The FemShep Experiment: Kaidan Alenko (ME1)

Posted: November 25, 2012 in Gaming
Tags: , , , , ,

I didn’t romance Kaidan in my original playthrough. I felt that the game was pushing me in his direction, so naturally I resisted like the stubborn bastard I am. I believe I’d spoken to him twice before the crew decided that 1. We were going steady and 2. It was any of their damn business.

For the record, here’s that whirlwind romance in full: first I busted his chops about going near the beacon on Eden Prime (which was a bloody stupid thing to do) then later I asked him his opinion on a mission. Hardly the romance of the 22nd century. I guess the first talk doesn’t count unless he liked the abuse (I did wonder) so he must have read a LOT into that second conversation. Don’t flatter yourself Alenko, I spoke to EVERYBODY on that ship. Just because I’m a woman, you’re a man and you don’t have scaly skin or brittle bones, that does NOT automatically mean I wanna tap that ass and go pick out wedding china!

I realise I may have overreacted, so for my second playthrough I gave Kaidan another chance. After all, he had an interesting backstory and it’s not like I hated the guy. Maybe if I took the time to get to know him, I’d grow to love that character. In a game like Mass Effect, it’s possible.

So how’s that working out so far?

Well… sorry, my opinion hasn’t really changed. I don’t even HAVE an opinion either way yet. Kaidan’s “nice”, I guess, “nice” being the word my English teacher said never to use as there’s always a better adjective. “Nice” translates to is “Inoffensive”, which is EXACTLY the word I’d use to describe Kaidan Alenko. I don’t hate him, but I don’t exactly love him either. In the immortal words of Jordan Godzilla Sullivan, I “nothing” him. And that’s just sad.

Let’s compare him with my other human crewmate, Ashley Williams. We didn’t get along. It had nothing to do with her religious beliefs (I’ve nothing against that – in fact I believe my original Shepard is waiting at the bar in Turian Heaven) or the irritating way she kept calling me “Skipper”. I couldn’t deal with her attitude towards aliens and the way she presumed I’d just agree with her. I know she had her reasons but I couldn’t get past that initial discomfort. She compared alien races to dogs at one point – that was one of her compassionate moments! Not that Ash was devoid of redeeming qualities (I dig the protective big sister thing) but I doubt we’d be BFFs in real life. At least she made enough of an impact for me to actively dislike her. Kaidan, on the other hand, made no impact at all.

Back to the drawing board

There are several directions that could have been taken because the groundwork is there for an intriguing character.

Kaidan’s a human biotic meaning he can use telekinesis, create force fields and other cool stuff. His abilities are enhanced by his L2 implant which, although powerful, can cause severe physical and mental health problems. He’s one of the lucky few who only suffers migraines. In the game, Kaidan tells Shepard how he snapped at age seventeen and killed an instructor with a full biotic kick. After that, his friends and the girl he liked backed off in fear.

Not quite what I meant… but I’ll take it!

He could have been written as Biotic Kaidan – a man who’s surging with power but has learned to master it. He struggles at times, knowing only too well the consequence of a momentary lapse and afraid that history will repeat itself. Kaidan’s resolve is pushed to the limit when faced with other L2s (most have gone insane) as it forces him to confront the horror of what he might become. In the end, he’s a stronger person for his past but when all seems lost, he finds strength in Shepard.

Did we get to see any of this conflict play out? Nah, just the odd headache.

The theme of human biotics was explored later on and in greater depth through Jack (Subject Zero) of ME2. You could argue that we didn’t need Biotic Kaidan because we got Jack, but I think there was room for both. Plus, wouldn’t it be awesome to see them working in tandem in ME3? Or maybe Biotic Kaidan is too angsty for your tastes, in which case fair enough.

Here’s a different approach – let’s call him Zen Kaidan. I’ve heard people write Kaidan off as “boring” for the same reasons fans love him – because of his lack of melodrama. Stoics are not everybody’s favourite character types and they’re notoriously difficult to write. If you can pull it off however, you get someone strong, calm, collected and a welcome counter-balance to a world of chaos.

Zen Kaidan is in control of his emotions and has made peace with his past. Migraines cause him to withdraw from crowds, so he’s often happier in his own company. He’s contemplative, introspective and often lost in thought. Maybe a teeny bit socially awkward but Shepard finds that sweet. Someone like that can be a real port in a storm, offering respite from the battlefield as well as a new perspective on a problem. Talking with him, away from all the mayhem, is a very special, very intimate thing. Zen Kaidan is a rock for Shepard. In turn, she’s one of few people who truly understands him.

I get the sense that this is what BioWare were going for but to be honest it didn’t quite gel for me. The odd philosophical question he’d bring up just seemed flung in to make the character sound more intelligent. Anyway, it’s tough to define someone as the reclusive thinker when you’ve already got Liara on board and Thane Krios owning this role in ME2.

