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The opening minutes of Mass Effect 3 are incredible. It’s a unique challenge, writing a first act in the third act of a story, so elements are alternatively introduced and reintroduced, one after another in an overwhelming setting: the Reapers have devastated the moon, and quickly lay siege to Earth. It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for over the course of two prior games, and it sets the scope for this one’s pursuant journey.
A laser hits the building housing an Alliance committee, which moments before was regretting its lengthy skepticism of Shepard (a moment of missed commentary, where people can lose sense of history with the distraction of the present: space travel, mass relays, aliens, evil robots, check-check-check… evil robot spaceships?? I’m afraid you’ve lost me. Citizen Snips!), and everything is destroyed. Shepard herself is flung to the side, and nearly loses consciousness.
This is the person who’s gonna kill all the Reapers? Who’s gonna finish the fight? She can’t even stand before one, because she’s like 5’9” and also a human being, and the other guy is 300 stories tall and made of metal that’s probably the density of a dying star or something.
Ironically, that should give us some indication of Shepard’s eventual power (spoiler: she does kill the Reapers, or otherwise demonstrate her conquest of them), and it is power derived not purely from physical strength, though I juiced that biotic charge and felt I could’ve taken Harbinger head-on, but rather, from becoming the galaxy’s perfect hero.
In Mass Effect 2 you had a satisfying single-mission structure, where you have a goal, a ship, and funding, so you go out and do this the way you think you should, and this final chapter trades that for something much more complex and again, unique. Recurring characters like Admiral Hackett and Ambassador Udina are embroiled in the political logistics of waging a war with an impossible enemy, wrangling councils and moving fleets — engaging with society in a detached, conceptual way, in what could be its final moments, before all its intricacies are pounded into post-apocalyptic nothingness.
Key to their success, true in both men’s cases, is Commander Shepard, that either affable or sociopathic soldier who’s done the impossible time and time again. Quite the record, this one — the first human Spectre, savior of the Citadel from a massive geth attack, died in space and returned to pass through the Omega-4 Relay, and now she’s gonna unite the galaxy against a threat that nobody honestly believes can be defeated.
The Reaper menace is characterized perfectly, from Sovereign’s first contact with Shepard on Virmire. They are an ancient race of sentient machines who are essentially gods — they’ve left their technology floating in space (mass relays) for alien species to find once they’ve developed spaceflight, and then they assemble on the Citadel and are destroyed. Alien races throughout time have developed based on the Reaper’s script, and then they come in for the harvest.
That is quite the antagonist — you know, God. Frankly, it makes me wonder, and one of my curiosities about Mass Effect 3 is why the Reapers require the use of ground forces. I suppose their object isn’t exactly pure destruction, they need to harvest that biomass, but I don’t know, maybe not.
Sometimes the phrase, ‘the world could be a better place,’ comes up on this podcast, because it is both about speculative fiction and social justice. It’s generally a non-sequitur, because I’m an idiot, and while I have theories about a better tomorrow, they only carry so much weight. So with that in mind, if Commander Shepard were real, and around, would the world be a better place? It’s a general question, and that’s the trouble with that phrase. But let’s see what we can see…
So how do we actually deal with the overwhelming Reaper threat? Mass Effect 3 gives us a solution, and that solution is rendered in terms of gameplay. There are about four interfaces in the game: combat, conversation, the Galaxy Map, and menus. The menus for example are the codex and the journal, your lore and objectives, but you also have the array of procurement interfaces, the weapon bench, and the armor locker — the granularity of your customized experience, something very much appreciated.
I love my ME2 armor but HATE how all of the heavy weapons look on my back
In fact, I really like how the RPG elements have developed over time, adapted from the original to the latest, and particularly with the weapons, which have a streamlined upgrade system that really just values your time but doesn’t sacrifice the addiction of loot and perks and all that. And there are a ton of guns in this game, each diverse and really impressive, design and gameplay-wise, although even as a Vanguard, I foolishly hang onto the classic assault rifle because it looks so cool, it’s like a fish…
The Galaxy Map has always been a source of experimentation for Bioware, with fuel, planet scanning, and Reaper proximity, but throughout, it’s been consistently intuitive as the logistics, your fast-travel between maps. But for the purpose of this discussion, the interfaces most relevant are the combat and conversation.
