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Analysis: On FemShep's Popularity In  Mass Effect
Analysis: On FemShep's Popularity In Mass Effect
September 8, 2010 | By James Bishop

September 8, 2010 | By James Bishop
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[In this Gamasutra analysis piece, James Bishop discusses the popularity and appeal of the often overlooked female protagonist in Mass Effect, and why playing as a female drastically changes the user's experience.]

Mass Effect is a game I powered through on the 360 because I was on a bender, having just acquired my first Xbox ever. When it came time to put the controller away, I had finished the first game and its sequel in less than a week. Truthfully, I only played the original because the sequel was coming out. I figured that understanding the story so far is important in this kind of game.

What I did not expect was my sudden attachment to the female incarnation of Commander Shepard—fondly referred to as FemShep around the web—during the first game and my continued connection in the second.

It’s not that I’m opposed to BroShep/ManShep but something about the female version drew me in and made my gameplay that much more meaningful.

I’m not alone in my adoration, either. There have been numerous polls, hundreds of votes cast and countless discussions about FemShep and her alluring nature.

It isn’t a stretch to say that BioWare has managed to, seemingly unintentionally, create a female protagonist that has attracted the attentions of hundreds if not thousands of people.

The popularity of the female Commander Shepard, as opposed to the standard male one, even extends to some of the products associated with the game. Specifically, the hardcover Collector’s Edition guide has screenshots that walk the player through the game section by section. All pertinent quests, places to go and people to shoot often have an associated picture of the Commander.

And they’re all of a blonde FemShep that the person making the guide decided to play.

That is to say, the person who had to explore every edifice, speak with every NPC and generally scour the game for tidbits willingly chose to play as FemShep. Mind you, blonde isn’t the default hair color either, so it was a conscious choice on the part of the person taking all of the screenshots.

What, You Can Play As A Female?

The weird thing about the popularity of the female option is that there has been absolutely no marketing for FemShep. Commander Shepard, as evidenced by posters, box art, promotional videos and television advertisements, is male. He is voiced by Mark Meer and the character is modeled after Mark Vanderloo. In some ways, he might as well be Mark Shepard.

Any casual observer may be entirely unaware that playing a female protagonist is even an option in Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2. So why is FemShep so popular? Any standard textbook on marketing will lay down some laws about brand and name recognition. Icons, figureheads and mascots tend to be very clearly defined for just this reason. Imagining a completely unadvertised female version of Kratos is, while sort of sexy, mind-boggling.

There are two main reasons as to why this has occurred. The first and admittedly less academic of the two reasons is pretty simple to explain: female gamers may jump at the chance to play female characters. (Not to mention that anyone wanting to romance Jacob, Thane or Garrus has to play as FemShep.) That isn’t to say that females can’t play as Mr. Commander Shepard but simply that, given the rare option, it seems like women would be prone to trying to play their own gender.

With the more general hypothesis out of the way, the second is that people play as the female version precisely because Commander Shepard is male in all other ways. The lines, the character animations and various other tidbits are male-oriented in a way that makes FemShep more than your stereotypical RPG female protagonist. For one, she wears practical armor. Well, mostly, but it is science fiction after all; we can accept floating visors and the like.

Mass Effect is a bit of an odd franchise because while all the official materials that relate to marketing and the like showcase a man, leading many to assume that the canonical Shepard is one, the story within makes every effort to avoid such insinuations. Pronouns are used sparingly and often tend to be gender neutral at best and at worst the “he/she” conversion is integrated smoothly into the dialogue. Even in the Mass Effect: Redemption comic series, they refrain from referring to the Commander as one or the other, going so far as to say that it’s difficult to discern gender from the remains they found.

Dude Looks Like A Lady Only Vice-Versa

But even with these intentionally neutral mechanics, many of the other male characteristics seep into the FemShep gameplay. For example, you can choose to dance at the clubs present in the game, be it Afterlife or the Eternity Bar or what-have-you. Because the option was there and I happened to notice it, I figured I’d go ahead and dance a bit. Never know, right? Dancing could, theoretically, be an important part of the game.

And it was.

But that wasn’t because some quest triggered or an NPC wandered up to offer me a job. This was an important moment in my gameplay because Commander Shepard, my FemShep, was doing the standard animation that all the NPC male dancers perform. She swayed to and fro while the other females cut a proverbial rug.

