About Us | Game Reviews | Feature Articles | Podcast | Best Work | Forums | Shop | Review Game

Beyond Gender Choice: Mass Effect's varied inclusiveness




Beyond Gender Choice: Mass Effect's varied inclusiveness

For the most part I seriously enjoyed Mass Effect despite the initial problems I wrote about in my previous post. After the first couple of missions I had a handle on the gameplay and was at a point where I had the freedom to shoot things up or have deep conversations with my crew at my own whim. I completed most of the side quests and finished the game wanting more; I immediately began a renegade playthrough, though I did not have time to get very far.

Overall, Mass Effect took huge steps forward for inclusiveness in games. Its racial diversity is unlike any I have seen in a game: nearly all of the major and minor human NPCs are people of color, and none of them are stereotypes. In another impressive step, not only is there an important character—the Normandy's pilot, Joker—who happens to be disabled, but a conversation with him reveals the many different layers of ableism he has experienced throughout his life. Unfortunately, the game stumbles when it comes to gender inclusiveness. While the game seems quite egalitarian on the surface, notably in the ability to choose whether to play as a male or female character, I have noticed some deep sexism in the world-building (galaxy-building?), some subtle and some not. I will be writing about how the game explicitly addresses sexism, racism, and other social issues in a future post; for now I want to examine how the fiction of the game has been influenced by sexism on the part of the developers.

I. The Alien Race of Women—I Mean, Asari

The Asari are the all-female race of blue aliens that are iconic to the game. The Asari member of Shepard's crew is Dr. Liara T'Soni, a (relatively) young scientist and possible romantic interest for both male and female Shepard. Liara is a frustrating character because she is likable, but she was clearly designed to be as likable as possible—to a certain type of male gamer. Go on any gaming forum discussing her and there will be multiple posts talking about how hot she is because she is so “innocent." This perception of her seems to stem from her nervousness when talking to Shepard and her implied virginity.

The positioning of innocence as an attractive trait in women has its roots in patriarchy, related to how patriarchy encourages the infantilization of women: women are portrayed as childlike and unable to make decisions for themselves, necessitating a male protector and provider who knows what's good for her (thus maintaining patriarchy, despite how insulting and inaccurate this characterization is). The infantilization of women is seen in many aspects of our culture, and a quick Google search turns up examples in law, religion, advertising, and fashion. For this reason, I find the obsession with Liara's innocence to be creepy, not to mention in contradiction with other aspects of her personality, namely her actual age—over 100—and her extensive experience as a scientist. (For the record, I also think rompers are awful.)

In addition, while some have praised BioWare for including the option of a lesbian relationship in the game, Liara is, frankly, a cop-out, a way to have hot girl-on-girl action for straight men without actually having any gays: both Liara and the codex explain at length how the Asari don't really have a gender (by which I assume they mean "sex", since sex and gender are two different things and the Asari are clearly gendered female) and they mate through psychic mind connections. While I don't think the actual development of the relationship or even the sex scene is outrageously exploitative (though I would note that the sex scene with Liara is slightly longer, with more nudity than the others), when contrasting the romance options for male and female Shepard, I found the lack of a romance option between two men to be conspicuous. The absence of a gay male romance, which is due at least in part to the gaming community's reputation as a notoriously homophobic space, implies that the female Shepard/Liara romance is mostly for straight male titillation rather than a concern for the inclusion of LGBTQI folks.

Obviously, my problems with how one Asari character is written shouldn't condemn an entire species, but the Asari as a race are also problematic. In short, they are every female stereotype or cliche rolled up into one new species. According to the codex, the Asari have three stages of life: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Matriarch (otherwise known on Earth as the "crone"). These stages just so happen to correspond with what were, until fairly recently though arguably still today, the three acceptable roles for women in society. Making these archetypes an explicit aspect of an alien race that just happens to be all-female is at worst sexist and at best lazy and uncreative.

In addition, the Asari are sexualized to a much farther extent than any other species (partially as a result of point two, below). The first Asari the player meets in the game is called the "Consort," and yes, she runs what amounts to a brothel: clients meet her for her "services," which may or may not be sex. Walking through the Consort's chambers, the player overhears nervous aliens telling the Consort's aides that this is their "first time." While the consort is not explicitly a prostitute, the situation is clearly meant to humorously resemble a brothel. The player can also watch Asari strippers dance at the club called Chora's Den. Thirdly, Liara and the codex both describe how Asari can mate with any intelligent being through a sort of psychic mind-meld. Now, I am all for science fiction experimenting with different kinds of sexuality and sexual practices, but this is another case of pandering to straight men. It's no coincidence that the all-female race is the one that can mate with anybody.*

Even Matriarch Benezia, one of the most powerful and wise beings in the galaxy, is sexualized. She had to have huge breasts and a revealing outfit because even though she is old and powerful, she still needs to be sexy, as the primary purpose of the Asari (just like women here on Earth) is to be attractive to straight men. Their second purpose is to serve men: as Liara drops her research to serve Shepard, as the Consort serves her clients, as the dancers serve the bar's patrons, Benezia serves Saren and Sovereign. This turns her into a villain, but not even a willing one—she loses all agency because of Sovereign's mind control, breaking it just enough to tell her daughter that she is not worth saving.

Beyond Gender Choice: Mass Effect's varied inclusiveness

In another frustrating move, the Asari are known for their skills with Biotics, Mass Effect's science fiction version of magic. This isn't a problem in and of itself, but in the context of video games as a medium and RPGs in particular, there is a sexist trend of always putting women in the role of magic user, with few exceptions, ever since White Mage was the only female character in the original Final Fantasy. The codex also pays lip service to Asari Commandos, who are described as extremely deadly; the player encounters them in one battle in the entire game, during which they didn't nearly live up to the hype.

As another detail that serves to emphasize how stereotypically feminine the Asari are supposed to be, the Asari member of the Council is representative of compassion and diplomacy. Where the Turian member represents military action and strength, and the Salarian represents intelligence and strategy, both men, the Asari member of the Council is the only woman and occupies the traditional role of women: peacemaker. Because she's so good at understanding peoples' feelings. Again, this isn't bad in and of itself, but combined with all the other ways in which the Asari are stereotypically feminine, it belies the sexist assumptions about women in the mind of the people who created them, namely that the creators buy into gender essentialist arguments about how women are. (That article even cites the sexist and simply wrong idea behind the arrangement of the Council [emphasis original]: "A common corollary belief is that while men are physically and rationally superior, women are morally superior.")

The Asari are the only alien species in the game with visible females, so they were made to be "hyper-female", encompassing the stereotypical roles for human women. This is not only sexist and gender essentialist but a failure of imagination: why would an alien race conform to our (incorrect, arbitrary) human assumptions about what women are or should be? Good science fiction challenges our deepest-held assumptions, including those about gender, femininity and masculinity. With the Asari, Mass Effect only reinforces the idea that all women are a certain way, and that way should be as pleasing to straight men as possible.

II. Why Are There No Ugly Female Aliens?

In general, the portrayal of women in Mass Effect is better than many games. It meets the required minimum of having female characters that aren't hypersexualized: they have relatively realistic proportions and their clothing is appropriately similar to the male characters', for the most part. There remains, however, a notable discrepancy between men and women in the galaxy of the game: all the women are hot, but not all of the men are.

Beyond Gender Choice: Mass Effect's varied inclusiveness

Look at the varied body types we see among male aliens in the game. In addition to the humans (most of whom, I will grant, are meant to be attractive—Kaiden certainly is), we see the lizard-like Turians, the hulking and reptilian Krogan, the large and cattle-like Elcor, the amphibian Salarians, the squat Volus, and the jellyfish-like Hanar.

All the female aliens present in the game, aside from a single female Quarian (who I will get to in a moment), are Asari**. The Asari, a species with all the issues I outlined above, that seem to be a space representation of femininity. This is Othering via world-building: male is the default for most races, but the ones that have females at all are so female they encompass female archetypes, run brothels, strip in bars, and have sex with anyone and anything.