Mass Effect has always kind of cheated, because there are no traditional cutscenes, they’re interactive in a way that is so beyond the quick time event it boggles my mind, as someone who’s experimented before with Twine, and has also just tried to reconcile Jennifer Hale and Mark Meer as performers, what it’s like to not only play a character like that, and so well, but three times!
In September there was talk of a voice actor’s strike, under the banner “Performance Matters,” and if you look at behind-the-scenes footage of something like Halo 5: Guardians, you see that the job is changing, with performance capture and everything, but that change shouldn’t be automatically confused for ‘evolution,’ or offering a greater challenge — it offers a different challenge.
We should be able to look past how voice acting appears on paper, that voice acting is only one dimension of acting, because in reality it’s a related but fundamentally different skillset. And the Mass Effect trilogy is a great example because it also introduces this interactivity element, where you have to maintain some continuity across all these variables.
I know I said that Shepard’s appearance in Andromeda didn’t matter because she isn’t really a character, but I think that’s untrue (not the Andromeda part — I mean, I like Shepard, but I can love again). I have the most experience with the Paragon Shepard, and she’s a bit naïve, challenging people on their morality only to be rebuffed by some pretty reasonable explanation, but above all, she is kind of an aspirational being, a literal Paragon, and somebody who doesn’t exist yet, or perhaps somebody that doesn’t exist yet.
Symptomatic of that is of course somebody who is very charming, and Shepard’s one-offs are always good — if you take Liara down to Sur’kesh to rescue the female krogan, and you’ve done the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, you’ll find that the salarians are experimenting on a yahg, the Shadow Broker’s species, and eventually you see it kind of run by like a wild monkey, and Shepard just goes, “Look out, there goes the next Shadow Broker,” and Liara’s like, “Not funny.”
It’s that kind of action hero mentality where you’re like, ‘really making a joke at a time like this? Enemies everywhere! Enemies everywhere!’ But that’s the character, she doesn’t easily lose her cool, and she’s human enough to have that borderline insensitivity, because the joke is at the expense of this thing, that it’s an animal, when in another life it could be an intergalactic mastermind.
Anyway… So there’s gameplay in the cutscenes, and that’s the conversation wheel. And when there are plain cutscenes, usually they’re amazing to behold and involve massive space battles. But with the combat and the conversations, it’s essentially the soldier and the diplomat, and if those two might be dissonant gameplay-wise, there’s a narrative connection.
First there’s one, and then the other, in the way that Stand Alone Complex works as an action show, that the action represents breaks in the plot where things come to a head, and nothing more, nothing gratuitous. Shepard in the beginning stresses that she is not a politician, and given the attitudes of Captain Bailey and Admiral Anderson, there’s this severe distrust in politicians.
In the original game, the Council denied that the clearly villainous Saren could’ve gone rogue, because the accusation came from humanity, galactic newcomer. At first, Shepard is the only one who can take up that responsibility forfeited by the xenophobic Council, and the thing driving the character’s constant success is that she’s always right. Not unlike Jack Bauer of 24. And indeed, the agency that Shepard is granted by becoming a Spectre is the agency Jack Bauer takes by force, becoming a fugitive and a terrorist in doing so.
But Jack is always in the right (according to the logic of the show, mind you), and his peers in the intelligence community are almost never, even when they haven’t been compromised in some convoluted way. The show somehow makes him compelling despite never disagreeing with him, or genuinely addressing his flaws, and it’s a similar situation with Shepard. You are Shepard, and games can be hesitant when it comes to criticizing the player. I’ve heard about the contradictory ending of Far Cry 3, but I suspect that the game’s story didn’t have the inertia to make the dark ending work regardless.
So where does Shepard’s righteousness come from? Actually, it comes from the Galaxy Map — space exploration. It’s that same narrative of Halo: Combat Evolved which was so beautifully carried over into the sequel, where somebody’s mind is opened up by contact with the unknown, out there deep in space.
