FemShep Steps Forward, But for How Long?

On the final day of the San Diego Comic Con, I sat in a hotel lobby completely exhausted, but still unable to stop grinning as I watched two little girls carry on a protracted and energetic pretend battle with a pair of inflatable omniblades. This felt a perfectly fitting way to close out the week as Bioware spent SDCC 2011 actually putting some promotional resources into acknowledging the existence of the female version of Commander Shepard for the first time since the Mass Effect series began in 2007.

A brown skinned woman with an asymmetrical bob with a red streak stares intently forward. She is dressed in full body armor with an N7 symbol on the breast and carries a pistol in one hand and a glowing "omniblade" in the other.

Looks iconic to me.

It was over a month ago that Bioware marketing director, David Silverman, announced on twitter that the company would be producing a Mass Effect 3 trailer featuring FemShep. This deviation from their slavish adherence to the conceit of a single “iconic” Shepard — in the form of a suitably rugged yet suitably handsome but utterly banal white dude — was credited to the massive amount of support and love for FemShep amongst vocal fans, particularly communicated to the devs through social media. Of course, the announcement was made too close to E3 for anything at all to materialize by then and, outside of a few tweets requesting design input from the masses, FemShep fans were left to wait.

Left to wait until this past Saturday, when a much touted Big Announcement turned out to be that Bioware would let the fans choose which of the six versions of FemShep that they’d developed would be utilized in the trailer (and possible future marketing material). Now there’s probably something to be examined in how much of this FemShep push has revolved around the minutiae of her appearance, but I cannot describe how gratifying it was, as a huge fan of Mass Effect, of action heroines in general and Commander Shepard in particular, to walk through the Bioware headquarters at SDCC and see it decked out in high resolution person-sized posters of FemShep designs — more than one of which were visibly women of color.

Of course the probable winner (leading by a hefty margin as of the writing of this article) is the blondest, blue-est eyed option with the longest hair, but a FemShep appealing so stringently to Western beauty standards is still miles better than no FemShep at all. And just the fleeting opportunity — the outside chance — of having official Mass Effect promotional material that features a female Commander Shepard of color is a heady feeling.

Six headshots of women dressed in armor with a rifle on their back. They have varying hairstyles and hair colors and the three women on bottom appear to be of African, East Asian, and possibly Hispanic descent.

Look, Ma! They're not ALL white!

However, this long-awaited triumph only increases the dissonance when considering the other big bit of Mass Effect business taking place at SDCC 2011.

On Friday, one day before the FemShep reveals and announcements began, Mass Effect executive producer, Casey Hudson, and screenwriter, Mark Protosevich, were featured in a segment during the Legendary Pictures panel where they discussed the Mass Effect movie currently in development. Very little of substance was said, both men relying largely on rehearsed sound bytes about the depth and breadth and richness of the Mass Effect universe. (The sole exception to this was when Protosevich wandered off message into an analogy about other video game movies failing because the source material was like a beautiful but stupid woman, at which I and many others in room vocalized our disgust. I say he wandered off message only because I have to hope no one in media training fed him that line.)

The one piece of news that came from this was that the movie will focus on the events of the first Mass Effect game, contrary to fan speculation that it would tell an original story set in the universe in order to avoid presenting a version of the events of the game that could be considered “canon.”

The power of choice has always been a huge talking point in Mass Effect marketing. All of the statements in the wake of  this FemShep push revolve around the developers acknowledging the significance and importance of the character because of that element of choice. Even as they spent years plastering everything available with images of the same grizzled white dude space marine indistinguishable from the other grizzled white dude space marines fronting 95% of the shooters on the market, everything ever said was about how your choices define the Mass Effect universe.

The first choice, the fundamental choice, is who your Shepard is.

For a Mass Effect film, they could cast a person of literally any gender and any racial background as Commander Shepard. There is, by their own insistence, no set appearance, no immutable look. Iconic DudeShep isn’t canon, they’ve declared again and again. He isn’t the Shepard; he’s just a marketing tool.

Canonically speaking, Commander Shepard needs to be athletic; Commander Shepard needs to be charismatic; Commander Shepard needs to be the baddest badass in the galaxy.

