Feminist gaming blog with a heaping dash of science and politics

Mass Effect 3 Blogthru Part 2: Squidbots, Sexbots, and the female! Oh my!

Okay, so I didn’t get a chance to play *any* Mass Effect on Monday. I accidentally sat down to just read one chapter of the Hunger Games and 6 hours later *whoooops* I’d finished the whole damn book and realized I hadn’t done any of the things I needed to do that day (sadly, playing Mass Effect did not fall into the ‘need’ category). But! Today I got to spend some quality one on one time with it, which, as usual with me was spent mostly on chatting up my crew members and not so much on advancing the actual plot. So onwards to the blogthruing.

*Spoilers ahead, avert thine eyes!*

So when I left off yesterday, I had just gotten back aboard the Normandy and was ready to actually meet (or remeet in some cases) my crew. Some old favorites were there (Joker, Dr. Chakwas, EDI, etc) but there also some fresh new faces. The first was Specialst Traynor and I warmed up to her right quick. She’s a lovely and smart woman who is now taking the play of Kelly Chamber from the last game, but with a slightly less hippie-free-love psychology bent and more of a technical specialist. No word yet on whether or not we’re just being friendly or friendly if ya catch my drift.

Down in the docking bay I met Lieutenant Cortez and James Vega (I forget his rank, sorry). Cortez gave me the rather sublime pleasure of finally meeting a gay person in a game that’s a) not a love interest for the PC and b) whose gayness is not their sole role in the narrative. He’s your shuttle pilot and one of the conduits for Shepard (and thus the player) to access the emotinal turmoil and trauma that surrounds the Reaper invasion. Without the stories of crew members like Cortez, the human (or turian, asari, etc) pain caused by the war is easily lost amongst the shoot outs and diplomatic fights. And the fact that the game conveys this pain by non-chalantly mentioning that his lost loved one was his husband make the game seem so much more inclusive of the full breadth of humanity and our experiences.

James, though, still managed to mostly just get on my nerves. Part of its personal (I have so far liked absolutely none of the male LI’s given to F!Shep) and his presentation as the last of the male LIs is not helping his case. He’s physically not very attractive, he’s far too musclebound and his nose is… bothersome (not necessarily because of its shape, but because I think we have yet to come up with a satisfactory way to model some types of noses, mine and his being among those types). And then we get to his personality. He’s got issues that need fixing and I am damn tired of LI’s that need fixing, which is part of the reason I like Liara. Also, his whole, ‘your name just doesn’t fit you right, so I’m going to call you Lola’ pissed me right the hell off. I am Commander effing Shepard, the first human Spectre, slayer of Sovereign, defeater of Reapers, returned from death to save this galaxy’s collective ass. I am a war hero and diplomatic genius. Half the galaxy fears my name and the other half trusts the bravery, strength, and wisdom it has come to symbolize, but you don’t really like it so you’re going to call me Lola? I think not. Luckily, I got to punch him right after that point (hey, he started the sparring session so don’t give me the side eye) so I felt better, but I’m pretty sure no one has ever suggested that M!Shep go by another name (or even called him really anything other than Shepard or Commander, unlike some of the other F!Shep LIs).

Ahem. Anyhoo, after messing around in the docking bay, I go check on Liara on the crew deck. And by check on Liara, I do of course mean make kissy faces at her and talk about continuing our relationship. I’ve really enjoyed her character arc from naive scientist to worldly information broker. Also, she’s the one who went through hell to bring my scorched corpse back to life, so I’m pretty sure she reciprocates the respect and love I…err Shepard… has for her. I rather enjoy having her as a part of my crew from the get go in this game. She truly is one of my favorite characters and companions, both in the just general chatting sense and the blowing up baddies sense, and I like that she did not give up any part of herself to come help me save that galaxy. She’s operating her whole Shadow Broker intelligence network from within the XO’s quarters on my ship which brings in valuable intel, as well as keeping an eye on the crew and making for absolutely marvelous reunion scenes.

Sadly, that’s pretty much the entirey of my crew at this point, since Kaidan’s off getting his brain deswelled on the Citadel. So with all the chatting done, we jet off to go resuce the Turian Primarch on Palven (or to be more exact one of Palven’s moons, whose name I can’t remember). We land on the moon and I’m immeiately brought to a stop by just how goregous this scene is. The skyline is full of Palven burning from a Reaper invasion while a few of the giant squidbots march around in the surrounding terriotry. It’s hard describing in words just how epic the scene is, but Bioware did a damn good job capturing the grand scale of it.

Yup, Garrus pretty much says it all.

