Why I’m Becoming a Virtual Lesbian – Feminism, Gaming, and Mass Effect.

About a month ago I was lounging in my boyfriend’s house, listening to him discuss his Christmas plans with his housemates.

“I really need to get some dissertation done,” he moaned.

“Me too, don’t know why I haven’t got more work done here.”

At this point I would like to point out that both men were sat playing Crash Team Racing on the Playstation3. To an outsider, a non-gamer, this problem basically answered itself. “What are you going to do at Christmas, when you get even more games as presents?” I asked in regards to his productivity later that night, partly to mock him, partly to give hints that I had bought him new PS3 games – which, like, totally, makes me the best girlfriend EVER, and should like, just super awesome presents in return.

“Oh I’m not taking my playstation back with me.”

“Oh… So it’s staying here?”

“Yeah.”

“On its own?”

“Yep.”

“Just gathering dust?”

“Yes.”

“…seems like a bit of a waste, I mean, when there’s people out there who don’t have playstations, in like third world countries, and here you are just lea-.”

“Do you want it?”

“Oh well, if you insist.”

Here I have a small confession to make – I really want a playstation3. A long time ago I loved playing on my playstation1, I had all the classics: Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, Digimon World (fuck you, it was a classic to me). But then playstation2 came along, and coming from, as the government would call it, a ‘disadvantaged background’ I was left behind in the console revolution. Overtime, I would watch as the game trailers came onto the TV and let out a morose sigh, pretending I was a modern day Austen character who was too poor to afford the basics in life. Oh woe was me…

By the time the playstation3 came out (costing, as the experts formally called it ‘a fuck load’) I found myself resided to the fact that I would never be a gamer. In fact, I almost felt that I had no right to become a gamer.

Let’s face it gaming is a boy’s world.

Anyone who wants to argue against this point need only look to Feminist Frequency and the hate one woman gathered by questioning the misogynistic principles of gaming characters. Men run the gaming world – you have your brogramers, female gaming writers being referred to as ‘cancer’, the fact that most games have a male target audience, and the footage of mile long lines running from gaming shops during a release of a game like Call of Duty being made up of 95% guys. I’ve even heard of male gamers complaining to other male gamers of a woman’s annoying tendency to brag about being a female gamer – like that’s a crime? If I was an amazing gamer, I could keep up with the best of them in Halo or otherwise, damn right I would let them know about my lady bits. I’d be all BEHOLD HOW MY TITS HAVEN’T STOPPED ME FROM PERFORMING A HEADSHOT ON YOUR SORRY ASS – MUWAHAHA!!

I mean really, if you have a pen full of camels and you dumped a penguin in there, wouldn’t that penguin like a little recognition for sticking it out in the smelly camel pen?

My boyfriend leaving me his playstation3 over the Christmas break was my chance to be that penguin. And there was only one game that I wanted to get made hands on: Mass Effect.

Thanks to tumblr, I have found myself having a massive feminist crush over Mass Effect, which has only gotten worse since playing it. Yes, I’ll admit up front that it’s not perfect. In fact, I very much doubt Bioware had any intention of making their FemShep such a breath of air, as one article states:

It’s no secret that BioWare has always considered ‘FemShep’ (the one and only time I’ll be using that ghastly nickname) a mere alternative to Mass Effect’s real hero – the grizzled male Commander Shepard seen in all the adverts and on all the game boxes.

They provided one because one was expected, but aside from recording a couple of romance scenes and a few alterered pronouns in conversations, then tweaking some armour designs to give them a bit more space here and here, she was a very half-hearted addition. The female Shepard very obviously uses male motion capture data for instance, which reached its ultimate nadir with the Kasumi DLC for ME2, when she gets a slinky dress to wear, but promptly loses the ability to sit down without putting on a show.

And yes, there is the issue that the Asari (who I love none the less) seem to be the only strippers available in every night club, or that every race apart from us human and the Asari have sever female shortages – I mean, after three epically long games, how is it that only NOW we get to see a female turian?

But all of that aside, when I really get into the game, there’s no arguing that the women steal the show.

FemShep, as she’s known online, or simply Shepard to me, feels like a breath of fresh air, not just in gaming but to a lot of fictional female characters in the main stream media. Maybe it’s because she grounded in the male version of the character, but in being so, she has been able to bypass all those tired clichés for heroines – the mother figure, the fuckable fighter, the sexy villain. Our Shepard embodies so much more than that – she’s a soldier. A fully trained, get-the-job-done, warrior. Who’s talent isn’t based on indebted other worldly powers, or sole innate gift but training, experience, dedication, and (excuse the non-feminist phrasing) massive lady-balls.

As other commenter’s have said before, her appeal isn’t merely that she ends up as the right woman for the job, but as the right human. Apart from a few sly comments from some mercenary types, you never get the feeling that Shepard is in anyway limited by her gender, or that the other characters looked down on her or second guess her authority because of it.