Speaking from anecdotal experience alone, it looks as if many of the character animations were used for both models. As another obvious point of animation-borrowing from ManShep to FemShep, there is a scene when speaking to Miranda where FemShep is sitting in an almost undeniably male position: slouched over in her chair, hands between her legs with said legs pushed out in a v-shape.

The borrowing only becomes obvious when wearing the party dress from the Kasumi's Stolen Memory DLC while talking to Miranda in the previously mentioned scene. Shepard’s hands are through the fabric, for one, and you can see up the dress. There is, in fact, a reason that girls sit as they do in skirts and dresses.

It goes beyond just the aesthetic, though. Shepard presents the same set of lines regardless of gender. Whether you’re telling off the Illusive Man, saving a disease-stricken batarian or pushing some Blue Suns thug out a window, the actions and dialogue are the exact same. None of this proves to be a hindrance to FemShep, nor is she popular in spite of it.

In fact, FemShep is so wildly popular because of it.

The moment that FemShep prepares to take on the threat to the universe, she inevitably will give an impassioned speech as to why they must do what they are preparing to do. This is true for both games in Mass Effect and many other franchises. The oddity is that it’s an empowered female doing the speaking.

If we wanted to see yet another righteous man bolstering his troops, we’d watch Braveheart, play Halo or just roll up a ManShep. Watching FemShep, and hearing Jennifer Hale, doing this bolstering is almost unsettling. It shifts our expectations and moves us to the edge of our seats. And we love her for it.

[James Bishop is a freelance writer for various outlets, holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Indiana University Southeast and is not fond of the Oxford comma. He can be reached at jamesrollinbishop at gmail dot com.]


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Comments


John McMahon
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Love the article, just though it would touch more on BioWare's recent statistics. "More players play Male" to paraphrase. John Shepard is the "Iconic Shepard". why do they need an "Iconic Shepard" when Shepard is suppose to be up to the player to decide?



I hope for Mass Effect 3, both genders get proper animations and at least some gameplay differences. As well as the FemShep's default image needs to be as high quality as MaleShep's default image.

Ujn Hunter
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It always bothered me watching the Mass Effect 2 commercials or seeing the magazine covers... like... "Who is that guy?!" because my Shepard doesn't look anything like that... my Shepard is a strong willed woman!

Tadhg Kelly
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I too played through ME as a lady.



I didn't find it that enthralling, but interestingly I didn't find her annoying either, perhaps because it's nice to see a female game doll(*) not behaving as a simpering womanchild.



On the other hand, Bioware's recently-published stats on the game show that 80% of players just play the default character (male) and class, suggesting that such things as gender choice etc don't really matter a whole lot and that the "all things to all gamers" approach that inflates the costs of many a project may actually not be worthwhile.



(* About "doll": This isn't meant to be derogatory. I've taken to referring to all game "characters" controlled by players recently as dolls as I think it more accurately describes what they are and what their relationship is to a player rather than a "character" which doesn't really suit)

Stacey Schlanger
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I find the use of these statistics to dismiss FemShep's significance a little disheartening. Character creators may not be affordable--or appropriate--for every game, but in an industry where an overwhelming number of playable characters are white, heterosexual men, having the opportunity to customize the character does matter.



I also take issue with the statistic because--as far as I can tell--it does not account for the context in which the game was sold and played. By exclusively featuring the default (white, heterosexual) male protagonist, the advertisements for Mass Effect did not give women unfamiliar with Bioware a visible point of entry. I hope that these statistics will be used to make the character creator more visible, not to justify the lack of diversity.

Tadhg Kelly
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Stacey,



Isn't the solution to make games with other kinds of dolls then? Tomb Raider, Beyond Good and Evil, Metroid Prime, Left 4 Dead 2 are cases in point.



The other question that comes out of that then is "does it ultimately matter what race/gender/sexuality a doll is supposed to represent?"

Ally Auner
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Stacey, I completely agree with you!!! We're being told at the same time that Shepard is that white male guy, and that Shepard is "undefined" (an AFGNCAAP, see my blog http://almud.auner.net/2010/08/return-of-the-afgncaaps/).



I also adored my female Shepard, but then I didn't know she was the same as the male one for my first playthru! So perhaps I just "adore Shepard", and generally play the female PCs. Anyway, I thought she could stand a bit feminity - that dress wasn't really what I had thought of, but it worked. It's like seeing Captain Janeway in a dress, lol. I also loved the way she flirted... very confident and witty, a modern woman in that regard. :)



I would be so bold, and argue that the paragon route is tailored to FemShep, the renegade to ManShep. Of course it's a bit of a stretch, but the direction holds true IMHO.



