Mass Effect Fail: the stuff BioWare didn’t get right (Part 2)

So in my last post I looked at the visual gender fail that is all too common in Mass Effect. A lot of the commenters mentioned Tali, so I’ll just mention that Tali goes in my books as win and not fail, so you won’t see her here. But I’ll save my reasons why for my next post about non-Shep win, since she deserves more space than just a sentence or two.

Some people also mentioned that I was probably reading too much into some stuff, and sure. I’ll agree that’s probably the case. The problem I have is that having gotten an education in Fine Art, I can’t stop seeing this stuff. The bar for what pisses me off is just lower than everyone else’s, and that’s cool. I recognize that not everyone spent five years of their life having the rules of composition drilled into their brain.

Lastly, obligatory spoiler warning. This post deals with the writing of ME2, so there will be a lot more spoilers. And again, commenters if you could please refrain from DA2 spoilers in the comments that would be awesome. (I will play it, honest, as soon as I can not feel like having to choose between food and BioWare.)

(Tough choice, that.)

World-building fail: alien races

The gendering of alien races is the most obvious bit of writing fail. Only two races in Mass Effect have male and female models – the humans and Quarians. The rest of the alien races have only one model. Now that’s not terrible in and of itself – not every species on earth has sexual dimorphism; it stands to reason that not all alien races would be sexually dimorphic as well. The problem all non-Quarian and non-Asari aliens are voiced by men, which genders these alien races as male.

According to the codex, some species – the Salarians, Krogans, and Turians – have males and females – we just don’t ever see the females. For the Salarians, a complex “social code” revolving around reproduction means that very few females are produced and are all kept on the home world for breeding purposes. And for the Krogans, it’s even worse; because of the genophage, female Krogan are kept on the homeworld and any that have proven fertility are fought over as prizes of war. So two of the most prominent races essentially have their women being sexual/reproductive slaves. That’s just… great. Really progressive of you, BioWare.

As for the Turians, the codex mentions that female Turians don’t have the same crest of horns that males do, but otherwise do not differ visually from the males. The codex also mentions that all Turians go into public service at a young age. What it fails to mention is just why it is that we never see any female Turians at all? Similarly, we know from Thane’s discussions of his wife that female Drell exist, but the codex does not mention them, nor do we see any female Drell. Now in the case of the Drell, the fact that they rarely if ever leave the homeworld is a bit more acceptible. We only see 2 Drell in all of ME2. But both games are fairly drowning in Turians, and not a single one of them female. What gives? Is “public service” for female Turians glorified housekeeping back on the Turian homeworld? With the number of Turians you run into in the game, you’d think at least a handful would be female.

As for the others – Volus, Hanar, Elcor, and Batarians, only the Hanar’s codex entry specifically mentions gender, and only then to say that it is unknown whether the Hanar have gender. And of the four races, only the Batarians appear as if they might have sexual dimorphism. The Volus wear pressure suits, the Elcor are giant armored quadrupeds, and the Hanar are sentient jellyfish. So it seems puzzling to me that all of these races would be implicitly gendered as male. I realize that the difficulty in gendering aliens lies with making two different models, but that difficulty need not exist for the Volus, Hanar, or Elcor. Why not split their voice acting evenly between male and female? Or at least throw a note in the codex that ‘hey, some Elcor are female, despite the super-deep voices’?

It’s bothersome because they only race that is ever explicitly sexualized (as a race, mind, not as individuals) are the Asari, who are also the only alien race explicitly gendered as female:

One of these things is not like the others… (I ran out of room for the Krogan)

You never see Salarian strippers, or Drell strippers, or (god forbid) Krogan strippers. You never even see human strippers, which is at least something we have a cultural tradition of. No, all strippers in Mass Effect are Asari – which is baffling considering that their background essentially makes them blue space-elves. If they live a thousand years and all have biotic powers, why do so damn many of them work as strippers? Answer me that, BioWare.

Even worse is the fact that Asari can breed with any other race and have some kind of super-sex appeal that makes them attractive to all races, even ones that don’t really have sex, like Salarians. The whole bit about them having one gender is pretty interesting, but why does that gender have to be female? Oh wait, I know. It’s so that you can have hot lesbian alien sex. Right. How could I forget? After all, if the Asari can breed with anyone, then why wouldn’t they jump at the chance to breed with women? Because that’s just hawt.

Ugh.

And then there’s the Asari Commandos, supposedly the most fearsome warriors the galaxy have to offer. Only when you run into them in ME1, they’re only mildly challenging to kill and you NEVER SEE THEM AGAIN. Seriously, even the frigging vorcha are harder to kill than the stupid Asari Commandos – the Commandos at least don’t regenerate so fast that you have to take them down with one shot.

So all in all, when it comes to world-building, D-.

Writing fail: party members

There’s also a fair amount of sexism to be had when it comes to the writing of crew missions and conversations. As I complained in my last post, it’s bad enough that I have to look at Miranda’s ass cleavage all the time, but what made it worse was how every conversation came back to how perfect she was and how she was genetically engineered for hawtness. She’s supposed to be this super-smart, super competent commander, and she can’t stop obsessing over how she looks like Barbie because she had such a terrible father. Give me a break.

[Sidenote: I'll admit that part of my dislike for the writing of Miranda's character is based on some comments made by the BioWare devs in regards to Miranda's design, justifying the sexy costume and camera angles by calling her a femme fatale. Since Miranda fits none of the traditional criteria for being a femme fatale except for being hawt, this made me very cynical when hearing any of her dialogue.]

I also have to say that Miranda’s loyalty mission bugged me in terms of premise. They spend so much of the game building up Miranda as a hardass commander – I mean, the first time you meet her she shoots a dude in the face without any sort of preamble. So why is it that her loyalty mission had to be a touchy-feely “show Miranda’s emotional side” sort of mission?

Why couldn’t she have had a loyalty mission like Grunt’s? Or Garrus? Or, hell, what if Miranda had gone on a Zaeed-style killing spree? Miranda’s mission was well-written, I will admit. The betrayal and the choice to whether to allow her to shoot Niket are interesting, and the dialogue where Miranda wrestles with her doubts about Niket is well-written. Still, it was disappointing that Miranda’s mission was stereotyped, even if it was entertaining and better written than some of the other missions.

Jacob’s loyalty mission, however, was a whole different kettle of fish. Unlike Miranda’s mission, it was not terribly well-written. (Jacob’s dialogue was often clunky or awkward, though the voice actor was clearly doing the best he could with what he was given.) In his mission, you discover that Jacob’s father basically creates a harem for himself and kills off those few unaffected officers who could, ahem, enjoy their company. He lets this persist for ten years until the men he exiled become a serious threat and only then signals for help.

The women are, in the words of the log, passed around the officers “like pets”. And there’s even a snippet of  voice recording by one of the unaffected officers about how you can do terrible things to them and then distract them with something shiny and they’ll forget all about how unhappy they were. And, god. This mission was just… painful. I knew what was coming as soon as I stepped into the settlement and saw that it was nothing but women:

No one ever comes out and says the word rape, but it’s there. Even more horrific is that the women who are being taken advantage of are mentally compromised and not really able to give consent in the first place. All of this is supposed to establish what a terrible, awful person Ronald Taylor is and make the moment of truth a tough decision between whether Jacob should tell his father to kill himself or turn him over to authorities. But the whole time I was playing I couldn’t stop asking myself – really? Is this necessary?

We live in a culture where so much of our entertainment is saturated with rape, it’s almost become a shorthand for evil. How do we establish a man as a villain? Have him rape someone! Playing through this mission felt like reading through one of the Sword of Truth novels. It seemed like the writers were saying to themselves, “vanilla rape is too vanilla – what we need is extreme rape”. And the thing is, the bones of the mission are interesting. A situation where officers have to select who will decay mentally and who will not and the temptation to kill to prevent yourself from being one of the people who loses their mind – that’s interesting. All the rape stuff just felt like gratuitous baggage.

