2013 Boston QUILTBAG Gamer Meetup Is A Go!

Just a quick note to let you all know that, yes, there WILL be a QUILTBAG (gay, lesbian, bi, trans, asexual, ally, etc. etc.) Gamer Meetup during PAX East this year! Sorry for the late notice, but I’ve been scrambling to pull this together in the last few weeks and I just got the details finalized. We’re doing something a little different this year and selling tickets for a little under $17.50 a pop — said tickets include an entree of your choice, soft drinks, and dessert. You can find more information on the FAQ page here on the blog or at the Eventbrite page. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, and I hope to see you all there!

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Media Mondays: The PAX East Edition

I’m still recovering from PAX, and as I started a new job (yay!) and got some nasty financial surprises (boo!) all in the same day, well…this is going to be a quick one. So, rather than start the conversation I’ve been meaning to have about GCB, or go into depth on some other show or movie or book or what have you, I thought I’d offer up a few quick thoughts on some games I saw and loved at the show.

Let’s start with my absolute favorite game of the show. Go Home Dinosaurs! is the upcoming offering from Boston-based Fire Hose Games, and it is freaking adorable. The basic play reminds me a lot of Fieldrunners (a mobile game from another local company, Subatomic Studios), and, well…at its core, Dinosaurs is a tower defense game, so the basic mechanics are bound to resemble just about every other entry in the genre. You control a small crew of gophers attempting to protect their barbecue from a steadily advancing army of hungry dinosaurs. The dinos follow a specific path, and it’s up to you to deploy weapons along that route to slow, stop and finally destroy them. Along the way, you gather coconuts which you can use to pay for additional weapons.

Sounds simple, right? Well, there are some additional layers to it: first, each weapon covers a different area. It’s not all about size, either – the freeze ray you can get around the second round occupies an L-shaped space; the meteor magnet you get later on occupies a sort of fat-headed T…a 2 square by 3 square rectangle with one square sticking out of the longer side. In between rounds, you get coins (based upon your kills, the resources left on the board, the number of coconuts you still have in your bank, etc.) to spend on new devices and power-ups; this works very much like a trading card game, actually. You build a ‘deck’ of weapons which are then available to you in the quantities you have purchased – provided you have enough coconuts.

I’m making the game sound more complicated than it is. Honestly, it’s very intuitive and elegant in its simplicity. It’s very, very, very cute and a hell of a lot of fun. It should be hitting the Chrome Web Store this summer, and I’ll almost certainly be buying it.

Next we have Star Command, a Star Trek-inspired game for iOS and Android devices. I got to try it briefly in the Kickstarter Lounge, and it reminded me a great deal of the classic Dungeon Keeper, in a good way. You control a starship drifting through deep space, marshaling your crew to fend off invading aliens and other menaces. Your crew members have different powers depending on their divisions: the people in red shirts are tactical officers, skilled in offense but quick to die if you’re not careful; blue shirts are medical, able to heal their crewmates; gold shirts are engineering, able to repair and upgrade the ship itself. Sadly I only had a few minutes with the game before I had to head off with my friend Ross to practice for our second Omegathon round, but I can see how it could get quite addicted. I’m pleased to note that the game has been fully funded on Kickstarter and it should be hitting the market later this year.

Speaking of the Omegathon, while Zip-It was the harbinger of our destruction, it’s also an incredibly fun game that I cannot recommend highly enough. It’s quick, easy to learn, tricky to master, and an absolute blast – and it easily fits in a purse or messenger bag, so you can bust it out any time you have a few minutes to spare. It’s a worthy addition to Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice in my collection of line games.

Last but far from least, there were a couple of really fun additions to the Apples to Apples genre of subjective card-matching games. Cards Against Humanity scarcely needs an introduction at this point, but I hadn’t actually seen the game up close before visiting the Kickstarter Lounge at PAX East, so it was new to me. It’s probably best described as “Apples to Apples for horrible people,” and given my somewhat twisted sense of humor, it seems to be right up my alley. Sadly, they were sold out forever at the con, but you can download the game for free on their site and they should have more physical sets available for sale soon.

