I have mostly only ever played as FemShep in my many playthroughs of the Mass Effect series, with the exception of playing MaleShep in order to see Kaidan and MaleShep together. I am very aware that in the Mass Effect fan community, people who play MaleShep often prefer to romance Tali Zorah. These people will mostly refer to themselves as “Talimancers”. I have no judgement for having an obsessive love for a love interest in the Mass Effect series, or any other video game IP. I have an unhealthy obsession with Garrus Vakarian.
He’s a talking dinosaur from space, how could you not think he is the raddest dude ever?
Mass Effect 3 came out well over a year ago now, and aside from the ending problems there is still the legitimate complaint about Tali’s in game picture/face. This picture was simply a stock photo that was poorly photoshopped to be sort of purple with some lines on it and fingers cut off. I even perfectly recreated it with some eyeliner on my face and standing in front of a lamp. Talimancers were pissed, and justifiably so.
I waited 5 years for this.
Now when Matt Rhodes recently put unpublished concept art on his blog, he released some of Tali. This is nothing too unusual as her development has been discussed before. However he brought up something interesting.
Personally, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to push players to the edge. Tali was like a pen pal, or a friend you’ve only ever known online. Depending on how attached to her a player was, how well could they handle her appearance challenging their expectations? If she looked a little too alien, just a little too repellant, would they still feel the same way about her? Or did her personality and your history together trump appearances? It’s an interesting area to explore and I hope we can find other ways to ask that question.
Click on the pictures to see the full size.
I really liked the parallel that Matt Rhodes made with Tali’s face to a situation that happens in the real world. Meeting people you have feelings for in real life for the first time is filled with anxiety and you never know what you will really get. They even made a movie and a tv show about this exact situation. It could have been an interesting concept to explore and to have players think about. How much does it matter that your alien girlfriend, who’s immune system could cause her to die if you two are naked together for too long, be humanly beautiful?
I assumed that most Talimancers would have loved the alien look of the concept art, or even accepted that in some versions she might not be considered perfectly beautiful. I would think it didn’t matter to the Talimancers, since their entire mental relationship with her was purely based on her personality and hip to waist ratio. She isn’t actually real anyway. The entire attachment to her is based off a simulated personality. You’re in a universe filled with alien babes, I would think you would want to go big or go home. However the reaction of many Talimancers to the more alien looks surprised me.
I wish my alien girlfriend didn’t look like an alien.
Many people reacted with cringing and being put off by the more alien versions of Tali. Some acting as if the alien versions being canon would have put them off of loving Tali as a romance option. Of course there were a lot of people who really did prefer the alien versions, because they are expecting an actual alien. There is no shame in not finding those versions attractive, you cannot control what you are attracted to. But I would assume that the people who committed to romancing her had, at minimum, spent 70 hours on a play through with her as their main love interest (ME2 and ME3 only). There must be at least some sentimental attachment, otherwise everyone would have just stuck with Miranda since she is physically and humanly perfect (don’t talk shit about Miri because she is one of my favorite characters).
To Talimancers, she is an adorable girl next door who has always had your back no matter what. How much does that change when you find out that she is, in fact, truly an alien? And unlike the real life counter part where the person lied to you about how they look, she was just assumed to be pretty in exactly the way that was wanted. Shepard, in the game, knows exactly how she looks and still loves her if the player chooses to.
If Bioware had released a better picture that took more effort, but it looked too alien and ugly, would fans be happier? I know many Talimancers really do love the alien looks, but many don’t. Would the people who didn’t like the alien look be able to appreciate the experience given by making Tali not pretty? Even if Tali ended up looking like what a lot of people consider to be off putting, we will still always have Dem Hips.