Mass Effect is an addiction. It takes a hold of your life and does not let you go. I cannot live without this video game and I bet a bunch of others also feel the same way. For those who are unfamiliar with Mass Effect (gasp!), it is a Sci-Fi action Role Playing Game (RPG) that is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox platforms. Created by BioWare, the game has reached a level far beyond what any other game has accomplished. Spanning over five years (2007-2012), these three games, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3, have created much heated debate, especially over Mass Effect 3 but that is neither here nor there. Well, maybe here on this blog, but nowhere near what I am about to talk about. Yeah. Okay. Moving on…
Mass Effect centers on the main character, Commander Shepard, and saving the galaxy from the Reapers, which are a dangerous threat to all life, including aliens. Commander Shepard, along with his crew on the Normandy, are the only ones who can save the entire galaxy. His Crew is made up of various characters through the span of the three Mass Effect games. Some of my personal favorites are Liara T’Soni, Miranda Lawson, Thane Krios, and Ashley Williams. Time and time again, Commander Shepard goes through triumphs and tribulations in order to save the billions in the galaxy. If you haven’t played it, you should probably get on that because of reasons. A lot of reasons, and then more reasons.
One of the themes that really honed me into the game was the idea of humans not having such a heavy influence in the galaxy. That is to say that humans don’t really run the show, as most movies and video games like to portray. Throughout the game, one can see that humans don’t have as big of a voice as they would like within the governance of the galaxy, and are continuously half-heartily considered when diplomatic decisions are being made based on the opinions of The Citadel Council.
The Citadel Council is made up of the most influential races within the galaxy. The most influential races are as follows (in no particular order): Asari, Salarian, and Turians. According to the Mass Effect Wiki The Citadel Council: “[...] have no official power over the independent governments of other species, the Council’s decisions carry great weight throughout the galaxy. No single Council race is strong enough to defy the others, and all have a vested interest in compromise and cooperation.” So, Commander Shepard becomes a prominent figure to the Citadel Council (SPOILERS!) by becoming the first human Spectre, which is a pretty big deal you guys. But I digress…
Mass Effect, in its entirety, is not this simple. I have only covered the tip (*childish snort*) of the complicated web of relationships, races, diplomacy, personal vendettas, morality, and difficult choices that leave the player in a state of turmoil over whichever decision they chose; because honestly, I stayed up many nights wondering if the decision I made was the right one. Yes, Mass Effect caused me to lose sleep and even made me write in my personal journal about my feelings. I will warn you right now: when you do decide to play this video game, be prepared for the greatest ride you have ever been on in your life. There. That is my disclaimer.
So, now that I have confused you greatly, I will discuss a curious observation that I have seen with fan portrayal of a character in the game: Commander Shepard. As a player, one has the opportunity to what the fans have labeled as “Shep” or “Femshep”. The difference between these two are the ability to play either as a male lead or a female lead: Shep is the male; and Femshep is the female.
I bet you are asking yourself: “So, yeah, Doctor, we get it. But what is your point, what are you trying to say?” I am trying to say that this type of segregation among Femshep and Shep is unnecessary. While I acknowledge that each may have their own personal touch during gameplay, I think that segregating in this way can reveal a lot about how one views the game, and in particular, culture. By dubbing the female and male characters with such a name, it then creates a virtual gendered hierarchy. Here is what I have noticed: I have sensed that Commander Shepard (male) has become the default. By default I am declaring that the male Commander Shepard is then normalized when addressed in this specific manner, like here. If an individual started playing or has been playing as the female Commander Shepard, then that must be addressed by declaring that you are role-playing as Femshep, like in this example here.
I noticed this trend in Femshep and Shep when I first began playing Mass Effect. A personal friend of mine had detailed how different it was playing as Femshep, and since I had no prior knowledge of Mass Effect and the background of the game, I had no clue what he was saying. I then asked him what he exactly meant by Femshep, and he explained that it was the female lead character instead of playing as the normal–or standard–male lead character (yes, he indeed used the word “normal”). Examples of this can be seen here, here, and here, Of course, some individuals acknowledge that there is no default, such as this, this and this. But I am addressing those that normalize, standardize, and place male Commander Shepard as the default. The latter examples show a complex relationship between how those individuals see the world, and how they communicate that world back to other people. By the use of “bro” and “fem” before Shep, indicates that there is no default in their perspective, or at least I would like to think so.
What exactly is wrong with making male Commander Shepard the default? Well, nothing too big really. One could argue that there is still a hint of gender inequality that comes out ever so subtly in the way that we refer to video game characters. Others would say that such a difference provides no real grounds for inference because gender is much too ingrained in a society to even notice. Some may even say that gender roles are 100% true and that reflects back in all of what humanity has and will do in the future. The point of this post was to be aware of these subtle nuances and acknowledge that even though one may not realize it, one is creating a degree of normal around the construction of a male gender in a video game. Even from small instances such as how one labels a video game character on a social media site, reveal the spirit of a culture and the tenets that culture holds in high regard (gender, morality, religion, etc). Twitter, as I have noticed, is a way by which I have observed this phenomena. Again, I do not see a right or wrong way to approach this; such gendered ideals as Femshep and Shep are buried deep within our mind and are hard to shake. However, I do feel it is important to address patterns that I see emerging, so that those who wish to change can do so.
For me, the default Commander Shepard is the one with the long hair, perfect body, and has curvalicious curves. I continually refer to what others may call “Femshep” as my Commander Shepard, because that is what she is. To me, she is not a Femshep; she is simply a Commander who is mainly a Rogue and has moments of major kickassery. Okay, okay… sometimes I do break down and hit the Paragon button, but it rarely happens! Oh, and my Commander Shepard likes the ladies, because that is how I roll.
If you haven’t yet, please do yourself a huge favor and start playing Mass Effect. Origin is having a sale! (for North America only, damn) and I really think you should start playing Mass Effect, like, yesterday. Seriously, but have you played Mass Effect? Have you ever referred to your character as Shep or Femshep? Am I crazy for even writing about this topic? Does anyone really care?! Sound off in the comments below.
Hackett Out (wait, what?),