The Metagame was funded on Kickstarter a year ago, so it’s not exactly new either, but once again, it was new to me. I got to play it in line with Mattie Brice, Amanda Cosmos and a whole mess of others, and it was a lot of fun. Essentially, as with Apples to Apples, you have one set of ‘question’ cards and one set of ‘answer’ cards – except each of the ‘answer’ cards lists a different game, with basic details like the publisher and the year of release, and the ‘question’ cards ask things like ‘Which game feels more like first love?’ or ‘Which game is more culturally insensitive?’. While most of the cards list video games, there are exceptions to the rule…most notably, and amusingly, the Metagame itself gets a card, meaning that the game is a set that includes itself. (…the math nerds got that one.) It’s probably one of the geekiest games I’ve ever played, and you probably won’t fully appreciate it unless you’re a serious gamer or a game developer, but personally, I loved it.

Those were hardly the only games I saw at PAX, of course, but they’re the easiest to sum up and they were definitely favorites. I’ll probably have more complicated thoughts on the others at some future point – particularly Rock Band Blitz, once I’ve had a chance to play it outside of a demo environment. In the meantime, I definitely recommend checking out all of the above. They’re all pretty much winners.

Kicking Ass At PAX East: The Campaign Continues

TL;DR: I’VE GOTTEN SOME VERY GENEROUS DONATIONS, BUT I COULD STILL USE HELP! PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE!

I have some good news, some great news, and some complicated news. The good news is that I got some really generous donations last week from people like fellow Omeganauts Ross and Sophia, and friends and fans like Nate, Jeanne and Sarah, and I’m already over halfway to my original goal! The GREAT news is that I’m set to start a new job after PAX East – I’m not going to say where just yet, but I’m very excited. And the complicated news…well, the complicated news is that expenses have come up and are still coming up in relation to all this, and I could still use your help.

Since I’m going to be working regularly as of next month, I’ll need to get myself a monthly T pass rather than the weekly one. I could use some new shoes and I need to replace my watch strap, which is about to fall apart completely. That’s in addition to the various con expenses I’m still worrying about. So I’ve revised my target amount to $500, and yeah, I could still use some help.

Let me be clear: the initial deal still stands. It wouldn’t be fair to move the football when people have started kicking, so I’ll honor everything I said before. If I hit my original target of $400, I’ll tweet and blog live from the convention center. At higher goals, I’ll add video to the deal. And hell, I’ll tell you what: if I hit $1000 in the next week, I’ll drop all my inhibitions and cosplay every day of the con. During the Omegathon rounds themselves, I have to wear the Omeganaut t-shirt and all, of course, but I’ll make it work outside of Omegathon events. If you’d like to see me wandering around the convention as Jean Grey, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman, well, you know my price.

I’ll also see if I can do something nice for everyone who’s donated. Maybe you’ll get medals. I’ll come up with something when I see the final total.

If you want to help, but you can’t really give money right now – that’s perfectly okay. I get it. Retweeting or blogging about this would be a huge help. The more people I reach out to, the better chance I have of making my goals. Or, if you prefer, you can find me and help me out at the con itself. I may have trouble finding time to eat, so you know what – a candy bar, some chips (I love Lay’s Sour Cream & Onion and Pringles Ranch), a sandwich (I don’t like tomatoes or lettuce, but I really like chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad, onion, mozzarella and/or pepper jack) or a Diet Mountain Dew could be HUGE to me at the right moment. Find me and feed me and I’ll be grateful. 🙂 As a huge fan of The Hunger Games, I also wouldn’t say no to a mockingjay pin for luck, say. 😉

Your support – in whatever form it takes – means a great deal to me. If you can help me in any way, I’ll be very, very grateful. If all you can offer is moral support, I’ll take that, too. I am genuinely in awe of all of you. I am stunned each and every time I discover another fan. Thank you all. Each and every one of you. Keep your fingers crossed.