I would love to see BioWare (whom I adore for being open about sexuality compared to other devs) make the female option more visible in their promotion campaigns. And perhaps make a FemShep that acts like a woman, and a ManShep that acts like a man - not saying that it's easy, but if anyone can pull it off, it's the BioWare guys (perhaps it should be more BioWare gals! lol).

Andre Gagne
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Didn't the statistics also say that about 50% of the players never finished the game? I guess if you're trying to get people to simply buy a box then it doesn't matter.



It would be nice to see the breakdown of gender of Shepard in completed games. I wonder if it would be more even split and the large number of defaults are people who are trying the game but won't finish?

Tadhg Kelly
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Indeed they did. Which suggests they don't really care all that much about the story either.

Jeanne Burch
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Well, if you want an anecdotal story as to why I didn't finish the game even though I played the original one to death (with FemShep several times, once with MaleShep just to see how it was different), it was because I couldn't. The changes in gameplay frustrated the heck out of me. Even on the most casual of settings, I was getting killed constantly. When I finally put down the controller to figure out what I was doing wrong, I realized the most likely culprit was my reaction time.



I've been playing video games since Pong came out when I was in junior high school. Yes, you did the math right; I'm in my 50s. There are lots of things I can do to appear younger, at least judging from the ads on late night TV, but there isn't much I can do about my reaction time. Even playing the level over several times to memorize where the threats are, often I simply couldn't hit the buttons with the precision the game called for.



So, yes, I imported my favorite FemShep, and yes, I'm female, but I think my age has more to do with why I couldn't play Mass Effect 2 than any other factor.

Ujn Hunter
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What they need to do is make FemShep the default then to test that theory. If 80% of players then switch to the MaleShep instead of the Default option then maybe you're on to something... but I sense it has little to do with Male/Female and more to do with Default. I never use the Default in any game that gives me a choice.

Dan Kyles
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I would be very interested to see a study on how the default affects people's choices when it comes to doll selection. The most played gender/class was male soldier... wasn't that the default? I wonder what percentage of male soldier players had just pressed the A button several times during the selection screen. :)

I think I may have done something similar on my first play through, not knowing how biotics etc., would affect gameplay. My second playthrough was a fem engineer. I think they need introduce to you what your choosing between. Or present a randomly chosen combination as default. :)

Armand Kossayan
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It's action figures! Not Dolls! ( :

Tadhg Kelly
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:D



I had toyed with "robot" or "figurine". But Joss Whedon-esque "Doll" felt best.

Christopher Braithwaite
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Yes, it matters a great deal what race/gender/sexuality a doll is supposed to represent. I don't see this as a problem that needs a "solution" per se, I enjoy games where I can choose my doll as well as games that have a preset doll. I am more likely to enjoy a game in which I can choose my doll however.

Gregory Kinneman
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Sure, it's a doll. It doesn't have a soul and the personality isn't you. But you get to dress it up to look how you'd like it. And if there's one thing gamers like, it's customization of their avatar. So is it worth the money for a AAA game to offer gender choice? I'd say it is.

Stacey Schlanger
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Thanks for the reply, Tadhg.



I would love to see more games like Beyond Good & Evil! :) Although--as a player--I think character creators have their place, I wouldn't argue that it would be easier for everyone if more games were written for female characters/dolls instead of forcing a pronoun switch. I'd also say that the same goes for representations of race and sexuality.



The question of whether the "race/gender/sexuality a doll is supposed to represent" matters is a good one. I would argue that, so long as the white, heterosexual male is the normative doll, and so long as most deviations from that norm exist on a spectrum of offensive stereotypes, what race/gender/sexuality the doll represents absolutely matters.



Personally, as a player, I don't necessarily need a doll that shares my experiences to enjoy a game. However, on the rare occasion that I do find a doll with which I can identify, I really appreciate it.

Mike Huttner
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OK, but then Bioware would have to determine first how a woman or man would act in the kind of situations ME3 would present. But isn't the point of an RPG that the player injects their PC with their own behaviour? I wish to play as Femshep, but make her a character that I created through my own in-game decisions and actions.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Elliott Belser
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Speaking as a male with Chun-Li as his main in Street Fighter, you have a point. I tend to play female avatars; this isn't a new thing.



Still, Fem!Shep's voice acting and no-nonsense attitude made playing as her a distinct pleasure. And one romantic subplot in particular was priceless (not spoiling the game by saying whose).

