Guys, thanks for the robust comments on the previous Mass
Effect post. I have to confess that I'm not yet done with ME2, but I'll offer
up what insight I can given my progress up until this point.
[POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD.]
I've focused a bit on how the first Mass Effect game plays on racial tensions but it also harbors some idealistic memes about race, culture and identity, too. In the comments, some people mentioned their feelings towards the blue-skinned Asari.
All the Asari you meet in the game are female; they're a fearsome race with psychic powers, martial prowess and business holdings all over the universe. When Liara, the Asari who joins Shepard's mission in ME1 talks about her race's mating habits, I honestly felt like I was hearing an epihphany. She talked about how it's preferable that the Asari mate with with non-Asari species because it'd stop their society from reaching an evolutionary dead end Another party member named Tali also said similar things how her race, the nomadic Quarians, treated their coming-of-age pilgrimages. It's important for journeying Quuarians to bring back a new discovery that would help sustain their knowledge and technology so their centuries-old fleet could continue their exile. You can see that Bioware's given thought not just to the plot of the games, but to the societies in these worlds and even individuals, too. It's rare that any two asari, for example, will look alike. They're all blue, yes, but the skin tones and marking differ with great variety. While the conversations with Liara a clear set-up for a romantic interaction between her and Shepard, it felt like an incredibly progressive organizing principle for a whole society.
I know firsthand how an interracial relationship can cause scorn and anxiety, so to hear that there's a whole society that actually encourages mating outside the tribe meant a lot. Fear of the unknown makes people espouse views that not only harm society, but can also damage their loved ones, so it's nice to have some inclusionary ideas in the Mass Effect universe. Of course, the Asari aren't perfect and even they have their isolationist fringe. In Mass Effect 2, you have an encounter with an Asari medical rep who's engaged in some unfair business practices with Shiala, another blue-woman who's helping the Zhu's Hope human colony that you saved in ME1 rebuild. You talk the medical rep and find that her rampant xenophobia has its roots in personal loss of her bondmate and her daughters. She breaks down and cries and agrees to help the colony. Shiala expresses her gratitude by saying, "I don't think I could have... Is it always like this? Yesterday's problems lingering in some new form? Isn't anything just fixed?"
I like this quote because it hits on various levels. It's a sly nod to the symbiosis between the two Mass Effect games and how plot points carry over from one to the other. The line also works as a comment on the nature of game design and maybe even foresees how a fickle audience will react to changes to the gameplay in Mass Effect 2. Moreover, I've felt that way in my own life after a string of too many "a brother could-use a break" days. To be human is to always wonder about yesterday's problems lingering in some new form. So, a single line of text that holds up to all those interpretations is just half of the genius of Mass Effect. The other half is in the responses you can make as Commander Shepard. The options are, "It's not all bad," "Focus on today." "Only with death." Of course what you choose affects the way your character progresses, but what also strikes me is how true-to-life those responses feel. Optimism, nihilism and the short-focus place in-between are how we all move through life and the game mechanic reminds us that they're all choices and not givens.
Bioware's building rich lore in these games. More importantly, you can enjoy it in different ways. You can show up for the mere surface thrill of combat and exploration and have a good time. Or, you can build a pretty compelling psychological portrait of a virtual personality and nest that into a whole series of consquences. Whatever fate you wind up with, it's the one you've made. And being able to share that with others in the gameworld reminds you how important an open mindset is. It can save the universe, even.