By Jennifer Snook
In the colony of Prodromos on the planet Eos, there is a scientist by the name of Hainly Abrams.
I found her while wandering around in Bioware’s new game “Mass Effect: Andromeda.” When I asked why she was involved with the mission, she told me that she had been “filling tubes in some dead-end lab” where she lived — unhappily — as Stephan.
It took a moment for me to realize. She was trans. This random, unimportant character was trans. I’ve never seen that before. This, in my eyes, is what representation should be. It’s what it needs to be.
That doesn’t mean that she hasn’t caused controversy already.
A lot of the unrest comes from a comparison between ME:A and Bioware’s previous title, “Dragon Age: Inquisition.”
Cremisius Aclassi is a warrior, second in command of a highly successful mercenary company, friendly and has a deadpan sense of humor. Oh, and he’s also trans.
That’s why his depiction in “Dragon Age: Inquisition” was so well-received. He was a fully-developed character on top of being trans. It takes time and trust for him to open up to you.
In contrast, Hainly Abrams has barely any personality, and her backstory is easily discovered by talking to her once.
But that’s a good thing. That’s how minor characters in Bioware games work.
There are hundreds of NPCs in “Mass Effect: Andromeda.” Even beyond your crewmates, there are dozens of characters you can learn the backstory of. And all of them, each and every one, tells you things no one in real life would tell a complete stranger.
It’s world-building. It’s not meant to be realistic. It’s meant to give you a sense of how vast and varied the universe is.
The other problem is the use of her ‘dead name’ — the name she went by before she came out. For a lot of trans people, the mere existence of this name is painful. If other people know it, it’s easier for them to misgender you.
That’s not always the case, though. Personally, I have no problem bringing up my dead name with people I’m close to. I talk about it. It’s a part of me, even if I wish it wasn’t.
Of course, you could point out that your character in ME:A isn’t close to Hainly, but as I’ve already mentioned people are much more open in games than in reality.
Hainly Abrams is only singled out because she’s trans. I could easily point to any other minor character and decry their spouting of backstory at the slightest request. But this is exactly what Bioware has been praised for.
I’m glad that there’s a minor character on a remote world involved with one easily skippable side quest who is obviously trans. Simply having trans people present without a spotlight makes them normal. And if not for the unnecessary fuss, Hainly Abrams would be exactly that.