Armand Kossayan
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Enjoyed the article. I too played FemShep, though I tend to play female characters in games that allow it (I'm a guy!)



As Tadhg Kelly pointed out, some 80% of players played a Maleshep, which is kind of surprising.



In a related note, they introduced the female version of the lead for Dragon Age II, which is a change from the male only ads thus far.

John Petersen
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I always play a female if I have the choice... I don't see a problem with my character sitting in not so lady like positions. I kinda like it... Alot.



There's just something sexy and comforting about playing female characters. No, it's not a mother infatuation thing either. ( I know what your thinking, so just get that outta your head right now;)



The voices are usually very soothing for me. ( no, not the voices in my head... Those sound different:)



I'd much rather look at a females backside all day than a man's. And I love it when the females talk, and bendover in front of me, wiggle and jiggle... And when they cop an attitude and kick azz.



It's no secret, A womans presence is extremely powerful.

Lo Pan
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I too will always play a female when offered. Even my Avatar is a female. I just prefer a new take on action gaming. There is just too much testosterone in gaming.

JB Vorderkunz
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i'd love to see the estrogen-fueled action game :P

Andy Krouwel
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I liked the rubbish dancing - I felt it was in character. A dedicated space commander at ease on the command deck of a burning starship was somewhat out of her element on the dancefloor. Same with the sitting: She's not used to not being in trousers.



Not that there was much sitting in that dress; It felt so preposterously out-of-place back on the Normandy that it was straight back to the armour, thank you.

Jacob Pederson
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Female characters are always my default choice . . . everything from my Starcraft 2 avatar to my 360 one. Male characters are the boring default. Female characters/avatars make me unique among 1000s of players. In the specific case of Mass Effect I think Jennifer Hale was simply the better actor.



The lack of "feminine" animations didn't bother me in the slightest. In fact, the juxtaposition of a female character into some very masculine situations/movements is very artistically appealing, not to mention dead sexy :)

Joshua King
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Agreed but how does that make you unique among 1000's of players? You may be surprised as to just how many guys choose female avatars. I don't have any stats to regurge but it seems like a natural choice. Chicks are hot and we want to look at them a lot. I am wishing now that I didn't break my usual gender selection by choosing John Shepard in ME1 and then continuing the story with him in ME2.

Armand Kossayan
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As has been pointed out, only 20% of players used FemShep. I would have expected more...

David Glasgow
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I think some people are misinterpreting that statistic. Remember that the game doesn't self destruct after one play-through. You can have multiple Shepards.



What I think they mean is 80% of players have played a male Shepard at some point. Not 80% of players have played only the male Shepard and never played female once.

Grace Aust
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I always play a female character whenever given the choice namely because it tends to be a pretty rare choice. I actually played through ME 1 (not 2 yet) as both genders, and ended up preferring femshep because of her voice. I thought manshep sounded a bit robotic.....plus he was so stereotypical.

Christopher Braithwaite
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I tend to be rather vain when it comes to choosing my character's race and gender in a game, I always go for what I think looks best and NEVER play as a white male when given the choice not to. So in Fallout 3 I play a female, in the Kotors I play a male and in Mass Effect I play both.



While I enjoyed the masculine animation on FemShep, I think the game would have benefitted from more distinct female animation. I tire of the concept of a "tough woman" being traditional masculine behavior with a female skin. Female doesn't necessarily have to mean "girlie", it is just a recognition that men and women have different physiques and therefore would go about performing similar actions differently.

Ally Auner
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Yeah, FemShep was basically ManShep with a female face and voice. :)



We got to pick the sex, but not the gender. I mean, I'd not only love to see in the animations that she's a woman, but in the gameplay - outside of the romances. I think BioWare usually gets the romances right, but other than that, we're talking "gender awkwardness". Of course, I can't judge this for ManShep, cause I ain't one... ;-)

Jen B
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No no no; I tire of the concept of a 'feminine' woman, who has to cross her legs, take up as little space as possible, and generally present with more passive and inward body language than a man. I love a woman who takes up space, who sits with her legs wide open, who postures with her shoulders. There are too many examples of "traditionally feminine", stereotypical women in media. I loved FemShep because she is NOT this: she gets the same treatment that all other men do, she receives all of that privilege without hesitation or reflection on her sex.

Now, Ally does bring up an interesting point: getting to choose the gender presentation. It'd be interesting if Bioware added that extra layer! I'd love it! Of course it'd be impossible, and a thorny political issue, but it'd be interesting to see games take that into consideration.