Commander Shepard does not need to be a rugged-yet-handsome-but-banal white guy. Bioware has just now taken tiny steps away from the rugged-yet-handsome-but-banal white guy being the single, enduring image of Commander Shepard that they show to the world at large. It seems almost perverse, in light of that, to go charging right back towards that when it comes to something as high profile as a feature film that will introduce Mass Effect to millions of new people.

Yet, I’m just not optimistic enough to honestly think that anyone involved will take the time to seriously consider the infinite amount of options they have, even if they’ve been actively in the process of exploring them in another context.

All I can do is I hope that I’m wrong and that, just once, this isn’t a choice that’s already been made.

About Rawles

Rawles is cis, queer, black, a reader, a writer, a gamer, and an activist. She enjoys marathon sessions of The Sims, melting faces, and having an alt for every possible RPG outcome. She tweets more than she ought to across multiple accounts, but you can find her stream of consciousness rantings at @rawlesmarie and her original fiction and critical essays on pop culture at aristeia.me.
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48 Responses to FemShep Steps Forward, But for How Long?

  1. Kate Cox says:

    This is the first I’ve heard that the ME movie will feature an actual Commander Shepard… and I’m pretty bummed out about that news. :-/ I would have preferred it much more had they left Shepard’s story and identity up to the players.

    Because it totally will be a beefy white guy. Even if it would be the biggest chance for a great female action hero since Sigourney Weaver killed aliens.

    • Rawles says:

      Yeah. I would prefer if the movie was about any of the many other things it could have been about within the Mass Effect milieu, but them dropping the fact that they’re basing it on Mass Effect 1 kind of kicks that option off of the table.

      I can’t imagine that they would be pulling from the first game and then NOT be telling Commander Shepard’s story, even if they didn’t explicitly say so. (Likely to prevent questions about casting at this early stage.)

      >>> Even if it would be the biggest chance for a great female action hero since Sigourney Weaver killed aliens.<<<


  2. Callan says:

    Penny Arcade did a comic on this very topic today. That giant booming sound is the sound of them missing the point.

    • Rawles says:

      Yeah. I don’t give Penny Arcade hits anymore, but I don’t find what you’re saying surprising. I was reading about this over at the LiveJournal Mass Effect community.

      There’s been a big backlash against the blonde FemShep and then a backlash in response to that. There’s a lot of really disgusting slut-shaming and other grossness happening revolving around the blonde FemShep, but counter to that, people then go OMG IT DOESN’T MATTER THAT SHE’S BLONDE AND WHITE!!1 STOP OPPRESSING BLONDE WHITE WOMEN!

      Which, as you’ve said, completely misses the point.

      • Andrew says:

        I, uh, I actually don’t think they missed the point. They’re not pointing out that people voted for a white Shepard over a Shepard of color, but that it’s intensely near-sighted to claim that Shepard’s hair color detracts from her personality and actions. They link to an article hating on the new design where the author prefers the redheaded FemShep, but it’s worth pointing out that both the blonde and the redheaded FemShep have the EXACT SAME FACE.

        I think they’re maybe responding to a different online criticism than you are? I quote:

        The idea that this tousled, interstellar bad-ass with a sidearm, an assault rifle, and some kind of hard-light holoblade represents some kind of wilting star princess is beyond comprehension. This is the same Shepherd, Commander Shepard, whose exploits have cut this way and that across an entire galaxy; the one who parleyed with Reavers, and released the Rachni. The one who died and was reborn, the one who laid low a writhing and larval world-eater.

        Seems pretty on-point to me, but, hey. She’s not *my* Shepard, either. Adrian Shepard still bears the scars of Akuze; whatever life this Shepard has had, it wasn’t the same one.

        • Rawles says:

          As mentioned, I don’t read Penny Arcade anymore so I don’t know what their argument/position was. I was only responding to Callan’s assertion that they missed the point by saying I wouldn’t be surprised if they had. Then I went on to address the arguments that I’ve actually seen and feel are missing the point.

          To clarify, I think much of the commentary attacking the appearance of the blonde Shepard is disgusting and ridiculous. Obviously the fact that she’s blonde doesn’t make her any less credible or fierce or anything else. But I also think that in the course of defending against these attacks people start to conflate: “I wish a different Shepard had won because blondes are stupid and look like pornstars/sluts/girly-girls etc.” and “I wish a different Shepard had won because this is a typical depiction of the Western beauty ideal and there was an opportunity to deviate from that.” OR the latter gets interpreted as “A blonde Shepard is inherently, actively racist and if you like or voted for blonde Shep you are yourself a racist!”

