Video Games: The Problem with Kaidan

Screenshot of Kaidan Alenko from ‘Mass Effect’. Copyright goes to EA and Bioware.

Hey! Hallie here!

Back before ‘Mass Effect: Legendary Edition’ was released, I made a post to celebrate the game. The post detailed my thoughts on the four main romance options that are men. That is, I ranked Jacob, Garrus, Thane, and Kaidan. I, unsurprisingly, ranked Kaidan low on that list. (He would have been last if not for Jacob and his…umm…commitment issues.) But in that post I didn’t quite hit on what exactly frustrated me about Kaidan. So now that the legendary edition has been out for a while, let’s discuss where Kaidan goes wrong.

Mass Effect 1:

This game really suffers from the issue of characters info dumping on you rather than getting you involved in their stories. Because of this, most of your interactions with Kaidan will just be him talking about his backstory. Kaidan’s backstory starts with his mother’s tragic death and his own development of biotics. He glosses over this, though, and speaks mostly about his time in “Brain Camp”, a facility where he learned to use his biotics. Kaidan was taken to the camp at a young age and considers it somewhat miraculous that he survived it due to its brutality. Kaidan was also instantly disliked by the commander sent to teach them, a Turian named Vyrnnus. However, Kaidan also describes a girl named Rahna who he considers the only positive part of his experience there. Kaidan’s main recollection of his time at “Brain Camp” is traumatizing. Rhana attempted to reach for a glass of water without her biotics and, as punishment, had her arm broken by Vyrnnus. Kaidan attempted to protect her but Vyrnnus took the opportunity to punish Kaidan as well. When Vyrnnus took out a knife, Kaidan instinctively defended himself with his abilities and killed Vyrnnus in the process. The act got him removed from the program and Rahna remained too afraid of him to keep in contact. It’s an interesting story and one that makes you sympathetic towards the character. Except you’re half asleep listening to it because he drones on about it for far too long. And with no emotion on top of it. He doesn’t even seem mildly upset that he accidentally killed a guy. Actually, none of his trauma affects him at all. There are very few occasions where he mentions his past again in the following games, and when he does he only uses it to thank Shepard for being there for him. As for this game, what time he doesn’t spend talking about his backstory is spent either advertising the Alliance or talking about what little family he has left in Canada. Which doesn’t give him a lot. At least he isn’t space racist (Looking at you, Ashley).

Mass Effect 2:

This is where most people REALLY start disliking Kaidan. Kaidan isn’t in a lot of this game. Because of his extreme loyalty to the Alliance, he sticks with them even after Shepard is assumed dead. When Shepard finds him on an Alliance mission to a planet being attacked by the horrifying Collectors, he’s initially happy to see Shepard. Until he discovers that Shepard is working for Cerberus. Cerberus is one of the established villains in the first game, so, naturally, Kaidan is suspicious of you. Except he goes off on you for “betraying” him and refuses to listen to any sort of explanation you may have. He even says “you changed” like he spent any sort of time talking to you instead of screaming at you the minute he figured out Cerberus was involved. I’ve seen some people argue that this is actually good characterization because it shows Kaidan won’t always side with Shepard. But it doesn’t make any sense. Kaidan wasn’t the type to jump straight to anger in the first game. And though he is loyal to the Alliance, he is also loyal to Shepard. He would at least show more care for Shepard after finding out they’re alive after years of believing them dead. But this out-of-character interaction makes more sense when you consider that Ashley gets the exact same scene if she survives. Some of Kaidan’s actions align much more nicely to Ashley’s short temper and natural suspicion. Plus, she never doted on Shepard as much as Kaidan did, even if you romanced her. The fact that these completely different characters share most, if not all, of their dialogue in this scene makes for an out-of-character interaction with both of them. But at least Ashley’s attitude in the first game makes it make more sense for her.

Mass Effect 3:

This is where Kaidan completely returns as a major side character. And it’s rough. Kaidan comes back early on in the game and starts off your whole relationship with continuing to be suspicious of your connections to Cerberus. Even though Shepard cut all ties to the group immediately after the events of the second game. After he makes you explain yourself, he apologizes for all of it and claims that he trusted you the entire time. But then he sees a husk, basically a space zombie horrifically stripped of its humanity, and asks if you have become something similar. What the hell, Kaidan? He spends the entire game going between majorly insulting you for joining Cerberus several years ago, and apologizing or swearing his undying loyalty to you. Another good example of this is when he gets himself severely injured for a good chunk of the game. When he wakes up, he talks to you about how much he cares about you. If you’re romancing him, this is where he mentions that he wants to continue your relationship. But afterwards, when you discover that Udina is a traitor, Kaidan threatens to shoot you for going after Udina. Even after the other Councilors, who have a historically terrible track record of trusting Shepard, step aside and admit that Shepard might be right about Udina. Kaidan’s entire story revolves around Shepard. Any character growth for him tends to come from yet another occasion where he returns to Shepard after doubting them. But none of it is ever consistent. When Kaidan’s on your side he’s like a needy puppy. He would follow you everywhere if he could and he can’t stop talking about how amazing you are. But then he turns around and compares you to a space zombie. It would be tiring if he was throwing himself over you for the entirety of all the games, but I’d consider his constant insults flying at you out of nowhere to be even more frustrating.

In theory, Kaidan could have been an amazing character. He has an interesting backstory. He’s a nice guy with a personality you can gravitate to. He’s loyal to the main character, but he goes off to make his own decisions. In most media, the moments where he stands against the hero might even be the most interesting parts of his character. But Kaidan fails with all of it. His backstory has no bearing on his character and takes up all of his dialogue in the first game. In the next games he spends way too much time praising or criticizing you, never sharing his own interests. When he turns against you he does it irrationally and without warning. Some of this definitely has to do with the fact that he shares a storyline, and some dialogue, with Ashley. Their opposite personalities make for some poor characterization for the two of them as individuals. But all of it is inconsistent no matter which way you look at it.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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