On the human colony Eden Prime, under attack by the geth, the sentient robots from beyond the Veil, Shepard comes into contact with a Prothean artifact, something left behind by who we think created the mass relays. She gets horrible visions of the pending Reaper invasion, and so she earns that critical information. She’s out there, and the Councilors are not. Damn those Councilors, how come they die if you don’t import a Mass Effect 1 save? I saved those idiots!
In the first two games, Shepard has to play this Jack Bauer role, first dealing with skepticism from the Council, and then from everyone, including her closest allies, when she joins up with Cerberus. In Mass Effect 3, we’re applying that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington unflappability to the next level, and we open on that scene where humanity’s representatives look up and shout save us.
But the thing is, Shepard is not always right. The weirdest part of the trilogy in my opinion comes at the end of Mass Effect 2, in the Arrival DLC. An unchanging part of the story is that a mass relay at some point gets blown up in order to stop a Reaper sneak attack, and it wipes out a batarian colony of 30,000 people.
Damn, Shepard. Why?
Whether or not it was Shepard who pushed the big red button is dependent on if you played the DLC. If you did, you’ll see that she had the chance to warn the colony before she redirected an asteroid at it, but was interrupted. And then she never tries again! Throughout the rest of the level, that’s the only thing on my mind, like get back on the radio, Shep, come on Shep…
And Shepard will be prosecuted off-screen for this decision, meaning that she will defend it. But she’s so goddamn flip about it, it’s kind of shocking. You did that thing where you sacrifice a few to save many — like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, maybe? It’s hard not to draw that parallel when you’re playing the game. It’s just like, man… nobody would be like that, unless the game so slavishly agrees with everything the character does.
So maybe the unchecked power of someone like Shepard, a Spectre, isn’t that great, because no one person is always gonna be right all the time. However, I think Shepard is in a better position than Jack Bauer, and part of it is the nature of her mission.
Shepard has to play diplomat, again, where the mission is traveling around the galaxy, solving the old conflicts like the geth-quarian war and the genophage, and this will unite the alien races against the Reapers. This somewhat repeats the plot of Dragon Age: Origins, but I believe that that the Mass Effect trilogy was mapped out from the start.
Why not unite against the Reapers, I hear you asking. Why wouldn’t people be up for that? Well, there are galactic egos involved, and actually, it’s kind of weird how it plays, because you start out watching Earth get blown to hell, a planet you’re supposed to care about, because… well, heritage I suppose is important to people, that insipid and sentimental invention of humankind. And because Anderson’s there, and that’s why.
So you go out into space on this mission and James Vega is there to be that voice on your shoulder, like ‘I can’t believe we’re just running away!’ And you have to rationalize it, and it does make sense, because there’s no strategic upper hand on Earth, you’d only be delaying an inevitable defeat. But then you go to Palaven’s moon and you hear about Tuchanka and how the Reapers are reaping everywhere, and you’re think, right — it’s not just about Earth. We’re not special.
But it seems like that’s the main reason people are coming together, to get back at those Reapers for attacking Earth. Not Palaven, not Illium. And after a while of watching Shepard yell at people, you’re like jeez, could you cool it about your own planet? Nobody cares… I suppose Bioware could’ve done that a bit differently, and it would’ve been a set up to an amazing ending, which was the speculation of Joel White of Fast Karate for the Gentleman, who was prepared the entire time to face the choice at the end to blow up Earth to save the rest of the galaxy. Did not come to pass, as we know.
So your fellow diplomats want things in return for their part in the galactic front, given concern over the post-war situation, and the give and take of reallocating fleets. So this is where the combat part comes in.
After things are settled in offices and conferences, Shepard dons her N7 armor and heads down to the planet to make good on those promises, to get things done without the slowness endemic to bureaucracy and, well, democracy. But it’s actually good, it’s one reason why if Shepard were real, the world might be a better place. She is the key to the puzzle of this fictional universe, the paragon of heroism in a world that’s decently politically complex.
But things always blow up in the end
There’s that breadth of experience that a character like Shepard has, this ability to see everything and connect the pieces, and so decisions would be made based on a holistic perspective. For example, Shepard would not sacrifice her fellow soldiers (lightly, of course) because she knows what it’s like to be down there, in the trenches, and those soldiers would mean something to her, where they’re just names on a list to a Commander-in-Chief. Any macro decisions she makes will be informed by the micro. The global cause and the human effect again.
