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.