          In short, it’s reached a point where any objection or reservation about the blonde Shep winning gets parsed as an attack on blonde, blue-eyed white women everywhere instead of a call for more diversity.

          That’s what I think is missing the point.

          • Laurentius says:

            But there is not only one point here I think, so just because someone take different stance doesn’t automatically mean missing the point of diversity.

            • Rawles says:

              If they are, as I stated, interpreting calls for more diversity as an attack on the inherent validity/suitability of a blonde woman being Commander Shepard and/or as an assertion that anyone who thinks a blonde woman can be Commander Shepard is a racist… yes, they very much are missing the point being made about diversity.

              To reiterate: I don’t object to people defending the blonde Shepard against assertions that she can’t be taken seriously or looks like Barbie or looks like a wilting flower or things of that nature. Those attacks are disgusting and reek of various sorts of misogyny.

              I do object to people treating disappointment that the winner is an extremely typical representation of highly exclusionary Western beauty standards as if it is one of those attacks.

              Which is something that I have seen happening a lot, unfortunately.

              And just in case this isn’t clear: my argument has nothing to do with Penny Arcade. I have no personal knowledge of what position they took because I do not read Penny Arcade. I am speaking entirely of discussion of this issue I’ve seen in numerous places over the past few weeks such as the official Bioware forums, Tumblr, and LiveJournal.

  3. PlusSizedGamerWoman says:

    1. I knew blond Shephard would win. Because the white woman ALWAYS wins.. Little progress in my eyes.

    2. Shephard in the movies will probably end up being a white guy. Because the status quo is 95% of the time fulfilled. I probably won’t watch it.

    • 0thello says:

      1. Tell me about it fam. I agree, however that conversation will no doubt get buried under other topics such as the topic of their ‘marginalization’ by their white male counterparts.

      On a side note it might be the reason why conversations of racial diversity regarding female characters rarely occur, naturally one would want to avoid being the villain or at least part of the problem in conversation especially when you yourself have a bone to pick in another conversation where you are in the right.

      I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on it though.

    • Tiffany says:

      Not JUST the white woman. But the white, blonde haired, blue eyed woman.

      What was wrong with the original FemShep design. Apparently Bioware didn’t like her because she was a slap-dash design that they quickly put together with little thought. But she is far more interesting to look at (wide jaw, red hair, scar over eyebrow) than the typical blonde barbie design that won this competition.

      Not that there is anything wrong with a blonde woman being in the military. Of course not. But it’s disappointing that Bioware are now planning on using a woman who fits into Hollywood’s standards of beauty, as opposed to the rugged military woman who was the default in the previous ME games.

    • KeijiDash says:

      Goodness, that first points certainly depress me, mostly because that thought ran through my head the minute Bioware left it to the Intertubes to decide FemShep’s look. Although, if it were solely up to Bioware I don’t see the result turning out any differently.

      It’s crazy how I didn’t even have to look at any of their choices to KNOW the Blonde-Haired, Blue-Eyed FemShep would win hands down. It feels as if I should be happy at the tiny baby step forward for them to even put ANY FemShep on the cover but the happiness isn’t coming.

      I chalk it up to the fact to me it’s just another reminder of this weird representation hierarchy I see whenever it comes to any type of media:

      1.) “Mainstream” White Dude
      2.) “Mainstream” White Woman (preferably blonde and blue-eyed)
      3.) “Everyone Else If We Have Time For It.”

      I mean, seriously. If there’s one thing I think you would’ve wanted for a character that you’re going to slap on the front of the box, it’s for that character to look different and eye-catching. For the multitude of Lone-Wolf Brown-Haired White Dudes blowing up things these days, what would be more eye-catching than a video game that shows a WOMAN OF COLOR on the front? Or perhaps one that doesn’t look like Samus Aran’s older sister? It just strikes me as very “Business-As-Usual,” so all I can feel for it is a heavy sigh and an eye-roll.

      Bonus points for the love for #4 FemShep though, that one immediately caught my eye; I think it was the red streak.

  4. Jawnita says:

    They should do as Patrick McGoohan did with #2 The Prisoner and Terry Gilliam did with Tony in Imaginarium, and cast a different actor for each scene. If they keep the spacesuit consistent, especially if s/he wears a badge or special insignia, or give Shepard an iconic facial scar or birthmark, it could work, and would be awesome. I would totally watch that, despite not caring at all about Mass Effect. (I did watch that “Many Faces of FemShep” video, which is probably why I’m thinking this.)