Of course, this is now where the gloss of video-game character comes in, and specifically the approach to this one. When you rescue the students at Grissom Academy, one of the kids is like, “I killed someone, is this feeling ever gonna go away?” And instead of saying that these people have been converted into husks, Shepard says, “If the feeling did go away, I’d worry.”
Shepard has seen some shit. Some of the worst things the galaxy has on offer, culminating in the heart of darkness — that human Reaper. Not only that, she’s killed like a thousand human and humanoid people, but that doesn’t slow her down. She’s a machine, literally — don’t worry about that part.
The politician-soldier then is kind of an impossible ideal, especially since either job seems to require more than enough for one person. But Shepard’s world has been kind of simplified, and feels especially so in Mass Effect 3, where all the galactic problems are laid out before you in your journal. Not to mention that solving those problems requires, of all things, shooting your way through.
That’s the combat, and so you pair that with the unwavering morality of your Paragon responses, which again is dangerously self-assured. But what is Shepard doing? She’s solving urgent problems, and making peace to make war. She does that perfectly, but that’s the disconnect between our world and hers — our battle has to be fought philosophically, where we can source all of our problems to deficiencies in education, culture, religion, and… connectivity. Now that’s interesting.
Our world is globalizing, coming together like Shepard’s galaxy. So maybe it’s not so far afield after all. The question then becomes — how does an individual unite a society, or even interact with one on that macro level?
That’s the best thematic part of the trilogy. The Illusive Man brings Shepard back from the dead (as a space robot zombie) partly because of her skills, experience, and motivation, but also because of her name. This is the person who killed a Reaper, and so Shepard derives her power from her legend — ultimately, it’s influence, and this is how she gets access to people and is able to convince them to do things. She is humanity’s de facto leader, the one everyone depends on (that scene where both Primarch Victus and the krogan clan leader wish to speak with you privately).
The ending of Mass Effect 3 is thematically discordant, but I think it works because of how Arthur C. Clarke it is. Shepard is among the stars, having this completely alien experience that no human has ever had, nor ever will again. And then the epilogue with the Stargazer directly invokes this legend aspect, such that it doesn’t matter how the solar system was won, but that it was won by a single person.
And obviously it wasn’t, nor would that good ol’ boy Shepard ever take credit like that, but that’s how you organize people behind you, by becoming greater than who you are. And that’s exactly what the player is doing from the moment they push start for the first time. They choose War Hero, Sole Survivor, or Ruthless, qualities most players probably don’t themselves have.
They go on to create an ideal residual self-image, as it were, with a character creator tool that is complex, but driven by the subconscious in my experience — I’ve created the faces of a dozen Shepards, and they’ve all looked functionally identical. The task is ‘create the ideal person,’ and that’s who it is, and you’re welcome to take that however you will, if you’ve seen pictures of Pela Shepard on the blog. White supremacist…
You get awesome powers and abilities, you get to romance somebody. Some turian (but no option for Legion, huh? [USB penis joke data not available]). From the incept point of the series, when Casey Hudson first discussed the game with Ray and Greg over lunch, the idea was fantasy. In the escapist, not genre sense. We’re not doing the whole Destiny genrebusting thing. And part of that fantasy is becoming a hero, and so we can really track what that process is like, how it works.
It’s a pretty inspiring message, because Shepard is obviously limited by being only human, when compared to these ancient death machines, but she manages to overcome them, overcoming these limitations and not through some stubborn, brute force method. The answer is not always through, and so Shepard instead communicates, and believes in things — the principles of her galaxy-saving diplomacy are things the player is actually capable of embodying, despite not being Ruthless him/herself.
You, as a humble humanoid, may not be able to do the combat part of it, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but again, you don’t have to, not existing in a physically urgent world. But keep an eye on the machines, in the meantime. Just to be safe.
Also, keep an open mind. Just as Shepard does in gathering aliens on an Alliance ship, and then expand that open mind the way Shepard explores the unknown in the galaxy, and finally, apply that expanded, open mind the way Shepard fights to open channels of communication between disparate people. Do this, and you can be like Shepard too, you can become more than your meager human frame.