Go ahead and do a word search for "female" on those Wikia articles linked above. It isn't even mentioned on the Elcor or Volus pages; the only mention on the Hanar page is to say that there is "no discernible difference" between male and female Hanar, which is only problematic because of human sexism—see the side note about gender presentation below.

The only mention of "female" on the Krogan page is how all the Krogan females are on the Krogan homeworld trying to have as many babies as possible. Convenient! The only mention of "female" on the Salarian page is to note that the species is 90% male, and the females also all stay on the Salarian kitchen—I mean, home word, but it's okay because they are all powerful politicians. Of course, this means they needn't appear in the game. How convenient!

The only mention of "female" on the page about the Turians is in the "trivia" section, and it says: "No female turians are seen in the game. This is because there was insufficient development time and memory budget to support two different versions of the same species."

This explains everything. The reason the stuff about Krogan and Salarian females seems like convenient excuses is because they are: when time and budget were tight, the non-hot females were the first to go. Other than humans, there was only room for one model for each species, and for the most part, the females were disposed of—except for Tali, the only Quarian in the entire game. Having only males did not stop the developers from having many Turian and Krogan NPCs, so why does the player never encounter even one other female Quarian? I mean, other than the convenient excuse that all the Quarians never venture outside of their own fleet (except when they do). Tali is saved from the chopping block because, unlike Turian or Krogan females, she is acceptably attractive: she has an hourglass figure, a sexy accent, and her mask allows fans to imagine that she has a face like their favorite actress.

Beyond Gender Choice: Mass Effect's varied inclusiveness

The absence of something as insignificant as females may be explained, but that doesn't mean it is excused. And it certainly doesn't mean that Mass Effect's depiction of a galactic society where every single woman, both alien and human, just so happens to have a humanoid body a supermodel would be jealous of isn't sexist, messed up, and wrong.

A side note on gender presentation

The thing that kills me about the "we didn't have time to make any females!" excuse is that there is no real reason male and female Turians, for example, couldn't look just alike above their clothes. Not all animals on Earth have sexual dimorphism; why should all aliens?

Technically some of those Turian or Krogan or Hanar NPCs in the game could be female, despite having deep voices and no breasts. There is no reason an alien society should have the same ideas about femininity or masculinity as we do (or have such ideas at all!). The catch is, only humans are playing Mass Effect; therefore, any creature lacking sufficient feminine markers are going to be assumed (in this unfortunate case, correctly) to be male. The developers could, however, have easily challenged players' ideas about femininity by casually referring to the ugly, deep-voiced Elcor ambassador as "she".

As I said above, good science fiction challenges our most basic assumptions. Unfortunately, Mass Effect is not good science fiction. In fact, it seems to embrace our own societal "common wisdom" about women and femininity all too wholeheartedly. I can only hope someone on the development team has read Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness or some Octavia Butler before writing Mass Effect 2.


* One thing I do find interesting about the Asari is the idea that "purebloods"—Asari who mate with other Asari—are lesser, as they don't bring anything new to the species. It's an interesting inversion of the "Mudblood" idea; the term is from Harry Potter, but it's a common trope in fantasy: see the vast number of stories about half-elves angsting that they don't belong to either the elf or human cultures.

** Some may object that the Rachni Queen is a female "ugly" alien; while this is true, they aren't part of Citadel culture in any way; they aren't meant to be seen as equal to humans or the other intelligent species. Not only that, but, as an insectoid species, the Rachni Queen's only purpose is to breed lots of children—quite patriarchal. Also, one exception does not outweigh the six other species that are "ugly" and all male.

Thank you to Kateri, Simon Ferrari, and Ryan Gan for their help in the preparation of this post.

Read more on the While !Finished blog.


Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PC  
Developer(s): BioWare  
Series: Mass Effect  
Genre(s): Role-Playing  
Articles: Editorials  
Topic(s): Sex & Relationships   Gender Roles  

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Great post Alex!

I'm definitely digging the direction GC is going with some of the newer editorials on the site. This may end in an answer that makes me seem oblivious, but do you have a presence here on the forums?

Also, I had a line of thought that is only tangentially related to the bulk of your post. In the post and on the page linked regarding gender essentialism, the concept is basically dismissed out of hand. I generally agree with this treatment of it, since most gender essentialism is of the "women have boobies" type.

However, on the linked FAQ, under the bullet "Looking at difference from a feminist POV" (added emphasis mine)

Quote:

It came to seem less reasonable to me to argue that men and women did not have biological and anatomical differences in their brains that might result in functional differences. Although establishing a functional effect for anatomical differences in the brain is difficult in humans (and so my belief is that there isn’t any current scientific evidence for a conclusion such as the one cited by the Absorbacon post), I came out of the research project with a revised opinion of the science: it seems less reasonable to me to blindly imagine that men and women would have reproductive differences and differences in hormone production and release in the brain, but not other differences in the initial hardwiring of the brain.

However, the science still has not completely resolved this point when it comes to humans, and while it is likely that our different genetic makeups prescribe different neural circuitry in the brain, the nervous system is particularly plastic, and we have yet to distinguish between the effects of nature vs. nurture in the development of the human psyche. I think that while it is reasonable to believe that male and female children might start out with sexually dimorphic circuitry, as we develop post-natally, our brains are capable of converging.

The bolded portion is a thought that has always given me pause in completely dismissing Gender Essentialism. Jenn seems to be insinuating near the end of the second paragraph that male and female humans can (should?) converge to be basically equivalent over time, I find that to be a pretty dubious "solution" to the problem, and was curious about your personal thoughts on the subject.

Anyway, great post, and I think your contributions to GameCritics have been A+ material across the board. :)

Excellently done! I was

Excellently done!

I was highly underwhelmed with Mass Effect, and the gender issues you've discussed here were, to my mind, indicative of a wider lack of maturity and intelligence shown throughout the game. (Although you're right to praise the character of Joker.)

By contrast, I thought Jade Empire's take of sex and gender issues was fairly impressive -- The now famous inclusion of male and female homosexuality, the range of both male and female figures in numerous degrees of activity and power, etc. I'd love to hear your thoughts on a comparison between the two.

I haven't yet been on the

I haven't yet been on the forums, but I will definitely dive in some time soon!

As for your question, I'm no biologist, but commenter Filby on the Reappropriate post sums up my opinion rather concisely: http://www.reappropriate.com/?p=497#comment-2951 My only issue with Jenn's post is that she generalizes that men have XY chromosomes and women have XX; while that is true in general, it is certainly not true in all cases (and intersexed or transgendered people are much more common than you might think).

More personally, I know gender essentialism has to be mostly bullcrap because I defy so much of it on my own, as do most of the people I know, and I think the vast majority of people have a mix of both "feminine" and "masculine" traits and interests, to varying degrees. In other words, there is just as much variation between individual women or individual men as there is between women and men, and our differences come down to individuality rather than being tied to gender. But again, I'm not a biologist (nor do I speak for Jenn at all).

Anyway, great post, and I think your contributions to GameCritics have been A+ material across the board. :)

Thanks so much! =)

@Sean: Unfortunately, I

@Sean: Unfortunately, I haven't played Jade Empire (yet!). A friend of mine did write about the gender issues in it, though: http://forums.theirisnetwork.org/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=124

She noted in the comments on my personal blog that both games seemed to have similar issues with attempting to portray a gender-equal society and failing in some critical and sometimes subtle ways.

@ Alex R: I can't wait to

@ Alex R: I can't wait to hear your responses if you do!

I read through the linked page. She's got some points right, but I think she's mostly off-base. For starters, the men are also quite sexualised -- There's a lot of comments about how handsome your character is if you play a man, with villagers in Two Rivers talking about romantic possibilities in a town gossip kind of way. Sky gets a similar treatment as well. I refute the claim that the men aren't sexualised in design, either: Look at Furious Ming, in particular -- Shirtless and buff.

Some of the points are spot on, but others aren't. (I don't see how some mildly sexualised threats coming from villains, painted as villainous, are somehow reflections of sexism from the game. A game is not what it is about but how it is about it, etc.) That said, I _totally_ agree with her about the marriage quest. I get WHY the least appropriate match awards the most experience (it's the hardest to achieve) but it seems wrong anyway.

Nice article! I remember

Nice article!