This is just my opinion

Okay, so I know there are those of you who disagree with me on this, which is why I’m tacking this on briefly at the end. I think that Jack is a prime example of sexist, over-sexualized character design. I know not everyone agrees (hell, my husband disagrees with me on this point). But the whole time I was playing, I couldn’t escape the feeling that Jack was not designed for me. That she was designed to appeal to a male audience. A male teenage goth audience, specifically. It’s hard to know really what the writers were thinking when they came up with Jack, but I don’t get the feeling that they really cared how women would react to her. (Again, my opinion)

As for her loyalty mission? I’m really not sure how I feel about it. It’s one of the very few times that we see anything approaching vulnerability from Jack, and the only time that I came close to feeling anything resembling sympathy for her. I did at least feel for little-girl Jack even if I hated psychopathic, unrepentant mass-murdering Jack. But I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Sure it provides insight into who she is, but why do we have such an obsession with making strong women “vulnerable”?

Look at the new redesign of Lara Croft where she gets cut up and bruised to show her “vulnerability”. Or look at The Third Birthday where Aya’s clothes get torn off as she takes damage to show that she’s “vulnerable”. So I go back and forth between thinking that Jack’s loyalty mission is a necessary attempt at establishing that Jack is at least a human being and thinking that it’s just another instance of undermining a strong female character (albeit without tearing her clothes off or abusing her physically).

About wundergeek
In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, I am an artist, photographer, and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.

92 Responses to Mass Effect Fail: the stuff BioWare didn’t get right (Part 2)

  1. Orcus says:

    If you haven’t, I recommend getting the “Lair of the Shadow Broker” DLC missions. For a number of reasons.

    Liara comes back, and there’s an interesting conversation at one point, where Liara is pressing forward, determined to get to the Shadow Broker’s base and confront him, and Sheppard has the option of telling her to relax, that it’s okay to sit back and take stock for a minute. Liara instead shoots back an accusation of patronisation, that of course she feels, but there is shit left to be done. Only when everything is done does Liara take a moment to decompress, and even then it’s barely a moment. It’s awesome.

    When you’re done you also get rewarded with little tidbits about all the major characters. Nothing earth shattering, but lots of nice little subtleties. You might find something redeeming.

    • wundergeek says:

      I did pick up Lair of the Shadow Broker, actually, and I loved it. For once it’s “save the dude” instead of “save the damsel”, and it’s someone that Liara DOESN’T have a romantic relationship. It was refreshing.

  2. Mirasiel says:

    *sigh* perhaps YOU found the Asari commando unit easy but for me and my partner they were death incarnate and they perfectly fulfilled their reputation as lethal warriors where as the we cant see how the Krogan where ever a threat to anyone unless you simply ran out of ammo killing them all.

    I’m going to nitpick and say the I never found an Asari stripper, though I found plenty of dancers…and criminals/mercs, precious few who were anything else.

    I was never sure of what gender the Elcor or Hanar were..unless another NPC specifically told me. I always assumed that some of the Elcor I spoke to where female and y’know the whole ‘lack of vocal expression’ + alien made it impossible to tell, Hanar are always ‘its’ I think and non-gendered (no?) , the Volus however did always strike me as males for some reason and I dont think it was the voices.

    As for the Salarian/Krogan females, uh dont the female Salarians run their entire society? It has been a long time since I read the codex right enough but that was the impresison I had, females had much of the power in their society.

    As for the Krogans, I dont see the problem with them…given the effects of the genophage and the all out hostility of their homeworld (primary cause of death = eaten by predators) it would be inevitable that a fertile female would be prized beyond her weight in Eezo for a species that finds itself on the brink of extinction.

    re: loyalty missions (I’ll be short Im typing too much here)

    Miranda: Its the whole reason she works for/with Cerberus, to stop her sister being ‘cursed with awesome’ and being treated like a commodity by her father. Oh noes they gave her depth beyond being a space facist.

    Jacob:Captain Dulls mission was actually interesting for me, I keep hearing (not here) that people dont take rape seriously and that rape culture is terrible because it minimises/trivialises rape and here we have a situation that forces people who probably quite often DONT think about it to look at it and slowly understand how fucking disgusting it is. I’m always torn betwen giving him 1 round as mercy for Jacob or sending his ass to jail.

    Jack: did you ever think she was strong? really? if the mission made you feel for someone you otherwise hated I’d say ‘mission fucking accomplished’ .

    • LilithXIV says:

      “As for the Salarian/Krogan females, uh dont the female Salarians run their entire society?”

      Yes, they just happen to run the entire society but aren’t out on the front lines or seen at all during the game. They’re kept in the background, aka on the planet, while the males of the species get to run around? If anything, it’s insincere, the mention of females having power (off-screen, no effect, useless) but oddly being entirely invisible isn’t really good enough.

      Also, as WG pointed out: “So two of the most prominent races essentially have their women being sexual/reproductive slaves.” Being prized as a living incubator is not being prized as a person, it’s being treated as an object, for sex and reproduction, and note that it’s still reproductive slavery (whether through coercion or actual force.. and making it footnote like it’s just commonsensical and not horribly sexist and insulting also shows how clueless the writers are). I /do/ have a problem with that, that will never be justified. Just because it’s ‘inevitable’ (yeah, as if there’s no other way to have offspring. It’s the future, I’m pretty sure one should be able to find a way other than turning all the females into broodmares. But the writers were too lazy for that.) doesn’t mean it’s not problematic. The genophage only exists because the writers wanted it to exist, and it’s kinda ‘weird’ how Sci-Fi tends to often have situations that wipe women out and make a convenient excuse to exclude them.

      I apologize if I’m sounding rude but it disturbs me greatly that some people don’t see any issues with this kind of stuff.

      For the idea that ‘showing emotional side’ somehow gives women depth. It doesn’t when it’s a cliche, it’s a stereotype to think the best way to ‘show depth’ in a woman is to make her emotionally vulnerable. The whole ‘she’s only tough because she’s secretly hiding a softer side which all women have’ gets annoying. It comes off as trying to knock them down a notch or reinforce that narrative that ‘women are more emotional’.

      And the thing is, that whole ‘teaching people about rape culture’ thing doesn’t really work, does it? I mean, WG said they don’t even mention it’s rape even though it clearly is. Also, establishing rape as a horrible crime only the most worst of villains do.. is not very helpful to how rape culture actually works. The whole straw rapist thing doesn’t put light on how actual rapists act/think or how we as a society enable/reinforce/excuse rape and other sexual violence. And really, one of the way of reinforcing rape culture is normalizing the idea that women are sexual objects there to please men.. which this game does a lot to reinforce. Especially when it can easily be implied the women in the breeding farm planets are being raped so that they’ll reproduce (the idea that all of them are cool with doing it, even with the circumstances, is pretty dishonest). And that’s given a footnote, because women are just assumed to be there to satisfy the needs of men.

      I just don’t think Bioware deserves too much credit on this one.

      • Ikkin says:

        For the idea that ‘showing emotional side’ somehow gives women depth. It doesn’t when it’s a cliche, it’s a stereotype to think the best way to ‘show depth’ in a woman is to make her emotionally vulnerable. The whole ‘she’s only tough because she’s secretly hiding a softer side which all women have’ gets annoying. It comes off as trying to knock them down a notch or reinforce that narrative that ‘women are more emotional’.

        I think the “emotional vulnerability is depth” thing does have some legitimate and not-sexist roots: namely, that a character who is never emotionally affected by the stresses inherent to being an action protagonist is by definition both flat and static.

        The problem, as I see it, is twofold. First, “flat static hero” female characters are not considered to be nearly as acceptable as “flat static hero” male characters are (how much this has to do with outright sexism and how much it has to do with the portion of the audience who likes female heroes being less satisfied by the “flat hero” archetype in general is up to debate). And, second, most writers aren’t all that great at organically integrating characters’ vulnerability into their overall personality, so it feels like the character is caught up in her emotions because the writers thought she needed to be (because she’s a woman), rather than because that’s how anyone in her position would react.

        If a character’s vulnerability feels natural and it’s part of an overall method of defining character (instead of something that’s applied inconsistently to certain characters), there would be much less reason for complaint.

    • wundergeek says:

      Having all male voice actors is a pretty good way to effectively gender a species, even if it’s just implicit. But even if you don’t agree with that, it doesn’t change the fact that the Asari are the only race explictly gendered as female and are also the only race that gets heavily sexualized.

      Re: Miranda – dude. Her mission was good, and it added depth to the character. I can like the mission and still wish it wasn’t “strong woman gets in touch with her feeeeeelings”.

      Re: Jacob – The thing that bothers me is that it feels like lazy writing. Rape is a thing that happens and people should understand how horrific it is, sure. But I’m SO TIRED of rape being used as shorthand for eeeeeeeeeeevil.