    • Andrew says:

      32 Short Films about Commander Shepard? That could be interesting in a Rashomon/Blair Witch/Memento sort of way, where the movie is about piecing together what exactly happened during the lead-up to the attack on the Citadel.

      Actually, that’d be kind of an interesting approach for a game to take. The only one I’m aware of that takes that sort of solving-the-mystery-during-a-flashback approach is Vagrant Story, and even that doesn’t leave room for the sort of ambiguity that the framework hints at.

    • PlusSizedGamerWoman says:

      That would be the best idea for Shephard, honestly. Given how Shephard can have any identity, it would make sense.

  5. Korva says:

    I don’t care about ME so I don’t follow it directly, but getting some kind of promotional acknowledgement that the protagonist can be a woman is good news. Still — when I read about 6 predefined choices to vote for, I honestly expected to at least have one black and one Asian design. They ALL look white to me and that is a shame. Bleh.

    Must say, I like the blonde for having something “icy” about her, but my favourite would be #1 for the utilitarian haircut. Overall, though, they are ALL too “young and perfect” for my liking. We’re talking about a character who was a decorated veteran even at the start of the series and has, so I hear, gone through the meat grinder quite a bit since. Can we see a little “wear and tear” and life experience on our (female) protagonists, too, please? At least as an option? I am only lightly less tired of the “barely legal Photoshop babe” than I am of the “grizzled straight while macho dude” when it comes to playable characters.

    Someone like Aveline from DA2 looks much more believable as an experienced warrior/soldier type than these kiddies fresh from bootcamp.

    • Korva says:

      I just noticed — why is the poll on bloody Facebook anyway instead of Bioware’s own site, either the ME3 website or the social network? Boggles the living daylights out of me. Why do people have to use that questionable moloch of a site to be heard?

      • Rawles says:

        This is a question a lot of people have asked and there’s no real answer other than, I suppose, that Bioware wanted to call attention to their Facebook page.

        I think a poll on BSN or similar would have brought in a much more hardcore cross-section of people who likely care a lot more what the FemShep in this trailer will look like than the tens of thousands of people voting on Facebook, certainly.

        Whether that would be for better, for worse, or ultimately the same is up to debate.

    • C'nor (Outermost_Toe) says:

      Yeah, s/he did get pretty beat up in ME II, but there were options to remove the scarring. They have some pretty nice reconstructive techniques in the future.

      • Korva says:

        I’m not saying that she should be Frankenstein Junior (though a female character with some nasty scarring would be wicked IMO), but the glaring disparity between male characters who are allowed to look their age and show signs of a rough life, and female characters who are almost always young and smooth and Photoshop-perfect is just something that irritates me, especially if both are supposed to represent the same person.

    • Rawles says:

      The three in the bottom row all look distinctly non-white (though it’s more obvious with higher resolution images such as the human-sized posters I mentioned in the article), a point which I think is highlighted by the fact that the top three are all the same (white) woman with different hair, while the bottom three have more distinct facial features. I also find declarations like THEY ALL LOOK WHITE a highly unpleasant slope to start sliding down. I have various family members who have skintones and features like the FemShep second row left. They are not white and they wouldn’t appreciate someone looking at them and declaring they looked like they were. Obviously, these are just images of an imaginary character, but it’s something to think about.

      Secondarily, there’s a lot of complaints that they all look “young” and “perfect.” First, Shepard is only in her late twenties. None of these women particularly look younger than that to me. And, frankly, differences in art styles acknowledged, I don’t think Aveline looks noticeably older than them either. As far as wear and tear, in the first Mass Effect game in character customization, you could specify a wide variety of facial scars and a slightly less fresh-faced complexion for your Shepard regardless of gender. But in Mass Effect 2, certain plot elements dictated that Shepard had thorough regenerative/reconstructive surgery that left them without scars, again for both genders. These models are all FemShep going into Mass Effect 3, which means there’s actually a reason for them not to be battered and rough around the edges.

