Open Letter to BioWare Part 2: I am a female who wants to give you money for your games. Please stop treating me like shit.

[This is an open letter to BioWare. Like the previous open letter I posted about this topic, this has been sent to the folks at BioWare. Unfortunately, my first letter’s only response was an autoresponder promising that it would be forwarded to a human. I have yet to receive a response, and considering that it’s been nearly a month I’ll assume that one isn’t coming.]

Hi, BioWare. This is wundergeek again. I haven’t heard from you since my last letter, but I was really hoping that you might have taken some of what I said to heart about the depth of loathing and betrayal that I feel about this awful Liara statue that Kotobukiya is producing.

You’ve made some pretty positive steps in recent titles. The variety of same-sex relationships in Dragon Age and DA2 was awesome, and I’m thrilled to bits that there will be a gay romance option for both men and women in Mass Effect 3. And while there were some problematic elements to the contest to choose the FemShep on the ME3 Collector’s Edition box, I’m willing to believe that your heart was in the right place and that you really were trying to reach out to the legions of fans, female and male, who love FemShep and want to see her get the love that she deserves.

With all of this positive progress, I really wanted to believe that the backlash that you received would convince you that this awful perversion of a great character by Kotobukiya was a mistake and a cheapening of a great brand. On the facebook page, you said you wanted to know what the fans thought, and we told you. There were thousands of comments posted in less than 24 hours. I would have commented myself had I seen the page before the comments were closed not long after the page was put up.

And I definitely wasn’t alone in my dislike of Kotobukiya’s vision of Liara. Thousands of us voiced our dismay, that you would take one of Mass Effect’s strongest characters – male or female – and turn her into an over-sexualized figure in a cheap grab for a few more bucks. Liara is an adult, a brilliant scientist, a powerful biotic, information broker, and total badass. This reduction of a strong, funny, awesome female character to a collection of sexy bits… this isn’t just a betrayal of your fans. It’s a betrayal of your own writers. I really feel for them, because if Liara was a character I had written, I’d be pretty pissed too.

The backlash was huge, negative, and spread across several fansites – including The Escapist, Daily Joypad, and even Kotaku. There was also a lot of backlash on your own forums – backlash that spread across multiple threads. Hundreds, if not thousands of people spoke out against Kotobukiya’s version of Liara, and most of their comments can be summarized thusly:

DO NOT WANT. This is not my Liara.

So after all of this, I had hoped that your desire to solicit feedback from fans was genuine and that you would take this anger to heart, that you would tell Kotobukiya to modify the design of the statue to at least partially mollify your many, many angry fans. Even after all the times you’ve let me down lately, BioWare, I still hold out hope that you’ll listen to your better nature. You have it in you to be so very good, it really pains me to see this kind of stuff.

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that, nope, you weren’t really interested in soliciting fan feedback after all. You never intended to take fan feedback to heart in the first place; this was all a clumsy attempt to generate buzz for licensing tie-in to rake in cash from male gamers who would happily pay $55 bucks to stare at some random Asari with balloons tacked to her chest who happened to have stolen Liara’s Shadow Broker outfit. Because here’s the pre-order for the figure.

Were you trying to slip this under the radar? I hope not. I hope it’s nothing more than a simple case of the many fan sites I read being tired of the story and not picking up on the pre-order. I want to believe that, but after all of the awfulness you’ve put your fans through recently, I’m not sure that I can bring myself to believe in your good intentions anymore, BioWare.

I beg, implore you, even. Please reconsider. Scrap this awful, awful doppleganger of a beloved character. Consign the Kotobukiya statue to the trash heap and get it re-designed right, in a way that honors the spirit of the character. I’m not against a sexy Liara figure, when it comes to it. But I want a figure that honors the strength and intelligence of her character without simply putting her bits on display for horny male gamers.

Don’t just do it for me. Do it for all of your fans that you claimed to want to listen to who have told you that this is something WE DO NOT WANT. Mass Effect is a beloved franchise with thousands, if not millions of fans. We are not the people who think that video games are creating rapists, or making children stupid, or causing the moral decline of our society. We are people who love games, who specifically love your games and want to give you money for your games and merchandise based on your games. Rather than alienating your fans by asking for feedback and then ignoring it when it goes against an established marketing plan, how about you try actually listening to us? Because again, we’re the folks who are prepared to give you money! You have a vested interest in listening to us, right?