UPDATE, REDUX: GLBTQA Gamer Meetup, April 6, 2012, Boston, MA

As some of you may have already noticed, I’ve added a new page to the blog specifically addressing the upcoming GLBTQA Gamer Meetup. If you didn’t see my previous posts on the subject, no problem! You’ll find all the pertinent information there. I’ll keep that page up to date as new information rolls in, but I may not always post those updates to the blog, so I recommend watching my Twitter feed or checking in on the page itself every few days to make sure you catch any further changes.

I do want to point out that I’m doing my best to step up my fundraising efforts. We’re currently a little over a month away from the event and our total budget is about sixty dollars. I’m extremely grateful to our donors, of course, but I am going to need further help defraying the costs of this event. If you represent a company or organization that might like to help sponsor the event in some way – providing food or equipment or other resources, or just helping with general cash flow – please don’t hesitate to contact me at cassandra DOT lease AT gmail DOT com. If you’d like to donate privately, really, any donation will help at this point – even if you can only give five or ten bucks. I’m accepting donations through PayPal but I’m happy to make other arrangements if necessary. I know money is tight for everyone right now, and I’m doing my best to make this a fun and free event for everyone, but I can’t do this alone.

I’ve also set up a CafePress storefront. Not the most ideal solution, but it’s the fastest and least expensive way to get event merchandise out there, and I think you might find some really great items there. I’ve added a bunch of buttons and shirts featuring the various ‘badge’ emblems you’ve already seen, as well as some shirts featuring a signature design I threw together inspired by the point and click adventure games of old. I’m happy to add additional products on request. Again, direct donations will be most helpful right now, but if you’d like something for your cash, please consider buying something from the storefront. The profits, after CafePress takes its cut, will likewise go to defray the costs of the event.

And, last but far from least, I’m making it official: any excess funds left in our budget after the event will be given to the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, or BAGLY. While this organization is not really related to the gaming community (and, I must emphasize, has no knowledge of and no affiliation with this event), they are a vitally important group for local teens and young adults who are struggling with their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. As a young trans woman who was in a lot of pain and turmoil in the early days of my transition, I attended BAGLY weekly, and honestly, just having a place to go on Wednesday nights, a place where I was accepted and loved for who I was, kept me sane. They deserve any support we can give them.

As always, I’m happy to talk over any questions, suggestions, or concerns you all might have about this event. In the meantime, that’s where we stand. Despite all the stress, I have to say that I am still ridiculously excited and grinning like an idiot as I look forward to Easter weekend. This party is going to be – dare I say it? – fabulous. And I thank each and every one of you for your support and enthusiasm. It’s meant a hell of a lot. I can’t wait to see you all.

Sex, Gender, and D&D

UPDATE: Wizards has now posted an updated version of the poll which does not include gender-based ability caps. They have also stated that they did not intend to implement “such a pointless rule” and that they never meant to present it as a serious option. While I appreciate their efforts to set the situation right, the conversation’s been started, and my opinions on the matter stand. My original post follows.

Some time ago, Wizards of the Coast announced that they were officially putting D&D 5th Edition into development – and, moreover, that they were appealing to the fans to help them shape the new generation of their classic role-playing game. I’ll be honest: I haven’t been following the development process too closely. The announcement prompted me to officially sever all ties to 4th Edition, as I hadn’t run the game in months and didn’t really expect to run it again in the foreseeable future, but I’ve had my own projects to deal with, and I didn’t really want to spend all my time debating the finer points of D&D with the fan community. I’d see what WotC came up with, and if I didn’t like it, I’d happily stick to running the many, many other RPGs weighing down my shelves.

Sadly, in the immortal words of Veronica Mars, every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in.

(Yes, people, I do know that’s actually a line from The Godfather: Part III. I just prefer Veronica.)

Let’s flash forward to today. Monte Cook posted an article discussing the process of unifying the various editions of D&D – figuring out what they should bring with them and what they should discard. Now, to Monte’s credit, he started the article by saying that it was difficult to imagine certain things – including gender-based ability score maximums – making a comeback. But ‘difficult’ does not actually equal ‘impossible’. To make matters worse, someone at Wizards decided to go ahead and post a poll at the end of the article asking fans which features they’d like to bring back to D&D. And gender-based ability caps were among the poll options.

