I should start off this article by saying that I’m a male gamer that plays a female Commander Shepard (along with 18% of other Mass Effect players). Back in the day my friends may have poked fun at me for picking a female avatar, but in recent years strong female protagonists have become much more prominent and acceptable in gaming. I’m by no means saying that females are accurately represented in gaming, just that the situation is improving. I should also add that I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Hale’s voice work for ages now, and absolutely love her portrayal of Shepard. If there were Oscars for voice work (which their should be) Hale undoubtedly would have received one for the role. Very few voice actresses can pull off raw power like Jennifer Hale. As most of you are aware, Bioware decided to allow fans to choose the official appearance for the female Commander Shepard on Facebook and I was lucky enough to be at the Bioware-Base when the six candidates were announced. The scene was a lot of fun with both Casey Hudson and Jennifer Hale taking some time to hang out with fans of the series. However, here is where things get a bit tricky.
Soon after the six versions of “Fem-Shep” were revealed I got wind that there was a bit of a controversy brewing. Fem-Shep fans were upset that the blonde Commander Shepard was (and still is) leading the polls. Now I’m by no means the first guy to report on this event; literally every game site on the web has had an article on the whole Fem-Shep debacle, but I felt obligated to sound off as well. Even though I may get some hate mail, I’m going to tell you the truth. When I had the opportunity to choose which female Shepard I liked the best, I went with the Blonde! Am I a “bad” guy for liking the blonde Shepard? Am I some sort of macho Barbie-loving asshole? I sure hope not! Heck I’m married to a multi-racial “minority”. Reading some of the remarks on Facebook really had me floored. Were people REALLY this upset about the color of Shepard’s hair? Is it not what’s “inside” (Hale’s performance) that really counts? Trust me, I fully understand the argument, blondes typically are represented as cheerleading prom-queens, not saviors of the galaxy. However, isn’t the backlash against blonde-Shepard a step in the wrong direction? Equality is equality, blondes and brunettes alike. Screaming and yelling about the color of a character’s hair is sort of counter-productive. Here are some of the buzzard-shit crazy things fans are saying. The names have been changed to protect the ignorant.
“I actually cringed when I saw the blonde and said to myself “shes gonna win simply because of the hair.” No offense meant to her or blondes around the world. I’ll hope against hope (that’s not why) she wins.” – Gretta
“this bish is hawt. The others look like space dykes. I want my Shep to look like a model/badass.” – Sunbeam
“Watch Bioware go with the blonde Shepard. That pisses me off >:( We need a COMMANDER that looks like a COMMANDER. Not fond of the overly delicate look. WANT BADASS REDHEAD!!!” – Ringworm
“We wait all this time for a fucking female Shepard, and Bioware turns it into a fucking BEAUTY CONTEST” – Jill Sandwhich
Marketing and Money
Bioware is giving female Commander Shepard fans a gift in the creation of an offical female Commander Shepard. By introducing a fem shep into their marketing plan they run the risk of isolating and alienating new players that may feel confused by seeing two Commander Shepards representing the Mass Effect franchise. It’s a risky move, and a move done to make fans happy. To answer your the inevitable question; why did you choose the blonde? My answer is simple. I chose the blonde because MY Shepard is a blonde. And I simply chose the blonde hair because I thought it looked cool in space. I understand your frustration gang, but having a blonde Commander Shepard ISN’T an insult to your gender and fem shep fans everywhere. Blonde is simply the color of her hair, not who she is.
You played a blonde, so you picked a blonde, makes sense. But as far as EA “taking a chance” by putting a white, blonde haired, blue eyed shep on their box art – I’m just not buying it.
There’s probably some psychology here that goes beyond the hair color. Maybe the fact that people could see the votes, or that there was even a vote at all. It was a landslide, maybe people felt like their vote no longer counted. Heck, when I saw this option was 2,000 likes ahead I knew this was going to be the winner.
Getting back to psychology, I’d wager that if Hale herself picked the blonde, then there would have been less backlash. (for the record she picked the redhead).
Personally, I thought they all kinda looked the same to me, in the sense that the facial expression was pretty much the same across the board. That’s what turned me off. My fem shep didn’t wasn’t listening to Limp Bizkit when she was getting her photo taken. — And I think it’s that very personal sense of customization that was violated in creating these options, and making it a public “hot face” contest. But here we are talking about it anyhow, good or bad, the marketing worked here.
At the end of the day, aren’t we really just going to import our prior ME character and customize them anyhow? Oh, internets… lolz.
I play a male character and chose to not vote based on that. It didn’t really affect me and decided to let the people who would care most vote.
I think the reaction peeks into the idea of what someone thinks about a “strong” female character. To me all of them were relatively similar, yet according to the reaction, a blonde can’t be a strong female. It’s interesting to say the least, but I think in the end, like all things, the internet will calm down and move on with life. Huzzah to access to all information!
“By introducing a fem shep into their marketing plan they run the risk of isolating and alienating new players that may feel confused by seeing two Commander Shepards representing the Mass Effect franchise.”
I know how marketing works and I understand that BW wanted a “face” to represent Mass Effect, but the “confusion” argument never seemed to hold water to me. Mass Effect is a game about choices, something Mr. Casey Hudson likes to point out every chance he gets. Why not promote the choice in Shepard? Ultimately, it’s about the safety net of what does BW want to put their money? They put it in manShep because a profoundly large proportion of their customers are male. (Actually, femShep is on the back of the original X-Box ME1 game, so they must not have been too worried about confusion back then.) Aside from the femShep promotion coming off like a beauty contest, I agree w/ nearly everything you said in your article. And for the record, Jennifer Hale voted for the red head. http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/07/27/commanding-shepard-jennifer-hale-speaks/
Excellent reply Jamie! I was sort of shocked at the amount of video-game press this topic generated. I actually started writing the article while I was traveling and didn’t get to finish it until it (the topic) had really blown up. And you know… I hadn’t noticed that there was a female Shepard on the ME:1 box. Interesting!
Blonde, Brunette… as long as she’s not fat. Rule #1: Cardio.