And if you decide that even after all of the hurt and anger your fans have expressed over this issue you still want to push forward and bring this godawful Kotobukiya Liara to market, then do us a favor. Next time, be up-front in your pandering. Have the balls to admit that you’re selling boobular figures to horny male nerds because you think they’ll buy anything with breasts and it’s an easy way to make some quick cash without having to do any of the work yourself. As much as I hate the pandering, this dishonest pandering is even more distasteful.

Ever your devoted fan,


New Liara Figure: DO NOT WANT

Or – An Open Letter to BioWare – Why this blatant pandering to the (straight) male portion of your audience represents a betrayal of your female fans.

(I realize the second title isn’t as catchy.)

Dear BioWare,

I think it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan, and that I’m slightly obsessed with the Mass Effect series. I’ve been a fan since the Baldur’s Gate days, but I think you guys really found your voice with the KOTOR series and have continued to hone your craft more and more with each game. Dragon Age: Origins snags the honor of the first PC game that made me cry, and I am so in love with the Mass Effect series that I’ve finished 3 games of ME1 and 2 games of ME2 and I cannot freaking wait for ME3. (Seriously. Hurry up, please.)

One of my favorite things from Mass Effect 2 (that wasn’t FemShep) was the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. At the time, here’s what I had to say about Liara:

Okay. So I’ll confess that Liara wasn’t exactly my favorite character in the first Mass Effect. … But I couldn’t escape the feeling that she was a bit fetishized for male audiences since her innocence and youth were constantly played up and the dialogue between her and Shepard is decidedly awkward in many places.

So I was definitely pleasantly surprised at the transition Liara had apparently undergone between the first Mass Effect and ME2. Rather than being some awkward innocent pining after Shepard, Liara had come into her own as an independent character with her own goals – goals that didn’t necessarily align with Shepard’s. That was great in and of itself – it’s always refreshing to encounter female characters who have goals of their own rather than just being like I WANT WHATEVER THE HERO WANTS TEE HEE.

Even now that the afterglow of having finished my first ME2 playthrough has faded (at least as much as it’s ever going to), the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC remains one of my favorite parts of the game. Liara is an awesome, competent, not-sexualized female character who has her own agenda – which is exactly what I have been asking for by writing this blog. I can’t emphasize how important the not-sexualized aspect of that is, either. See, Liara should look like this:

See? Awesome sci-fi female character in a non-sexualized pose displaying emotion that’s not OH GOD PLZ SAVE ME HALP or I AM TEH SEX.

But that doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t also look like this:

Again, awesome. Again, non-sexualized. Competent? Definitely. Badass? Yup. This, too, is acceptable.

But not this. Never ever this:


Seriously, what the hell is it? What is this pose? Her back is arched, her ass is thrust out, and she’s squeezing her tits together to make her cleavage look huge – none of which, I might add, will help you aim better. In fact, I’m going to go on a limb and say that it would present a bit of a handicap.

Honestly, let’s do a little comparison between Liara in the game and this b.s. Liara statue:

Let’s review. You didn’t do so hot when it came to female crew in Mass Effect 2. There was Miranda of the ridiculous ass cleavage, Jack of the absurd leather nipple-strap, and Samara the Space MILF. Besides Tali, Liara was the only female who wasn’t Shepard who got to wear some damn clothes without having to fork out extra cash for a DLC that would fix their various wardrobe issues.

So what happened? Were your male fans upset that Liara wasn’t sexy enough? Because I just don’t understand this blatant pandering. Even after you said that FemShep would only be on the collector’s edition cover of ME3, I was still encouraged and elated that you were making such a step at all. You’ve been talking with your fans this time around – letting us choose the FemShep we wanted on the cover, promising a FemShep trailer… It made me think that you were maybe, finally turning over a new leaf.

And then this. I feel upset. I feel angry. I feel betrayed.

I mean, come ON! You guys aren’t Atlus, here.