After a few minutes of staring, I find my contact only to be informed that the Primarch has died and that I must go find the next in the line of succession who just so happens to be in the next camp over. Now, I rather like Primarch Victus, he’s seem like a decent fellow and has just the right attidue for what needs doing, but I find myself rather dissapointed in this entire mission. I saw not a single Turian female (or heard a soldier referred to as a female) and both Primarchs were male (specifically referred to as such). You see, one of the most prevlant forms of sexism in video games comes simply in the form of missed opportunities. How hard could it have been to give half of those turians female voice actors, or to refer to any of them as she or her or ma’am. They don’t need seperate models (and definitely don’t need boobs to demarcate femaleness, just look at the Salarain Dalatrass that shows up later on) but you do need to recognize their existence and participation somehow. Hell, even just having the dead Primarch be referred to as a woman would have been a huge step.

Which leads me to my next point. After rescuing Primarch Victus, I have a quick chat with the Asari Councilor about the Turian’s demand (that if we get him Krogan soldiers to take back Palven, he’ll give us the Turian fleet to fight the Reapers) and she is pretty skeptical about by ability to get the Turian, Krogan, and Salarians to agree to anything at a summit, least of all working together to fight back the Reapers. You would think that the head Diplomat in a species known for diplomacy would be, well, a bit more diplomatic, but anyway she refuses to join the summit and tells me to count the Asari out for now. The thing, though, that stood out to me during this conversation is that even a game full of strong, fleshed out female characters, its still a rather rare occurence to hear a female character (the Asari Councilor) talking about another female character (the Salarian Dalatrass) to yet another female character (Shepard). We see men talking about men to other men all the time in the game (most likely a majority of the time if playing as M!Shep), but the reverse is really, really rare in comparison (though probably far more common in this game than many others).

After the Asari leaves me hanging, I go check on the rest of crew and the ship because it had been malfunction during the previous mission. Lo and behold it’s because EDI has decided to don the smexy robot lady’s dead shell as a new mobile unit. This… is… oh hell, seriously? Why Bioware? Why did we think it would be a good idea to have EDI become a sexbot? And why, just why, is the robot body so damn sexy? Like I get the curves, if you’re mimicking a hot doctor lady, but why the hell does it have metal boobs? She was a spy unit, she is supposed to blend in seamlessly into organic life. Having giant, solid breasts (or hair) is not the way to do that. Nor is having her feet be set into a high heeled position. Of course, I know why those features exist on EDI’s new body, and why it has such a look of simulated nakedness: sex sells! *headdesk* Seriously, though, it’s pretty effed up when character designers think high heels, and the ensuing decrease in freedom of movement, need to be an innate part of a woman’s body, and yet its a really prevalent idea.

It may just be me, but the design of her casing really ellicts this connotation of nakedness. Perhaps its because I literally saw all of the clothes and flesh burn off of her metallic frame.

So, yeah, the whole EDI thing just made my head hurt (and I even knew it was coming!), especially the snickering about how Joker’s going to looooove this. Yes! Let’s make this new female character all about how a man is going to get sexual gratification out of her visage, we really need to sell this degradation a little bit more ’cause, honestly, it didn’t feel like Bioware was trying hard enough yet . Anyways, I am now going to segue abruptly because this is just making my head hurt more: did I mention Garrus was on board  now? Yup, Garrus is on board now and hanging out by the guns making ‘calibrations’. I like Garrus a lot, I think my Shepard would call him one of her best friends. Kindred spirits and all that, even more so now that Garrus has spent the last six months trying to warn the Hierarchy (the Turian government) about the impending Reaper doom and getting mostly ignored.

Once I was done chatting up my two new companions (EDI and Garrus) and my new Primarch shipmate, I was ready to head off to the Free Up a Bunch of Armies for the Reapers  Summit (or the FUBAR summit as I like to call it). Much to everyone’s surprise, it did not go so well. Victus wanted a Krogan army to help on Palven, Wrex (yep, Wrex is back as he is the de facto leader of the Krogan now) wanted a cure for the genophage for his people, and the Salarian Dalatrass (who didn’t get a name?) was having none of any of it. She was actually preeetty damn racist towards Wrex and the Krogan. The geneophage was for their own good, dontcha know, curing them would only cause problems for them and the rest of the galaxy. Wrex, of course, called her right out on her racism though, and both Shepard and Victus stood up to her, so she relented and Wrex got what he wanted: access to the geneophage-immune Krogan women being kept in a lab on the Salraian homeworld.