      Re: Jack – I never said she wasn’t strong. Someone can be strong and still entirely unlikeable.

      • Mirasiel says:

        re:Krogan females being slaves…uh did you miss the parts on Tuchanka where its made quite clear that Females have their own seperate tribe in a completely seperate location from the Males and they get ot pick and choose their partners based on ‘merit’ ? As for the Krogan taking a scientific solution to the fertility problem..they have tried and the only person who seemed to correct it was Saren (probably soveriegn) .

        I’m going to say the same thing for the Salarians too, although give their asexual nature I’d expect their society/gender roles to be odd.

        I dont even know how to touch the idea that a person showing emotion is weakness…I think we call people who dont sociopaths. Frankly I read the mission in a totally different way from you and so did my partner sitting arguing with me just now, was Mordin weakened because he is shown in total anguish over his actions? or Garrus?

        Same with jacobs mission you saw ‘oh rape is evil again ffs’ I saw ‘Look even apparently nice fucking guys can go corrupt with power” .

        • LilithXIV says:

          You mean they /have/ to pick a partner. The illusion of choice is not a choice, Mirasiel. I shouldn’t be grateful they get to pick O.o They’re still treated like broodmares, valued as objects to reproduce. And I’m not talking about the ‘Krogan’ finding another way, I’m talking about the writers finding another way and not being lazy and flippant about putting women in breeding farms. Again, same applies to the Salarians.

          Showing emotion is not weakness, showing a tough woman in an emotionally vulnerable state as a way of character development? It’s a cliche, a really tired and hack-worthy one.

          • Jumplion says:

            @your previous comment (darn reply limits)

            This excuse would work if it wasn’t just a way to exclude women from the game, which it is.

            No it’s not. The Krogan genophage is an integral part of the Mass Effect story, or at least one big chuck of it. The Salarians and Turians are better examples of what you said, but the Krogans, I feeel, get a pass due to their situation.

            On top of that, situating it as a footnote (and acting as if the women doing that is a given, it’s not by the way) and not really giving it any focus makes it less believable than ever

            Is it that unbelievable to assume that females of a quickly dieing species of an honor-based culture like the Krogan, based on power and strength, would want to reproduce in the name of their species. Willingly nor not, unfortunately, given their circumstances. I would not be surprised if humans were getting wiped out, we would at least be bonking like bunnies everywhere to re-stabalize the population.

            The whole believability thing becomes invalid when you use to shove women out of the scope of your game in so many ways in so many different species.

            Again, if you were talking about the Salarians or the Turians, I would better agree with you. But I feel that the situation with the Krogans excuses them (somewhat, at least) of the lack of females and their status. Doesn’t mean I like or enjoy that fact, though I do find it an interesting segment of Mass Effect.

            • Zaewen says:

              If, perhaps, the Krogan were the anomaly in a game full of well represented women, they might get a ‘pass’ as a dystopian tale of when things go terribly wrong. However, in Mass Effect, the world building has a constant theme (if not by design, then by implementation) of shoving women to the background and you have to take the Krogan lore in context of that. Just because Bioware came up with a somewhat ‘decent’ excuse for never showing Krogan women, doesn’t mean that it’s not just as sexist (on many levels) as their reasonings for never showing us the women of any of the other races. Take separately it might not be *that* bad, but taken as part of the whole it’s rather obvious is just another cog in the machine that dissapears women in the Mass Effect universe.

              Also, while it might be believable that in the hypothetical Krogan culture that a good many Krogan women would gladly volunteer to stay on the planet and reproduce, that doesn’t mean this particular story is handled well by Bioware. What of the sterile women? Or the women that haven’t reached or have passed child bearing age? What of the few women that would much rather be out in space killing things than having babies? We never see them, their stories are not told to us. Heck, the story of the women that remain behind to heroically try to save their entire species from extinction is only told through footnotes and second-hand accounts. Why don’t we get to see their stories personally?

              • Jumplion says:

                in Mass Effect, the world building has a constant theme (if not by design, then by implementation) of shoving women to the background and you have to take the Krogan lore in context of that.

                Because you have to take it in context to understand the situation. In comparison, the Salarians and Turians have no excuse to not see female versions of them even in context of their societal standards.

                but taken as part of the whole it’s rather obvious is just another cog in the machine that dissapears women in the Mass Effect universe.

                Just because it’s a cog in a large machine doesn’t mean it’s operating under the same conditions, if that makes sense.

                that doesn’t mean this particular story is handled well by Bioware.

                Oh of course not, if I wanted to I’d put on my “pretentious art critic” glasses on and start rabbling away at how most video game stories suck, including BioWare’s. I’m very cynical when it comes to writing for video games…

                Overall, I personally give the Krogans a pass over all this. But again, I think the Salarians and Turians have no excuse to not show more female characters as it makes no sense in any context.

              • Hirvox says:

                What of the sterile women?

                That’s actually discussed in Mordin’s loyalty mission. Being a sterile woman in a society that determines your worth by your fertility leads to desperate measures.

              • Zaewen says:

                @Hirvox: I haven’t gotten the chance to play thru ME2 yet so I don’t know firsthand how it goes, but isn’t that the bit where they discover the female Krogan’s corpse in the expermintal lab? It’s nice that it shows that the high value placed of fertility leads the women to extreme measures to become ‘valued’ but we’re not shown that through their stories. We see it through a man’s story, specifically as it relates to his guilt about his involvement in the genophage.

        • wundergeek says:

          Srsly. SOME Krogan women were willing to be experimented on so that they could breed. Does that mean 100% of Krogan women want to be baby-making factories? Seriously? EVERY FEMALE of an ENTIRE SPECIES? Come on now.

          And again. NOT SAYING MIRANDA’S LOYALTY MISSION IS BAD. I’m saying it’s stereotyped, which isn’t the same thing. It’s well written AND cliched. I enjoyed the writing, I would just have liked to see something break out of the gender-stereotype – even if the stereotype is well done.

          I am SO NOT SAYING being emotional = weakness. Please stop reading things I’m not actually writing.

          • Mirasiel says:

            I guess I just didnt see Mirandas mission being anymore stereotyped than the others, given that everyones loyalty mission was basically an emotional heal to let them do the suicide mission.

            Even Legions and Grunts, the two least…emotive members of the team (Dont have Zaeed DLC) had that aspect to it.

          • Jumplion says:

            Does that mean 100% of Krogan women want to be baby-making factories? Seriously? EVERY FEMALE of an ENTIRE SPECIES? Come on now.

            Considering that their entire species is on the verge of extinction from a genetic plague, I’d imagine some females would be willing to reproduce in the name of their species, especially for such a volatile culture like the Krogans where they are at constant war with each other. Not every alien civilization is as “sophisticated” as the humans, at least in the ME universe.

            I dunno, there’s a lot of things going on in the ME universe, it’s not like BioWare intentionally tries to undermine the position of women.

            • Justin says:

              I like your point about not every society in ME being as sophisticated as us. Inthe grand scheme of things, women haven’t had equal rights in most societies on Earth for very long at all, and they still don’t have equal rights everywhere. Even where you technically have equality, you still have to deal with bullshit like glass ceilings, discrimination and harassment.

              I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that some of the species in the Mass Effect universe might be as we were only decades ago, in serious need of a sexual revolution. I think that makes the universe more believable than one in which every society in the universe treats everyone perfectly equally.

              • LilithXIV says:

                @Justin and Jumplion: This excuse would work if it wasn’t just a way to exclude women from the game, which it is. And in the end even if they didn’t intend to do it, this is still the result, so intent doesn’t really matter there.

                On top of that, situating it as a footnote (and acting as if the women doing that is a given, it’s not by the way) and not really giving it any focus makes it less believable than ever. The whole believability thing becomes invalid when you use to shove women out of the scope of your game in so many ways in so many different species. And yeah, we aren’t really much better on modern day earth. All in all, Bioware handled this really sloppily.

  3. Doug says:

    Know what would have been a wonderful solution? Put in a note that the translation systems used by non-gendered aliens adapt to the user, and have those aliens voiced by males for male Sheps and females for female Sheps (or even vice versa, don’t care). Too expensive to be practical though.

