The story so far: Bioware has decided to give players (like me) who play a female Commander Shepard some voice in the marketing for the upcoming Mass Effect game, by including a female Shepard in some of the marketing materials. There is a "default" female Shepard, but since this is the first time female Shepard has actually been in any marketing materials, they've decided to allow the fans to choose the actual look that she will have. Except, by "fans," they mean, specifically people on Facebook.
I really wasn't going to write about this the first time the vote happened. Plenty of people were saying plenty of things, since the original vote was a bit controversial. I mean it kinda rubbed me the wrong way, but I had a hard time putting my finger on why exactly. It wasn't because the blonde won. I'm actually a blonde (from a bottle, anyway), and I really like the Samus Aran look, so that's fine by me. She doesn't look like my Shepard, who looks older and tougher and has auburn hair, but she'll do for the packaging. It doesn't change the character I get to play in the game.
|This Shep looked the most like mine.|
So why did I feel weird about the vote anyway? I think it was because, when I was browsing the comments underneath the votes, I kept seeing lines like this:
"I'm voting for this one. 'Cause she looks so cute!"
"Best and HOTTEST one."
"This does it for me."
and of course
"FSILF - Fem Shep I'd Like to F*$&"
Female Shepard is only played by around 20% of the Mass Effect players. It's not possible to tell from the votes alone who actually played as female Shepard. Some of the people voting in the contest clearly played female, but given the stated statistics it's likely that some people voted for a preferred look, but will continue to play a male Shepard. I've taken the names off of the quotes up there, but, if you want to see who said certain things you can just click on FemShep Number Five and see for yourself.
Other blogs have said things like "beauty pageant" and that's a bit too kind. I think stronger wording is needed. For a significant percent of the people who are voting on this, it isn't a "what female Shepard do you want to be" contest. It's a "what female Shepard do you want to fuck" contest.
And... I get that. On some level, I'm with you. Outrage about womens' depiction in video games in feminist circles has often left me kind of exhausted lately. I think complaining about "chainmail bikinis" is really beating a dead horse, and whenever I read an article that's a general "women in games are too sexy" viewpoint it burns me out. There's so many complaints out there about sexy, confident characters whose appearances I actually enjoy. I play a lot of fighting games, and it's not a problem to me that women in fighting games are sexy. Sometimes men in fighting games are also sexy, and playing as a sexy girl can be pretty fun.
|This is not even the most egregious of the egregious sexpots I've designed for City of Villains.|
On the other hand, sexing up -- or, really, softening up -- Shepard doesn't work for a lot of people, particularly people who play as her. A lot of her default animations in ME1 and 2 are ported over directly from the male Shepard. She sits like a guy, ogles female strippers like a guy, and looks really uncomfortable in a dress. I've heard that they've patched that last part and that there's going to be slightly more attention paid to "feminine" animations for Shepard in the final installment, but I for one am pretty used to pushy, butch Shepard and don't really need her girled up. Her attitude just seems to be part of her character, and it makes her unique.
Complaints about the contest seemed to focus a lot on Shepard's blond hair, where, really, blond hair wasn't exactly the problem. You can see from the comments on "Shepard Five" however that the hair color seems to be a focal point that somehow emphasizes what people didn't like about the contest. Bioware addressed this by having a second vote for hair color. That split is just as predictable as the first was. Male majority voters liked that the soft hair made the blonde Shepard more fuckable. But now that they get to vote on hair color too, they're voting red, with black in second. Nerd guys love redheads. They've been trained to by comic books and cartoons and even without a huge popular vote on Facebook you would know this if, just for example, you ever sat in a car with three men (one of whom is your husband) while en route to a game con and all of them were talking about how blondes really don't work for them and redheads (or maybe black-haired girls) are definitely the prettiest, and blondes just look sort of trashy or dumb and, hello, I'm right here, listening to you!!
Oops, I'm sorry, that got a little personal for a second.
Please vote in the poll for whether I should change my hair color.
Okay, that's a joke, but I am seriously considering it, just because I moved recently so why not? In the mean time, I won't be upset that Bioware puts the Shepard on the package that the male voters think is the hottest, but a little disappointed that a majority vote makes that into the only criteria that mattered.