So Wrex, Liara, Garrus, and I all head off to Sur’Kesh to rescue these women and secure the cure for Kroganity. It was pretty awesome having those three in a cutscene together, very nostaligic and very hilarious. Once we land, though, things start to go terribly awry. Word hadn’t been sent a head so there was almost an ‘incident’ between Wrex and a few unlucky Salarian guards and even after our credentials were settled and we were let in, Cerberus (those meddling kids) started attacking the base in an attempt to destroy the cure. My team meets up with Mordin (he’s the very model of a scientist Salarain) and he informs us that all but one of the Krogan women have died, due to the side effects of the barbaric experiments that made them immune to the geneophage, and he volunteers to help us free the woman. After a literal ton of fighting we do eventually free her and bring her onboard the Normandy, but during the entire mission I was continually bothered by the fact that everyone surrounding her, including Shepard heself, referred to her almost exclusively as ‘the female’. Now, this may be news to some folks out there, but female is an adjective when you are describing a person. The only time its ever really used as a noun is if you’re describing an animal, and specifically when you’re attemtping to dehumanize or depersonalize that animal for scientific study. Referring to this woman, whom you are rescuring from a situation in which she has suffered enormous torment through dehumanizing and brutal medical experiments, is… problematic at best. To make matters worse, shortly before this scene, Wrex had corrected the Salarain Dalatrass (whose name was never said) for refferring to him simply as ‘the krogan’ because it was a racist thing to do. He then proceeds to refer to this woman as ‘the female’ for the entirety of the mission, which is sexist against women, and then make a sexist a joke about women’s behavior, which just so happens to be the only time he referred to her as a woman. That’s either a brilliant depiction of male privilege induced blindness to sexism on Wrex’s part, or just an example of the game developer’s have that same blindness.

This Krogan has a name dammit, but that other one of there, we can totes just call her 'the female'

Now, after we get her on board the ship, Mordin dubs her with the name Eve, which is a vast improvement over ‘the female’, and we do finally get to talk to Eve. We find out that she is a Shaman who, by rite no longer has a personal name, which makes some modicum of sense of the way she’s dressed and addressed, but even still, there are other ways to refer to her other than ‘the female’. Even if you keep it simply down to ‘her’, it’s better than outright dehumanizing her. I did find it highly interesting to talk to her, though, because she reveals a deeper level to the Krogan culture than we’ve ever seen before. They used to be egalitarian (or more so than they are now). It was the genophage that pushed them into the starkly patriarchal society we see now: fertile women used as political pawns and rounded up in camps where they were treated like breeding chattel; infertile women faced staggering amounts of shame for their inability to bear live children which lead to suicidal desperation (even to the point of allowing barbaric experiments on their bodies) or they were used as military decoys; and dispossessed men found themselves wandering the galaxy, hiring themselves out as mercenaries so they could win honor and a chance at mating. This could explain why we have never seen a female Krogan out and about before, but it’s a particular level of sexism that kept this patriarchal brutality hidden away from the narrative until a woman was brought around to explain it for us. The Krogan women have no allies in their story, not even in the progressive-minded Wrex. It’s a truly sad state of affairs, one that mirrors some of the oppressions human women face in real world. Speaking of which, the rahrah feminist bit at the very end, where Eve tells Shepard that it must be nice to be treated with respect and equality as a human woman made me smile a very wry smile. Yes, in the future when human men and women are treated equally and with full respect it must be nice, but in the here and now where game developers use women’s bodies as a cheap thrill for whetting the sexual appetites of their heterosexual male players, it’s not so nice.

Oh don't mind me, I'm just going to stand here real sexy like cause that's just totally normal behavior for an AI to assume automatically. Cause I'm a girl AI obviously, duh.

And with that, we’ll take another break from writing about Mass Effect 3. This post got long (whooops!) with analysis, but that’s one of the great things about this series: it’s not just fluff. A lot of thought went into making quite a big chunk of this story, which lets you really dig down into it and ruminate about it. And because so much thought was put into certain parts of the story, the parts that don’t seem so well thought out, or that seem like sex sells sellouts or tropes, offer up just as much of a gold mine of analysis of things we take for granted or as fact.

Join me next time as I, well, actually I’m not sure where we’re headed next time, so just tag along as I figure out this whole galaxy saving business on the fly!


7 responses to “Mass Effect 3 Blogthru Part 2: Squidbots, Sexbots, and the female! Oh my!

  1. feministgamer March 15, 2012 at 4:15 am

    They really are just plain naked. All you need to add are nipples, and they’re naked. Some guys have skin-tight shirts (like, uh, Vega?), but it’s only shirts, and they were also buffed the heck up so it’s to show off their muscles rather than to simulate a nude body. Kaiden had a skin-tight-ish ensemble in the first game, but of course that’s “gay” and so now he’s buffed up with layers of armor on. (Meanwhile … Ashley.) The VI on the citadel was the first face-smashy naked lady I saw, then the beloved EDI. 😦 And I assume many more.

    What kills me most is the “sexy walk”. EDI sexy walks out of the smoke, even Liara sexy walks to her enemies in her intro. I swear the “female krogran” sexy walks to impress upon us that she’s simply female. The perfectly molded sexy boobs I can maybe look over as just a game developer’s aesthetic choice (you know, like the old excuse of “if I’m going to stare at something the whole game, it should be …”), albeit one that alienates lots of folks, the sexy walk is an animation that took a lot of work to create and simulate, and says a LOT about the character you’re giving it to. EDI should have been stumbling around like newborn deer, instead, she seems to have a full grasp of female sexuality and *opted to have it* for my f!shep walking in. In short, EDI was reduced to merely a sexbot, as already pointed out.