There was a post I posted on the blog a long time ago called The Lone Narrative, meant as a supplement to Ep. 48 – Moralizing on Omega. There was some commentary I’d like to reiterate here, written in response to an article I read online about how in its early stages, Commander Shepard was going to be a female character only.
Initial takeaway of course is ‘fuck.’ And second takeaway is along that line. What an opportunity to have a great, influential female character in popular media. A huge opportunity. As it stands, the face of Mass Effect is the male Shepard, whose default look is based on the likeness of an actor, unlike the female Shepard, who’s more amorphous, undefined. I feel like my continued use of the feminine pronoun ‘she’ in this podcast sounds kind of reactionary or sour grapes, but that was my experience with the game, even if gender-wise it’s not the default. The default. I’ll let that ring in your ears for a while.
It’s a necessary evil, I suspect, that Shepard is not only female, that there is a choice, because this is one case where now we can look at it, and safely say, with 100% certainty, that this action hero is not compromised in any way because she’s a woman. Usually female strength is segregated and narrowly defined, even in the best examples where it’s like, you’re so strong because you can shoot a gun and drive a car. That’s a step forward, but it’s certainly not equity.
The case study I should introduce now is the breakdown between Nathan Drake and his mom, Lara Croft. Nathan Drake, that rapscallion, he murders probably 500 people in every game, and that’s something that is noted as peculiar by game critics, but only because Drake is so cool and chill and Fillion-esque, and because he’s shooting people and not the Locust. For the game creators though, there was no peculiarity.
Contrast that with the Lara Croft reboot, where there’s a question to the value of her violence — endless scrutiny, and I don’t know why. ‘Well, she’s a tomb raider, so raid tombs’ — that’s bullshit, because one of the most iconic things about her are those two pistols, which might serve more to accentuate her hips, but they definitely kill things. Lara Croft has always been violent, but now the killing and stabbing looks more like Nathan Drake’s.
And then I see headlines for articles like “Lara Croft in Rise of the Tomb Raider isn’t a Superhero,” and I have to suppress a gag reflex. I saw that video where she wipes out a camp of dudes, and pulls one into the water like a crocodile and snaps his neck, and I just about fell in love, and then I see the comments and these people are like, “Man, she’s a psychopath now.”
There was speculation about possible satire in the hit video-game Drakengard 3, which has a psychopathic main character who has to murder all of her sisters or something, and critics wondered if it was meant to unsettle us in an intellectual way, make us think about our own biases, because we are judging this character in a way we might not Kratos, the God of War. Drakengard 3 was actually written by a woman, but obviously things can be lost in gameplay and all that. We never really thought critically about Kratos because it’s normal to see a guy be hyper-violent (hyper-masculine). And plus, he feels really bad about his wife and daughter, and that’s not to mention that if you actually thought critically about Kratos you’d stop playing those fucking games.
Women don’t get to be action heroes the way men do, and Shepard is a mathematical exception even more so than some of the characters often cited on this podcast, like Mace from Strange Days, Major Eden Sinclair, Major Motoko Kusanagi, and Erin from You’re Next. The Commander’s equality is visible, because the only real difference between playing a female Shepard and playing a male Shepard is the romance options*. (Maybe that’s how you get Legion…?)
So it might occur to you at this juncture: isn’t that reductive of female identity? Isn’t that a cheap way to do it, just Xeroxing and creating a Ms. Male character who doesn’t even know it (unlike Ms. Lutece, also voiced by Jennifer Hale)? Maybe, but we do get to see a woman doing things that we’ve never seen a woman do before. In combat, Pela Shepard is hyper-aggressive, and super angry, and she trucks everybody, smashing face-first into giant mechs, meleeing guys in full body armor, and of course, pulling robots over cover to deal the finishing blow.
And so I just worried, that if Shepard was a female character from the start, would she be like the female SPARTANs, the snipers and the brains to the male SPARTANs’ muscle, that bullshit? Bullshit which is a completely blameless situation, it’s men attempting to do what they can in a privileged position (regardless their unknown motives) by putting a women characters in roles like these, but they’re stricken by a failure of imagination before the scope of women, or a lack of motivation to explore it.
