Monday, 27 Jun 2022

In Defence Of Mass Effect’s Kelly Chambers

When you ask Mass Effect fans for their least favourite character, you'll find Jacob's name comes up a lot. Mostly from me, screaming it at you. I find Jacob tiresome, a thin, trope-heavy character in a world of much richer, complex portraits. He's stubborn, stoic, and reserved by design, but making a dull character on purpose doesn't make him any less dull. The handful of Jacob fans have always had a few shields to protect their man with, however. Jacob's loyalty mission, I concede, is one of the best in the series, but he's barely involved in it, which highlights how inconsequential he is to Mass Effect's success. Jacob defenders are also keen to throw someone else to the wolves, someone no one would ever think to defend: Kelly Chambers. I'm here today to do exactly that – this is a defence of Kelly Chambers.

Kelly Chambers, if you've forgotten (as would be understandable), is your yeoman in Mass Effect 2, which basically means she stands by the map and tells you when you have emails. I'm not going to lie to you and say she's the game's best character, but I do think the odds have been unfairly stacked against her.

Being a yeoman is not the most exciting job when we deal with thieves and assassins and mercenary warriors, but we do talk to her a lot. Or rather, we should. We have to go to Kelly for every mission, but she has very little dialogue of note and it's much harder to find out even the slightest of details about her, while other characters spill their guts after two or three conversations. She could be an interesting, grounded character amidst all of the carnage, like a younger Doctor Chakwas, but instead we get dull soundbites and little else.

How can I give Jacob a hard time for being boring yet defend Kelly for it? I think it's a matter of framing. Jacob has all the opportunity in the world to be interesting. He is the very first character we meet, has a romance arc and a loyalty mission, and can accompany you on every single mission if you'd like him to. Which nobody would. He has every chance to make something of himself, but wastes it. Kelly gets a few lines. You can romance her, technically, but a) only after the game is finished and you've romanced no one else, b) the game does not consider it a true romance for the achievement, and Mass Effect 3 ignores it, and c) the romance scene involves you calling her to your room with a button like a perverted billionaire playboy, where she will perform a go-go dance for your amusement.

By the time Mass Effect 3 rolls around, it's all change for Shepard and Chambers is replaced by Samantha Traynor, who is given in-depth character development and a real story. Traynor is a legitimate romance option too, having gradual flirtation grow into intimacy, culminating in a steamy kiss in the shower. Thanks to Mass Effect's unwillingness to show nudity – likely still afraid of Fox News, the reason they cut Jack's pansexuality – they shower with their clothes on, which is just very silly, but it's still a moment of passion and romantic flair. A far cry from how Kelly is dismissively used as an erotic puppet.

Traynor also gets consistent development away from the romance arc, which is only available to FemShep. Her toothbrush has become a cult figure in the fandom, and is even used for a key plot point in the Citadel DLC – a fan service DLC which collects all the characters together, and which Chambers is entirely absent from. Chambers is in Mass Effect 3, having left Cerberus and trying to atone and overcome her trauma from the Collector abduction, but we spend less than five minutes with her, and all anybody can talk about afterwards is how silly her hair is. Which, in fairness, is very silly, but it's yet another example of Mass Effect letting Chambers down.

Kelly Chambers might not be the best character in Mass Effect, but it's harder to think of anyone else who has consistently been wronged by the game in the way she has. Mass Effect owed her so much better, and it's a shame that she's only remembered as a character worse than Jacob.

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