Which I checked the results earlier, something like 350 people had voted for the return of gender-based ability caps. That was just a small fraction of the people who had voted on the poll overall, and most of the votes were going to the other options. I can’t tell you what the results are now, because WotC has hidden them away. What I can say is this: it’s insulting that Wizards of the Coast even put this up to a vote. As Logan Bonner pointed out, the other options – THAC0, saving throws, feats, etc. – do not make half the population feel excluded from the game. They are not rooted in bullshit ideology or long-standing social prejudices.

Mr. Bonner’s own short opinion on the subject agrees with my own. Simply put, these rules have no place in D&D. Most of us know they have no place in D&D, and most of us know they’re not going to make a comeback. Opening them up to a public vote just opens a big sexist can of worms. It invites misogynists back into the conversation and that’s not going to be pleasant for the game’s more enlightened fans. It’s already been distinctly unpleasant.

We’ve all heard horror stories of groups that decided to penalize female characters’ Strength or Constitution or even Intelligence, throwing them a bone by perhaps boosting their Charisma in the process. (Because women are pretty, of course; this is our sole purpose, and women who are not attractive to men are useless. Oh, my, I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.) There are gamers who will happily argue that women cannot be soldiers, cannot be knights, cannot effectively fight. There are others who will argue that women are inherently bad at math or science, indicating an inferior intellect, meaning they can’t be wizards or scholars. Some of these people might turn around and penalize men’s Charisma or Wisdom or some such, to try and ‘accurately model’ the differences between the sexes, but more often than not, these ridiculous little rules apply only to women.

I’ve made a joke of that, in the past. Because it’s simply ridiculous on the face of it. If you were to look in the bottom of my t-shirt drawer, you’d even find an old -1 STR, +1 CHA shirt that I used to wear all the time. But the more I interact with these people, the more I realize that, no, they’re actually serious, the more I realize it’s not all that funny.

A lot of these folks try to back their points up with science. Let’s be clear: there are differences between the sexes, though these differences are not always as clear-cut as people like to believe, and arguably we may need to reconsider the man/woman dichotomy and admit the possibility of additional sexes. More importantly, however, we do not yet understand what the actual differences between the sexes are – and we don’t know how many of those differences are due to nature and how many are due to nurture. For a great deal of our history, women were not encouraged to pursue careers in math or science. Women were not encouraged to engage in athletic pursuits. Women were not given the same advantages as men. And, even today, women are still treated differently, still burdened with profound disadvantages in pay, education, and career opportunities. Despite claims to the otherwise, we still live in a male-dominated world. So until we have complete social equality, until women and men are able to seize the same opportunities and compete on truly equal footing, don’t tell me that ‘science’ has proven women to be inferior. Science relies on repeated observations under controlled conditions. Our society has yet to eliminate all the many, many factors that impact our physical, social, mental and sexual development and send us spinning off into a myriad of directions.

And yet, despite these problems, extraordinary women have found their way into a variety of traditionally male careers. Are you seriously going to tell me that women can’t excel in math and science? Why don’t you tell that to Augusta Ada King, a.k.a. Ada Lovelace, arguably the first computer programmer? Or Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, United States Navy, creator of the first program compiler and the first person to come up with the very concept of programming languages? Or poor Rosalind Franklin, robbed and slandered by James Watson? Or Marie Curie, or Lise Meitner (blatantly robbed of her Nobel Prize), or Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (who thankfully did get the credit and the Nobel Prize she deserved for her research, in 1995), or Harriet Brooks, or Jane Goodall? In fact, why don’t you take a look at this whole damn category? If these women are outliers – and in some cases, they certainly are – then I would argue that it’s because it’s really damn hard to make it as a woman in the sciences, or in any male-dominated profession, and that’s only starting to change.

Women can’t fight? Well, it’s true that there are fewer female warriors than scientists in our history – but nevertheless, they are there. There’s Renée Bordereau, for example. Or Julie d’Aubingny, the French duellist better known as La Maupin. Or the numerous women who disguised themselves to serve on both sides in the American Civil War. There’s Princess Pingyang, who led an army against the old Chinese capital of Chang’an and played a key role in conquering China for the Tang Dynasty. Then we have the ancient Norse Shieldmaidens, and the Dahomey Amazons. And that’s just scratching the surface. The role of women in war continues to expand.

