Mass Effect: Holding Out for a (Good Female) Hero

I recently decided to take the plunge and play through the Mass Effect series. I was going to start a while back but my roommate’s 360 decided to retire with a dishonorable red ring discharge. But with the recent black Friday sales a new Xbox has found its way to the apartment again. So I decided it was as good a time as any to see what everyone was talking about. But as anyone who has played the game will tell you when you plunge into Mass Effect you have to make two major choices.

The first is the gender of your character. A simple but important decision. While the game does not play entirely differently depending on your character’s gender there is enough of a change to be distinctly noticeable. The other major choice you have is to choose between a paragon or renegade style. You can play the game as a noble hero or as a loose cannon who gets the job done at any cost. While you can also play more towards the middle of the road the game encourages you mix up those play styles as you see fit but favor one over the other. Also playing someone who is true neutral is just boring.

According to Bioware only 20 % of the players play as the female Shepard. But as far as I can tell the fans of the female Shepard are extremely vocal where I personally have never seen anyone talk in favor of the male Shepard. Also most people prefer Jennifer Hale’s voice acting over Mark Meer’s as well. Both voice actors do a good job but Jennifer Hale really hits it out of the park. So I decided to go with a female protagonist for my first play through. It seemed like a nice change of pace from the macho action hero.

All that was left to decide was I going to try the paragon or renegade path. Then I had a strange thought. I was suddenly massively aware of the two female archetypes of the action heroine. I was choosing between prim and proper lady of adventure and the in your face punk action girl. As I was trying to pick between these two archetypes I had another massive revelation.

Why was I noticing this when I picked the female protagonist?

The male hero is not any more or less nuanced. In fact when it comes to stories the male version of this dichotomy is perhaps even more cliché. Why did this thought come into my head when I was choosing my character?

Is it because the male hero is so obsequious he is much like air to us. Is he so commonplace that we hardly think about it unless we go out of our way to do so? Do we mostly only notice the tropes of the male protagonist when we go out of our way to dissect the archetypes in first place? How much of it has to be with a hypersensitivity to a female protagonist?

A general low-level sexism inherent in our culture combined with a general lack of action heroines makes it so they are constantly under the microscope. Do we constantly ask ourselves is this female protagonist actually a good female character? Is she strong enough? Is she well written enough? Does she fall into a simple stock formula or does she have her of flair that makes her seem real. Because female heroes are just less common and even rarer to be done well do we constantly examine the ones we get?

I don’t really have any answers here. I am curious how often this happens to other people. Am I alone in feeling this way or do other people notice themselves doing the same? Am I being subtly sexist? By automatically examining the heroine as opposed to the hero am I showing a subtle bias or is that me just reacting to the way we treat the gender of the characters we create? Am I being overly sensitive about a game where you pick most of the character’s dialog anyway? I am curious to hear our reader’s opinions on the matter.

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3 thoughts on “Mass Effect: Holding Out for a (Good Female) Hero

  1. Scamp says:

    I like to imagine how my impression of certain anime/games/movies etc would change if the characters were all genderswapped. It’s a neat little thought exercise when approaching reviewing because it changes your perception of how the characters are put together

  2. H6 says:

    I always play video games as a female character whenever possible. One of my friends commented on this being due to personal femininity (I’m male) but I’ve always rather enjoyed looking at women for the endless hours I am gaming than looking at men. Because of that choice I am totally adjusted to female heroes and the opposite case to what you noticed is true for me. I tend to see female heroes as the norm and notice weird archetypes in any male characters I am forced to play.

  3. Jeckyllgeek says:

    I think you reached an odd plane of thinking if you are wondering if your worrying about sexism is sexism itself. I think partially the problem is that we are trained not to worry enough about misandry and as a result don’t really understand what we want women to be equal to.

    ps. the word you are looking for is ubiquitous. Obsequious means serville.

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