I remember when playing Mass Effect, I thought it was funny how you met all your female party members in big trouble and you had to save their asses from getting fried.

But I suppose Bioware knew what they were doing pleasing the hetero male crowd with that, since there was a huge fight on Fallout 3 forums when it was hinted that Fawkes, the strongest companion in the game, and the one that comes to rescue YOU, could've been female. Of course the developers stepped in and confirmed that it was only a misunderstanding and Fawkes is of course mutated from a man.

As appealing as hot lesbian

As appealing as hot lesbian alien action is...

I have to admit that when I played a female character I started out with this goal in mind, but after talking with Kaidan... That guy just deserves it more. ;)

Great article

I loved Mass Effect and believe for the platforms (especially Xbox 360 but also the PC) it is one of the more mature games to be released in the last few years -- certainly for one with the sales it garnered. That said, I really appreciated this article and thought most of its points were dead-on, including the "cop-out" presented by the Asari.

I give Bioware a lot of credit for writing more mature and thoughtful games than most of the other developers out there right now, but there is always room for improvement, particularly if developers are trying to have their games taken as a more serious medium for entertainment than they historically have been.

This is going to make me a regular reader of GameCritics.com. Great editorial.

This is probably the best

This is probably the best commentary on gender in videogames that I've read. Kudos.

"Not only that, but, as an

"Not only that, but, as an insectoid species, the Rachni Queen's only purpose is to breed lots of children—quite patriarchal"
That's not patriarchy, that's how social insects actually work.

Questionable analysis

I've not played the game, but your commentary on gender issues seems, at best, misguided. Let's look at the most obvious problem: the assertion that the "mother, maiden, crone" triple aspect represents stereotypical, accepted roles of women in society. Actually, these three roles are an important part of women-positive religion Wicca. This triple aspect is found in various goddesses, and it's not always modern stereotypically passively feminine as shown by the Irish triple goddess Morrígu.

Not recognizing this important and basic aspect casts a pallor over the rest of your analysis. You also seem to not understand that most of the story is going to be viewed through a human's perceptions. If we did take to the stars and meet these races, I hardly think it surprising that we would spend the most time working with the humanoid species most similar to ourselves and understand them more. This is also a game, so players are going to want to identify with the characters in the game. I find it a lot easier to identify with a human-like character who happens to have blue skin rather than an amoeba in an encounter suit. (On a tangent, was Babylon 5 sexist because the show didn't discuss the gender of the Vorlons?)

I find interesting, however, that while you complain that the wiki pages don't mention gender of a few of the races, you end up saying that perhaps some of the races could just have no sexual dimorphism. Perhaps its there already, but you're bringing your own assumptions (and looking at meta sources like developer communications to validate them) instead of taking what is presented in the game.

Very good article, those are

Very good article, those are all things that bothered me about the game and it's great to see someone point them out and explain them so well. I'd add that the human society in Mass Effect seemed about as sexist as the current day one and this wasn't seen as a serious problem compared to, for example, tensions between humans and alien races (and some of Ashley's lines especially seemed to express some very backwards ideas, like the part about women having to prove themselves before they were allowed in combat roles, or her bizzare response to the player picking the "no means no" line when she shared that story)

Several of your statements about the game are innacurate

"the Asari are known for their skills with Biotics, Mass Effect's science fiction version of magic. This isn't a problem in and of itself, but in the context of video games as a medium and RPGs in particular, there is a sexist trend of always putting women in the role of magic user, with few exceptions"

How about Samus Aran, Laura Croft, Nariko from Heavenly Sword, Shar-Teel from Baldur's Gate, Bastila Shan from KOTOR, Sarah Lyons from Fallout 3, and Jill Valentine from the Resident Evil series to name a few. And I've seen at least two female marines in Halo 3.

"The codex also pays lip service to Asari Commandos, who are described as extremely deadly; the player encounters them in one battle in the entire game, during which they didn't nearly live up to the hype."

Actually, you meet them in two battles. If you go down to the quarantine lab you fight several there as well. As for them not living up to the hype, that's because you are Commander Shepard, a total badass, with a crew of elite operatives. Of course you would wipe the floor with the Asari Commandos. You wipe the floor with anything in that game.

"both Liara and the codex explain at length how the Asari don't really have a gender (by which I assume they mean "sex", since sex and gender are two different things and the Asari are clearly gendered female) and they mate through psychic mind connections."

The Asari are gendered female only according to human perspective. A higher-pitched, softer voice, to must humans is feminine, but other aliens might not have that view. Liara explicitly states that the word gender has no meaning for Asari. The game makes it clear that humans don't really understand the Asari and have misconceptions about them, as Liara refers to human rumors/stories about how Asari mate.

"This explains everything. The reason the stuff about Krogan and Salarian females seems like convenient excuses is because they are: when time and budget were tight, the non-hot females were the first to go. Other than humans, there was only room for one model for each species, and for the most part, the females were disposed of"

Unless you have worked on a videogame yourself, you cannot judge the developer's motives for deciding what content to cut. You are automatically assuming that it is sexist without evidence to support that. Also, they could only fit so many planets into the game. It is entirely possible that in the sequel[s], Shepard and crew will go to a Salarian and/or Turian planet and meet some females of those species.

I've said my two cents. This editorial is overly cynical and assumes the worst in every case.

First of all, it's nice to

First of all, it's nice to see thoughtful, well written game criticism, and you do make a lot of good points.

Though I have to disagree with your analysis of the Asari in general and Liara in particular. Of Liara's personality you write "The positioning of innocence as an attractive trait in women has its roots in patriarchy".

I'd argue that it has it's roots in human psychology. Innocence can be refreshing and even charming, particularly when paired with genuine curiosity and affability. There is a quite natural tendency to find innocence cute and endearing, the evolutionary benefit for a social species with such a long childhood is obvious.

Maybe it's just a side effect that we sometimes still find naivety cute even in adults, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. By it's self that just makes us want to be more helpful and protective.

I absolutely agree that some selfish and controlling men twist that fondness for the innocent into something sick and exploitative. To intentionally impede a woman's development and make her act like a child is loathsome. But that's certainly not what's going on with the Liara character.

Even as far into the future

Even as far into the future as 2183, I don't think the world will become your utopia.

"The only mention of

"The only mention of "female" on the Krogan page is how all the Krogan females are on the Krogan homeworld trying to have as many babies as possible. Convenient!"

How insulting of you to condemn Krogan culture. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Oh, and I just remembered,

Oh, and I just remembered, the Krogan were a dying species, so it's natural that the females would be trying to have as many children as possible, if they care about not going extinct that is.

It's good to see the site

It's good to see the site finally take 'Kant's' criticisms to heart, and incorporate cultural criticism into its editorials.

Given the amount of response to both of Richard's posts, such commentary is obviously as welcome as it is overdue.

Chi is to be commended for taking the (belated) leap of faith, and for finding a writer clearly up to the task.

It's another fine piece by Richard...although two consecutive articles on gender suggests a limited repertoire. I hope not, and encourage him to expand his horizons.

yogi wrote: It's good to

yogi wrote:

It's good to see the site finally take 'Kant's' criticisms to heart, and incorporate cultural criticism into its editorials.

Given the amount of response to both of Richard's posts, such commentary is obviously as welcome as it is overdue.

Chi is to be commended for taking the (belated) leap of faith, and for finding a writer clearly up to the task.

It's another fine piece by Richard...although two consecutive articles on gender suggests a limited repertoire. I hope not, and encourage him to expand his horizons.

Oops. My apologies Alex - not sure why I called you Richard.

yogi wrote: yogi

yogi wrote:
yogi wrote:

It's good to see the site finally take 'Kant's' criticisms to heart, and incorporate cultural criticism into its editorials.

Given the amount of response to both of Richard's posts, such commentary is obviously as welcome as it is overdue.

Chi is to be commended for taking the (belated) leap of faith, and for finding a writer clearly up to the task.

It's another fine piece by Richard...although two consecutive articles on gender suggests a limited repertoire. I hope not, and encourage him to expand his horizons.

Oops. My apologies Alex - not sure why I called you Richard.