  4. anison says:

    I feel like all of the loyalty missions (except Grunt’s, I suppose?) are designed to make the character in question vulnerable, and then have Shepard bring some kind of closure to that vulnerability. Is Tali ever more vulnerable than when she’s slowly learning that her father is functionally a war criminal? I don’t know, I agree in principle about the obsession with making strong women vulnerable, but I don’t think Jack’s unique in that regard.

    I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned Jack’s romance sequence at all, where Shepard essentially fixes all her problems with sex, tears of gratitude running down her face the whole time. Someone wrote a really good, in-depth analysis of everything wrong with Jack’s romance, and now of course I cannot find it.

    • wundergeek says:

      Sadly, I can’t comment on the romance with Jack since I haven’t played through it seeing as how I refuse to play MaleShep. Still, that sounds pretty fucked up.

      • Mirasiel says:

        Um, if its the scene im thinking of, I dont think those are really tears of gratitude but rather a sign that its costing her a lot to actually open up to another human being with the possibility of being hurt.

        Its pretty clear that her problems are not fixable…I think its even explicit in the dialogue but I cant be sure without going and playing through ME2 again…BRB in about 30 hours :P

  5. Hirvox says:

    The discussions with Garrus in ME2 and Ambassador Orinia in Mass Effect: Retribution imply that the Turian society is a strict meritocracy.. which makes the lack of female Turians in-game even more baffling. The ratio should be 50-50, but Orinia is pretty much the only female Turian mentioned.

    • Mirasiel says:

      Plus Turian ships are mixed crews, presumably the rest of their military is too.

      Where the hell are they all, Im tempted to go back and look at all the Turians you meet and see if any are lacking the male ridges (because to be honest it wasnt something I was ever looking for) .

  6. seamus scanlon says:

    I think that Bioware could do a lot more with the Asari culture beyond sexy blue elves and the worst part is every now and then you see someting. In ME1 Liara says that she is looked down upon casue she is a pure asari in a culture that emphasies mix race children as it benfits the race more in terms of genetic diversity. I would love to know the anatomy of how Liara was conceived but I don’t think players would be so keen on it if it turns out that Asari have so kind of male reproductive organ.

    The Salarian women fit the trope of females running everyting behind the scenes kinda like the Bene Geresit in Dune although in Dune you saw them and know that they were like badass Asari commandos who I found difficult although not as hard as Krogans.

    I did think the Miranda mission was fitting the depth = emotional weakness although Ansion comment about how most characters missions are like has be rethinking it

    • Sannom says:

      I have never played a ME game, but from what I could understand of the lore, Asari have a rather peculiar way of reproducing. Like humans, the genetic make-up of the child is made of two parts, but contrary to humans, those two parts come from the mother. When ‘melding’ with another person, they somehow ‘bond’ with the person’s neural system through the skin, and that information is used to randomize one half of the genetic make-up of the child. Hence, Asari can mate with other species, they always give birth to other Asari and they’re mono-gendered (hence female, because an all-male race is a biologic failure).

      And if I have said something that everyone here already knows, I’m sorry for my arrogance.

      • wundergeek says:

        None of that makes it necessary for them to be female. It would be equally valid for them to reproduce asexually, or for them to be both male AND female. Though the second possibility would probably be seen as “too gross” for the typical male het gamer.

        • Mirasiel says:

          I always sucked at biology so forgive me if im being stupid here:

          I was under the impression that of the verterbrae species that could reproduce asexually, only the female could do so.

          Isnt reproduction of the defining things of ‘female’ ?

          Feel free to throw bricks at the stupid person but at least tie an informative note around it.
          ———

          As for the 2nd option, there is already a core of fans who think that that is the actual truth about the Asari.

          • Zaewen says:

            You’re mostly right about the biology. What the Asari are doing is basically parthogenisis. It’s like asexual reproduction, but instead of creating a clone, it creates a unique offspring. In our biology, only females can do parthogensis (it needs to be the egg that undergoes the process because it has energy stored in it for the maturing process whereas sperm are just dna-vessels). Most species on earth that undergo parthogensis are all-female species or are species with both sexes that have this route of reproduction as an oh shit failsafe for rainy days.

            So yes, according to our biology, the Asari appear to be ab all female species. That however does not mean they necessarily need to be an all *woman* species or need to be specifically gendered to be sexy blue space elven women. That’s just some lazy sci-fi if you ask me. Bioware could’ve come up with some much more interesting things, but then they’d lose out on all the sexy tropes.

            Of course, tho, there is absolutely nothing that says their biology is anything remotely similar to ours. For all we know, they could have a completely different gamete set up, or heck, they might not even use chromosomes/dna the same way we do. But its fairly safe to assume that it is almost exactly like ours based on the relatively shallow sci-fi Bioware thought up.

            • Hazmat Sam says:

              Dear dear, you’re reading my thoughts right now. Get out of my head!

              Anyway, even with actually alien biology, (which can’t work because the magical robots intelligently designed- I mean, guided the evolution of every species,) this wouldn’t work because the Asari use their magical blue elf powers to appear beautiful to whoever perceives them, so they’d still look the same. (Never mind that at least half of humanity isn’t even into women on average, or that aesthetics are not a racial trait, or even that social beauty standards change constantly. This is a very dumb game, and that’s before we even take a technological or political economic look into it.)

              But let’s get back to biology. It is, in fact, possible to have a male that gives birth, for all practical purposes! To quote TVTropes:

              “In case you missed that class in Biology, the trope name [Mister Seahorse] comes from the fact that male seahorses have an egg pouch. In it, they receive and fertilize the eggs of their mates. While this is by no means an actual pregnancy, it sure looks like the male seahorse is pregnant to human eyes, especially when the tiny baby seahorses leave the pouch. ”

              Let’s take this as a base from which to build on. Now, we immediately run into a problem: the human female genitals are obviously not compatible with that sort of thing. At all.

              However, since we’re presumably operating by Bioware rules and thus making up whatever the fuck we want contrary to science and plausibility, (best SF game ever, guys) we could postulate a male Asari analog that has organ(s) for the purpose of extracting eggs from the female partner that somehow works with every species, and handwave the genetics like the developers did. It is my hypothesis that:

              1. This would be creepy as fuck to the average consumer, even if we said that the process is safe for the female. Somehow. Magic up in this bitch.
              2. Everyone else behaving the exact same way toward these andro!asari would freak people out even more.
              3. This is because it would violate the shallow anthropocentric paradigm that the average person operates under, and would not, if looked at functionally, be any different than canon!asari. (what this says about canon asari left to your conclusions)
              5. Women in particular would probably be squicked out the most, because the cervix is not supposed to work that way.
              6. Since it would be something actually alien to the human experience, I conclude that this would’ve made Mass Effect a better SF game.
              7. Nothing like this will ever happen because Bioware has too many idiot customers that still can’t even accept gay people.
              8. …Although, they could totally excuse their terrible sex scenes by saying they weren’t supposed to be sexy in the first place…

              In conclusion, the thought of terrifying the average person by pushing their boundaries of reality fills me with a certain vicarious mixture of nurturing, schadenfreude, and pride that is, ironically, a very close approximation of the experience of motherhood. This idea is awesome.

        • Sannom says:

          I don’t think the lore about the Asari is the problem, Bioware could have made them reproduce asexually or be hermaphrodites (which they are already if they keep romance in their species), the Asari could still have been a race exclusively made of extremely attractive blue human women. And yes, that is ridiculous. Bioware could have made some of them look like men, with the breasts of the ‘female’ ones being ornaments that appear randomly (or they could get rid of them), the ‘proteinic fluid contenant’ (sorry about that quote from a completely unrelated series) being something completely unrelated or not necessary given their alien biology.

  7. Hazmat Sam says:

    Wait, you don’t like “vulnerability” but you do like Tali? You do realize that “being vulnerable” is her entire point, yes? Every thing about her is leveraged into maximum moe. I could deal with you being okay with that glurge outright, (You don’t seem like an anime fan, so I’d imagine that it’d be a welcome break from boobs 24/7) but there’s a very curious blindspot you have.

    I am also one of those people that didn’t see anything wrong with half the shots (“Wait, a picture of someone shooting space magic out her outstretched hands, and you’re saying it’s supposed to make us look at her tits?”) but I’m totally willing to believe the expert here, especially considering that I don’t find breasts sexy anyway.

    Otherwise, yes, totally agree. The world of Mass Effect is pretty old-school, and not in a good way.

