Today's Fictional Fancy comes to us from Wes, who occasionally draws pictures of Ninja Turtles and you also might recognize as Nerd News contributor The Gentleman Gamer. When Wes offered to write about Tali, I was super pleased—one, because it's always interesting to have a(n intelligent) male perspective on this sort of thing, and two, because out of all the female characters in the Mass Effect franchise, Tali's the coolest. (Aside from Shepard, natch.)
Before we start: This post deals with the Mass Effect series and includes MASSIVE SPOILERS. You have been warned. Also, a note on romance options: I use the term “romance options” to describe the ability in a video game, through dialog options or other actions, to designate a non-player character as the player’s romantic interest for the purpose of enhancing or altering the story. Most games do this poorly; Mass Effect did a (mostly) wonderful job.
Oh Tali’Zorah, how I loved you (as Commander Shepard). Was it your charm and wit? Maybe your accent or your sweet full-face visor and environment suit? Perhaps it was that time you got drunk and kept referring to the straw as an “emergency induction port”? (That was pretty funny.) Or maybe it was all of the little things that added up to a fully realized character I could legitimately connect with and care about as a romance option in a video game. Let’s start from the beginning.
Tali is a member of the Quarian race. They are a people without a home planet, wandering the galaxy in a massive group of ships called the Migrant Fleet. Due to living in such a contained environment for so many generations, they are forced to live their lives in containment suits or else risk infection and disease. The first time I met Tali was actually at the beginning of Mass Effect 2. I never played Mass Effect 1 due to exclusivity rights with Xbox, so when our landing parties ran into each other at the beginning of the second game, what was probably a pleasant surprise for returning players was no big deal to me. Unfortunately our “reunion” wasn’t a happy one due to my decision to take one of her people into custody for further questioning. Luckily for me, Tali is forgiving—one of the many things I so love about her.
I won’t go into the whole story about my initial crisis jumping into the series midway, and I definitely won’t relay all the texts I sent about feeling guilty over dumping my original romance option in favor of Tali; just understand that I took it very seriously. In the end I decided it would make a better narrative if I went with the character that interested me and actually hung out on my ship.
Initiating a “romance” in a video game is often weird and feels forced, but with Tali, it turned out to be much less awkward than most video game romance options, or rather, it was kind of awkward and that made it feel real. Tali stumbled over her words and generally acted like a nervous girl admitting her feelings of affection for a good friend. It seemed more genuine than a lot of the back and forth, subtle-as-a-brick-to-the-face style flirting that most games pass off as “building a relationship.” Nothing about the experience is overdone or over-sexualized to the point of ridiculousness and BioWare thankfully avoided including their signature super awkward sex scenes.
Over the course of the series Tali’s story became a part of, and as important as, mine. In the second game when I was asked to defend her at a trial held by the Quarian leaders, I felt real indignation at their accusations and a strong desire to save my friend. They assigned her the surname “vas Normandy” to tie her to my ship as a sign of exile, but I was genuinely moved when she elected to keep it afterward as a symbol of respect and love. BioWare did an excellent job of making her feel like a real person and her personality made her one of my favorite characters to keep in my party. In the end, when I brought her to fight alongside me on Earth, I thought she was killed in the last rush to the Citadel, and I felt a real pang of regret for putting her in harm’s way.
Probably the most emotional moment in the series for me wasn’t the ending, but the mission where we retook the Tali’s homeworld and ended the war between the Quarian and the Geth. It was only a subplot in the story, but one that could have been a game all on its own. Watching Tali stand on her home planet—the first of her kind to do so in more than 300 years—and remove her mask to see it without obstruction was one of the most moving moments in the game.
In the end, virtual girls are still just virtual; all the pixelated butts and boobs don’t really mean anything to me. But I will remember Tali’Zorah vas Normandy because she had real depth and humanity. It doesn’t even matter that I never even really saw her face.
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