Oops I did it again, to quote the famous sage Britney Spears.

Alex could be either a female or male name - so I should'nt make assumptions about sex or gender :)

At any rate, care to tell us more about yourself Alex? Are you doing a Masters or PHD in gender - or are you just interested in the topic as a gamer?

And where did Chi et al find you?

Clearing up some misconceptions about GameCritics

yogi wrote:

It's good to see the site finally take 'Kant's' criticisms to heart, and incorporate cultural criticism into its editorials.

Given the amount of response to both of Richard's posts, such commentary is obviously as welcome as it is overdue.

Chi is to be commended for taking the (belated) leap of faith, and for finding a writer clearly up to the task.

I'd like to clear up some misconceptions that one or two of our long-time readers/pundits seem to believe. In 2000, we published a fairly ground-breaking piece on Nerd Heroes by Matt Weise. Over the next 9 years there have been a small smattering of similar editorials. The notion that I did not want "cultural criticism" or that I needed to take a "leap of faith," is simply untrue.

So why didn't we publish more articles like this? There's a lot I could discuss in regards to the challenges of running a passion-driven web site with a lofty mission (many of which was discussed in our forums), but two things stand out. 1) Writing this level of criticism is extremely difficult and time consuming (even more so when you aren't getting paid to do it). Keep in mind that every writer on staff is an unpaid volunteer. So demanding more when they are already giving so much with what little spare time they have, is in essence bleeding a stone. 2) Like a lot of things in life, it comes down to timing. In the early days of our site, some of our most talented writers were still in college and/or just starting their careers. Many of our writers graduated and needed to focus on their careers and starting families. That still holds true for many of us today and we don't have a lot of time to devote to game criticism, but we continue to write and/or podcast what we can because we believe in the values that this site stands for.

In our latest podcast, Jenova Chen speaks eloquently about "luck" and how timing and circumstances lead to his current position creating amazing games at thatgamecompany. I feel the same holds true with how I discovered Alex through twitter and invited her to write for our site. It was just the right time and place for both of us I think.

Despite how we've always accepted writing submissions (another popular misconception), I do think we could do a much better job of letting people know that we need help and we're looking for fresh voices. So expect more visible open calls for writers on our site and on twitter in the coming weeks.

You act

yogi wrote:

Oops. My apologies Alex - not sure why I called you Richard.

You act as if that is an insult :)

Off topic, but this Yogi

Off topic, but this Yogi character seems smarter than the average bear. I Kant help but think he might be an old friend. Then again, I might just be being Idiotic.

You played this game with the goal of finding sexism within.

You played this game with the goal of finding sexism within.

You said that it is convenient that all the Krogan females are at their homeplanet, while it is even more convenient that you missed out the part that Krogans are a dying species, with it being very hard for them to have children.

You said that the Asari are sexualised, in that matriarch Benezia, Liara and the Consort and dancing NPCs are all sexualised in some way. I don't see how you can blame the Game for the creepy views on the fans. She is innocent because she has never had a relationship, she is awkward because she spends her time alone.
Asari are the only species that can mate with avery other species, it is quite obvious that all other species would be incompatible. You would get a lot more customers by having a dancing Asari than a dancing Quarian, Turian or Human.

Your comment about the Quarian is invalid, they are the second or first smallest main race, they are also all gathered in a small area. No wonder you see very few, and I didn't think that she was sexualised at all.

Your comment about the Asari council member being about peace is ridiculous, Firstly they aren't female, so whatever stereotype they live up to in your head is because your lack of imagination. I would also like you to tell me where in the game it informs you that "the Asari member of the Council is representative of compassion and diplomacy"

Yogi--I'm sure I'll have a

Yogi--I'm sure I'll have a chance to talk about this more, but in short, I've been a gamer and a feminist all my life (though I only started identifying as a feminist about two years ago), and since they are my two biggest interests, I have a lot of fun combining them. Unfortunately I've never taken a gender studies course; all my knowledge has come from ravenously reading feminist blogs like Shakesville for the past 2 years.

To everyone accusing me of making gendered assumptions--try reading the section entitled "A side note on gender presentation" again. Your concerns are addressed there.

If I really wanted to go looking for sexism, I could just walk out my front door and find all the sexism I could ever want; it's a lot easier and cheaper than buying a $300 console and $60 games.

You Still didn't reply to my points

Alex R wrote:

To everyone accusing me of making gendered assumptions--try reading the section entitled "A side note on gender presentation" again. Your concerns are addressed there.

If I really wanted to go looking for sexism, I could just walk out my front door and find all the sexism I could ever want; it's a lot easier and cheaper than buying a $300 console and $60 games.

My point about Krogan females and the Asari being sexualized are nothing to do with Bioware's problems making all the gender models for the aliens?

I have no idea what your

I have no idea what your point is about the Asari. It makes sense to sexualize them? I don't care if it makes sense; it is still sexist.

As for the Krogans, I addressed that point in the article. After doing research on the game, it becomes obvious that the REAL reason there are no female Krogans/Turians/Salarians/whoever is there was only time/budget enough to have one model for each species. For the Krogans and Salarians they made excuses to explain this. For the Turians they didn't even bother; Turian females apparently just don't exist. Of course, they could have solved this "problem" by making the female Salarians/Krogans/Turians/whatever look the exact same as their male counterparts; but they decided to make stupid excuses instead.

Even if we ignore the development circumstances, it makes absolutely zero sense that EVERY SINGLE Krogan female is stuck on the home world trying to breed. Wrex isn't out helping his species, he's just being a mercenary. Why can't a female Krogan make that choice to take care of herself and live her life instead of being a slave to her species--especially if she believes it is futile?

Even if we ignore development circumstances AND ignore the fact that not every single female Krogan would choose to try to breed, it STILL does not mitigate the fact that it "just so happens" (sarcasm) that there is ALSO a convenient excuse for Salarian females to not leave THEIR planet, and there isn't even some stupid excuse made up for Turian females.

When pressed for resources, BioWare cut the "ugly" females and kept the sexy ones. This is sexist. I don't care whether they had a good reason; the final product is still sexist in that shows a universe where the only females that exist are ones whose bodies fit our human, arbitrary standard of beauty (ie. thin with curvy hips and breasts). This is sexist.

Also, the thing about the Asari Council member representing compassion and diplomacy is in the Codex entries about the Council.

not sure I agree

Alex R wrote:

I have no idea what your point is about the Asari. It makes sense to sexualize them? I don't care if it makes sense; it is still sexist.

As for the Krogans, I addressed that point in the article. After doing research on the game, it becomes obvious that the REAL reason there are no female Krogans/Turians/Salarians/whoever is there was only time/budget enough to have one model for each species. For the Krogans and Salarians they made excuses to explain this. For the Turians they didn't even bother; Turian females apparently just don't exist. Of course, they could have solved this "problem" by making the female Salarians/Krogans/Turians/whatever look the exact same as their male counterparts; but they decided to make stupid excuses instead.

Well in the books they do have female counterparts of the species like the batarians in the game. Actually a shadow broker agent who was a female salarian was in the book it was mentioned by the main character how strange it was to see a female salarian outside of salarian territory. They could make the alien females look the same as their male counterparts but that could be seen as a lack of imagination from a certain viewpoint.

Quote:

Even if we ignore the development circumstances, it makes absolutely zero sense that EVERY SINGLE Krogan female is stuck on the home world trying to breed. Wrex isn't out helping his species, he's just being a mercenary. Why can't a female Krogan make that choice to take care of herself and live her life instead of being a slave to her species--especially if she believes it is futile?

Their are possibly Krogan females off their home planet possibly employed as a merc. In the game it mentioned a Krogan female warlord who was killed by a turian peacekeeping force. If their was female Krogan out there it would be incredibly rare to find one in a civillian setting or randomly. I would not be surprised if the majority of females would want to stay and help their species out you nor I know their mindset.

Quote:

Also, the thing about the Asari Council member representing compassion and diplomacy is in the Codex entries about the Council.