    • wundergeek says:

      Ohmigod, I’m not saying I don’t like vulnerability peeps. I’m saying “strong woman = emotionally vulnerable” is a cliche. A cliche can still be well done, entertaining, and engaging and STILL BE CLICHE.

      • Hazmat Sam says:

        Ah, okay I think I get it now: strong women being vulnerable is your pet peeve. Your post seemed somewhat less specific than that.

        The “it’s cliche!” objection still doesn’t work for me, though, because everything in Mass Effect is cliche. Or do you mean that this particular cliche is a bit too egregious?

      • Ikkin says:

        I’d be kind of interested to know what “strong woman” and “emotionally vulnerable” mean in the context you’re using them, because I think the most general form of that statement is inconsistent with some of the other characters you’ve held up as good examples (and your explanations as to why they were good), Lightning in particular.

        Would I be correct to assume that the problem you have is with characters who are offered as paragons of independence and competency, who are later revealed to be hiding a great deal of emotional need that cannot be resolved through their own efforts? The seeming inconsistency would go away if strong-but-hurting characters who are nevertheless able to cope with and overcome their own emotional pain were taken out of the equation, and I don’t think you’d lose much in the way of criticizing sexist cliches.

        • wundergeek says:

          I guess that’s a good way to put it? It’s just that we (as a culture) seem to have this obsession with taking female badasses and then making them “emotionally vulnerable”. And when you look at the female character’s loyalty missions, all of them have a very strong emotional component that doesn’t revolve around revenge.

          But with your male crew members, Jacob’s mission is the only one that is emotionally fraught – and that’s full of fail for other reasons. (Mordin’s turns emotional at the end, but they make a point of emphasizing how fast Salarians “process their emotions”, so I’m not sure that counts.) Garrus and Zaaed’s are just straight-up revenge, and Grunt’s is “I WANT TO KILL STUFF IN THE FACE”.

          Miranda’s loyalty mission is well done. I was just disappointed that given how stereotyped the design of the character is that BioWare didn’t buck that stereotype and give her a more atypical loyalty mission. Like I said earlier, it would have been super-awesome to see Miranda go on a revenge-inspired killing spree – just because when do you ever get to see female characters do that stuff? (Okay, I guess Jack soooooort of comes close. But they made a pretty big deal of emphasizing that Jack wasn’t going to go murder a bunch of Cerberus people for that mission.)

          • Ikkin says:

            Well, I guess the thing is, I’m still not really sure what you consider to be the cliche. It doesn’t seem like you’re limiting your criticism to characters who are forced to rely on the protagonist to find peace, though.

            I’d argue that giving a character who mainly interacts with things through violence someone to care about, or a past tragedy that defines them, or some other kind of hidden emotional connection is the only way to humanize them. You admitted yourself that you really didn’t like Lightning much before the game started to show why she acts the way she does, and you were more sympathetic towards Jack after her loyalty mission even if you weren’t comfortable with her being forced into a vulnerable position.

            I just think it would be more helpful to flip the terms of debate — the double-standard and the cliche hinge on the fact that the male characters are not expected to need any kind of traumatic justification for their antisocial behavior. Shooting things with no remorse is just supposed to be heroic and awesome for guys, and that’s a much larger problem than female characters needing some kind of justification for their behavior.

            It’s easy to see humanizing the female characters as a cliche when the men aren’t subjected to it — but, I rather suspect that when the men get it too, it feels natural for the women and you’re less likely to see it as cliche (for example, Lightning).

          • cole92 says:

            What about Thane’s loyalty mission? Personally I think he had the most emotional mission next to Samara’s. I would even say that Thane was one of the most emotional characters in ME2 (taking into account his personal history and whether or not you chose him as a romance option).

            While I share your disgust at kick-ass female characters being made vulnerable, I don’t think Miranda and Jack, in the context of the game in its entirety, fit this trope. Just my opinion though…

          • UnSubject says:

            I’ve thought that Miranda’s loyalty mission would have been a lot more interesting if it had been to address the source of her emotional turmoil: her father.

            She’s got major daddy issues in a number of ways, but rather than deal with that problem, she ends up heading sideways and looking after a sister who doesn’t even know she exists.

  8. Meh says:

    Bioware has repeatedly admitted that females of various races (in particular turians) haven’t been seen because they didn’t have time/want to add the models and additional things they would have to make. What that means is another story.

    Salarian females aren’t really the breeding machines you make them out to be. They don’t sit around and make eggs; instead, they’re the political leaders. It does make some sense that they aren’t seen much, seeing as they are the leaders of a race that best can be summarized as “manipulating from the shadows”. However, part of the reason that they have that political power is that they are the ones that control the breeding, which is less than flattering. Since we’re visiting their homeworld in ME3, Bioware has no excuse to not let us meet the female leaders of the species.

    I’ve come to like exactly one thing about Miranda: she’s so extremely flawed. She’s wrong about just about every major thing. Niket wouldn’t betray her! Oh, he did. “Even I could hold that biotic barrier!” Oh wait, someone dies if you pick her. I’m forgetting some of the things at the moment, but the list goes on. Even the looks she goes on and on about are ridiculous. Her face looks like the model was grinning when they scanned it. The ass Bioware keeps shoving in your face looks like she took two pillows and stuck them in the bodysuit. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that it was Bioware’s intention to write her as a character that had been convinced and convinced herself that she is perfect, when she’s actually very flawed.

    Also, your hate for male Shepard is pretty stupid. All of the criticism one can apply to him can be applied to any other Shepard. Being white (something that has evolved into an insult in a lovely example of racism being flipped rather than put to death) space marine with a buzz cut isn’t exclusive to male Shepard. And even if you don’t like it, it’s perfectly possible to make a male Shepard that isn’t white and has hair (assuming you’re fine with Bioware’s wooden plastic hair). The only valid complaint here is really that the marketing only shows default Shepard. But using a variety of different Shepards in the marketing would obviously confuse the poor Call of Duty-players that Bioware wants to attract. We can’t have that, oh no. But it’s a cool idea. Finally: Hale is a decent but extremely overrated voice actress. The calmer male voice actor is much more in line with what I want my Shepard to be.

    • cole92 says:

      “Bioware has repeatedly admitted that females of various races (in particular turians) haven’t been seen because they didn’t have time/want to add the models and additional things they would have to make.”

      I’m not trying to be rude here, but you’re simply stating the obvious. I’m sure most of us here realize that BioWare’s only excuse for not adding female alien species is because they didn’t feel like putting in the effort to make the extra models, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the writing doesn’t make any logical sense. Plus the whole “we decided not to include females because of the extra work” excuse is getting very old. I expect more from a game company such as BioWare.

      “It does make some sense that they aren’t seen much, seeing as they are the leaders of a race that best can be summarized as ‘manipulating from the shadows’.”

      Female Salarians being the leaders of their society gives their lack of appearance in ME no validity what-so-ever. Can you imagine applying this to what we see here on Earth? Overall, men hold the most power in society, but that doesn’t mean they would stay on the planet to manage things here if we somehow began to interact with alien species and colonize space. The thought is utterly ridiculous, for our species as well as Salarians.

      “Of course, it’s highly unlikely that it was Bioware’s intention to write her as a character that had been convinced and convinced herself that she is perfect, when she’s actually very flawed.”

      Come to think of it, that would have been great if that was BioWare’s intention (though they would have to make her internal conflict with perfection a bigger part of her character). It certainly would have made her more complex and interesting if they developed that.

      As for male Shepard, I agree with you that wundergeek’s criticism falls a little flat. While I personally enjoy playing as FemShep (because I think Hale’s voice acting is superb and I identify as female), I know that male Shepard isn’t a worse choice simply because he doesn’t conform to my vision of who Commander Shepard should be. The great thing about Commander Shepard is that he/she can be whoever you want them to be. You customize their appearance and shape their world by the choices you get to make. I think what wundergeek was trying to express, and many others feel the same I’m sure, is her dislike for the “default” male Shepard that BioWare has unfortunately chosen as the ME icon.

      • Meh says:

        I’m not trying to be rude here, but you’re simply stating the obvious. I’m sure most of us here realize that BioWare’s only excuse for not adding female alien species is because they didn’t feel like putting in the effort to make the extra models, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the writing doesn’t make any logical sense.