      Still, I don’t disagree that all or some of the models could be made more weathered or roughed up, but I don’t really find slinging around things like “barely legal Photoshop babe” particularly constructive. Not only are there ageist undertones, but some people just look younger than they are. I still get carded from time to time at R-rated films. If I modeled a Shepard after myself, she would probably look even more youthful than these models that you’ve declared “kiddies fresh from bootcamp.” And I am, as we like to say, a grown ass woman.

      Much like the sexist attacks on the blonde FemShep, this is another instance where the lack of a certain degree of diversity on one level doesn’t make it okay to attack the traits of the options that are presented.

      • Korva says:

        I never meant to insinuate that being on the paler side of “black” or not having a huge Afro makes someone “less black” or “not black”. If it came across that way, I’m honestly sorry. I wrote that “they all look white to me” trying to show it was a subjective and somewhat disappointed impression and because — looking at only the image in this post — I just don’t see much of a difference between them. Only #4 stands out a little with a different mouth (and nose?), #5 looks exactly the same as the top three to me, and so does #6 except for a click or two on the skin tone slider.

        As for the age issue, I know about not looking one’s age — people addressed me like an adult from the time I was around 14, and well over a decade later I still get treated like a late teen/early twen sometimes. I’m just continuously disappointed that almost all female characters are either that young or made to look like it, while male characters are not. With these Shepards, like with almost all female characters, I get the impression that mainstream sex appeal beats all other design concerns. It isn’t NEARLY taken to the extreme as in many other cases of course, and maybe it isn’t even wholly intentional, but it is there — and that means young, smooth, (too) perfect. “Barely legal” is an exaggeration, yes, but I’d honestly peg them as 18 rather than 30+ and with years of gruelling military service under their belts.

        Male Shepard doesn’t look that way, even though he has the same plastic surgery at his disposal. He looks more “real” to me and much more believable in his role. (Can’t speak for intended his sex appeal since I’m not wired that way, but I honestly don’t think it’s nearly as big a factor in the creation of male protagonists as it is with female characters, PCs and NPCs alike.)

        • Rawles says:

          I understood what you meant. I just wanted to point out that that sort of racial identification based on appearance is a very complex and thorny topic.

          I don’t disagree with you about female characters being so often made to look young because a woman’s attractiveness is seen to be of most primacy to her character. Like I said, I definitely think that any or all of them could be made to look older. Though, I still disagree that any of them look 18 or anything but in their 20s (which again, Shepard is). I just took issue with the implied dismissal of characters who are or who look young or youthful.

          Also, the default male Shepard model looks more real because his appearance is a face scan of Dutch fashion model Mark Vanderloo, whereas I’m pretty sure these female Shepards created from whole cloth which adds to their “perfect” or unreal look. Because they’re entirely computer generated. I imagine they didn’t get a face model for FemShep because they decided to involve the fans in choosing how she would look. Which, they didn’t have to do and it’s arguable how good an idea it is or is not, but there you go.

          • Tiffany says:

            I think the problem is that all of the women have features that fit into the ‘white’ standard of Western beauty. They are basically (to steal a quote from Yahtzee) “white women dipped in tea”. And yes, while there are many women out there who no doubt look like this, it would still be nice to see a black female protagonist with a wide nose, or an Asian female protagonist with small lips and almond eyes. Not just “slightly darker” white chicks who still fit into Hollywood’s standards of beauty.

            • Rawles says:

              >>it would still be nice to see a black female protagonist with a wide nose, or an Asian female protagonist with small lips and almond eyes<<

              I don't disagree about the need for variation and I don't disagree that all of these women appeal to Western beauty standards to varying degrees. Not at all.

              But looking at women of color who have features like those and yelling THEY LOOK WHITE! i.e. not [whatever ethnicity] ENOUGH is a form of erasure and I think that should be kept in mind.

            • Tiffany says:

              Don’t get me wrong, Rawles. I’m not saying that each race has specific features that ONLY belong to that race. But let’s fact it, each race has certain features that are more “typical” of that race.
              And like I was saying, it’s hard to find a black female protagonist who looks, well, “traditionally” black. I think Tameka J. Foster summed it up best:

              ‘Why is it felt that the more diluted our traditionally African features become the more aesthetically acceptable we are considered? It was said in the 1960s and the sentiment seems to be forgotten, “Black is Beautiful.” Wow, nearly 50 years later and is that now only meant for a specific shade?’