But hey – let’s ignore all that. Let’s pretend for the moment that women can never be as strong or as resilient as men. Let’s assume there really are physical differences that no amount of social equality, athletic training, or physical conditioning can overcome. (I will not for a second concede that women are less intelligent, because even I, dear reader, can only put up with so much bullshit.) Here’s the thing: that should still have no bearing whatsoever on any tabletop RPG.

Here’s the thing. RPGs are escapism. While I sometimes enjoy exploring difficult themes and concepts in the course of my escapism, I generally prefer to, well…escape. To leave all the shit I have to put up with day after day behind me and enter a world where none of that matters. As I said on Twitter, the great promise of D&D – the great promise of all RPGs – is this: you can be anyone. You can do anything. You can reshape the world. When you inject sexist preconceptions into your game, you break that promise.

And that’s something I cannot abide. As a GM and a game designer, my philosophy boils down to three words: maximum player agency. Yes, sometimes you have to tell the players no, but I don’t like to start from that position. I certainly don’t want to tell them they can’t play ass-kicking female paladins or supergenius gadgeteer superheroines or female space marines fighting hideous alien bugs. And I don’t want the rulebooks we’re using telling them any differently. No, not even as an optional rule. Sexism has no place in a game intended for general release. None.

The people who want to see these kinds of rules restored to D&D are a tiny, tiny minority. I firmly believe that. I also believe they’ll never go away. That’s fine. They have brains, or so I’m told. If they want to spew their sexist bullshit around their battered tables or in their horrible little chatrooms or on their awful little forums, they can go right ahead. That’s what house rules are for. But D&D itself should not – cannot – embrace that kind of utter crap. This is WotC’s world. They have the ability to make it a world free of the sexism that plagues our own. And they should never hesitate to exercise that option.

When you’re writing a period game that clings tightly to historical accuracy, sure, there’s a place for sexism and social pressure – as a setting detail, and one that can be resisted, albeit with consequences if you’re discovered. But D&D is not a period game. It is, by default, a fantasy world with little or no connection to Earth’s history. We can accept elves and magic and dragons. We should be able to accept women who can do anything men can do.

Sexism has no place in D&D. Period. And I do not want to have this conversation again.

Fangirl Fridays: Commander Shepard, SSV Normandy

If you follow basically anyone connected to Mass Effect on Twitter (by which I mean writers, developers, community managers, fans, voice actors…literally anyone), you probably already know that today is FemShep Friday. See, a while back, BioWare promised us a Mass Effect 3 trailer focused specifically on the female version of Commander Shepard, the protagonist of the series. This was pretty huge news, because despite the female Commander Shepard’s large and vocal fan base (most of whom affectionately refer to her as, you guessed it, FemShep), most of the promotional videos and images use the default male Shepard. But BioWare has finally started recognizing FemShep’s many ardent fans, and for the third and final entry in the Mass Effect trilogy, they’re giving her a little more of the spotlight. The Collector’s Edition of the game will feature both male and female Shepards on the box art, for example, and a prominent Facebook poll allowed the fans to select the female Shepard’s appearance in the game’s promo art (more on that later). The highly anticipated FemShep trailer was the latest piece of the puzzle, and it just went online today.

I’ve played a hell of a lot of Mass Effect over the past couple of years, and with one exception (a male Shepard I created to romance Ashley and later Tali), I’ve chosen the female Shepard every time. That’s probably not a huge surprise to anyone who knows me. Given the choice, I will almost always choose to play a female character. I empathize more readily with female characters and strongly prefer to take on that kind of role. But there’s something special about FemShep.