What is so bad about being the more diplomatic species? That in away make them more superior than other species who are impatient and are more willing to go to war than fight. The Asari are also the most powerful and the most widespread species in the galaxy them being diplomatic must be benefiting them greatly if they are this powerful. If you noticed during a briefing with the council the Asari councilor always takes the lead in any conversation and you can tell she would have the final say in a decision.

One of the writers who is

One of the writers who is working on ME2 gave a response to your article on the Mass Effect 2 forums.

http://meforums.bioware.com/forums/viewtopic.html?topic=694151&forum=144&sp=15

I believe Wrex tells us that Korgan warlords fight over women because breeding has become difficult. It tells us how screwed up the Korgan are and how they treat women as baby-makers.

I the problem with ME is that you don't see many species in other worlds apart from the Citadel. The Developers have said they had memory constraints so at least they made excuses so the universe holds up.

The squeal might to a better job. In the ME2 E3 demo, you can see that Shepard is fighting Asari mercenaries.

Thanks so much for the link!

Thanks so much for the link!

Like I've said twice already, I understand that there were time/budget/memory constrictions. It's certainly a valid explanation (and I'm glad it's that rather than outright sexism), but it doesn't change the fact that in the final product there is a huge discrepancy between how female aliens and male aliens look WRT beauty standards.

Now, Mr. Weekes misunderstood some of what I said. First of all, I don't think anyone in Mass Effect was hypersexualized (except perhaps Benezia). Secondly, he talks a lot about the humans and how both men and women were designed to be attractive--and that's fine. I have no problem with the humans at all, I think they were handled extremely well, much better than most games. And yes, actually having generic female enemies is something that is rarely done in games, and I definitely appreciated that! My problems were really only with the Asari and the discrepancy between how the male non-humans and female non-humans looked (ie. male aliens were cool, ugly, different; female aliens were all sexy).

Lastly, I don't know why Mr. Weekes thinks that something as simple as gender parity is for "art house" pieces and not "summer blockbusters". Seems like a bit of a cynical viewpoint; Mass Effect is a great game and I think people would play it even if it had "ugly" female Turians in it! Though I can see how my comment about Ursula K. LeGuin could throw people off on that point.

"the final product is still

"the final product is still sexist in that shows a universe where the only females that exist are ones whose bodies fit our human, arbitrary standard of beauty (ie. thin with curvy hips and breasts). This is sexist."

The developers don't have the resources to include every single type of person, real of imaginary, that ever existed in the entire universe. This is reality. There are time, budget and creative constraints that dictate this. This is reality. Not every movie, video game or television show producer needs to have a checklist of PC stuff they need to make sure they get right or risk having a super liberal blogger rip them to shreds on the Internet. This is reality.

Sure, they included a cripple as the ship's pilot, but are you telling me that the Krogan don't take care of their disabled? Maybe their culture eats every disabled Krogan baby. Who cares? Actually, that would make for an interesting story tidbit! Their culture doesn't treat disabled people right and makes their women stay on the home planet birthin' babies.

Deal with it.

Response to some of Alex's points

To respond to one of Alex's major points: How do you know you have not met Krogan, Salarian, or even Turian female in the game already? You are automatically assuming that female Krogan, Turians,and Salarians would be radically different physically or have different voices from their male counterparts. Many species of animals on Earth are hard to distinguish between male and female at first glance.

Just because Bioware didn't specify this does not make them or the game sexist. Also, you fight many Krogan/Turians/Salarians with full armor and helmets on, so it's entirely possible that those are females too. Also, in Mass Effect there is a reference to a female Krogan warrior who was revered by the Krogan.

As for the Asari Ambassador, she is meant to be the centrist and moderate compared to the conservative Turians and the liberal Salarians. Does a character (or species) being diplomatic or moderate mean that they were made that way to fulfill a "woman's role?"

Does every new species of

Does every new species of intelligent life we meet, real or imaginary, have to be so PC? Yeah, the Asari are hot pieces of ass who use magic and have mind-meld sex. Don't worry, somewhere out there is a fat ass Asari species just waiting to be discovered by a group of space-faring chubby chasers.

My point is that some cultures are *not* going to be politically correct in our eyes. So I'm playing a game and visit an alien homeworld and there aren't wheelchair ramps everywhere. I'm not going to have a fit. Perhaps one game has a species that holds little respect for women, and another game has a species that is dominated by women. It's all interesting to me.

Just because a game depicts a certain thing doesn't mean it condones it. Mass Effect isn't an after-school special or a children's show that has to have the token black kid, the token Asian kid and the token kid in a wheelchair.

I'm sorry, but the bit about

I'm sorry, but the bit about Rachni society being PATRIARCHAL? They are based on ants. So the queen gives birth, the soldiers defend her and the workers help her. All these breeds are female. In an intelligent society, the queen would rule, and has domination unto the rest.

Now I come onto the males. Males are called drones, and what is the drones job? Drones grow old enough to have sex with the queen then die. Their sole purpose is to have sex. And yet you have claimed this society is Patriarchal. I'm sorry, but you could not be more wrong.

wat

So because few games will actually avoid sexist bullshit, we should just not care? Yeah, doesn't fly with me. I would think the fact that everyone does it would be more reason to respond.

And honestly? Mass Effect did a great job with the humans. They showed it wasn't too much effort and you can mix in people of color and women into the human end without it being an afterschool special and without making the women sex machines. Why does that suddenly fall apart when it comes to aliens? Are you telling me, after they did it so easily with the humans, that it would be too hard to flip things around a bit with the Asari? That they, a very different species from us, would not have brothels just like us or strip? If they're a phenomenally sensual species don't you think they would have gone their own route for their sensuality instead of our route?

Come on. This isn't difficult like you PC strawman fallacy folks like to claim, nor is it politically correct. It's breaking the boring, annoying, sexist, silly mold. They already did it once and I didn't see you whine about how high school special esque the game was. You enjoyed it. So clearly, the concept works.

That reply of mine was to Spokker.

Confusing comment system is confusing. XD

I think you make some good

I think you make some good points but your presentation of "patriarchy" and the origin of those gender roles is so outdated it makes me a little sad.

Last time I checked women have greater freedom to choose between gender roles( thanks due to feminism ). This idea that women are victims of patriarchy because patriarchal societies give them the role of victim is very wishy washy thinking. Are women now victims because of feminist indoctrination?

I do believe the Salarian

I do believe the Salarian representative to the council is female, and I think it's clearly identified in the books. Which is sensible seeing as how females occupy most of the Salarian political structures prestigous posts.

I think she was voiced by a woman (Which could an implicit indication of the creators choice of Gender for that character), however the Salarians are all run through that "Croaking-nasal" effects process so it's very difficult to say for certain.

In that case you see that the most dominant political organization in the game universe was predominantly female.

Arguably the council has been exclusively Female for a great deal of time (The Turian's are the newest members of the council), as It's doubtful a Male Salarian would be appointed to the council and there are no "Male" Asari.

It makes the context of the Rachni war very interesting, as you have an entire political event of monumentous effect dominated by females on Both sides. Indeed, in that context it actually makes the series seem dismissive of men. As their part is the one of the hurly-burly cannon-fodder (the Krogan) in the confilict, which later on down the line are emasculated by less aggressively masculine folks (Turians) for being too hurly-burly masculine.

The history of the Council in Mass Effect seems to be one of dismissive, exploitive and at times authoritarian Matriarchy rather then the oppossite.

No offence

but in a world where millions if not billions of women are denied basic human rights, surely there are more pressing concerns for the feminist movement than Mass Effect.

If not, that may explain why feminism is now largely confined to white middle class college graduates, rather than the people who could really benefit from its message of emancipation

A little too deep into it.

I think you're looking a little too deeply. It's a sci-fi game. Conventions and cliches will always exist. But I do find it interesting that your response to a society being entirely dominated by the females still gathers your ire just because the player never sees them. What if it was the other way around? An alien society dominated entirely by the males and all you ever saw was the females? Would it be an archetype of male control?

These are alien species. If the designers do their job right, the species roles of male and female (or lack of) should be utterly alien. I can't speak too harshly for or against here because I never played Mass Effect, but it's entirely possible that an alien race would find your views insulting and elitist (no offense). That's what makes them alien.

