Quick hit: BioWare writer responds to my criticisms

On the Mass Effect boards, via the comments on GameCritics.com, BioWare writer Patrick Weekes had this to say about my post:

I think that the writer had some valid points. I can defend some stances and explain others as unfortunate but necessary, but ultimately, our focus on creating a wide galaxy in the first game meant that we prioritized new races over different genders, and that resulted in a big universe with a lot of interesting cultures and no female turians, salarians, or krogan. We are hoping to address that in future games, and we hope that the size and scope of our galaxy makes up for that lack, at least in part, until we do.

On the issue of our female characters being hypersexualized, I would agree that they were generally presented as attractive, but then, so were most of the men — we didn’t have a fat or flabby model available for either gender, so every man on the Citadel, from Udina to Conrad Verner, is walking around with abs of steel. As a mainstream video game, we are always going to err on the side of making our characters attractive, just as you’d expect to see in a big-budget movie.

That said, the asari were not just peacemakers. Two of the game’s big enemy bosses were asari (Shiala on Feros and Benezia on Noveria). The Destiny Ascension, flagship of the Citadel fleet, is an asari vessel, not a turian one. And it’s not just a few female bosses. We had, if the oft-repeated soundsets are any indication, female generic enemies as well — hostile female vanguards and female merc or pirate gang members, and I’d hold our female merc up against BioShock’s “Do you think I’m pretty?!” splicer woman any day as far as a nonsexualized generic female enemy.

Of the female followers, one was a biotic, yes, but another was a computer hacker with a shotgun and a tendency to lob tech grenades, and a third is the only pure soldier of all the followers.

So some of the article I agree with, albeit from an inside-the-company perspective where I know why some decisions were made, but other points stem from wanting the game to be something that it isn’t. Mass Effect is always going to be a mainstream mass-market game. We are unapologetically aiming for a wide audience — summer blockbuster, not art house movie. As a result, our men are usually going to be attractive or ugly-but-rugged, and our women are going to be attractive or distinguished. That’s what most people want.

I’m flattered he took the time to read my piece, and glad the team is working on some of these issues for Mass Effect 2. I totally agree with his points about the human NPCs in the game. But I can’t help being a bit hurt at the suggestion that having a vast and varied universe might make up for the fact that most of the alien races don’t have females at the moment. It immediately positions women as inferior, an afterthought, something that can be added if there is time or money or memory enough. A nice feature but not necessary. And regardless of whether it could have been helped or not, it’s upsetting.

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10 thoughts on “Quick hit: BioWare writer responds to my criticisms

  1. It’s nice that he responded, but it’s a shame he went all defensive about the human women, when if he’d read what you actually wrote with a little more care, he’d know that you weren’t really criticising them, and in fact made some of the same points he did. x_x

    • Yes. It’s a bit frustrating to have people (and Weekes didn’t necessarily do this, but a lot of people did) assume that because I didn’t write about an aspect of the game that I didn’t notice or forgot about it. For this article I focused on the two most problematic aspects of ME. I can’t write about EVERYTHING in one post!

  2. Also from what I’ve heard, please correct me if I’m wrong, but the univeerrse outside the story missions didn’t sound that varied. In fact, most people say that the side quest planet are the same thing over and over with different skins.

    • Yes, you’re right. I think Mr. Weekes must have been referring to the different alien cultures, but even so, most of the information you get is through the Codex, which is neither compelling gameplay nor showing rather than telling.

  3. But I can’t help being a bit hurt at the suggestion that having a vast and varied universe might make up for the fact that most of the alien races don’t have females at the moment. It immediately positions women as inferior, an afterthought, something that can be added if there is time or money or memory enough. A nice feature but not necessary. And regardless of whether it could have been helped or not, it’s upsetting.

    I’m not going to say too much on this subject because there’s bad blood between me and Weekes, but that is exactly the approach that BioWare seems to take with its games. It’s the standard approach that games take towards women and other non-privileged groups, but in BioWare’s case it especially feels like a slap in the face because of all the self-congratulating they do in their in-game universe re: equality.

  4. I got marked as spam… again. There wasn’t any easy way to deal with it (no “mark as not-spam” or whitelisting capabilities, it seems), though I ended up approving my comment while I was poking around.

    I’m beginning to think that Akismet may have a penchant for marking Class A IP addresses as spam, since mine and the other comment still stuck in spam were Class A.

    When I have a chance, I’ll do some poking around to see if there are any plugins that might help manage the spam queue better.

    • weird D: I always check the spam queue anyway, but it would be cool if I didn’t have to.

      If you want you can make yourself an author of the blog and then your comments will be automatically approved ;D

  5. “I would agree that they were generally presented as attractive, but then, so were most of the men…”

    I hate it when people bring out that one. Note to everyone, everywhere: those abs of steel guys? In not just videogames, but comics and action movies and TV? They’re power fantasies. For men. Not women. Women, in general, are not into abs of steel. Saying that they’re both fantasies is meaningless, because the fact remains that it’s men as power fantasies for men, and women as sex fantasies for men. That’s not equality!

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