You said on your facebook page that you wanted to know what we thought of this statue? Well comments are closed, otherwise I would have commented, but I hate it. I hate the design, I hate the concept, I hate everything it represents.

I think the most upsetting part of all is that I can’t refuse to vote with my dollar because there’s nothing else to vote for. This kind of pandering is the sort of bullshit that tells us female fans that we do not count, that we are not welcome. This Others us, pushes us to the margins. And I can’t even ‘take my ball and go home’, because there’s nothing to go home TO. As angry as you make me, as upset as I am with you, you’re the folks who make games that insult me the least.

So, come on, BioWare. I don’t want to be this angry with you. You guys are masters of your craft. The art, the writing, the game play – you guys are industry leaders in all of these things. When are you going to see that you don’t need bullshit sexism to push your titles? Your games sell because they’re good games, and anyone who says that they’re not going to buy ME3 if it doesn’t have enough hawt T&A in it is lying. Anyone who has played ME1 and ME2 is going to buy ME3 because we know it will be awesome and we want more Shepard.

Please, I implore you, if you sell a Liara statue – make it something true to the design and the character that you created, not this dumbed down, sexualized version of an awesome character just so you can make a quick few bucks. BioWare, you’re so much better than this.



Mass Effect Win: Awesome things that aren’t FemShep

Okay, guys. I promise this will be my last post about Mass Effect for a while. I just wanted to round up with some non-FemShep related awesomeness, lest people think that the only reason I played the Mass Effect games was an unholy obsession with Jennifer Hale.

Now I’ll have to add here, since I do mention some of the ME2 DLC, that I was pretty selective in what DLC I was willing to pay for. I didn’t pay for extra costumes, even though it would have been a worthwhile investment for Samara, Jack, and Miranda. I also didn’t spring for the Kasumi DLC. So if there’s something that you like particularly about a DLC not mentioned, it’s probable that I never played it.

Lair of the Shadow Broker: SO MUCH WIN

Okay. So I’ll confess that Liara wasn’t exactly my favorite character in the first Mass Effect. She was pretty useful mechanically, since my first playthrough was as a soldier, and it wasn’t like she was actively offensive like Ashley. (I know, I know. Some people love Ashley. Her xenophobia completely turned me off.) But I couldn’t escape the feeling that she was a bit fetishized for male audiences since her innocence and youth were constantly played up and the dialogue between her and Shepard is decidedly awkward in many places.

So I was definitely pleasantly surprised at the transition Liara had apparently undergone between the first Mass Effect and ME2. Rather than being some awkward innocent pining after Shepard, Liara had come into her own as an independent character with her own goals – goals that didn’t necessarily align with Shepard’s. That was great in and of itself – it’s always refreshing to encounter female characters who have goals of their own rather than just being like I WANT WHATEVER THE HERO WANTS TEE HEE.

But the thing I especially loved about Liara’s motivations in Lair of the Shadow Broker is that the mission is essentially a “save the damsel” mission turned on its head. I love the fact that Liara is out to save Feron, her (male) friend that helped recover Shepard’s corpse and was captured by the Shadow Broker in the process. What’s even better is that Feron is just Liara’s friend, not anything more. It turned the “save the damsel” stereotype on its head in every way possible, which was thoroughly enjoyable.

Yes I realize how weird this makes me.

The premise of the mission completely rocked, and BioWare delivered on execution as well. I wouldn’t have believed that the Liara from the first Mass Effect could have been capable of becoming the new Shadow Broker, but I could certainly believe it of the Liara you encounter in ME2. The emphasis that they placed on Liara’s biotic powers was certainly cool, especially when she pulled stunts like jumping two stories out of a window. But I also really appreciated, again, the fact that Liara was being written as someone who had found an identity separate from Shepard, despite their interests coinciding for the sake of the mission.

There were also some really great character interactions between Shepard and Liara, one of my favorites being the car chase and the banter between the two of them. It was something straight out of a comedy action film, and I found it especially cool while playing FemShep since it’s the sort of banter you associate with either Male-Male or Male-Female action heroes. Certainly not the kind of dialogue you’d expect out of two women.

