I’d been disappointed that he wasn’t one of the romance options for a female Shepard, and by part three I just didn’t speak to the character anymore after my first play through.
This is not to say that Joker doesn’t get romance, though. He winds up with an artifical intelligence in a sexbot body named Edi. There’s a couple elements to this I absolutely hate, and we’re going to avoid the sexbot body thing for now because this isn’t about gender, but about people with disabilities and the assumptions non-disabled people make.
On the one hand, OF COURSE Joker ends up with Edi, who is essentially the soul of the starship Normandy. It’s established in ME1 that Joker pretty much loves the ship more than he loves anything else ever, so on the one hand it feels kind of inevitable that once Edi is introduced, she becomes the romance interest for Joker.
But on the other hand…this feels wrong to me. Because of course Joker winds up with an artificial intelligence, who else would want his crippled body? OBVIOUSLY he has to end up with someone who wants him for his mind and piloting skills. No organic woman, human or alien, is interested in a man whose bones are so fragile that sex is nearly out of the question.
Why couldn’t Bioware’s writers have written him a romance with Tali? She shows up in all three games, is just in love with the Normandy and its capabilities as Joker is, and has her own problems going on, given that she comes from a race with immune systems so weak that they can never leave their pressure suits behind. She and Joker would have made an interesting pair, negotiating their various disabilities together and sharing their adoration for the ship.
But no. Joker must wind up with the ship itself, with an AI he jokes about using as his “mobility assistance mech”. She is the only damsel he manages to directly save, since he’s the one responsible for removing the software shackles that keep her from true self-determination. As such there’s also a gross undercurrent of obligation in their relationship — he set her free, so of course he’s the one she must love.
I realize this isn’t terribly coherent, but the thing is that it’s all subtext, the things that bother me about Edi and Joker’s relationship. It’s all creepy feelings just at the edge of rational analysis, little quirks of the writing and animation in the game that trip off my “Here We Go Again” sensors. Would I rather have seen Joker have no love interest at all? That’s a difficult question, tied up in so many issues of depiction of crip love and sexuality that it’s nearly impossible to tease apart at anything shorter than novel length.
And the whole thing is impossibly wrapped up in Bioware’s habit of giving every major female character other than Shepard clothing that is apparently made of latex, because in the Mass Effect universe apparently nobody ever wants to just hang out in sweatpants when they’re not out shooting things in the face.
What I wanted, I guess, was for snarky, irreverent, angry cripple Joker to have a relationship worthy of him. Instead he gets a sexbot and a remake that renders him bland and palatable to the male, non-disabled audience that Bioware writers envision.
Nota Bene: We at Feminist Sonar are comment moderation fascists. If you don’t engage substantively, it ain’t gettin through, so please spare us the “OMG YOU SCREWED UP A TINY TRIVIAL DETAIL THEREFORE YOUR ARGUMENT IS INVALID” stuff, other ME fans.