As for gender awkwardness: I think it's more awkward that films ask us to see women as fitting only one gender presentation, when this is, in fact, not the reality.

Old article, but I had to comment :)

Leandro Rocha
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I playerd as a man and femshep, but I enjoyed much more my experience as "FemShep". She looks much more stronger than the default one.

M C
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I think your whole argument is nullified by this question: What self respecting guy wouldn't want to play an intergalactic space lesbian?

Michael Mifsud
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So she is cool because its basically a man in a dress? Seems kind of odd.

Jim Newberry
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No, she's cool because of Jennifer Hale's fantastic performance and because unlike other female game protagonists, she's not just a pair of tits with a gun. There is nothing un-feminine about her; she's just a smart, tough, capable action hero who happens to be a woman. If you wanna call that "a man in a dress" then that's just you revealing your own personal gender hang-ups. :)

Ian Thomas
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Glad someone said it - Jennifer Hale's voicing is fantastic, and a cut above the male Shepard.

Jeffrey Matulef
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I chose a male Shep two years back and have been kicking myself ever since. He's okay, but you're right, Femshep is more appealing.



I kinda like all the male mannerisms she has. It makes her seem very tomboyish and not used to social graces. Watching my g/f play as Femshep toying with the idea of courting Jacob was uncomfortable as he was so clearly not interested. I liked that she was that out of practice in such ways.

Michael Kolb
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The main reason for me is because Jennifer Hale's voice acting was extremely enjoyable. Mass Effect is all about choice, not just Paragon or Renegade, but also gender or class. So I have a few profiles where I have a different profile, different gender and a Paragon or Renegade. Really you haven't experienced the game if you haven't played a Renegade Female Shepard.

Ally Auner
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I do agree on everything, except that gender thing. If the gameplay is exactly the same, except for the romances (which are optional!) for ManShep and FemShep, we do not pick the gender. We pick the sex, as in, biological, not socio-psychological difference.

Margie Lazou
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Well, having read the article, I feel I must say two things: A) you're absolutely right about people deciding to play femshep instead of maleshep and B) you're dead wrong about a few points. Since we agree on some things I won't relate those, but I seriously feel I need to pinpoint a few misconceptions. Let me explain abit first, I have been playing ME ever since it first came out, and I am also an active member of the Bioware Social Community, especially regarding the choices of LIs for ME3, and I also write fan-fic. So, having discussed endless hours with very many other "girls", and I should inform you that your average age for your average female in the game isn't the same as with males, most have either serious grief with the over-machoness of femshep, or at least put up with it cause we don't have another choice. We would absolutely prefer to see a more feminine femshep WITHOUT ruining the hard-kickass quality of her, so, what we suggest all the time, and we're gonna probably be totally ignored anyway, is that there are different model animations for femshep than maleshep, the way she runs, swarzenegger really shouldn't be what instantly comes to mind, the way she sits, the way she leans over the bar, the way she dances, and the EPIC FAIL of Kasumi's mission. Sorry to say this, but when a female player plays femshep SHE is the head sex goddess there, and NOT Miranda or whoever else sidekick. Or at least that's what "us girls" would like. Yes, you're absolutely right about everything else. But equality has limits, and women have different hips and sways than men. One model fits all is not on.



Also, referring to Jacob, let me just say this: just because femshep wants to strike a conversation doesn't mean she intends to drop down on her knees right there and then.... many of the female players I've talked with about this say that they completely avoid all interaction with jacob cause of the i-wanna-be-your-dog attitude femshep has. Sorry. Also not on.



It's not that I don't agree with you, but maybe you should check the forums first, and see what hardcore female players have to say about it. In that respect ME1 was a lot better, and it's not accidental that most of us prefer it to ME2.



Again, sorry to burst the bubble. Oh, and, in case you haven't really noticed, MOST male players play femshep cause Jen Hale's voice is divine and femshep model has a nice bottom.

James Bishop
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Okay, so, wading into the comments can sometimes be both good and bad.



I hope this is mostly good!



I'm active on social.bioware.com as well, sort of to let you know. The article isn't about what I or other people wanted FemShep to be but more of why it struck such a chord with me and the exploration involved therein.



So this is more about the lure of the exotic other (in this case, strong female leads when the industry is full of muscular, macho men) and less about feminism and the rights of FemShep as a woman.



Hope that clarifies some stuff, Margie.

