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FemShep 5: Blame the Game, not the Player


“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman expressing opinion on the Internet must be a Feminazi.”

Now at this point, I can't really tell if that was a mangled Jane Austen quote or another misguided commenter on new features contributor Sophie Prell's post.

Although the article was refreshingly well-supported, it seemed like majority of the people who read it weren't actually getting the point. From what I gathered, the crux of her argument is that it is wrong to subject the design of a main female character to a popularity vote. The operative word is female, and of course, when writers talk about anything related to that, they must be feminists, m I rite?

While everyone seems to be reacting to the article in their own way, let's just agree to disagree: This shitstorm wouldn't have happened if BioWare didn't decide to hold the poll in the first place.

What do you mean I'm a trite blonde stereotype?!

The reasons why a lot of people are upset about the FemShep issue are pretty simple. First, we all have our own preconceived ideas on how we want our Shepard to be. Some may say that they aren't really affected by aesthetics, and they just use the Vanderloo Shepard – totally fine.

But evidently, other people are more invested in how they want their Shepard to be represented. By virtue of customization alone, players are able to dictate the social history and personality of their characters as they please. We want to design Shepard according to our personal inclinations, creativity, whims and ideologies. In many ways, we own Shepard.

More importantly, no one wants to be preached on how to build their Shepard – or be told that their Shepard is politically incorrect. I understand why people who voted for blonde and blue-eyed womynfolk would resent comments that FemShep 5 is soooo mainstream Hollywood. On the same note, my political activist self would not necessarily appreciate a Shepard who reminds me of my previous colonial overlords.

Politically-correct Shepard

Hey, it is a culturally fragmented gaming world. That is why the developers usually impose a default appearance for the main character, so the Internet will not foster competition among segments of the population who individually think their opinions matter.

Therein lies another layer of debate. Why is the default Shepard Caucasian? Male? Hollywood? Swedish? And so fucking Dreamy?

Clearly, design is not a perfect process. But instead of taking responsibility, listening to fan feedback and creating a clear purpose, significance and meaning to FemShep's appearance, BioWare decided their wash their hands clean and let the audience have free choice.

Female gamers have the right to be angry in my opinion. The whole poll and the general lack of accountability reek of trivializing the gender issue. Facebook likes? What, YouTube comments not good enough?!

Considering the socio-political context of gender representation in games, e.g., even mainstream RPGs like Mass Effect that give you the freedom to choose your gender still use the male as the default, it is well-documented that female characters are still sorely underrepresented in this industry, more so strong female characters with an ethnic background.

That being said, seeing the blog comments made me lose a little faith in humankind, especially with a lot of people not really grasping why this can be an issue. I don't like the idea that just because females are actually taking a stand on how they want a character's appearance to embody their own ideals on feminine badassery vs. just being Geth Jugglenauts (see what I did thar?!), they are instantly shot down.

So yes, it is bad form for a company not to take a more active stance on this especially if a lot of their established fanbase is female. Instead of making a decision that will definitely help them gain street cred for being sympathetic to the plight of women and minorities, they chose to downplay the whole issue and make a marketing spectacle out of it.

And this, my friends, is democracy.
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About Lori Navarroone of us since 3:43 AM on 07.25.2011

Lori is an unemployable anthro grad who recently moved to the US. She now dedicates her time studying the elusive ~*Gamer*~ in his natural habitat.