        And sometimes the obvious needs to be stated, because not everyone seems to be fully aware of it. And it’s pretty clear that I don’t think that it is a good excuse.

        Female Salarians being the leaders of their society gives their lack of appearance in ME no validity what-so-ever. Can you imagine applying this to what we see here on Earth? Overall, men hold the most power in society, but that doesn’t mean they would stay on the planet to manage things here if we somehow began to interact with alien species and colonize space. The thought is utterly ridiculous, for our species as well as Salarians.

        First off, unless my memory is completely wrong, there are fewer female salarians than male salarians. So your human simile doesn’t really work. If men were much rarer than women, it would have a point. Humans are also much less inclined to do the whole working in shadows thing than salarians are, which is why you’d see them so often.

        You’re focusing on the wrong thing here. You could find some sexism here, but it’s not really where you’re looking right now. It has more to do with female salarians controlling the males through political power/status and the ability to choose who gets to fertilize eggs. That’s not very flattering for either side.

        The game does explain that the few female salarians rarely leave their home planet. That’s understandable. But if we don’t meet them in ME3, Bioware is lazy as hell. Sort of like how you don’t meet any female krogans on Tuchanka.

        Come to think of it, that would have been great if that was BioWare’s intention (though they would have to make her internal conflict with perfection a bigger part of her character). It certainly would have made her more complex and interesting if they developed that.

        Sadly, it seems pretty clear that Bioware intended her to actually be perfect despite being wrong about most important things. We never really get to see her being oh so fantastic; it’s all regulated to Cerberus reports and such that you never read.

        • Arachne says:

          You do meet female Krogan on Tuchanka. Well, a female Krogan – she’s up in the room with the shaman, and her voice is slightly softer than the other Krogan, but she looks exactly the same.

          And Krogan women aren’t all brood mares. Most are sterile, and go off into space like the males to die gloriously at the hands of Shepard. And given that their voices are distorted enough that the one female Krogan who explicitly identifies herself as such sounds male, despite having a female voice actor, we can’t really be sure how many of the random Krogan grunts we murder in the course of the game are, in fact, women.

          So, for the Krogan at last, I’d let them off the hook. The Hanar are genderless and use voice synthesizers, so them I’d let off the hook, too (presumably, their voices sound male because they were thinking the same way Bioware did). Now, for the Asari, Salarians, Turians, Volus, and Drell? No mercy. Also none for Jack, Miranda, Samara, Benezia, etc.

          • Meh says:

            That’s only speculation, really. The only evidence is that it (I’m going to refer to him or her as “it” for simplicity) has a different voice, and that proves nothing. That krogan doesn’t identify itself as either sex, and the role (messenger for the female clans, or something similar) is a role that could be filled by either sex. That krogan says it’s young, which could explain the unusual voice (Grunt is also young, but he’s vat-grown and not a very good example of an average krogan). And since that krogan is young, it could very well be one of the children that live with the females, which would give it a good reason to act as a messenger. And besides, different people have different voices. Not like we haven’t seen characters from other species with voices that don’t fit the standard.

            I’m waiting until we have real confirmation. Until then, the messenger could go either way.

  9. Chaltab says:

    Jack aside, I think you’re analysis here is pretty accurate.

    I’m conflicted about Miranda. On the one hand, I thought her loyalty mission was a good step towards humanizing her. On the other, I never really liked her from the start, finding her both haughty and fake. She claims she’s not perfect, yet she never really seems to believe that. Though it’s obviously very true that she isn’t. And she has this very petty school-girl rivalry thing with Jack that I felt was incredibly out of character for someone in her position, like high school stereotypes of the Bad Girl and the Perfect Girl who hate each other. The fact that it takes such a high renegade or paragon score to get Miranda over that pettiness meant she ended up dying. (I noticed that in the post-game nobody seemed to care that she was dead.) I’m not sure if my problems with Miranda are just bad writing, or if Bioware just intentionally made a character that way and I just happen to dislike her sort of person.

    As for Jacob’s loyalty mission, there was really no excuse. The basic premise was fantastic, but the whole rape angle just ruined it. Just more women as victims fodder, and it removes any semblance of moral nuance from the decision on what to do with Captain Taylor.

    • Arachne says:

      There was never any doubt that Acting Captain Taylor would get a bullet from me. It was the only sane thing to do.

      As for Miranda, she is set up to be flawed-and-unaware from the very beginning – the evidence for this is that, if you take her in to fight the final boss, she finally realizes exactly what kind of person the Illusive Man is, and tells him off. (“I gave you an order!” “I noticed – consider this my resignation.”) Throughout the game, her judgment keeps failing in every situation, as she’s repeatedly showered with evidence that Cerberus is bad, but it never sinks in until then.

      It’s not made explicit, but I think it’s still a rather strong theme from the very beginning, when she reveals that she wanted to put a control chip in Shepard’s brain – which she later on admits would have been a mistake.

      That’s not an excuse for her blatant fanservice design, though – the only reason I was able to hear her dialogue with the Illusive Man at the end was because I had the DLC that put her in rather sensible armor, so I didn’t have to keep her out of my party because I was embarassed to be seen in public with her.

  10. Jumplion says:

    One thing when dealing with various different cultures, especially when those cultures are literally complete aliens to us, is that these societies have completely different set of societal standards than us. That’s not to say we wouldn’t be able to comment on them,

    Now, that’s taking the entire ME universe by itself. Taken within context of the developers and actual humans behind this, I do see your points more clearly.

    However, some points I still have grievances on (assume most things not mentioned are fine);

    1. The Krogans: We did get to see female Krogans on Tuchanka, and they are not reduced to slaves/trophies. They have their own protected tribe where they choose their mates and are generally treated as goddesses by their respective tribes. The Krogans are extremely volatile creatures, they’re at constant war with each other, and coupled with the genetic termination of their species I’d imagine more than a few females would be willing to reproduce in the name of their species. It’s survival, and with the condition that the Krogans are in, I doubt there are many “Kroganette rights” movements going about. The salarians, though, I can concede with as they supposedly have enormous power on the homeworld yet we see little effects of it.

    2. While I do understand that you don’t have a problem with “showing the more emotional side” kind of stories (just the cliche’d female version of it, as you stated), I can’t help but feel that you wouldn’t have been satisfied unless Miranda had a loyalty mission that was pretty much one of the men’s types. It’s like, Miranda is not a truly badass commander unless she shows it through kicking ass (like Garrus or Grunt). I have a few problems with this, as one, it is just as generic and bland as any other kind of ass-kick mission and two, it feels like you don’t think women in video games should have any sort of moment where they are not asskicking ass kickers, which is as silly as saying men should only have bits where they should only have asskicking ass kick moments.

    I am probably reading it wrong, but that’s the vibe I get from some of your articles.

    Other than that, and a few other thoughts I had that are not quite coherent yet, this was an interesting article. The trouble with interpretation, I think, is that nobody is technically wrong so long as you prove what you’re saying. This is where it gets messy when you start to interpret different aspects of the story, and different cultural/societal aspects of completely alien, well, aliens.

    • LilithXIV says:

      “The Krogans: We did get to see female Krogans on Tuchanka, and they are not reduced to slaves/trophies.” –

      Disagree, pretty sure they are. Prized trophies, protected trophies, but trophies nonetheless. And, as was stated to Mirasiel up above, the choice doesn’t matter when the end result is always ‘you have to reproduce’ (unless you’re infertile, but that’s not really a choice either). That’s just the illusion of choice. Being treated like a ‘goddess’ in a prison isn’t really worth much of anything, I’d rather be free instead of an incubator. And as you can imagine some who would do it, I can imagine plenty who would not want to and would openly rebel against it. This whole scenario of ‘The greater good’ that always ends up getting women reduced to mates with the duty of mating in Sci-Fi is really disturbing.

      And, um yeah, some women want to be brutal berserkers ripping through their enemies, to be ass-kicking ass kickers instead of being reduced to a stereotype over and over again. It’s not bland, that kind of character can actually be quite fun to play, I happen to like those types of characters and think there should be more women characters like them :\ Women sort of have a history of being reduced to the emotional load, one can tire of the stereotype. I don’t think it’s silly just because it’s a different type of character.

