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I love Leliana.
You know, the red-haired bard companion from Dragon Age: Origins? Love her. Looooove her.
I mean, I haven’t hit the point of total obsession, of course, where I get territorial and make impassioned speeches on the Dragon Age Wiki about how no one else can romance her because she is mine and only mine (...emphasis on the plural, “speeches,” there). But I will admit that I am firmly entrenched in that little box that runs adjacent to it. With my nose pressed against the glass. Shouting poetry.
See, because...I’m one of those people who gets emotionally invested in stuff, like books and movies and TV shows. Because books and movies and TV shows are so much more rewarding when you care about what’s going on inside them. When you give them the chance to genuinely make you feel something.
And, as such, I may have had a crush on a character or two from books (Eowyn, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Alizebeth Bequin) or movies (Eowyn, Lydia Deetz, Jessica Rabbit) or TV shows (Charlotte Charles, Annie Edison, Sarah Walker, Dr. Cameron, Dr. Crusher, Faye Valentine, Eri Sawachika, Ziva David, Taylor Townshend, Lorelei Gilmore, Keely Teslow, Gadget Hackwrench, Haruhi Suzumiya, Monica Reyes, Ezri Dax), so..., yeah, I got invested in Leliana.
And when Mass Effect inevitably found its way into my hands, you can bet I got invested in Ashley Williams.
Sure, she’s not as exotic as Liara and not as cool as any of the romance options in ME2, but that’s kind of the point: she’s normal. (“I wear armor into battle, not swimwear.”) Shepard’s got enough unique circumstance in his life that I think there’s a strong, narratively fitting appeal to his seeking a decidedly normal relationship. Or, if you prefer a less fancypants kind of explanation: she quotes poetry and makes sassy asides and shoots stuff in the face. In short, she’s got moxie. And I do like moxie.
Now, I admit I may have cheated on her in ME2 (with Miranda...and Jack and Kelly and Samara), but not on my first playthrough. Because Ashley is my canon sweetheart! And I was SO not going to pass up the chance to play out a three-game love story arc with her. Heck, that was one of the top three things I was looking forward to in ME3.
And then I got ME3. And I kinda don’t remember why I was so excited about this whole three-game love story arc thing. ‘Cus loving Ashley kinda sucks.
Seriously. It’s like the game is mad at you. Like you dumped its sister for Ashley’s body model (‘cus Ash is kinda stacked, now). Because instead of this specific romantic pursuit being a reaffirming emotional oasis like all the other ones (except Jacob, of course), it’s a frustrating battle to gain something completely perfunctory and unsatisfying. (Wait...did I just inadvertently set up the Ashley romance as a metaphor for the game as a whole?) It’s like the writers forgot she was a romance option until the last day they were working on the script and were like, “Uh...stall. Just don’t engage Shepard’s advances for as long as possible. Then throw in a sex scene. That covers the basics of a romance, right?”
Which just baffles me. Because...shouldn’t Ashley be the most rewarding romance option I have? And I don’t mean (just) on a personal level, but on a narrative level?
Because...well, just look at the arc of the romance up through ME2:
Boy meets girl. Boy dies. Boy COMES BACK TO LIFE after two years. Girl filters complicated emotional/moral/spiritual reaction to boy being alive again through an easier-to-handle distrust of boy’s temporary association with terrorist group.
Yeah...that’s going to take work.
Which is fine. Having to work at it is fine. And logical. It’s the most emotionally complicated relationship path they’ve given you out of all the romance options, so it should genuinely require the most effort to make work.
But the balking on Ashley’s part is not the issue.
Because I get that Ashley has a few things to sort out (“Shepard’s alive? What does that mean? Was he never really dead, or...can someone come back to life? Is he really Shepard? Can I accept that? Do I want to accept that? Do I still love him? Can I, even after mourning him, still want to be with him?”), and that they are much bigger obstacles to overcome than, say, Miranda has in her relationship with Shepard (“Are we still dating?” “Yes.” “Oh, good. Look--a bed!”). But, in my mind, that only means the reward for overcoming those obstacles should be that much greater. Isn’t that a reasonable conclusion?
(Oh shoot--did I just have an expectation just then? Sorry. I know how counterproductive that is in the face of art.)
Look, I get that Ashley’s issues are really complex and, therefore, hard to fully address and sew up in a subplot. But it’s not impossible to do. You just have to, y’know, acknowledge the issues exist. In one conversation. “You were dead! Do you understand that? Dead. Not away on business, not stuck at the airport. Dead. And now you’re back and I don’t know how to process this!”
But we don’t get anything even remotely in that ballpark. All Ashley talks about is Cerberus: “Are you with them? Because I don’t like them. And you can save that old ‘they were the only ones willing to help me save the universe, and then I turned myself over to Alliance authorities’ line, buster. I’m not falling for it. Who do you think I am? Garrus?”
And at no point is it ever even hinted at that this is about anything deeper than just her distrust of Cerberus. The complex emotional issues she should have that would justify the emotional distance and hesitance on her part apparently don’t exist, and she is literally just angry about Shepard being a part of Cerberus. Which is a complaint I have no sympathy for--at least, not after she brings it up the first 100 times.
In fact, the only real hint of her emotional connection to Shepard that we see is at the very end, on Earth. And as much as I loved her desperate “I don’t want you to go!” cry before the final mission, it’s not nearly as impactful as it could have been if she’d, I dunno, actually shown she wanted me around to begin with. (Seriously. I got more out of my casual friendship goodbye to Liara. (Sidebar: that is actually a really sweet moment, and I am a big fan of it.))
I mean, Ashley doesn’t even call me Skipper! What the hell is up with that? That’s like Mary Jane refusing to call Peter “Tiger.”
If BioWare isn’t going to put any effort into fixing the end of the game, is there any chance they could do an “Un-bitchifying Ashley’s Romance” DLC? Or maybe just a “Hey, Skipper” patch? No?
Is demanding satisfactory virtual love really too much to ask for?