As far as sexual appeal of these aliens goes, I would blame the moral degradation of society more then I would blame video games. The thing about video games is that in most cases I would say that developers are trying to create what the players want. Look at some of the largest industries in America. Pornography is a multi-billion dollar business that surpasses many other industries. A lot of people want to see sexual connotations in their games. The game still usually has to be playable to sell well, but developers and investors see the trend and order more sexualized characters--both of men and women. And some developers are only too happy to go along or start this way (Dead or Alive *cough*) However, personally I would think that games overall have been less damaging to sexual morals than say, movies or music [i]thus far[/i], and I would like to see some less overtly sexual characters on both sides.

Anyway, what did you think of the locust in Gears of War as far as sexualization goes?

To add just a small idea to

To add just a small idea to that, females having children is patriarchal, because one of the defining qualities of being female is birthing children. IE, unless the species is totally asexual, only females can have children. That's the base assumption, unless I'm missing something?

Asari looks

It occurs to me that complaining that a single-sexed mammalian species that need no penis to reproduce looks female is...a bit odd. I mean, how do they nurse their young? How do they give birth? The Hanar might reproduce through mitosis for all we know, but a humanoid mammal? Actually, they look *less* female than they probably should, they're fairly waifish in their build, apart from the Matriarch Benezia. I mean, we're talking upright mammals here, not tree-climbers or four-legged runners or the likes, and humans are the only basis we have for what the childbearing gender of such a species looks like.

Once we're introduced to a mammalian species that need neither breasts nor wider hips to bear and nurse children, I'm sure videogames will be more accurate in that area...

As for them being attractive only to attract straight men, I'm fairly sure a lot of gay and bi women can find the females in ME quite attractive as well...

The opinion of a woman

Hello everybody!

I'm read this article very carefully and I've to say, I disagree on a lot of points. I don't know if the author(Alex Raymond) is a man or not, I would suppose it's the case, but even if the author is a she, I think we women can stand for ourselves when something offend us. We don't need someone to speak for us, especially when it's only a part of the general opinion.

I happen to be playing video games since a long time, and yes, it IS mostly a masculine universe, but that doesn't mean women can't fit in. As for myself, I accept it with philosophy.

Mass Effect is a game I played a lot, and enjoyed a lot too. I was really amazed at how the author could give it this image of tract inciting opression and exploitation of the Woman. I intend to rectify some things and show what is the opinion on the other side of the fence, so to speak, if you're kind enough to read it and bear with my "average" english.

I- The Asari:

First of all, I never really considered the Asari race as a female representation since I knew the truth about them. I think it's a mistake to try to explain them and their existence and lifestyle with a realistic perception. But just stating that wouldn't go very far, so in the interest of the debat, I will comply and give an analysis.

1)Liara, and her image:

It has been reproached to Liara to be too "likeable" and "innocent". And in some mesure, it's true. Liara is a romantic interest for both genders. But she had to be that way. You see, Ashley is a very strong woman, with a lot of personnality. The game needed a contrast. Liara is this contrast. Of cours I'm thinking for a man Sheppard, for a woman? Well, the distinction is different. It's simply Kaiden is a man, Liara is a woman.

It's nearly obvious that Liara was made to be liked by men, because men are more likely to buy the game that us. Is that offensive? No, it's normal... It's a buisness. The video game buisness, they have to sell the games, or the whole thing won't work at all.

But I have to say, Liara isn't that likeable. I've talked to men who played the game too, and some of them consider Liara boring and stupid, because of this "innocent" side. They want a feminine character with more personnality.

Innocence and infantilisation are common traits in women, especially in video games, that's true. But I think considering Liara to be just that way is a mistake. Liara is shy, true, but she also know a lot. She's not the stupid little child. In many occasions, she helps Sheppard, and is the one who allow the whole crew to know where to go and what to do. Liara dont SERVE Sheppart, she HELPS him/her because she WANTS to. Also, she's not innocent at all, she can shoot as well as any other team member and I would not consider innocent a girl who can snap your spine like a twig using biotech. When I heard Liara being innocent, I can't help but think about the heroine of Valkyria Chronicles, who is a young girl who want to be a baker, smile a lot, and end up killing a lot of soldiers by shooting them in the head. Repeteadly.

What I mean is, if you want to find innocence, you will find it, but that doesn't have to stop you to look at the whole picture.

About the romance itself, I for one, considered the love scene on its spiritual meaning. A lot of person just say it's lesbian sex. It's only because that's what they want to see. In fact it's not even lesbian. It's pictured as such, true, for the eye candy value, but it's not lesbian, due to the Asari nature. Each person see what they want to. In truth this scene is the fusion of two minds, and, probably, the making of a new one. It's an union, an understanding, and in fact an act that should carry a lot more symbolism than just: "OMG girl on girl action!"
You can sexualise just about everything in life if you want to, it's just that easy. So of course, you only see what you want to. I tried to see the whole picture once again.

One point I agree on, is the fact that a man with man romance is missing. It's not surprising, because men tend to accept male homosexuality far less than female one. For the opinions I had around me, it's mostly because men take this kind of sexual relation as a painful intrusion in them, and consider this intrusion able to hinder their masculinity. But it's also well known a lot of girls like homosexual masculine romance. I think the only thing preventing the existence an homosexual masculine romance in Mass Effect is the fact that not a lot of women bought the game.
That's really something I would like to see! Even if only because for the fact someone finally had the guts to do it!
(I know I know, there WAS a male marriage in Fallout II, but that's still not enough)

2)The maiden, the mother and the matriarch:

I was suprised to see the author finding that offensive in any way. In my opinion, this vision could be offensive many few decades ago, but not anymore. Nowdays, you can be maiden and soldier, mother and running a buisness, and matriarch(crone) and playing the wii with your grandchildren. I know few gaming grandmothers myself, one is even a biker at heart. And even then, Asaris are NOT women. They lack a proper gender. It's another case of "seeing what you want to see".
For your information, thoses "steps" in the life of an Asari are probably influenced by what was considered in some antic cults of Life and Fertility as the steps in the cycle of life. You had to live an happy life by living a life allowing you to fullfill your dreams, basically meeting love, the union and having child, and growing old and wise to guide the youngs. And it wasn't woman exlusive. It may be lazy and uncreative, but when you touch to mythology, it always seems to end up that way... It's like calling Tolkien lazy and uncreative.

3)The place of the Asaris in the game society:

Aaaah the Asari consort... It seems a lot of people miss her true role and her importance. Sure, at first she's just the owner of what could be and probably is, some kind of brothel. It's hinted subtily, but some conversations seem to lead to the idea the Consort could be more that meet the eye. She could be that mysterious character that centralize all informations in order to sell aforementioned informations. No one noticed she seemed to know a little too much? Think again... What is without any doubt, is the fact she's a very influencial person. She is an Asari with power. She's not a fragile woman, and even less a sex vending machine. Like a lot of women, she hide her strength under the guise of innocence.
Also, in this "brothel" there is also a human woman with powers who answered the "call". It's worth noting.

In the club, there are female dancers/strippers. Not all of them are Asari. Also, even if I would LOVE to see beautiful male dancers/stripper, the buisness has to listen the majority. It's a commercial reality. But if you can and want to milite for the addition of male dancers/strippers, you have my total support. In reality, there are a lot more female dancers/strippers than male one. Only because of the law of offer and demand. We seem less demanding on the matter.

Asari can mate with any race. The author consider this as: "women can have sex with anything". Funnily enough, when I heard that, I tought of the parasites. Another case of: You can see sex in just about anything if you want it enough. In few fantasy universes Dragons reproduce like the Asaris in Mass Effects. Do people consider Dragons like perverts sleeping with just about anything? No of course, Dragons are venerable and legendary beasts. I guess it's because they lack female traits... I suppose the apparition of breasts justify every kind of sexualisation in the spirit of a man.

I think it's easy to blame bioware for sexualising the Asari and giving them a feminine aspect, but to their defense, the Asari race could be a totally acceptable race if people would just stop assimilate every aspect of the Asari culture to sex.

