Mass Effect Fail: the stuff BioWare didn’t get right (Part 1)
May 4, 2011 102 Comments
Female Shepard is an easy example of what BioWare got right with the Mass Effect series, but that doesn’t obviate the massive amounts of gender fail that can be found throughout both games. So I thought I’d take a look at the things that stuck out to me as irksome. Obviously, spoilers will abound for the Mass Effect series – though I’ll request that commenters tag spoilers for DA2, which I haven’t played yet. (Thank you.)
Anyhow, I had planned to make this one post but discovered that I can’t fit everything I want to say into just one post, so I’m splitting it into two. Today’s post focuses on gender fail in character design; next time I’ll look at the gender fail in writing. And then I’ll come back and talk about the few bits of non-FemShep related gender win, just to end on an up note.
Gender fail: character designs
I’ve bitched about Matriarch Benezia in a previous post, so I won’t revisit that particular rant except to say that it’s pretty ridiculous that a female villain is showing more cleavage than her daughter, who is supposed to be a potential love interest for the protagonist. As bothersome as I found Benezia, though, BioWare actually managed to design female characters that were even worse in Mass Effect 2: Miranda, Samara, and Jack.
Jack, of course, wears those ridiculous nipple straps. I made a point on my second playthrough of doing her loyalty mission first, despite caring nothing for her as a character, just because I wanted to get her a goddamn shirt. Samara’s outfit is unbelievably cleavagey, and with Miranda you have to choose between a white outfit that emphasizes her tits and crotch or a black outfit that is so tight you can see her belly button. Great. That’s bad enough, but then we constantly get bombarded with camera angles and shot compositions that emphasize their bits even more.
See, there are some pretty predictable ways in which humans look at images. The closest thing to the camera will be a natural focal point. The center of the image also tends to be a focal point. Because humans are very face-oriented, we tend to follow lines of sight if we can see someone’s eyes. And strong lines often lead a viewer’s eye along that line. So with these basics of composition in mind, let’s look at some screenshots:
Miranda’s pretty infamous because at THREE DIFFERENT POINTS in her conversation tree, you get presented with a closeup of Miranda’s ass cleavage – which is just ridiculous. Yes, yes, I get that she’s beautiful. Do you have to constantly wave her ass in my face? Even worse is the fact that she’s constantly talking about her genetic modification, which includes her hawtness. Because her hawtness is part of what gives her an edge, and btw did you know that she was genetically engineered to be hawt and OH MY GOD I GET IT STFU ABOUT BEING HAWT.
Sadly, Miranda is the most tame of your non-Tali female crew. Samara is even worse. Miranda only shows a little bit of cleavage. Samara shows off half her chest, which is considerable given that her bazongas are even bigger than Miranda’s. And with Samara, it always seems like she’s either being shot from boob perspective (from below looking up) or that she’s standing in ridiculously sexualized poses that have her arching her back or curving her spine while simultaneously cocking her hips. Sometimes she doesn’t look so much like a badass Asari warrior as she looks like Bayonetta painted blue with some headtentacles:
The thing I find especially baffling is that Samara is wearing much less clothing than her daughter Morinth, who is supposed to be this terrifyingly badass sexual predator that microwaves your brain with sexy. Shouldn’t their character designs be reversed if that’s the case? Because really, I have a hard time being intimidated by Samara when her every move seems calculated to provide a wank-factor.
Samara is pretty awful, cleavage down to the middle of her chest, constant stripper poses, unrealistic sphere boob, terrible camera angles. Just about the only way that you could get a character worse than Samara is to have a female character with no shirt at all. Which is exactly what BioWare did with Jack:
Okay, can the nipple strap school of character design die now and forever? A leather strap is not clothing. TATTOOS ARE NOT CLOTHING. Yes I get that she’s supposed to be a “bad girl”, but this is just ridiculous. Unless she’s using industrial-strength body glue, there’s no way that thing would cover up her nipples 100% of the time. Then again, Jack is a powerful enough biotic that maybe she just keeps it in place biotically. It seems like a bit of a waste of her biotic superpowers, but maybe she wasn’t feeling challenged enough. Or something. Anyway, if I had to pick “worst character design in a BioWare game ever”, Jack would win hands down. (She’s even worse than Morrigan, which is saying a lot.)
Like Samara, they just can’t seem to resist putting Jack in shots where the camera angles practically scream OMG BEWBS. But honestly, Jack is such a despicable human being – she’s completely selfish, amoral, and totally unsympathetic. I fail to see the appeal of Jack as a romance, or even as a quick roll in the hay. What Jack needs is a bullet between the eyes for the good of the whole galaxy, so this whole JACK IS SEXAY thing is totally lost on me. But that gets into the writing fail, which I will have to tackle next time.