      • Sannom says:

        Although the whole ‘separation’ from males seem to almost be a cultural advancement for women in Krogan society (or at least in clan Urdnot). If I understand the lore correctly, they were just prizes to be captured and bartered with, but now they’re considered, along with the males, as vital elements of an organized increasing of the Krogan population. Considering the warring tendency of the species as a whole, that thing clan Urdnot has organized on Tuchanka is probably as restraining for men as it is for women.

        And, um yeah, some women want to be brutal berserkers ripping through their enemies, to be ass-kicking ass kickers instead of being reduced to a stereotype over and over again.

        You probably liked SIE in Alpha Protocol then?

        • LilithXIV says:

          Mm, so the Krogan lore didn’t start out with the whole seperated camps thing? Well, that’s interesting that the writers had a progression like that. What bothers me the most about it is like, it seems like it was presented as this static ‘And that’s the way it is, good enough’ kind of thing. I guess I would’ve liked to hear more conflict and just resistance stories and background from a few of the Female Krogans. Like, I know there aren’t going to be big movements about it, but just some stuff would be nice, iunno.

          I haven’t played Alpha Protocol unfortunately, but from this wiki I see that SIE is voiced by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. I absolutely lovelovelove her voice acting so that’s an automatic good point right there :D

          • Hirvox says:

            Yeah, discussions with Wrex in ME 2 reveal that the segregation was a response to the Genophage. When it cut Krogan fertility by 99.9%, fertile females became highly valued. They were too rare to send to the front lines, and enemy clans frequently targeted females to either kidnap them to use as breeders or kill them if they could not be captured, drastically reducing the clan’s capability to replenish their numbers.

            Wrex’s solution was to consolidate the females into one heavily-guarded clan. Males could still fight amongst themselves, but any clan wishing to do business with Clan Urdnot had to agree to the rules of engagement and to send their fertile females to the female-only clan. They gained the security to raise their children in peace and choose their mates. It’s still a gilded cage, just a slightly bigger one.

            Of course, Wrex didn’t just have the best interests of the Krogan species at heart. The Krogans are closer to being an unified nation than they have ever been.. with Wrex as the leader.

        • Jumplion says:

          Considering the warring tendency of the species as a whole, that thing clan Urdnot has organized on Tuchanka is probably as restraining for men as it is for women.

          After my comment on how the Krogans can be thought of as the Middle East in ancient times, I now can’t stop thinking that Wrex (if you saved him) would be Mohammad in that analogy (he did unite the Mid. East at the time)…..

      • Jumplion says:

        Being treated like a ‘goddess’ in a prison isn’t really worth much of anything, I’d rather be free instead of an incubator.

        But that’s you, not the Krogans. You’re looking at this from a human stand-point, they are not like us. Would there really be an active feminist movement or something among the Krogans during all the shit they’ve had to endure? Hell, there isn’t even a centralized government, their culture is more akin to the Middle East in ancient times; constant war, low women status, disease, etc… In a way, the Krogans are an extreme version of Humans in that they kill each other way more often than we do.

        There certainly would be female Krogans (though their gruffy voices would make it hard to tell if you’re shooting at one), but I doubt those would be fertile as they are too precious amongst other Krogans.

        And have you seen Tuchanka? It ain’t exactly a paradise there, any protection on that planet is better than roaming about “free”.

        It’s not bland, that kind of character can actually be quite fun to play, I happen to like those types of characters and think there should be more women characters like them

        And yet, if it was a man we’d say that the same type of character is just another stereotyped bland space-marine. It’s still a stereotype no matter what gender it is. Double-standards, I suppose, and while I do enjoy my fair share of machismo/femismo from said asskicking ass-kickers, I don’t feel that makes for good characters.

        Women sort of have a history of being reduced to the emotional load, one can tire of the stereotype. I don’t think it’s silly just because it’s a different type of character.

        Honestly, all of what I had said can basically boil down to “I want better characters in general” and I just don’t feel that

        Miranda is just as stereotyped as said “emotional load” stereotype. She’s the response to that stereotype, a colder-hearted woman who only shows emotions under times of extreme stress. Essentially an ice-queen. In comparison, Other M Samus is an emotional wreck the whole way through, just as stereotyped as Miranda.

        I’m being extremely nitpicky, I fully realize that, but dammit I want better characters. I want damn good characters, but I just don’t feel that any current developers has the balls to do it, or the know-how to make one.

        • LilithXIV says:

          Um, the Krogans are fictional characters. I also do not care about any cultural differences, because again you are erasing the hand of the writers in this. You can’t use plot to excuse excluding female characters on such a scale (nor the whole casual reproductive slavery bit) and certainly not as flippantly as Bioware has done now.

          We would say? I wouldn’t say that. Women don’t really get to be the heroic sociopath character, especially a monstrous (actually monstrous, not sexy monster) one, a lot. I don’t see it as a stereotype (now the sexualized asskicker, that is a stereotype for women). Also, uh, I didn’t say Miranda wasn’t a stereotype. I was simply talking in general of brutal berserkers.

          I guess all I’ll say is what you see as a good character and what others as a good character may vary. Also, lets not equate courage with having balls, that’s all kinds of silly.

          • Jumplion says:

            Um, the Krogans are fictional characters. I also do not care about any cultural differences, because again you are erasing the hand of the writers in this.
            -Fictional or not, you’d have to consider cultural differences. Don’t go “they’re fictional, it doesn’t matter” then switch the other way when it comes to gender (at least, that’s how I read it). I’m looking at this through Mass Effect context, you’re looking it through BioWare context, and I guess we’re not seeing eye-to-eye on that part.

            Also, lets not equate courage with having balls, that’s all kinds of silly.
            -Can I say “cojones”, then? I feel like being a bit silly today.

            • LilithXIV says:

              “I’m looking at this through Mass Effect context, you’re looking it through BioWare context, and I guess we’re not seeing eye-to-eye on that part.”

              We’re not, really, which is unfortunate but it happens. Also, I don’t think it loses all meaning for being fictional, I was exaggerating there.. but the fiction cannot be used as a kind of shield to avoid responsibility for kind of flipping off the female half so many times in the game (intentionally or not).

              It’s more me saying “It’s not just like that, it wasn’t just something that conjured itself out of thin air. You chose to write it that way and you kinda screwed up.” – To me, it just seems like kind of letting them off the hook to imply the writers/Bioware are non-entities in this.

        • Sannom says:

          And yet, if it was a man we’d say that the same type of character is just another stereotyped bland space-marine. It’s still a stereotype no matter what gender it is. Double-standards, I suppose, and while I do enjoy my fair share of machismo/femismo from said asskicking ass-kickers, I don’t feel that makes for good characters.

          I’m sure that SIE, the character I talked about earlier, could have been just as fun and entertaining if her gender was reversed. Granted, she’s not really a complex character, she’s more of an ‘ensemble dark horse’ in the line of HK-47, Minsc and Steven Heck, popular because completely crazy and mindlessly entertaining. She does have an opinion on the world and how to lead one’s life though, even if one that is quite simple.

          However, she does reach double standards big time when you get her… “let’s the crazy mercenary indulge her sexual lust” scene. Oh boy the flak that game would have received had her gender been reversed.

          • Hazmat Sam says:

            This one, right?

            You can easily miss all of SIE’s scenes unwittingly (seriously, a friend didn’t even know she existed until after she finished the game) so I’m going to be charitable and say that the reviewers didn’t know about it and didn’t play twice because damn near every professional critic hated that game.

            The fans though, were pretty much “not know if want” about the whole thing. It was kind of funny to watch the wheels turn.

            • Sannom says:

              Yes, this one. What else?

              To be frank, it still baffles me that one could miss SIE at all. I always imagine RPG players as completionists, doing every single quest and mission to press out as much content and experience from the game as possible, and with that mindset, she’s near impossible to miss… unless perhaps one hadn’t quite understood what the ‘alpha’ on some missions meant.

              The fans though, were pretty much “not know if want” about the whole thing.

              I was in the mindset ‘it is still wrong’ before seeing the ‘no’ option for myself, and well, it is not as ‘wrong’ as I thought. Still a bit disturbing and I cannot for the love of me imagine it with reversed genders.

              Still, my favorite parts are probably the ‘consequences’ : “Mike, are those scratches on your neck?” “Attacked. Ocelot. Long story.”.

