Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gender and Mass Effect. Part One: Why? And Why Should You Care?

I just got back from a whirlwind weekend of gaming at the PAX East convention.  The gaming there isn't just video gaming, which is nice.  In fact, 90% of the gaming I did this weekend was tabletop.  I discovered a lot of cool new games (co-op and competitive) and made new friends.  It was a shiny happy weekend of gaming!

During the weekend, there were also a bunch of panels on a bunch of things.  Two of them, as I wrote in my last entry, were focused on gender.  The third was a talk about diversity in general but that, of course, includes gender diversity.  

Two of these panels were awesome in very different ways.  One, sadly, set itself up to fall by making the focus on female characters and choosing to then focus on their physical aspects.  Failure or success of the panel, though, the Mass Effect series did not get enough mentions.  

It's really hard to find Mass Effect marketing image that doesn't involve m!Shep.  Shame.

Yeah, that's right.  Anyone that follows me on Twitter will not be surprised in the slightest that I brought ME up.  Still!  I have a valid point!  Lesley told me so!  In fact, at one point during the second (better) panel on gender issues in gaming, I leaned over to her and said something along the lines of "dude, this could be a whole panel.  better yet, I'm going to write something about gender in Mass Effect," and she said something to the effect of "you are awesome, and I support your idea" and then we high-fived (this is the gist).

Okay, so why do I think the Mass Effect series should get a series of blog posts (I know it's been discussed elsewhere, but I don't recall seeing something beyond the asari angle)?  And why should you care if you have never even heard of Mass Effect?
Answer the first: 'cause BioWare kinda did a damn find job of portraying female characters in their universe.  Not only that, they did a decent (which is less than damn fine, but better than a lot of the games I've played) job of portraying female sexuality in their universe.  

They also, and I'll talk about this, did a good job of portraying a relationship/relationships that are either gender blind or same-gendered, depending on your view (more on that when I talk about Liara and the asari), and of setting up a feeling of queerness that's there if you've got your receptors tuned.  There's also a big, unfortunate hole there, but more on that later, too.

Basically, in a nutshell (what kind of shell would have me for a nut?), I think MassEffect has done it as right as any mainstream game out there.

But the reason you should care if you're not a gamer is 'cause MassEffect has done it more right than pretty much any form of mainstream media out there (besides comics).  And if you're reading this at all, it's because you care about media.  Or because you're my friend and are supportive.  Either way, I appreciate you.

Speaking of friends, this discussion is going to be focused on two games (and some comics maybe), with brief comparisons if I feel like it.  If you want to read what will be an awesome discussion of gender in gaming as a whole, go read my friend's blog at

In the next few weeks, I'm going to spend some time delving into the universe of Mass Effect with an eye towards a critical discussion of gender and sexuality.  Hopefully it'll be fun, entertaining, informing, and vaguely interesting.  At the very least, it gives me an excuse to play through the games again...

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