Part of this presence, undeniably comes from the voice actor Jennifer Hale, who takes lines that would otherwise come out as tired and a bit silly by any other female voice actor and grounds them with a believable characterization – avoiding the awkward pronoun swapping problem of ‘man with breasts’ syndrome. She gives the character a personality, you sometimes don’t even need to look at the screen in order to heard the smirk in Shepard’s quips.

In comparison, the male Shepard becomes a bit of a bore. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. 

In fact, most of the men, aside the aliens, are like talking meat sacks. Anyone who’s played Gears of War, has seen male Shepard before. The brutish, bulky male hero who powers through the mission, occasionally showing off a heart of gold, or just simply being an asshole because, well fuck it, might as well. And the other men aren’t much better.

Currently I’m playing Mass Effect 2, I’m getting pretty deep into the story and so far I’ve seen a few opportunities for some romance. Unfortunately, none of the men really make the standard. Jacob is just another boring solider type, same goes for Kaiden. In fact I find myself hovering around the characters of Jack, Miranda, Samara, and Tali just hoping for a look in. Those women have character, going through Jacob’s loyalty mission, the only thing I cared about was maybe a monkey running into view…

Even the minor female characters have more grit that some of the men. Would you really want to fuck around with Aria? Or how can you not respect the long standing military physician Dr. Karin Chakwas?

"Maybe it’s less about leaving and more about staying. As a military doctor, I mostly treat people who are in bad shape. Often, they die. And even if I can help them, they move on. Either way they leave."

“Maybe it’s less about leaving and more about staying. As a military doctor, I mostly treat people who are in bad shape. Often, they die. And even if I can help them, they move on. Either way they leave.”

Again, I’m not saying the game is perfect, or that video games are moving in the right direction when it comes to feminism – Lollipop Chainsaw? Really? But at the very least, it’s nice to know that some heterosexuals may be picking the lesbian love scenes for reasons other than their porn subscription ran out.

Now does anyone know how to get Tali to take that damn mask off? And no, my boyfriend will not be getting this game back or his console…

3 thoughts on “Why I’m Becoming a Virtual Lesbian – Feminism, Gaming, and Mass Effect.

  1. First off: The only way to see Tali’s face is to romance her as a male Shepard. Even then, all you get is a picture. Which is actually a lazy Photoshop job. Sorry.

    As far as some male gamers getting annoyed at female gamers boasting about being female gamers, 40% of gamers are female (though I think that does include phone games and the like). They’re still in the minority, sure, but not as much as they used to be. There actually are plenty of female gamers now. So some guys are now taking the attitude of, “Good for you, but are you any good?” Because more and more guys have actually played with females who are very good.

    That’s not to say the gaming industry doesn’t have serious problems when it comes to women. There’s too few women making games, too few female protagonists, and too many of the female characters are oversexualized.

    And I agree that Mass Effect did a very good job with most of the female characters. Some are still sexualized, but they try to justify it, and some of the men are just as sexualized – Jacob is pure eyecandy for any ladies and gays.

    As far as the lack of female aliens, the answer is simple: Too much work. It would’ve meant creating new models, and BioWare just didn’t really have the time to do that. (On the plus side, Nyreen was kinda worth waiting for.)

  2. I think I read a study somewhere that said people find it very hard to empathize properly with characters that don’t correspond to the human make-up in certain areas, the big ones being they have to stand upright on two legs and the second being the eyes. It feels difficult to connect to Tali as a romantic interest without ever seeing her face, and she is a great character who deserves that extra level of connection. Without seeing her face, you kinda feel all romantic interest is generated by the slight bump of breasts – and damn it, she’s better than that.

    The female gaming community is growing and that’s great, but when you look at the games out there you do find yourself asking – why are the women gaming? Because games are so intrinsically male, it does feel like a miracle that so many women who game do so.

    • The popularity of Tali as a romance option shows what a great character she was, actually. She gets some really good lines near the end of ME3 if she’s romanced. (I find myself torn between Tali and Liara for who’s the better overall romance option.) Interestingly, you actually can see her eyes, a little bit, through her faceplate. That might’ve helped people connect to her. Though I think it was mostly her personality. But yeah, the reveal of her face through a picture, and the fact that it was just a half-assed Photoshop of a model, were insulting to both the character and the fans. (For my part, I think they could’ve at the very least based her look on Liz Sroka, Tali’s voice actress. Look up a picture of her. Doesn’t she look as cute as Tali sounds? She just looks like a total sweetheart, which is how Tali should look. Tali shouldn’t be hot, she should be cute. She should be so adorable that you just want to hug her.)

      As far as female gamers, I think the more important issue is female creators. It’s men who make the games. They dominate the industry. I think far, far greater effort should be made to encourage women to get involved in creating games. Developers should be looking to hire more women, and give them a greater role in the process. It’s something I think needs to be done in most geeky things. I’m a comic book geek, and I’d love to see more women writing and drawing comics, since they’ll do a better job at not sexualizing female characters. The funny thing is, it’s not just female fans who would appreciate this sort of thing – guys do, too. Just look at the success of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic for an example of how well-written female characters are at least as popular with guys and girls.

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