Ashley Lynch - Gingerbreadgirl Productions

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The Mass Effect Gender Bias
Mass Effect 2 is awesome, but that's not what this post is about.

One thing I love about the Mass Effect series is that really create your own Shepard and foster them not just over the game but across what will be eventually three games.  The customization options really aren't all that diverse, and your male or female Shepard will generally look fairly similar to all the other ones.  Even your character's voice, Mark Meer if you're male, Jennifer Hale if you're female, is just a binary choice.  Where the real customization comes of your Shepard is how you choose to play them and what choices you make.  Sure your choices affect your rating and outcomes, but even more it affects your investment in the character.  Playing through the first Mass Effect and moving right onto Mass Effect 2, I was struck by a natural desire to create an arc for my Shepard and not just have her do things the way I wanted her to, but to actually grow into a different person as the story progressed.  That is a gaming first for me.

Obviously the rest of this article is going to seem incredibly biased.

With Mass Efffect 2, Bioware has ramped up their merchandising of the franchise including comics, an action figure line and God knows what else.  One thing that bothers me though is all their advertising, the cover art and even the action figures all feature the male Shepard.  Now for the most part I would agree "so what?"  So that isn't my Shepard, how does that affect my game?  It doesn't.  What it does affect is the eventual Mass Effect movie.

Bioware has received numerous offers to option the film rights to Mass Effect and while they say they haven't done so yet and are clearly protecting the integrity of their franchise (good for them), given the extremely cinematic nature of the game, the popularity of the title and how easily the story would lend itself to a trilogy of feature films, seeing a big screen Mass Effect movie is just an eventuality.  I say awesome.  I WANT a Mass Effect movie.  Even more, I want to write a Mass Effect movie.  (I won't even touch how much I really really want to direct a Mass Effect movie.)

So now I'm troubled by the fact that Bioware clearly has a gender bias towards Shepard.  In their eyes, Shepard is a man.  This is just wrong.  The dude does not abide.  This isn't just about my Shepard, but what is best about Shepard as a character in the greater context of the story.  A male Shepard is a very obvious and uncomplicated choice for the series.  Uncomplicated as in uninteresting.  A male Shepard creates no real dynamic with the rest of the story, rather he just becomes a empty pail to pour the rest of the story into.  Even as far as the game voices go, no offense to Mr. Meer, but Jennifer Hale crafts a much more dynamically sounding Shepard.

Here's why a female Shepard helps the story, plain and simple.  A large part of Mass Effect is about the coming together of species to fight for a common goal in the universe.  They don't do so willingly and bring with them their various prejudices that make for an unstable environment.  Even the Normandy's navigation officer Pressley is prejudiced towards all aliens at the beginning, but through the course of the story comes to respect them, and Shepard for uniting everyone.  If that weren't enough, at the beginning of the story, humans are the low species on the totem pole.  They aren't part of the intergalactic council, most of the aliens species don't trust humans, and every political corner seems fraught with obstacles of humans needing to prove themselves over and over.

Really, what better metaphor is there for this than the historical plight of women trying to find equality in a man's world.  Granted this is the future and in this future, gender equality is a moot issue.  Race is a moot issue.  We've moved onto larger problems as a species, but the battles are just the same, only moved to a different front.  So when we see Shepard with her bull headed tenacity, pragmatic approach and willingness to get her hands dirty overcome all these obstacles, how can it not feel like a tremendous feat to the audience.  With a male Shepard, there is no question that the intensity of the feat feels lessened.

As far as casting goes, I have a hard time not seeing Sam Worthington as the almost inevitable male Sheppard, but as a much superior female Shepard, I would offer Rhona Mitra who more than proved her action chops in the underrated Doomsday.


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