Now the case of Benezia. I find the "huge breasts" to be an exageration, but maybe that's just me. She does have breasts, but if you look carefully, you notice her skin is the skin of an old Asari. Sure thoses breasts are revealed partially. I will have you know the fact it's still decent in comparaison to what some real women wear... Is it because like was writen, women HAVE to seduce. No, far from it. It's because they WANT to seduce. It's not a primary role, we do it because we want to, and only when we want to. Benezia isn't really attractive... At least, I have heard nothing from male players saying they loved Benezia, or even remotely liked her. She's a old Asari, no more, no less, and I like to think she was the one who chose to wear that dress. Wich leads me to my next point, free will.

What I felt like offensive was the affirmation about how each of thoses Asari were here to serve. It's wrong. Liara helps Sheppard, like I said before, because she wants to. She consider Sheppard a little like a specimen, a curiosity. She certainly not serve blindly. The Consort don't serve her customers. She does have customers, but she uses them to have money, power and influence. In fact, you could even say she's the one who truly holds the power in the Forteress and not be far from the reality. As for Benezia, at first she made a deal with Saren, she wanted something and Saren made fake promises. She was betrayed and mind controlled. But I insist on the fact she wasn't, at first, a servant.

About the Asari member of the council... How is it offensive for her to be a peacemaker? I consider it a good thing. Being the only person with enough morality to prevent the shovelheads to act like complete idiots only make you look better and more powerfull. I wouldn't like to see a woman being the stupid council member who just yell "TO WAR!" at each problem, or the one whose only aptitude is knowing who to backstab and when... But maybe it's a man thing to consider the ability to prepare and make war more important than the one to prepare and make peace? :)
I'm teasing you, dear audience, but it's something worth thinking about, don't you think?

4)Women are all mages... Wrong!

Okay, I laughed at that one. First, about biotics, and making it the speciality of the Asari. Biotics, if you want to consider it a magic, is the ability to crush someone brain from the inside, or choke him to death in a Dark Vador fashion... If that's what you call "girly", I don't know what to say to you... Biotics in Mass Effect are far from your traditional white mage. Now, of the question of: Is it sexist to picture women are mages/healer?

Well, you could think so. But the answer is no. I've played quite a lot of game with other girls/women, and I've found the class who had the biggest female population was the archer. It's closely followed by the healers/priestess and then, the mages. It's not a mistake to picture women in thoses roles, because that's what they choose when they get the choice in general. (And for your information, yes I'm an exception and prefer to be in the front rows. That still doesn't shock me)

Also, I faced the Asari commando on the hardest difficulty. It was a world of pain. Sure, they are barely a speedbumb in the easiest modes, but with a new character on the hardest difficulty mode, you learn to respect the Asari commando. One could argue they are with geth snipers, so they need help to be dangerous, but that would be exagerating in my opinion.

5)Asari are seen and heard like women:

Well, we can only hire men or women as voice actors... Sure if we could just create voice from nothing, Bioware could create voices fitting the Asari. But it's not possible, so we have to rely on normal voices and technology effects. As I explained, if we see Asari as women, it's also because deep inside, we want to. They have breasts, and look women-like. It's reassuring to consider them as women, something we know. But, by doing that, we forget who the Asari are. They don't have a gender, and we have to remember it every time we look at one. With that said, I concur on one point. I would have liked to see characters with male voice saying they are female, or the reverse. I think the Volus ambassador would be a little more likeable and memorable if he was a she.

II-No ugly women? You must be joking!

I have to say, I ignored the justification for not having females version of most of the races. It's a little sad. I would have liked to see and hear big mouthed Krogan females, especially, or snarky turian females. But the fact they didn't make the most "ugly" female models isn't an uncommon occurence. The games where you see ugly women among NPCs aren't that common. In fact, the amount of ugly people in general is reduced to a minimum. Is it a bad thing? I don't think so. Games are fantasy universes, they are made as a catalyst of dreams. Even if the slums are dirty and full with shady characters, the NPCs living here will be a little too clean, and not that badly dressed. It has to correspond to an ideal. I will give a funny little exemple. Have you played Banjo&Kazooie Nuts&Bolts? At the start of the game, the heroes have become geek-like, fat and lazy, and the only remaining body part of their arch-nemesis is the head. As a joke, you have a race to collect notes between them two, until the god of video games says: "No, that won't do it, it's too painful to watch..."

And that's true. No one would like to see a fat wheezing bear running trying to beat a jumping head in a race. At least not without a lot of irony and/or humor.

It's the same for Mass Effects, Mass Effect is quite a serious game, with an ambiance. If you start to make it a freak show, it won't be as good.

A final note:

My opinion on this whole affair, is, trying to blame Bioware for doing what they did is like blaming a bakery to make the bread everybody like because they want to make money. They give to the players what they want to see, and there aren't many girls and women playing their games to justify modifications. They give the gamers what most of them want to see. And even if a lot is lacking, I think they did quite a good job at it.

I enjoyed Mass Effect and never felt offended at any point.

Addressing some points

I just want to address some points you made in the article Alex

"Liara is a frustrating character because she is likable, but she was clearly designed to be as likable as possible—to a certain type of male gamer. Go on any gaming forum discussing her and there will be multiple posts talking about how hot she is because she is so “innocent."

You are partly right about this since some of the people who do like her is because of her innocence but at other times peole will say she is favorable because she is intelligent, nice person , very attractive obviously and very useful in fights. Actually some Liara fans like me wants her to be a little tougher in the next ME2 because she is like you mentioned over 100 and needs to mature a little.

"According to the codex, the Asari have three stages of life: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Matriarch (otherwise known on Earth as the "crone"). These stages just so happen to correspond with what were, until fairly recently though arguably still today, the three acceptable roles for women in society. Making these archetypes an explicit aspect of an alien race that just happens to be all-female is at worst sexist and at best lazy and uncreative."

Actually these stages in life are not very sexist or representative of so called acceptable female roles in society.
This is taken from the Mass effect wiki site http://masseffect.wikia.com/wiki/Asari which could explain the stages more better

* The Maiden stage begins at birth and is marked by the drive to explore and experience. Most young asari are curious and restless.

* The Matron stage of life begins around the age of 350, though it can be triggered earlier if the individual melds frequently. This period is marked by a desire to settle in one area and raise children.

* The Matriarch stage begins around 700 years of age, or later if the individual melds rarely. Matriarchs become active in their community as sages and councilors, dispensing wisdom from centuries of experience. Their knowledge and guidance may be one reason why Matriarchs are rarely seen outside asari space.

The maiden stage is not stereotypical because it is pretty much representing a regular teenager either male or female. This is represented in Liara in which she talks about how one of the reasons she was involved in archaeology was her own way of rebellion against her mother.

The matron stage could be seen as stereotypical but natural because everyone soon reaches a stage in their life in which they may just want to settle down and have a family. This happens to both men and women.

The Matriarch stage may sound stereotypical but these Asari do not just guide their people but they are politicians, teachers, leaders and some of the most intelligent and powerful beings in the galaxy. That in itself puts them above and stereotype to me.

"The first Asari the player meets in the game is called the "Consort," and yes, she runs what amounts to a brothel: clients meet her for her "services," which may or may not be sex. Walking through the Consort's chambers, the player overhears nervous aliens telling the Consort's aides that this is their "first time." While the consort is not explicitly a prostitute, the situation is clearly meant to humorously resemble a brothel."

I am not going to argue with this much the only thing wrong with what you said here is that she is the first asari you meet. For me the first Asari I met was at the embassies and she help guide me to the VI terminal that can help me navigate the area. Consort does resemble a prostitute but when you listen to some conversations about her she seemed almost mystical in a sense.

"Their second purpose is to serve men: as Liara drops her research to serve Shepard, as the Consort serves her clients, as the dancers serve the bar's patrons, Benezia serves Saren and Sovereign. This turns her into a villain, but not even a willing one—she loses all agency because of Sovereign's mind control, breaking it just enough to tell her daughter that she is not worth saving."