Commander Chloe Shepard, Renegade Spectre

Maybe it’s the fact that she’s a total badass, no matter how you play her. You expect that with the cold, ferocious, trigger-happy Renegade options, but even Paragon Shepard is courageous, uncompromising, and dedicated to her mission. Her compassion is a strength, not a weakness. (It is generally accepted among fans that anyone who doesn’t hug Tali during a certain sequence in Mass Effect 2 – you’ll know it when you see it – is an utter monster. I agree. It’s not a moment of emotional vulnerability, it’s a moment of strength for someone who truly needs it right then and there.) It certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s voiced by Jennifer Hale, a truly talented voice actress who goes above and beyond the call of duty to deliver a Shepard who feels vital, complex, and real. No offense to Mark Meer, who voices the male Shepard, but FemShep steals the show in any scene because Jennifer Hale is just that good. If I wasn’t already inclined to play female characters, I still would have rolled up a FemShep the first time I saw a single clip of her, because her work on this game is so incredibly amazing. Whenever I actually get around to playing Star Wars: The Old Republic for real, I think I’m going to have to roll up a female Republic Trooper just to hear her voice again. And I am not normally a tank at all – not by choice.

I call it "The Shepard Shuffle".

But enough about my massive crush on Jennifer Hale – let’s get back to FemShep. Because there’s a hell of a lot more to like. Like the fact that there is almost complete gender equality in the Mass Effect universe. I can think of one NPC in ME2 that even makes a gender-related crack, and you can shut him down HARD when he does. Ashley Williams? She’s a straight-up Marine who’s also a beautiful woman and first shows up in pink armor, and no one gives her crap about it. (And you can get that same pink armor for the male characters as well, by the way.) And FemShep? She does everything the male Shepard does, certain romance options aside. She can knock back ridiculous amounts of liquor. She can hurl bad guy after bad guy to the floor. She can headbutt a krogan. She even does the same dorky little shuffling dance at various nightclubs in the game, which I absolutely adore. In ME2, you can (with certain DLC) get a formal outfit for FemShep that consists of a black dress and heels – but she keeps walking like a soldier while wearing them. She’s clearly uncomfortable and it’s awesome. The BioWare team could have come up with a bunch of titillating animations full of booty-shaking and swinging hips and mincing around in heels, but they didn’t. They recognized that they were creating a soldier, first and foremost. Someone who has spent her adult life in the military, someone who isn’t always great with social niceties, someone who almost certainly did not put a lot of emphasis on her physical appearance or sexual body language. Oh, she can speak pretty smoothly, sure. She can even flirt. But she is the dorkiest dancer ever, and I love it. It’s adorable.

And that vision of Shepard’s personality bleeds into character creation as well. Sure, you can kind of overdo it with the makeup (and they did overdo the makeup in that trailer), but other than that, the player is offered a selection of short, efficient hairstyles that all make sense for an active soldier. No pigtails or Farrah Fawcett hair here. That might, admittedly, have more to do with the limitations of the graphics engine (and a desire on the part of the animators to avoid dealing with long, freely swinging hair) than anything, but it’s still a nice touch. There’s also a broad selection of facial scars, which you don’t tend to find on your average character creation screen.

Ohhh, Edward...I mean Thane...

The truth is that Shepard can’t help being a badass career soldier. Case in point: a while back, I rolled up a female Shepard just to romance Thane, the one male love interest I had any interest in. Since I tend to be more interested in lesbian romances (obviously) and didn’t really expect to enjoy this playthrough quite as much, I decided my poor, straight, throwaway Shepard would be named Bella and act like a total Paragon Mary Sue. (I think I owe Courtney Stanton the credit for that idea.) But I quickly found it was totally impossible to ignore or dismiss Shepard’s pure awesomeness. Even when she was playing nice, speaking diplomatically, choosing the goody-two-shoes option each and every time, she was brave and bright and occasionally sassy. She still faced her enemies without fear. Jennifer Hale’s voice still brought her to life, bringing depth and meaning to the most straightforward dialogue. I ended up playing well past the point where Bella consummated her relationship with Thane, finishing all the side missions and running through all the DLC. I’ll probably bring her back for ME3, just to see how her story ends.