  11. I think the Volus have synthesized voices in the context of the game, actually. Since we never see one that isn’t wearing a pressure suit (Which, you’d assume, probably isn’t form-fitting) there’s no real way to tell gender. Also: What about Liara, (possibly, I haven’t played in a while) Aria, and some of the other Asari that you see on Illium (I think one of the one I’m referring to with that has a quest, but, as I said, it’s been a while.).

  12. LilithXIV says:

    Other than my other posts on my feelings about the whole women-as-incubators thing, I wanted to do a general post about it too instead of hoping back and forth between replies. I’m going to try to avoid repeating stuff I’ve already put in replies though.

    Here’s the thing, if was just one race of aliens that conveniently had a reason to exclude the female half of their population I think it would’ve be more tolerable. But multiple instances of it is a bit tough to stomach. Ultimately, the writers are the ones responsible for the context of the game and having women excluded from large parts of it on such a scale is a bit much. I’m not even saying the writers did this maliciously, I’m sure they didn’t intend to undermine women, but this doesn’t change the fact they did do that as so many before them have by thinking of the men as default and therefore more important to include in a more significant amount. They just most likely did it without really thinking about it, which isn’t exactly better and it should still be pointed out.

    The whole idea of ‘women reproducing for the greater good’ in Sci-Fi has been constantly done over and over, and the reason I find it so disturbing is because it’s done so casually and without real thought. The story didn’t make itself up, the writers were the ones put in a plot device that ended up putting the women into what is basically reproductive slavery (when the only hope of escape is being infertile, that’s pretty bad) and pushing them off as background dressing. Equality not being present in all cultures isn’t bad, but it’s also not bad to get tired of getting slapped in the face with that same old kind of sexism and years into the future we apparently /still/ are in a patriarchal society (just an almost universal one now apparently..). That’s boring, that’s the real world, that’s not a fantasy. I’m just tired of wondering where half the female population of so many races/organizations go in all these cases of media and the implicit (or explicit) answer being ‘they weren’t worth the voices, models, and just general consideration, especially if they’re not SexyFine.’

    Like, for something interesting. If they’re gonna do the reproduction thing, have the males of the species be capable of reproduction or just the only ones who reproduce, and make it explicit it’s the males XD. Or instead of the male voice as default, have the aliens all have female voices as the default. They try to amend this in a few ways as people have pointed out but over all it just comes across as insincere and half-hearted, and a bit flat. Sci-Fi is great, I love the genre, but I really wish they’d be more imaginative about it.

  13. Hirvox says:

    @Hirvox: I haven’t gotten the chance to play thru ME2 yet so I don’t know firsthand how it goes, but isn’t that the bit where they discover the female Krogan’s corpse in the expermintal lab?

    Yes.

    It’s nice that it shows that the high value placed of fertility leads the women to extreme measures to become ‘valued’ but we’re not shown that through their stories. We see it through a man’s story, specifically as it relates to his guilt about his involvement in the genophage.

    While the point of the story does get through due to Mordin’s Sherlock Scan, I agree that that the style of storytelling is unnecessarily male-centric. At the end of Grunt’s loyalty mission he and Shepard are invited to visit the women’s clan, but that opportunity to listen to the women’s side of the story is never used in-game.

  14. Kaonashi says:

    I think it’s more important for Bioware to write a good story and say something interesting than to be progressive according to Earth society 2011. If that means having a race where the women are enslaved, I say go for it.

    However, there has to be a point to it all. It has to communicate something that is relevant to Earth people 2011. But something interesting can be said with enslaved women, if it’s done right. I don’t think Bioware did say something interesting in this case, though. The enslaved women were just a social quirk to add narrative spice, but it was kind of expected and boring. In that regard, I would agree with this criticism.

    Also, aliens that are attractive to humans may be silly, but it is humans who are playing the game in the end. If you argue that the societies of aliens should be relevant to us humans, it’s not that strange that the aliens themselves appeal to us as well. The way they appeal to us is silly and even sexist sometimes, that I agree about, but we can’t relate very to aliens that are horribly inhuman, socially or looks-wise.

    • LilithXIV says:

      “Also, aliens that are attractive to humans may be silly, but it is humans who are playing the game in the end. If you argue that the societies of aliens should be relevant to us humans, it’s not that strange that the aliens themselves appeal to us as well. The way they appeal to us is silly and even sexist sometimes, that I agree about, but we can’t relate very to aliens that are horribly inhuman, socially or looks-wise.”

      I /kind/ of a see your point, but I will say I thought that was the point of aliens. To look alien, I mean. I’m not trying to be snippy or anything but it does irk me that the all female race just happens to have to be the ‘sexy’ ones who have to worry about appealing or being attractive to fanboys. Women almost never get to be the freakishly bizarre, outright silly, or monstrous types. That’s more than kind of a double standard. I’m also not really sure why the only options are ‘sexyfine’ or ‘horribly inhuman’, seems like kind of an exaggeration and I’m pretty sure there’s a middle ground to that.

      I get the vibe off of a lot of games in the industry that unless a woman is stunningly attractive (or sexualized, or both..) she’s not worth putting in. Can’t say I like that vibe.

      • Sannom says:

        I get the vibe off of a lot of games in the industry that unless a woman is stunningly attractive (or sexualized, or both..) she’s not worth putting in. Can’t say I like that vibe.

        Bioware probably doesn’t think that the sexy will bring in more people, but they’re afraid that the ugly, plain or unusual (even if something as light as Aveline being ‘manly’ and SIE being ‘old’) will turn people off. And I think they’re right. It shouldn’t put too much of a dent on their revenues though, so there is no real reason they shouldn’t try.

      • Kaonashi says:

        A horrible gelatinous blob might be very alien, but there’s a severe limit to how you can interact with it and relate to it. There are ways around that, but in the end there’s a limit to how alien you can be and still evoke more complex feelings than fear or disgust.

        But of course you’re right about that it’s a cliche that female aliens tend to be sexy in very specific ways. I can think of a few cool monstrous hive queen-type aliens, but they easily get cliche as well. It shouldn’t be too hard to invent some new female aliens that are interesting.

        With that said, I can’t see how an alien that we interact with in human ways isn’t basically human-like or at least mammalian. Still, there should be more than enough room to play around with gender, sex, personalities and such.

    • Hazmat Sam says:

      See, here’s the thing: we’ve had radically inhuman aliens in SF for a while now. Let’s take an easy example:The Thing was based on the novella”Who Goes There?” which was published in Analog in 1938 (back when analog was called Astounding Stories.) It wasn’t even the first of it’s kind, and they’ve been printing that stuff out ever since.

      People can and have been able to enjoy stories with actual aliens. Rubber-Forehead aliens are simply the result of lazy writing or a lazy graphics team.

      Also, if the aliens have to be appealing to us, then why is it that men have an entire species (plus Tali) while women just have Garrus? Who the fuck are the elcor supposed to appeal to?

  15. Pingback: Roundup of Unusual Size: I’m baaaaaack! « Dire Critic

  16. onelifecrisis says:

    Let first say this:
    I am a 34 year old straight white male. Generally speaking, when I hear the word “feminist” my eye metaphorically twitches. I hate feminists (okay, there are some exceptions, but generally I do). This isn’t the place to go into why, I’m just stating my biases.

    That said, on to the article:
    I’ve read the first two parts. In my opinion you are totally 100% correct in every respect. Which, given my bias, is good work. It’s refreshing to read a post by a feminist that’s actually balanced and reasonable. Well done.

    • wundergeek says:

      Thanks! It’s nice to know that there are at least some people out there who don’t identify as feminists and who also don’t think I’m crazy. Thanks for the comment. :)

  17. dodoman1 says:

    I know I’m digging up a rather old post, but I had to say a couple things:

    1) I’m pretty sure that the Salarian council member is supposed to be a female, even though “she” is voiced by Armin Shimerman; the Salarians are basically humanoid frogs, after all, and there aren’t really any external differences, including voice.

    2) A lot of people are baffled by the lack of female Turians. One of my favorite fan-theories (the one I subscribe to) claims that there are a lot of female Turians in the games. There’s just no sexual dimorphism that humans can see.

    • wundergeek says:

      Re: female Turians – the codex for Turians explicitly mentions sexual dimorphism. Female Turians aren’t supposed to have the head spines that males do.

  18. Late to the party, sorry.
    Was anyone else a little skeeved out that of the few black men in Mass Effect one (Jacob’s father) is a rapist? I mean I doubt it was meant that way but it doesn’t sit right with me.

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