I got one more – Buddy Kaidan. This guy appreciates he’s had some lucky breaks and always tries to make the best of life. He helps Shepard see the silver lining and tries to make her smile when the chips are down (or maybe not; BioWare smiles are sometimes creepy, don’t you think?) Sound familiar? That’s because Joker already has this act down to a tee, making Buddy Kaidan a tad redundant.

Still, there’s a lot to be said for a down-to-earth person who appreciates life’s simple pleasures. There’s a certain warmth between Kaidan and Shepard when they attempt to break down the formalities but it’s nothing sensational. It would have been great to see a strong bond between two friends blossom into something more. Or maybe not, maybe it would have died on its arse. Guess we’ll never know.

In the end we’re left with a weak mish-mash of all of the above. I think that many players established their own interpretation of Kaidan, projected it and ran with it. If so, then more power to you. This is evident in the volume of “Shenko” (yes, that’s what it’s called) fan fiction published online. Then there’s the fan art… two words, “TAPS AFF!” Seems there’s another reason this character’s so popular. But enough distractions – back to the game!

“We’re gonna need a bigger boot”

Besides a few pleasant moments, I thought the dialogue between Kaidan and Shepard was fairly weak. I don’t know if it’s down to the voice acting from Raphael Sbarge or because he didn’t have much to work with in the first place. I haven’t heard his other work, so all I can say is that his performance with Kaidan is… quite raspy. They should have added a loyalty mission where Shepard has to find his cough drops.

The camera stays here for AGES. It’s weird.

At least the bedroom talk gives us some payoff (and some odd camera angles – most of it was viewed from directly behind Kaidan’s head) but it could have been better. The “we could get in trouble for fraternising” stuff? That is KINKY – crank that shit UP! Never mind the reapers, tell me more about how I’m “abusing my authority” *wicked grin* This scene was one of very few where I used the Renegade chat. Said he enjoyed “serving under me.” Walked RIGHT into that one, didn’t he?

One exchange really bugged me, purely because of the context. On leaving Virmire, Kaidan asks why Shepard why she saved his life and not Ashley’s. The Paragon answer is to tell him lovingly that she could never leave him behind… IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE CREW! That might have been a tender moment in private but instead it’s announced at the debriefing while their teammate’s dismembered CORPSE is still WARM. What the HELL must my crew be thinking at this point? “Better get into the Commander’s pants, else she’ll leave you to die horribly!” At least they can console themselves that Chief Williams gave her life for a noble cause – so her boss could boff the Lieutenant. No wonder she haunts your dreams in ME3!

What Women Want (or what BioWare THINK women want)

For the most part, Kaidan’s attempts to express his feelings to Shepard either fall flat or come off as pandering. The constant “I just like being with you” patter is the worst offender. The Mass Effect Wiki states that “If Shepard is female, Kaidan is attracted to her from the beginning” and to be honest, I’m not comfortable with praise and adoration that I’ve done nothing to earn. Sure, my Shepard had an admirable military record (she was a war hero) but those weren’t my actions; that was a profile I picked from a list (speaking of picking from lists, is that how they came up with Kaidan’s physical appearance? Booted up “Conventionally Attractive Male #6”?) I don’t want someone who’ll just agree politely with every word I say. I WANT to be challenged, I want to EARN that positive response. We’re gamers – it’s how we roll!

“Tell me about the women you do not like”

I wanted to like this guy BioWare, I really did! I mean, how often do you get a video game romance written specifically for women? If I were more cynical I’d suggest the writers spent all their time working on totty for HimShep, but I don’t believe that. In fact, I’m convinced they tried too hard to make Kaidan the perfect man for FemShep but didn’t really know what they were doing. Seriously, is this what men think women want – an obedient life-sized Ken Doll to periodically dispense compliments?

I appreciate the effort but the end result felt awkward as arse. The Kaidan romance did work for many women, but personally? I’d be triggering the conversation option that starts “You’re a nice guy, but…” There was just no spark for me and after a full playthrough of ME1 with him as my paramour, I still have no idea who this guy is.

I haven’t written Kaidan off yet. We’ve got two more games to go and I know for a fact that things will be shaken up between him and Shepard over the series. Let’s hope we get a little more substance.

  1. simpleek says:

    After playing the first Mass Effect, I felt the same way about Kaidan. I had nothing against him, but I wasn’t sure if I really could enjoy the romance path. It felt a tad boring by the time you reach the bedroom scene. However, I stayed faithful to Kaidan into the last two games. I think I started liking Kaidan by Mass Effect 2 even though his scene was very brief. He gets a backbone and he isn’t willing to follow Shepard so easily. By Mass Effect 3, I really loved the romance and his character. Just my opinion of course. Kaidan felt like a fully fleshed out character by the third game and I thought the romance was made believable by then too. It makes me want to do the romance all over again with Kaidan at some point to look at the ME1 romance path in a different light. Anyway, great post!

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