I know why women aren’t gonna be action heroes like this, and it stems from a thought you’ve been having this whole time — do we really need more psychopaths, even to level the playing field? Isn’t it better if Lara Croft is more human? I can’t imagine left-leaning people out there who think about diversity also care about these gritty anti-heroes who’ve spoiled the fun of fiction and media for so long, coming packaged with their women in refrigerators and damsels to be rescued. I sense that it’s an impossible Venn diagram, the writer who wants to create an equal female character, and the writer who wants blood… destruction… chaos…
I see it in at least two places. Women and other minorities are becoming content creators on their own terms, with incredibly controversial games like Gone Home and Depression Quest, which were controversial mostly because they were made by women. The indie space is awash in clever ideas and positivity, life-affirming worlds because the actual world wants to kill you.
With regards to what I call the Strong Female Character, by and large people in the indie space have spoken — and believe me, I try to stay abreast of where she might lurk so that I can bitch about it when she doesn’t show up.
And then I remember having this awful realization when I sat down to write a screenplay maybe two years ago, something I did because I have important things to say and I’m special… honestly, could that be any more self-aggrandizing than having a podcast like this?
Searching the blackness of my imagination for a story premise, I had a few good ideas. Or, great ideas. Nobody will ever see your first serious attempt at a creative work, but you have to believe they will, and I felt that a violent revenge thriller with a female, count ‘em, female, main character would be an accurate thesis for a prospective body of work (forthcoming, Winter 2002).
And as I was trying to solve the story and formulate the plot in the very conceptual stages, I realized I was fucked and couldn’t go any further. Three hours of work — totally gone. I know! Guess that leaves me no choice but to return to the whatever anime marathon or some shit… Can’t say I didn’t try.
And the reason I was fucked was because it’s the choice between being irresponsible and being boring. With revenge, it’s a tricky thing that two years later I’ve only really begun to figure out and been able to escape the binary I’m about to outline. Back then, it was ‘do I want to do Rolling Thunder or I Saw the Devil?’ Both great, both ultraviolent, but writing a movie with a woman doing I Saw the Devil would just be condemning her behavior, and that defeats the purpose, which is to introduce a new kind of character into the lexicon. The Lexi Alexandercon. On the other hand, a woman doing Rolling Thunder just makes me look like a stooge, because who would tell a story like that? You can’t even call it nihilistic because it’s just so awkwardly self-abandoning — revenge is… good? Somebody better get Hideo Kojima on the line so he can swap out that one word.
So what’s the solution, then? Accidents like Mass Effect? Well, a freedom of character creation is always fun, but of course then there’s that prospect of lost value. If only you bear witness to that Reaper-killer with the combat ponytail, how much did that strong female character really purchase? In the economy of blood and destruction and chaos.
Anyway, why should a woman be a psycho killer? Time to address that question. Again, it isn’t just because it’s another dimension of human experience they’re typically denied, it’s that the dimension of the physical is so important, more so than is captured by being one quantitative unit in these discussions, a talking point to skip over because historically we’ve ascribed strength and badassness to the masculine. Which seems arbitrary, the cavemen. Wouldn’t you say?
When we peel away the myths that power gender inequality, like how women aren’t competent or are better suited to being teachers or nurses, which men also do, you can peel and peel and peel because it’s bullshit every layer, but it always seems like there’s a dead stop when we talk about muscle mass and physical strength. Men just have bigger muscles than women, and that opens uncomfortable doors for them. But that’s bullshit too, not the uncomfortable doors part, for sure, but the value we place on muscle mass alone.
Things like that are just hard to see and puzzle out. I was in a Health class, sophomore year of college, yes a Health class, and the woman professor was talking about how men just have bigger muscles than women, and that’s science and that’s the fact, face facts, end of story. And it was one of those moments like learning about death, or that there is no God, or that actually you’ve been Asian this whole time, where your stomach just drops and you go numb but you’re still sitting in the middle of a classroom of about thirty people. Try to keep that color in your cheeks, younger self. So it became something that I had to think really hard about, and it was only hard because it was discomfiting territory to mentally inhabit.