In addition to badass Liara, we also got to see a female rogue Specter-turned-terrorist – yet another example of an non-typical gender role. I realize this is dating me, but I was a bit reminded of Dennis Hopper’s villain from Speed – the cop-turned-terrorist. The Specter in Lair of the Shadow Broker might have had slightly more noble intentions (possibly), but the fact remains that “terrorist” is a role that still gets cast almost exclusively as male. Calling the Specter a “rogue agent” makes it a bit more normal for her to be female, but the fact that she isn’t sexualized at any point during the mission still makes her atypical in my books and pretty awesome as a female villain.

And of course, who could forget the completely fucking awesome moment at the end where Liara is standing in front of the bank of monitors as she takes up the mantle of the Shadow Broker?

It was so unbelievably epic and very well done. And the whole mission really gave Liara a new depth that you don’t see often with female characters. So from start to finish, Lair of the Shadow Broker gets two thumbs up from me.

Tali: simultaneously competent, endearing, and pretty badass

So I know that there has been the assertion on the part of some that Tali is an attempt to appeal to moe fanboys. And here’s the thing. If anyone said that about Liara in the first Mass Effect, I’d probably nod and say “yup”. But Tali? No friggin’ way.

Here’s the thing. In the first Mass Effect, Tali is definitely a bit naive, and certainly displays signs of having been sheltered. But when you think about Tali’s background, having been raised in an isolationist environment as part of the Quarian Migrant Fleet, her actions in the first game are very much consistent with the logic of her background. But even while I would call Tali from the first game sheltered, I would never call her “vulnerable” or “incapable” or “cute”. As a Quarian newly on pilgrimage, Tali decided she needed to take steps to take down Sarin, the biggest threat in known space besides Sovereign at the time of her pilgrimage. Just to put that in perspective, that would be like an Amish teenager deciding that they wanted to take down, I don’t know, Osama bin Ladin (if he weren’t dead) or Qadaffi or something.

Also, please remember that while anime and gaming are both subsets of nerddom, the overlap is NOT as high as you might think. Being an ex-anime geek and a gamer, I know that the vast majority of gamers in my sphere of friends are not at all conversant with anime tropes. And for the most part, anime tropes don’t translate well to Western culture. So the whole Tali = moe? I’m not buying it. Especially not when you consider the Tali you encounter in Mass Effect 2:

In Mass Effect 2, Tali has outgrown the uncertain, sheltered worldview that she had in the first game. She is a competent, confident leader in her own right. During her recruitment mission, almost her entire team dies helping her to accomplish the objectives set out by the Quarian Admiralty Board. But rather than beating herself up, the only moment of regret that Tali evinces is when she says that she hopes that the data she obtains was worth the loss of life. At no point does Tali beat herself up, at no point does Tali whine that she made mistakes, or that this is proof that she shouldn’t have lead the mission. She doesn’t question her skills, and she doesn’t second-guess herself. Tali’s team members willingly die for her, which establishes her as the kind of leader people trust enough to sacrifice themselves to preserve.

That sort of quality isn’t common. Miranda outright says that she doesn’t have it, and Samara often talks about how she’s used to working alone. So the fact that Tali is someone who can command that sort of loyalty from her own people gives her extra dimension and makes her a very excellent female character.

(I lied a little) The romance with Garrus

Okay, I lied a little when I said this was non-FemShep related win. So I’ll keep this part brief. In my Renegade playthrough, I had intended to romance Jacob, but he is apparently super-difficult to romance and something went wrong. So I wound up romancing Garrus, since I decided my FemShep would be more likely to trust someone she knew from before.

Anyhow, I found the romance with Garrus to be very cool because it was a nice reversal of typical romance gender roles. Shepard, being Shepard, was of course very smooth, very confident, very self-assured. And Garrus was, endearingly, unbelievably awkward in his responses.

It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen much in typical romance stories. Pretty much every romance comedy ever has arrogant or very self-assured male characters romancing nervous, insecure, or outright neurotic female characters. So seeing the tables turned was cool, and very, very funny. Yet another instance of good writing on BioWare’s part too, since I’ll admit that I was reluctant to romance a non-human, but in the end it wound up feeling very genuine.

And that’s enough of that.

I promise that now that I’m done rambling about Mass Effect that I’ll move on to other topics.