    But so far there have been a lot of good emotional, character-building scene so I’m going to ignore that stuff for now …

  2. Zaewen March 15, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Yea, I think part of my problem with EDI’s new character design is that I feel like she’s literally walking around on my ship naked. All of the other skintight suit wearers that populate the Normandy at least have some clothes on, but she does not (which is made rather clear by her alt armor being an a full body suit, not just a change in metallic designs). Although, I do find it ‘interesting’ that the men who wear skin tight clothes tend to have darker colored clothes with blocky patterns and designs on them, whereas the women who wear similarly skin tight outfits tend to wear lighter colors with out much in the way to distract or camoflauge the skin tightness.

    And you’re totally right, if EDI character arc was really about her getting a new body and figuring out what its like as an organic, we wouldn’t have the boobs, in-built heels, or hair pieve (because they make no logical sense to have been on a spy bots body) and she certainly would have had a learning process on how to walk, let alone walk with an exaggerated hip sway. The fact that those design decisions were made suggest quite heavily that her character arc is really about providing a sexbot for Joker (and the presumed heterosexual male audience) to ogle and paw at.

  3. feministgamer March 15, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    ///small spoiler (EDI + Kaidan)

    Because EDI’s body is the robot that nearly killed Kaidan, and I assume Ashley if reversed, there is some minor dialogue about Kaidan not being comfortable with her. But we’re reassured (not once, but twice) that Kaidan thinks she’s sexy so it’s A-OK! For a little POV, I am romancing him. So it’s not just Joker who gets to ogle and paw at her! It’s your male LIs, too! yayay, thanks bioware!

  4. Pingback: “The female”. [ 6D ]

  5. Deon Marianna April 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    FYI: I am all the way through the game, not really a first impression, but…

    I looked at EDI from the other side, myself. EDI starts out as bland, shackled AI, and through her interactions (almost entirely) with Joker becomes an actual personality. I don’t think anyone would argue too hard against me if I said she became “human” FOR Joker. She wanted him to love her, so she did what we all do…got “prettier”. I got the distinct impression that Joker was actually a little put off by her new form, or at least her own attitude toward it.

    Obviously, the body follows the expected aesthetic, If female video game protagonists were fat or hairy they just plain wouldn’t sell as well (even Jack gets a pony tail this time around). I don’t think (this part of) the narrative itself is sexist, though. If I was in love, and could choose a body, it would be the one I assumed my love would want, and I would learn how to “work it” as fast as possible. It’s just human nature. If EDI would have taken the form of, for instance, a more combat ready Geth, she would have come off as far more artificial to me. In my perfect world, the writers thought this all out, and put in the camo and combat gimped sexbot agent just so EDI could have her awkward emotional travel in lieu of puberty, and feel more relatable.

    • Zaewen April 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      The more I played the game and had conversations with EDI, especially in the last two Priority missions, I really began to appreciate and respect her character. Now, after having finished the game, I find that I am mostly just completely disappointed with how the developers chose to design her character. Her character story was great and her presence on my team made the ending much more significant, but the fact that they chose to make her new body basically a sex toy really undermines it all for me. It speaks to me that the game dev’s only really envisioned or cared about the character as Joker’s (and through him, the male player’s) sexbot. Joker and EDI could have had just as fulfilling character arcs if EDI’s new body didn’t have such an exaggerated and idealized figure (complete with built-in high heels), or have such a sexualized way of standing, walking, and sitting, or have only the option between nakedness and a skin tight catsuit. But they chose to go this hypersexualized route because they wanted to express a certain idea about EDI: that her primary purpose is to be gazed upon and consumed as a sexual object. That’s where I find it to be sexist because it definitely plays into the idea that for female characters to exist, let alone be a fully fleshed out character, in gaming they have to be thin, pretty, and sexy, whereas male characters are free to inhabit a full range of human bodies from fat and hairy to over muscled hulks to dashing, sexy young fellows.

      • Deon Marianna April 13, 2012 at 3:28 pm

        I am afraid to look into it, because I may be right, but after all of the “Look how perfect I am!” From Miranda in ME2 (HATED HER! The character, the writing that created the character, the people who wrote the words that created the character…) I wonder if Tricia Helfer said “hey, I’m sexy, why can’t EDI be?” No amount of love for the story or actress would have made me like Miranda (sorry, I was jealous when you said she died in your run), but by the end, I would have done anything to save EDI. Then I would have found her some clothes, poor thing. By the way, I totally missed her comment about her hair, thanks for pointing it out 😀

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