For all it's good for, one of the large faults of the Internet is the lack of contextualisation. It's easy to misinterpret someone when all you have to go on is a wall of text, and from this springs a large portion of debate on the Internet. With this in mind I've done my very best to try to get to the core of the whole FemShep controversy, but all I can find is ignorance and hypocrisy permeating all sides of the issue.
For those who don't know, last month Bioware held a poll on Facebook to determine the face of the female Commander Shepard for use on Mass Effect 3's box art. 6 variations of Commander Shepard were posted on Facebook and fans could vote by liking the picture. Though it was never going to revolutionize voting systems, it somehow managed to get the job done and Shepard no.5 came out as a clear winner with over 31'000 votes. That settles that then.
However, a large backlash took place and several camps were set up with various factions throwing around words such as 'sexist', 'racist', 'bigoted' and 'misogynistic'. Oh dear, what caused this then? Well Shepard no.5 happened to be blonde, and white, a bit of a Barbie doll as some people pointed out. Cue the torrential downpour of hatred.
Reading the arguments is enough to consider listing yourself as a domesticated animal rather than a human on your census form. No one quite knows who to be angry with, but they're all angry. I need to settle this once and for all and call out the likes of Kim Richards of PC Gamer, Sophie Prell of our own Dtoid fame, and all Bioware fans and haters.
To start, Bioware's own involvement in this issue is marketing genius. As Sophie Prell pointed out in her own brilliant article: “they've absolved themselves of any responsibility for perceived prejudice for FemShep's appearance”. That's not all they've done though, they've turned their own fans into their marketing department. Let the fans choose the advertising, they're the ones who are going to buy the product in the first place. Whether Shepard no.5 was decided on before the vote and this was only used to validate their decision is anyone's guess, however this kind of relationship between the developer and the community is advantageous to both sides. Bioware are able to tailor their game to their fan's needs, and the fan's get what they want.
Except when they don't. Kim Richards wrote up a fiery condemnation of FemShep no.5 calling her a “Barbie faced personality vacuum.” It is at this point that we should collectively facepalm. Kim Richards admits that she will be using her own custom made Shepard when she buys Mass Effect 3, so her ire is due to her own personal gripes with the blonde bombshell that is Number 5. According to her Shepard No. 5 has:
“the face of a woman who cares more about her glue-on nails and handbag Chihuahua. She’s not the saviour of the goddamn universe “
A lot of the hatred on the internet comes down to the fact that Shepard no.5 is blonde and this is downright disgusting. Her appearance is not what makes her the saviour of the universe, it's her actions, the player's actions. On any mainstream media, Richard would be torn apart for her hateful words, you'd think that we've gotten past such stereotypes.
FemShep is without a doubt one of the most powerful women in gaming, if the fans want her to be blonde so be it. Calling her a 'personality vacuum' is redundant as none of the Shepard clones have personalities, it's up to the player to build their personality through gameplay. If Kim Richards feels that women are poorly represented in the industry, then attacking FemShep is almost as bad as attacking Samus Aran. Perhaps she should direct her rage elsewhere.
Sophie Prell on the other hand believes that Bioware was wrong to put the poll up in the first place. She believes Bioware are giving the fans too much choice in the design of the game, and the thought has some merits as FemShep isn't the only aspect of Mass Effect 3 in which fans have a say. This is part of Bioware's design philosophy though, they are staunch supporters of liberalism and allowing the player the freedom of choice is a key aspect in their recent RPGs. There are very few game developers who, even in this day, would give the option for homosexuality, but thanks to Bioware if we want to roleplay as a homosexual saviour of the universe we can. If Bioware feel they want fans to decide the face of a FemShep to be used specifically for marketing, so be it, there is absolutely no need to turn this into a gender issue, whether you're a feminist or not.
I'm not a Mass Effect fan but I intend to pick up the trilogy with the release of the finale. I also intend to play as a female Commander Shepard, not to make a point about womyn's empowerment, but because I want to. There are so few chances to play as a female protagonist that isn't embarrassing in gaming, that you'd be foolish not to take this opportunity. Whenever I'm given the chance to play as a woman, I always end up picking the male counterpart because I feel that very few developers ever do the female justice. She is frequently subjected to skimpy armor that wouldn't protect you from the common cold.
There are a few women though who I feel are genuinely important to breaking the sexualisation of the female gender and showing that they're just as important as male leads. FemShep, no matter which FemShep you prefer, is one of them and to see such petty arguments over an important character is disheartening.