Stew Brennand
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I agree with the points made and read the article as it was intended James. Maggie's passion is a good, no... great, no wait..., a perfect demonstration of how woman feel on the topic and I'm thankful for her perspective. I hate to burst 'your' bubble Maggie, but just because I'm a man doesn't mean I play female characters because of a divine voice over or nice bottom. I wholeheartedly agree with the rest of your impassioned points, which are spot on and well made. I really hope a writer over at Bioware spots your post and takes notes. Seriously.



Now, I'm new to the Mass Effect series. I just played my first game of ME2 and now want to get a copy of the first game to catch up with the story.



Right out of the box, I played the female Shepard. Why? I've always been partial to female characters in games because it allows for more robust role-play when I take it seriously for blogging etc. (I wrote and maintained a very successful Fictional blog, with a Female Character, for Eve Online for over 2 years). I've always based my characters after the woman I'm closest to in life and let me tell you, I know some 'very' colorful woman! Woman are a source of inspiration for me, for more reasons then i could possibly explain here.



The Female Shepard in Mass Effect 2 is all I know at this point. Granted, I've only rolled through it once, so far, and I have a feeling I'll be playing a few more rounds to see how the story tells from other angles.



The Female Shepard I've personally experienced so far (first impressions) has been nothing short of astounding. I have never been so impressed with a game production in my life and that's saying a lot. The story is captivating, it's well written and flawlessly executed.



The points made about further development and improvements on the highly under-marketed female Shepard are incredibly valuable and noteworthy to me as a new-comer to the series. Now, I find myself looking forward to ME3 after just 30 some-odd hours of play.



This is Science Fiction at it's finest and Mass Effect has set, no, raised the bar for my expectations of other developers and brands.



The Female Shepard is a hidden gem I found as soon as I rolled my first character and I'm glad I did.



Thanks James, thanks Maggie. Most of all, thanks to 'all' the female gamers out there who have made their points with a loud, clear and collective voice. I sincerely hope Bioware takes heed and not only listens, but takes serious action on the next production run.



Now, if Bioware threw us a surprise and had multiple voices to choose from during character creation... I'm just sayin' '-)



Cheers!



Stew B.

James Mosley
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It's sounds like you're looking for Gisele Bundchen with an assault rifle, Margie. While I suppose I can understand a female player wanting to play a more feminine hero, I don't think that FemShep as-is is at all unrealistic. She's a special forces soldier, not a Milan runway model.



That said, I'd agree that FemShep's animations leave a bit to be desired in some cases. Although I think I saw where the new LotSB DLC added a more feminine "sitting" animation, so BioWare seem to be listening to people's complaints. I've never pursued a male romance with my FemShep, so I can't comment on any of those. And what exactly do you mean by "the EPIC FAIL of Kasumi's mission"?



On-topic, I just finished a playthrough with an imported FemShep from ME1. Personally, I couldn't care less about her pixelated bottom - I just love Jennifer Hale. Mark Meer is way too robotic, although I do think that he's improved a bit since ME1.

Margie Lazou
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Reply to both James-ses (that's potentially confusing lol):



what I mean by epic fail: i like the type of mission it is, because it is unique, it has style, humour but if we want to make femshep into a female james bond as they kinda tried to, we're severely lacking in elegance. Ok, let me be straight, I KNOW this is a game, this is pixels we're talking about and honestly in some respects I find it of little importance whether or not she runs like a man a duck or a Ferenghi for all I care. But since that's the subject, i feel i have to get my mind around it and be truthful. one model for both just doesn't work. i understand the simplicity behind it, mechanics-wise, and how much more time, effort and god knows what else would be involved in having two models instead of one, but let's just say this was also the case for ME1, where femshep had altogether very acceptable moves (the dancing always sucked anyway) So, Kasumi mission is a femshep in a dress behaving like a transexual. I see how some people would identify with it, I don't personally. I know that women don't have balls preventing them from sitting crosslegged for example. Anyway, that's what I mean by epic fail, everything else about the mission was spectacular.



