Hi, I'm Heather, long time gamer and virtual backseat driver. I recently finished my MA in Cinema Studies from NYU and now I want to harvest my powers to ponder the deeper (and also shallow) meanings of video games. You can also see my writing on Gamastura, Girl Gamer Vogue, and Medium Difficulty.

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FemShep: A Step In the Right Direction

            Gender in videogames is becoming a hot topic, but usually focuses on the many things the game industry does wrong concerning the female gamer perspective. The “Lara Croft” conundrum consists of a bevy of scantily clad pieces of eye candy as the main representation of women characters in video games and how that’s not really doing it for us. In the past I always kind of wrote all that off as a necessary evil of video games and did my best to enjoy what was there. During a discussion on gender in a Video Game Theory class I recently took at NYU, I found myself adamantly defending my experience playing as Female Shepard in the Mass Effect series. Being able to play as a female hero who was equal to her male counterpart (and fully clothed!) affected me much more than I had realized. I have always been a big fan of JRPGs and the experience of playing through a long, story-driven commitment that binds you to the characters in a special way no matter who you are, but being able to create this (albeit somewhat limited) representation of myself and play through this journey where your personal choices shape the game was, for me, a fascinating, fun and empowering experience.

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One week until I get to do it with Garrus again/The Glory of Female Shepard

            About a year or so ago I started watching my boyfriend play the original Mass Effect. It seemed cool and everything, but after watching all the goody-two shoes decisions he made as weak-ass male Shepard, I was sure I could do it better. Now in the past I have had many interesting arguments with other female gamers about the game world being sexist and whatnot and although I am not one to get my panty’s in a twist over Cat Woman’s bra being too tight, I can see their point in some ways. Although I have not felt particularly hindered by the male-ness of the game world, I have to admit the empowering experience I had with Mass Effect made me hungry for more awesomely non-sexist games.

            Female Shepard  her male equivalent in every way. Instead of working your butt off for a chestpiece in WOW and getting a stupid bikini instead of a cool piece of giant armor, everything about FemShep is even Stevens (Except for superior voice acting prowess by the amazing Jennifer Hale).  Since the two characters are so similar it might seem almost arbitrary which one you choose to play, but for me it was not. Being able to play as a female character (who is clearly an awesome badass to begin with), who isn’t over sexualized, in a game that is so easy to form a personal connection with due to the countless variations of gameplay, that playing Mass Effect has been one of my favorite gaming experiences of all time. I AM my Shepard. I totally saved some people I thought were cool and randomly murdered others who I found annoying, and it felt GREAT. I crashed that horrible Space Car up and down mountains and walls, I got to have sex with a Blue Alien chick (also an awesome step towards gaming equality) and Garrus (an awesome step towards alien equality) and every step of the way I felt comfortable and at home in my character’s skin, which is something I have rarely gotten to do with a female character. Sure I felt somewhat connected to my WOW character, Terra, or that clunky looking Chick from Fable (who was way too large to comfortably get with any of the men you could marry), but never in the same way I did with my hideous female Shepard, who I carefully designed myself (she will always be beautiful to me.)

            I think Mass Effect is the closest the gaming world has come to equality of the sexes (that I have run into at least), and I for one could not be more stoked to Take Back the Earth (or whatever the tagline is) with my red-headed weirdo next week…that is if our broken xbox will hold out until then.


[More in depth Review of Mass Effect 3 and the continued awesomeness of Female Shepard Coming Soon!]