This is not to say that FemShep is perfect. The level of customization available to the player certainly isn’t. The various options in character creation are pretty white-centric, for example – you can give Shepard darker skin tones, but there’s not a lot of variation in her facial structure. You can’t change her body at all; she’ll always be a fairly slender, fit young woman. Certainly an active soldier would be fit, but it would be nice if you could have a stockier Shepard, or a taller or shorter one. The makeup in that trailer up above is pretty ridiculous, and I don’t love how they’ve made Shepard look younger than before. She’s a grown woman and an experienced soldier who’s lived through the events of two fairly epic adventures – adventures that probably ate up at least a couple years of her life. She doesn’t need to look like a dewy-eyed twenty-something.

And, of course, I’m still annoyed at the lack of same-sex romance options. Unless you hack (and effectively break) the game, you have no same-sex romance options as a male Shepard, and you can only romance asari (who only have one biological sex and only seem to have female gender identities, though that hasn’t been explored in depth) or human or alien men as a female Shepard. We’ve been promised more same-sex romance options for both Shepards in ME3, but we’ve been promised those options before and they’ve been cut each time. Personally, I’m rooting for a Shepard/Tali romance – when Tali tells you in ME2 that she would happily share her suit environment with you (an intimate gesture among quarians), that’s not just subtext, that’s text. And Jennifer Hale reads more than a few lines in conversations with female crewmates and NPCs in a distinctively flirty way. It’s past time those potential flirtations got some follow-through.

This may seem slightly hypocritical – a couple paragraphs ago, I lauded Mass Effect for limiting player choices in certain ways, giving Shepard’s history and personality weight and meaning regardless of the player’s actions. Now I’m complaining that these options are too limited. But the fact of the matter is that the Mass Effect team’s decisions have, to some extent, ended up excluding people who already face exclusion and oppression in real life. A whole lot of us play games like Mass Effect to escape this grim reality – but the Mass Effect series has, thus far, failed to embrace everyone who wishes to escape.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still obsessed with the series, and I’m still psyched for the next installment. Bella, Chloe and Michael Shepard are all waiting in the wings, and I’ll be starting another runthrough soon to reconstruct my gay Paragon Shepard, Moira (who was sadly lost when my previous computer crashed and I was unable to recover the save files). I love Mass Effect, and I love FemShep. I just think there’s room for improvement – and I sincerely hope BioWare seizes the opportunity.

UPDATE: GLBTQA Gamer Meetup, April 6, 2012

57 days to go. 29 tickets left. Holy crap. This is quite possibly one of the biggest things I’ve ever done, and I’m amazed at how quickly it’s all coming together.

That said, I’m definitely going to need some help with this one. We’ll still need to borrow or buy some extra equipment – controllers, batteries, coolers, that kind of thing. And we’ll need a whole lot of snacks, soft drinks, plates, cups, utensils and napkins. We may need some other stuff as well. I’m trying to work out some sponsorship agreements but I can’t say anything for certain yet. If your company or organization would like to help sponsor the event, or if you’d like to donate to help defray the costs involved, please e-mail me at cassandra dot lease at gmail dot com.

In the interests of full disclosure and accountability, I’ve set up a public spreadsheet detailing the donations and expenditures connected with the meetup. I’ll be updating the sheet regularly, and anyone can view it whether they’re signed in to Google or not. If you’d like to donate, but would prefer to stay anonymous, please rest assured that you can – I’ll only put your name on the spreadsheet if I have your permission to do so. The main point of the sheet is not to keep track of the donors, but to give everyone an opportunity to review the figures involved.

While I can’t say for sure if we’ll have any excess funds after the event, I’ve been giving some thought to what I might do if there is any cash left. I’m giving serious thought to giving any excess to BAGLY, a wonderful local organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and allied youth. I was a regular fixture at their meetings in my younger days and I think their work is of vital importance. That said, I certainly welcome feedback on this issue. If you have suggestions for alternative charities, or reservations about giving any excess funds we have to BAGLY or to any other organization, please let me know. You can comment here or e-mail me privately as you prefer.

That’s all I have for the moment. I hope to have some more news for you all very soon. In the meantime, I would definitely urge you to register just as soon as you’re certain (or reasonably sure) that you’ll be attending the event. We might have room for some extra people at the door, but I can’t promise that. If your plans change suddenly and you realize you CAN’T come, please let me know so I can release some extra tickets to the pool.

See you all in April!