To the other James :) (sorry bout this) i hear you. but look at it this way: having a model that was feminine oriented, for both. how hard is it for you to wrap your mind around a John Shepard with female movements and mannierisms? it's just as bad for a woman to try and identify to a male-femshep. i understand your point about the industry, but it's not so in my point of view, the entertainement industry has kickass women especially in science fiction for decades now. Do I need to mention Rippley? I'm not saying anything about her rights she's a fictional character god knows where it's gonna end up, it's fine by me. but you seem to be differentiating being feminine from being female. idealy speaking, there is no distinction.



as for why shes so popular, i stick to my comment Jennifer Hale is the factor. i wish Bioware realizes that she has made femshep much more solid than Meer has managed to do with maleshep. (and the universal gaming comment of "since i'm gonna be looking at a characters backside throughout the game i might as well look at a sexy backside rather than a dude's)

Stephi Place
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Very interesting article. Speaking as a girl gamer, if there is an option to play a woman, I'll always take it. The fact that Shepard acts like a soldier always was, in a big way, a huge bonus in my eyes.



Though I'm not sure if it was just simpler for Bioware to use one set of movements, reactions, etc for both, but they didn't go out of their way to give MShep man things to do or say or give FemShep girly things to do. I liked that.



Now, if they DID do that down the line with another game, great! It would show me that they're growing as a company. (I'm just now playing KOTOR and holy WOW have they come a long way when it comes to romances. ;) )



Also, I see that even though you mentioned the scene with Shep and Miri, you used my Shep's hilarious social fau paux with Garrus. :3 A little credit for the screenshot would be nice. (silentstephi)



Lastly, I have to say too: My enjoyment of FemShep's VA also goes a long way towards my enjoyment of FemShep in general. Hale is phenomenal in the bad ass department. I've never gotten the feeling that FemShep is geared more towards a Paragon route while an MShep is geared towards the Renegade: I play as a Renegade FShep most of the time, and find it much more satisfying than a Paragon FShep. But, again, that's just me.



The statistics that came out a few weeks or month ago were a bit disheartening, but I doubt that's all that they're looking at. It was just a sampling. I hope that they look at the percentages pertaining to the folks who finished the game; they're the ones that really got the most out of it.

James Bishop
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That is, in fact, your screenshot! Credit where credit is due.



From here, I'm pretty sure. (http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/128/index/1296298/333)



PS: Nice screenshot! ;)

Jan Goh
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I worked for BioWare for years (until I transferred out to EA Montréal). I can tell you that there were several of us that brought up the concern about there only being a male Shepard. As I recall, they wanted to present a single image of who Shepard was because from a marketing perspective, it makes a lot of sense. Nintendo has Mario. You've got the Master Chief for Halo. These characters are instantly recognizable and serve as a useful, immediate reminder of the company that made them. They end up being franchises unto themselves. I don't know why they didn't pick FemShep as the flagship character, but that's a call only Casey or Ray can make, and only they can explain their final decision.



Sexism is still mildly pervasive in the industry. I think it's clear BioWare deserves credit for trying to write complete female characters – characters that aren't solely the sexpot, or the person to be rescued, or the token female hero to cynically appeal to a demographic – but I remember writing an email complaining about the use of 'mankind' instead of 'humanity' in the game. These are small things, but I felt like they added up. I'm pretty sure they took that seriously at the time (I don't remember what particular use I was referring to, honestly).



Clearly you (as players and fans) care about these issues; you need to make sure that you bring them up on the BioWare forums or in emails. The folks there are great, and they really DO listen to your feedback.

Ally Auner
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Good point, thanks for making it! I believe that this is the very reason why I am openly critical of BioWare in that regard - because I feel like with them, I have a chance of being heard! :)

Margie Lazou
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Jan, I don't want to be misunderstood, the reason I am actually complaining about this is BECAUSE I think that Bioware is the only company that is both willing and able to make the breakthrough, and with SW:TOR round the bend I have great hopes that we will be able to get over the "sexy nelf" perspective, and into a more equal play style that will not be gendered. Femshep is the beginning, and as far as beginnings are concerned she's overall a spectacular beginning, and that's what drives the whiny-criticism. If it wasn't worth it, believe me, I wouldn't have bothered neither here nor the BSN. What you say is very positive and uplifting, and I wish that it is so, and will remain throughout! :)

Jan Goh
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Actually, I was trying to temper my comments so that people understood that I think really highly of BioWare even after moving on. I didn't necessarily agree with some of the decisions and there were/are those of us that think that BioWare can do an even better job. I just didn't want to sound like I complained but I got nowhere and that it's useless for anyone else to try. If you speak up, they'll definitely consider what you're saying.