This I cannot agree with in anyway since this can be applied to most of your party members. Liara helping shepard is realistic since she is safe onboard your ship, expert in prothean culture and she is one of the few people who can help interpret your visions. You are right Benezia serves saren and Sovereign but saren also serves sovereign hundreds of krogan and geth serve sovereign and saren. Benezia is a unwilling villain but so is many of Saren's followers even the salarian STG who were captured by the geth. You even had to kill some of them during the Virmire mission Benezia is not a special case.

"The codex also pays lip service to Asari Commandos, who are described as extremely deadly; the player encounters them in one battle in the entire game, during which they didn't nearly live up to the hype."

Speak for yourself. Seriously though that is a matter of game mechanics because asari commandos should be able to use all of Liara's abilities on you but they cannot because they are limited to only warp and throw.

"The only mention of "female" on the Krogan page is how all the Krogan females are on the Krogan homeworld trying to have as many babies as possible. Convenient! The only mention of "female" on the Salarian page is to note that the species is 90% male, and the females also all stay on the Salarian kitchen—I mean, home word, but it's okay because they are all powerful politicians. Of course, this means they needn't appear in the game. How convenient!"

I will admit that I was a little disappointed to not see any other alien females in the game but the Krogan one is the only in game reason that is really valid to me the others just seemed thrown in since they did not have enough time.

"I mean, other than the convenient excuse that all the Quarians never venture outside of their own fleet (except when they do)."
That is not a excuse but a integral part of the story that talks about their exile from the geth(which are a very important of the story) and banishment by the intergalactic community. The Quarian story is also neccessary for the novel Mass effect Ascension which brings some of the main characters to the Quarian flotilla.

"Some may object that the Rachni Queen is a female "ugly" alien; while this is true, they aren't part of Citadel culture in any way; they aren't meant to be seen as equal to humans or the other intelligent species. Not only that, but, as an insectoid species, the Rachni Queen's only purpose is to breed lots of children—quite patriarchal."

Actually what you have forgot to mention is that the Rachni Queen is actually far more intelligent when compared to the other rachni. The Queens actually act as the leaders of their race and without them they would be nothing but just crazy animals. Since the Rachni are a insectoid species like ants of course the queen would be making a lot of kids that is just their biology.

Personally I can agree with some your comments about sexism in Mass effect because it is obvious in some ways. But some of your statements seem a little inaccurate. You should have mentioned the fact how every party member you save is female.

Awesome

Just having started visiting gamecritics recently, I just wanted to say that this is probably the most interesting article I've read on videogames. I really hope the author writes a similar piece on ME2.

Nice Analysis

As a scholar who's hoping to make video games his general area, it's nice to see someone taking a serious, analytic approach to what games like Mass Effect imply. (And in case that sounds negative to Mass Effect, I should add it's own of my favorite games.) I think you're right about the gender implications of the game, especially the problems the Asari represent. That said, let the nitpicking commence:
I think you're being a little harsh on the game in saying that it's bad sci-fi; there's enough ideas being challenged--mostly in the realm of domination and repression of other species and people-- that I think it still qualifies, especially when concerning quandaries like letting the rachni live, or the morality of the krogan "solution," and the geth/quarian relationship.
I wrote a paper on the game a few months ago, one that looked at it from a postcolonial point of view rather than gender-based. (Hence the focus on domination and repression.) And on that basis, I'd like to quickly address two points:
1) First, I disagree that the human racial portrayal was so positive. Yes, it avoided stereotypes, but at the cost of molding every race and culture as one nearly unified humanity--and a unified humanity that arguably embodied Western cultural beliefs above any other group. The way it lets you choose human position in the wider group of races redeems this somewhat, but I still disagree that the cultural melting pot is a point in Bioware's favor.
2)I'd like to disagree with the posters in general who are making comments along the line that the asari are aliens, so we can't apply these gender considerations to another race. Yes, they are aliens, but they are aliens conceived by humans. It's a well-established sci-fi trope that aliens in science fiction are not really there to represent aliens, but to represent some sort of cultural issue that the writer works out by projecting it onto an alien species. (J. Rieder's "Colonialism and the emergence of science fiction" would be a good example if you're looking for an elaboration of this theory.)
In that case, the issue most clearly projected onto the asari, by their appearance and portrayal, is definitely gender. Mass Effect II shifts the focus, or at least makes it more interesting: the long life span and the pureblood issue take more of a center stage, though the gender emphasis is still there.
Summing up: good article--it's got people thinking and talking, which is a good sign. And I second the call for a study of Mass Effect II!

While indeed the existence

While indeed the existence of the Asari could be called sexist for being a all female race, the female body as we know it is far more suited for being the sole gender, or sex if you will. Not only is it designed for giving birth and feeding a child but capable of everything a male is.

As for there not being any unattractive asari, it is mentioned several times thoughout the game that all the species find them attractive, a useful trait for a race that can mate with anyone.

Going for the Elcor. Not once is the Elcor ambassador referred to as an man, so you are showing bias that it must be a man because it isn't implicitly named as a woman.

Shepard comes to save them.

Shepard comes to save them. Given that Shepard can be male or female, both given the same attention by Bioware in game, I fail to see the validity of your argument.

Agreed to a point

I finally got around to playing Mass Effect, and in looking up some information came across this article after completing it.
Unfortunately, I agree with most of what the author said - especially about the Asari. "Female" is the only possible sex for a mono-sex species, this is true, but the problem is that they conform exclusively to HUMAN conceptions of stereotypical femininity. And gender bias isn't the only problem - the Asari cultural outlook is little more than elves in space. Long lives, make comments about "short" lived humans (nevermind that one of the council races has less than a third of normal human lifespan), etc.

I will give them some props on the Quarian however - Tali does suffer the same bias in appearance, but she does have a much more interesting personality and generally comes across as much more secure and competent than Liara does. Further, of any character I placed in my team, none had as much relevant running commentary as Tali.

Krogans

I never did play Mass Effect 1, but having played Mass Effect II, I can say that at least your thoughts on the Krogan are misplaced. From what I remember, women had a VERY active role in society until the Salarians introduced the genophage. The reason all the women are constantly breeding is that without the constant breeding, the dying race would most likely go completely extinct. While I'm sure this will be called "lazy" and "immature" regardless, I feel that it should be pointed out that at LEAST in that case, the feelings are not that of sexism but of realistic ideas in survival. It's like China limiting reproduction; it sounds ridiculous and terrible, but it's what has to be done to keep population under control, though the Chinese obviously had a different kind of population concern.

Then again, as I said, I did not play Mass Effect 1, and as such I don't know that genophage was ever even mentioned. I'll have to buy it some time soon and give it a look myself.

Gender bias

I admit I often wondered where all the female Turians and Krogans were hiding whilst playing Mass Effect but I have to say I think this article is reading into things too much.

Bioware have included man on man action in the past (Dragon Age) so homophobia isn't their style. More likely it was left out due to time restriction.

Hopefully (for those so inclined) it will be included in Mass Effect 3. I'd say female Turians and Krogans will make an appearance there aswell.

As for the female Rachni queen being "quite patriarchal"? Are you kidding me? Maybe Bioware should've added a conversation option where Shepard asks if she wouldn't mind gender reassignment surgery so she can be a soldier Rachni as that's the only way a female insect queen could be portrayed with political correctness in mind!

Female Krogons are shown in

Female Krogons are shown in Mass Effect 2, they just don't look any diffrent other then their choice of clothing. There are also all male races like the Vorcha, and Drell.

Loved your post

Hey, I think you've made some great points in this post. I discuss some alternative interpretations in my post on mass effect's sexist tendencies, and I link back to this post. Maybe you'd like to check it out.

http://gamerbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/mass-effect-a-simultaneously-sexistfeminist-text/

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Code of Conduct

Comments are subject to approval/deletion based on the following criteria:
1) Treat all users with respect.
2) Post with an open-mind.
3) Do not insult and/or harass users.
4) Do not incite flame wars.
5) Do not troll and/or feed the trolls.
6) No excessive whining and/or complaining.

Please report any offensive posts here.

For more video game discussion with the our online community, become a member of our forum.

Our Game Review Philosophy and Ratings Explanations.

About Us | Privacy Policy | Review Game | Contact Us | Twitter | Facebook |  RSS
Copyright 1999–2010 GameCritics.com. All rights reserved.