              And I know it isn’t the best example, but try checking out the TV Tropes page “But not too black”: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ButNotTooBlack

              It’s hard to find a woman who looks traditionally African in video games. Because Western society doesn’t consider those features attractive. I can’t think of a single video game female who is black, except maybe Sheva from Resident Evil 5, and she is VERY obviously less “ethnic looking” (forgive the term) than the bad guys.

            • Rawles says:

              I am well, well, WELL aware of all of this.

              I am not saying that it’s not a problem. It is a huge problem.

              I constantly get upset with the fact that I can never make characters dark-skinned in games. I constantly get upset about the fact that I can never make them have natural hair like I do. I struggle with character creators trying to get a nose broad enough. I live that every day. My dream casting for movie Shepard is Rutina Wesley which would never happen for many reasons but chief among them being that she’s dark-skinned. I. Know.

              I am NO WAY disagreeing that there needs to be more parity in representation of, for instance, black women with strong Sub-Saharan African features.

              I am only saying that looking at a depiction of a light-skinned black woman and saying things like “she’s just a white woman dipped in tea” is a hugely problematic act of erasure and counter-productive to the cause of diversity. And it is in no way necessary to arguing for representation of other kinds of depictions.

            • Tiffany says:

              I completely understand what you mean, but I can’t help but think that developers aren’t trying to depict a certain type of black character. Rather, they are just using the same mold for all their other female characters, which is usually a white woman, then claiming they are “diverse”. When they create a POC female character, they seem to be aiming for the typical “white” appearance that they use for all their other female characters, while giving her the most

              Sheva is a prime example of that. She presumably comes from the same area of Africa as the villains, but they look far more traditionally African than she does (e.g. very dark skin, broad nose, wide lips, sinewy muscular bodies, etc), while she has the same face as characters like Jill or Claire (who are both white). It’s not just her skin color- its her features as well. There is nothing there to identify her as a woman from Africa. She looks mixed race at the most. Even her accent is British…for no apparent reason.
              Because god forbid an African protagonist looks like anything less than a ‘sort of tanned white woman’.

              Meanwhile, her male friend Josh is also from the same part of Africa, and he looks quite a bit more traditionally African than she does. He even has an indistinguishable African accent. But once again, he isn’t as traditionally African looking as the villains. It also doesn’t help that the bad guys act like “savages” even before they are turned into zombies (not to mention the ACTUAL “savage” village you visit in the game, complete with mud huts, grass skirts and spears. Ugh.)

            • Tiffany says:

              I completely understand what you mean, but I can’t help but think that developers aren’t trying to depict a certain type of black character by doing this. Rather, they are just using the same mold for all their other female characters, which is usually a white woman, then claiming they are “diverse”. When they create a POC female character, they seem to be aiming for the typical “white” appearance that they use for all their other female characters.

              Sheva is a prime example of that. She presumably comes from the same area of Africa as the bad guys, but they look far more traditionally African than she does (e.g. very dark skin, broad nose, wide lips, sinewy muscular bodies, etc), while she has the same face as characters like Jill or Claire (who are both white). It’s not just her skin color- its her features as well. There is nothing there to identify her as a woman from Africa. She looks mixed race at the most. Even her accent is British…for no apparent reason.
              Because god forbid a female African protagonist looks like anything less than a ‘sort of tanned white woman’.

              Meanwhile, her male friend Josh is also from the same part of Africa, and he looks quite a bit more traditionally African than she does. Because he’s a male and they don’t always have to fit into the Western standard of beauty. He even has an indistinguishable African accent. But once again, he isn’t as traditionally African looking as the villains. It also doesn’t help that the bad guys act like “savages” even before they are turned into zombies (not to mention the ACTUAL “savage” village you visit in the game, complete with mud huts, grass skirts and spears. Ugh.)

              It seems the only time a black woman can be depicted game is if she looks as untraditionally African as possible. Unless, of course, she is a villain…in that case, she’ll be as dark and “savage” as possible, all while remaining sexy.

          • Deviija says:

            Racial identification based solely on looks IS a thorny and larger topic to discuss. However, racial identification when it comes to fictional characters, particularly when in ‘beauty pageant’ polling, it is a response to diversity and racial identification and representation. Moreover, all of these Shepards’ facial structure and features look like mixes of Natalie Portman/Scarlett Johansson to me. Aside from some light readable — and I stress light and readable — skin tone differentiation in two of them, they each have very similar looks.