That said, making games is never a democracy; there's a vision that they'll try to deliver on, and they'll make the decisions that they feel they need to. :)

Margie Lazou
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Well, it is a business first and foremost, we shouldn't be forgetting that, nobody does this for altruistic reasons and there's always the board that has final word no matter what everyone else says, but that does not exclude balance, so, we just have to wait and see. :)

phyre spark
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a big part of ME's appeal, for me at least, was jennifer hale's voice and acting. no offense to mark meer, but his shepard comes across as flat, boring and very robotic. like he was just reading his lines. jennifer hale put forth a performance, and made femshep really 'come alive'. ive played Me 1 and Me2, i have 15 characters, in ME1, 13 are femshep. 20 characters in ME2, 19 femshep. i think bioware, for ME3 should use jennifer hale as the default femshep. i know if ME had only the 'white male shepard' i would have enjoyed it, but not as much, and no way would i bother playing it thru more twice. (one renegade and one paragon) as femshep, jacob was my 1st romance, as a black male myself, it was very refreshing to see a black man represented in a positive heroic role, stereotype free. most games have a tendency to 'ghettofy' (i know thats not a real word) black men in games, GOW's cole train, was so freaking ghetto, and stereotypical. thats another argument, ive logged 100's of hours for both MEs, 99% of those hours are femshep. femshep has an appeal lara croft lacks, sure both are tough and like to shoot things, but everything about lara is exaggerated, and not just her physical attributes. lara is too perfect. femshep, seems more realistic, not in body proprtions, but in personality. when she talks about her past, (depending on the background chosen) she feels regret and remorse for not being able to save her squad, or that the collectors kidnapped 1/2 the colony she fought so bravely to save. femshep is no doubt IMO, 1 of the most well rounded characters. with talks on an ME movie, i would cast my vote for jennifer hale to play the lead shepard. with seth green as joker. joker rulz ;)

phyre spark
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btw i think it would have been cool if bioware took a litle time to edit femshep sitting animations, like when she's wearing her little black dress, when she sits, have her pull it down a bit, and cross her legs lady like. and for ME3, more HAIRSTYLE choices plz. how many different buns do we really need?

Margie Lazou
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amen. had to actually mod the xbox for the sole reason of a new hairdo (women, women :P) and amen to the above post, i had actually been seriously considering creating a black paragon femshep just to get jacob romance, cause it never quite fit with my renegade... he's too much of a paladin type for a rotten renegade fem imo, anyway.

Tiago Costa
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No need to thank me for ressurecting a dead thread...



But the reason I'm enjoying FemShep its because... well its a normal woman, just like Ripley in aliens. Actually its exactly WHY Ripley was great as a woman, both parts were written for males, Ripley was then changed to a female. In fact you could say that since they were written with males in mind, no femal stereotips were used, and you get a "normal" person, be it a woman or a man. So without all that girly like boobtastic, no brain attitude you get from most girl/woman? in films and games you get normal persons that can be then filled as male or females without any sort of problems.

Hilda Saurkraut
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Love the article, in fact i've been spending the last hour or so reading similar articles. I'm a girl and a very avid gamer, and always opt to play as a female whenever possible for the following reasons; because i feel i can relate with females more, i prefer to romance males as a female (when romances are available) and i tire of playing as the stereotypical male hero. I played broshep a little as well, to get a different experience, but concluded that i felt femshep was a stronger character for me (the better voice acting definitely added to my attachment to her, and not as much her gender this time). What i learned from reading a bunch of the comments from this article and many others , is that everyone is as much as an individual as the commander shepards they play. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and they're allowed to express that through their customisation. But I felt particularly bothered by Margie's comments... Though she is entitled to whatever she thinks, and so are the many other girls that she speaks of, i found it frustrating when she started talking about what "all girls" wanted. Firstly i do not appreciate someone claiming an opinion that all gamers of a specific gender uphold. It's just wrong, and in a way, further separates us from the male gamers when we should be becoming equals. Though there are obvious differences (majorly physical, but also physiological), i don't distinguish people through their gender. A person is a person, and their opinion isn't automatically what someone else claims that all people of that gender believe in. I do not share my opinion with Margie, but wouldn't have bothered to say this is she hadn't made the claim that all girls share her thoughts.
I believe that the emergence of Femshep is just the beginning of the modernisation of society's old fashioned beliefs. I look forward to seeing more innovative moves from the media through introducing more realistic and less prejudiced and cliche female protagonists in both movies and games. Someday it will not require innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, but will simply be regarded as normal for many lead female characters to show up, not weighed down by gross stereotypes surrounding females; just like the attitudes in the world of Mass Effect.


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