The FemShep Experiment: Intro

Posted: November 20, 2012 in Gaming
Tags: , , , ,

Jane Shepard. Ellen Ripley. Samus Aran. What do these characters have in common? They’re all strong, heroic women who’ve had epic space adventures and look absolutely badass with guns. Here’s another thing – none of them were originally written as female. Mass Effect’s default protagonist is Commander John Shepard, Sigourney Weaver was the last member cast in Alien and during Metroid’s development a member of staff randomly commented “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if the person under the suit was a woman?”

Yes, it was indeed cool!

For someone old enough to remember the gaming dark ages where wimminfolk were basically kidnap-fodder, playing Mass Effect as FemShep is a dream come true. She does everything HimShep does (with the odd exception – boinking Ashley for instance) and the brilliant Jennifer Hale gives her one hell of a performance. What’s really fascinating is the level of input the player has over Shepard. We choose her looks, her background and her decisions, which won’t just define her story arc but change the whole galaxy. Entire races may live or die depending on her actions, so yeah – mind how you go!

With that kind of pressure, it’s nice for Shepard to have that “special someone”; someone who’s a shoulder to cry on, a reason to keep fighting and (of course) someone to have a pre-apocalyptic quickie with in the Normandy bunks. Don’t act like you don’t love it! The series offers several potential love interests, each with their own story that can play out in completely different ways. Maybe you’ll be true to one character, fighting alongside them till the bitter end *fistbumps Liara*. Maybe you’ll have a joyful reunion with your lover in the second game only to break their heart in the third (IF they survive that long!) Maybe you’ll be awkwardly propositioned at a bad moment and have to go clear your head by driving around in the Mako killing Thresher Maws. As I said, it’s all about choice, which is why these “Paramour” sub-quests are a huge talking point among Mass Effect fans.

Whether you pursued it or not, Bioware had to lay the groundwork for every scenario – that’s a lot of plot, script and dialogue you normally wouldn’t even get to see. As choosing one sweetheart means forsaking the others (trust me – you can’t have two at once!) there’s every chance I’ve missed out on the video game romance of the century. Thankfully it’s a game made for multiple playthroughs so I’m going back to visit those other eligible folks. Will they sweep me off my feet or are they better off consigned to The Friend Zone? Time will tell. Plus I’ve got new classes to try out, achievements to get and Paragon/Renegade options to explore. Why am I doing this? Because I enjoy seeing how my favourite games were put together. That and I just wanted an excuse to play Mass Effect again!

I’m quite curious to see how the relationships written for FemShep compare with those available to both genders. Going back to my first point with Shepard, Ripley and Aran: their creators didn’t set out to write great female characters, just great characters. They may have evolved in different directions since then (for better or worse) but each character was conceptualised with gender roles as an afterthought. Can the same be said for great video game romances? Only one way to find out…

The FemShep Experiment
If the Normandy’s a-rockin then don’t come a-knockin’!

  1. simpleek says:

    I have to agree with you. FemShep is one of my favorite characters to play and the Mass Effect series is just one of my favorite games in general. I was surprised by how well written she was. I played as a Paragon Shepard the first time I played the series. I found myself really feeling for my character and wanting things to work out for her. It’s exciting to have a really strong female character, and I absolutely love Jennifer Hale as the voice for FemShep. I can’t imagine anyone else lending their voice to her.

    • Wee Lin says:

      I actually started as more of a Renegade but eventually went Paragon. I came to love the characters and the world so much that just desperately wanted to save them all. It felt like a natural story arc as my Shepard had a tough Earthborn childhood and the “sole survivor” military profile so I guessed she’d be a bit of a loner and slow to trust people. First she bonded with the crew and became fiercely protective of them, then as time went by she also wanted to save their people. Liara was her love interest so I think she had a positive influence too.

      I’ve played games with moral choices but never one that affected me like Mass Effect. FemShep is one of my favourite characters ever (if I may say so myself – I did help design her after all!). Right now I’m doing a Paragon run with a Spacer/Soldier/War Hero and I’ve already got plenty to say on it!

  2. bobtheplanet says:

    I played my 1st 2 play-throughs as a male Shepard, 1st one was kind of a balance between Paragon and renegade (slightly more renegade) and I romanced Liara, the 2nd time I took an even more Renegade approach (though always keeping a somewhat positive attitude) and romanced Tali (a very beautiful love story BTW); I took a break from Mass Effect and then came back to the entire trilogy, this time as Femshep (Diana Shepard) and I have to say, I think these games shine even brighter when seeing them through the eyes of a female hero.

    My Femshep also started with a renegade approach (an Earth-born, sole survivor), but after having followed the renegade path in my Manshep adventures, I decided to do a paragon run with my girl (plus I was also weary of being a “badass”, wanted to be a true guardian of the galaxy). For some reason I REALLY grew attached to this female character, even more so than the males I played, MUCH MORE; why?

    -The female VA is much stronger, believable and emotional than the male VA, this alone makes the femshep experience a much more personal juorney.

    – I’ve played as a male protagonist for the great majority of video games, some other games have strong women characters (Metroid is the 1st to come up) but this is the 1st time I play a game(s) where the female is facing the exact same odds as the male; same universe, same characters, same enemies, SAME GAME; AND IT WORKS.

    -Her struggles with romantic relations (I did the whole Kaiden/ Thane love drama thing), her death, her resurrection, her friends (and lover) not trusting her, her captain’s indifference, CERBERUS (and her new affiliation to them) are so much more believable on a female/ paragon character.

    – I was able to REALLY assimilate the games this time; playing as a paragon female inspired me to take actions and sympathize with with NPC’s I’d approach differently as a male/renegade; for example, in Zaeed Massani’s loyalty mission my femshep punched him in the face, because this time I genuinely felt compelled to call him out on his craziness (and my, what a strong scene that is) it feels more real when you do this with femshep because of Massani’s reaction…

    – I played the renegade male with a “Cool, I’m a badass approach”, I really didn’t care who got screwed or not (not that I was a complete a-hole, but I was indecent most of the time, but I always treated my crew very well); even my “good” renegade was a bit rough and didn’t care for much beyond his crew, but when I started playing as a female paragon I really wanted her to be the “lady”, a good soul in an unappreciative galaxy and surprisingly, this approach makes the games even bleaker, which makes it even more inspiring to do the right thing.

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