            For something in the context of choosing our own FemShep, being able to have a default icon for marketing and trailer purposes, it would have been nicer to see a rich diversity in skin tones, facial features, and readable racial differentiation. That the majority of our choices are white ladies with no one’s skintone darker than deep tan/light-skinned brown is a point worth disecting.

            The beautification of FemShep is another point of irritation. For a veteran of combat, to be the exact woman equivalent of the dude version, she should be showing the same amount of wear and detail and aging and weathering and ruggedness/roughness. Having her wear all this heavy eyeliner and makeup for her character is a bit irritating to me. This is not saying that modern women soldiers cannot wear makeup and be soldiers, or that women soldiers cannot be feminine or ‘girly’ or what have you, this is based strictly on the character represented in the past two games. If dude Shepard looks this haggared and worn and real, so too should his lady counterpart get the same treatment. They are the SAME person. Same age. Nothing is changed but the biological sex.

            (Yes, Vanderloo is the model for Shepard, but the designers have taken many artistic liberties to make him appear more weathered and aged and rugged, because Vanderloo in contrast to ME2’s trailer Shepard and the latest Shepard picture looks very young and ‘pretty’ in his handsomeness and far better rested. So it isn’t the same; they just haven’t put those touches on the lady version. Perhaps they will when we choose our icon FemShep, but I doubt it. It’s the game/movie obsession with making women look younger and prettier all the time.)

            As for the age, Shepard is not in her 20’s or late 20’s right now. She was 29 in ME1, but right now in the timeline she’s 31 by ME2.

            But as I mentioned above, about this being a ‘beauty pageant,’ it was really destined to fail from the start by opening this up for voting and leaving it to the community. It turns into a ‘Who is the hawtest babe?’ contest rather than ‘Who most represents the character of Shepard?’ I find it rather shallow, in the end, but I also know that there’s no real win-win scenario in this for BioWare. Give people choice, be seen as getting fan feedback and listening to your community, but also be seen as courting an portion of the audience that has no interest in FemShep’s development aside from her looks. Don’t give people choice, then people will complain no matter what the choice of the default is. Sigh.

            • Rawles says:

              I don’t disagree with any of this. At all. And I certainly hope that I haven’t given the impression that I don’t think their appearances are worth dissecting. I explained why THEY LOOK WHITE! (as a common form of erasure) made me uncomfortable enough to point out that it was a dangerous slope to start sliding down, which I don’t think is incongruent with or runs counter to recognizing exactly what’s being appealed to in all of these designs.

              >>As for the age, Shepard is not in her 20′s or late 20′s right now. She was 29 in ME1, but right now in the timeline she’s 31 by ME2.<<

              Actually, the reason I counted Shepard in her late twenties is because I've never been able to decide whether those two years dead count towards age. I leaned towards 'no' in this conversation because it's not as if she was actually doing any living that would add to her… weathering at the time.

            • Laurentius says:

              “If dude Shepard looks this haggared and worn “, “weathered and aged and rugged”

              Now that’s quite an exaggeration, male Sheppard doesn’t look like that, buzzcut haircut and not being clean shaven doesn’t mean all this.

  6. C'nor (Outermost_Toe) says:

    Personally, I’d go with 1, 5 or 6. The hair on 4 is just wrong for FemShep. Having a curtain in front of one eye when you’re fighting is, well, not a terribly good idea, at best. 2 and 3 are okay, but I don’t really feel strongly about them, and, as you said, 3 is a fairly standard choice if you’re not going with a white male (She does get some points from me for sentimental reasons, since she’s the option that looks most like Leona Shepard, my character from ME II, but that’s a personal thing, and I don’t have any particular urge to see her in a trailer). I thought at first that 6 had yellow eyes, but that’s probably just the light.

  7. Elena says:

    I was disappointed that the first 3 mock-ups of FemShep looked so similar, and also sad that default FemShep from 1&2 (with the short bobbed red hair and green eyes) wasn’t an option, if only for consistency across the series.

    In the end I voted for the black FemShep, although I do agree she needs to scrape that fringe out of her eyes if she plans to go around shooting things.

    While this is interesting and I am glad BioWare took this step and gave us the option of non-white Shapards, I’m sure many of us who are fans of the series are already very attached to our existing characters. The FemShep I’m taking into ME3 for my first playthrough is Earthborn and Chinese Malaysian (as well as a paragon and a badass biotic adept!)