Of course, strength is not a linear thing, otherwise bodybuilders would wrestle in the Olympics, or something. It’s more about one’s connection to the body, the advanced ability to utilize it, and the motivation to utilize it. Women have minds, so they can theoretically connect them to the body and obviously many women have, people who do martial arts and rip it up in the gym and all that, but generally, women don’t have that motivation part, and it’s because they’re dissuaded from it. For a number of reasons, all complex and awful. But ultimately, men having greater aptitude for building muscle is just a biological fun fact, and would have no impact on the real world if not for that dissuasion of women.
Because of the way American culture in general creates and cultivates our minds, I don’t expect many people wrestled with that idea, and I think the exercise is one of those in the domain of male privilege. Girls are ostracized from things without even having done anything, so why would they bother thinking about this weirdness? That’s the root of the dissuasion.
Now we airdrop something new into that cultural paralysis zone — we see an imbalance of strong male characters with strong female characters, and also the milquetoast strong female characters we’ve been given, and we can correct that very simply.
Commander Shepard is awesome. Importing an ME2 save file to ME3 and playing a Vanguard, you feel so powerful, as described earlier. But damn, you just tell Liara to lift those two jokers with Singularity and then you biotic charge them from across the map and they explode! And when you do the heavy melee the camera hits an angle and Jennifer Hale bellows that war cry. Mass Effect 3 is pure catharsis, in so many ways, but in this way especially. A phenomenal game.
So after rescuing that female krogan on Sur’kesh, name of Eve, which is a funny thing where characters inside the story make these allusions so the creators can have their cake — kind of like having Marty tell Rust he’s an idiot for spouting all that philosophy, but the show still gets to spout all that philosophy — you can talk to her in the Med Bay, and she expresses concerns about Undnot Wreav.
I have never seen Urdnot Wrex outside the context of Mass Effect 1, because I finished that game once and couldn’t carry the save file over for some reason? And if you start with ME2, they kill Wrex because why reintroduce an old character when you could just start fresh? This new character, Wreav, he’s kind of abrasive, kind of a lumbering galoot. He says things like “the females belong to me,” and he maintains his rule over Tuchanka by nuking the other clans.
Eve tells Shepard in confidence that he’s gonna try to breed an army once the genophage is cured, but she doesn’t want the next generation to run headfirst into the same old Tuchanka song and dance. So she plans on mounting a resistance, and feels that, like Shepard, the weight of her race’s future has been placed on a woman’s shoulders, and she says something like, “it’s time to show the men how it’s done.”
It feels like such an olive branch, one that’s actually pretty redundant, as if the Bioware guys didn’t realize that Shepard has been this empowering force from day one, just by being no different than the guy version. But that’s not obvious enough, it doesn’t comfortably fit into the battle of the sexes narrative, and it contradicts it, but you don’t have to do more to do so much, ultimately. Equality could be that simple. To think… What if men and women were cut from the same cloth?
That we had to jump FTL and border on Dark Space to finally wonder that… We’ve been acting like a pack of vorcha.
*I’m halfway through a third playthrough of Mass Effect 3, but I’ve only completed it once. My favorite new character was Steve Cortez, and I think it’s because he’s such an everyman and literally nobody else is, and also because the treatment of his sexuality is frank, almost pointedly a non-issue. I liked Samantha Traynor well enough, though she might fit a trope of girl-next-door hotness with that clumsy kind of nervousness — she gets so flustered around Shepard, isn’t that so cute? (Yep)
But I really liked Cortez, again because he was immediately identifiable, and then you learn that he has this tragic past that puts Shepard in perspective — both he and Vega had run-ins with the Collectors, that evil alien race Shepard steamrolled through like they were nothing. Cortez’s husband was taken by the Collectors and presumably melted, and he’s trying to use work to distract himself.
Shepard can be incredibly sympathetic to the guy’s plight, and those moments are some of the quietest and most human in the game. But I feel like because I was playing a woman, the final chapter to that character was missing. I don’t want to do a reverse-Chasing Amy, especially not with Garrus around the corner and looking svelte as ever in that silly blue armor, but I’d be curious if there’s something more on this most recent playthrough.