    • Tiffany says:

      I can’t help but think the original Default FemShep would have won the competition if she had been an option.

      • Rawles says:

        If they had put the poll on the Bioware Social Network or on the ME3 website, I think there’s a good chance. But if it was still on Facebook, I think that the results would probably be the same.

  8. Barts says:

    I, for one, was very disappointed with the choice of FemSheps and found it sad that the one that got the most voices was stereotypical blonde with blue eyes. I mean, what’s wrong with the default FemShep from Mass Effect, the one featured in the female version of the trailer? Looks tough, looks fine, is not a male fantasy. So while I agree that poor choice of FemSheps is better than no FemShep at all, I am not so sure it is “miles better”?

    When I wrote an article for one of Polish gaming websites about the good move that Bioware did with acknowledging the existence of FemShep, I illustrated it with the image from “Pulp” t-shirt from Threadless – because that blondie Sheppard was for me something as cliche as Space Girls in fitting suits on pulp sci-fi magazines of the past.

    • Rawles says:

      >>So while I agree that poor choice of FemSheps is better than no FemShep at all, I am not so sure it is “miles better”?<<

      I disagree.

      I think the blonde FemShep is a less interesting choice than some of the others. I think that there's a fairly clear missed opportunity here. I think that there's the obvious underlying issue/pattern present in her selection, particularly by such a wide margin. But FemShep was completely erased before this. She was utterly invisible. The blonde FemShep, no more sexualized or exploited than any of the other options, is definitely miles better than that. It's okay to want more while still appreciating what's been attained.

      Comparing her to objectified, overly sexualized space girls from pulp magazines is over-reaching.

  9. Rakaziel says:

    I think afro shep looks best, her hairstyle has the most character and gives her more of a weathered and fierce expression. The little red light reflex or dyed hair looks really great with the red part of the symbol on her suit.

  10. Trodamus says:

    I think the bigger issue is why Bioware would offer up six choices for femShep — a character choice that, by default, means you crafted your own Shepard — while acting like any singular choice wouldn’t piss off half the internet.

    Then there’s the usual “put it to a vote” ploy. Yes, well, minority representation is all the more difficult when you let the majority decide when and where.

    Yet, this is just the marketing tool, the “iconic” female Commander, and thoughts of her being less cliche (if you consider blonde and white as cliche as shaved head and white for broShep) were …optimistic.

    • Rawles says:

      I don’t think they particularly understood or cared that it would “piss off half the internet.” They’re not locking anyone into using a particular FemShep, but to make a trailer they needed a model and because they’re using her in reaction to fan response, it likely seemed to them a good way to continue enthusiastic fan involvement. I don’t think the train of thought there is particularly baffling.

      And while I obviously agree the problems that letting a majority vote on minority representation presents, not doing it that way would require more investment in minority representation than they’ve shown, unfortunately.

    • C'nor (Outermost_Toe) says:

      Eh. I’m not sure that it will “piss off half the internet.” whatever choice they make. For one thing, you have to remember that they do need a defined face for the trailer, and that most fans of ME get that (I am NOT saying you don’t!). They aren’t saying “This is the FemShep that you get.”. So far as I know, they aren’t even changing the default FemShep that you get when you choose female. All they’re doing is choosing someone for a specific trailer.

      I agree that it might have been better for them to do something other than present a few options (I even have an idea as to how they might have done it).

      (Note: If you don’t care as to how I think they might have done better in choosing a FemShep, then you can go ahead and skip to the next comment)

      I think it might have worked better if they had allowed fans to submit their own creations, then put those up for a vote. After the first round of voting, take the top ones and advance them to the next round. Any ties for the top spots advance together. Continue like that until you have, say, the top ten choices, and then have it be decided among those.

      • Trodamus says:

        Personally, I think they should have contacted a few of the big names in gaming feminism and asked their opinion on this, even to the point of letting them choose the final model.

  11. Orianna says:

    What makes me dread the upcoming trailer is the fear that the femaleness of fem!Shep will be the focus of it. Or that her hot looks will be a big part of it. Frankly, I don’t want a trailer ABOUT fem!Shepard at all. I want a trailer about Mass Effect 3 WITH fem!Shep.

  12. Doug S. says:

    If I could choose the person to play Commander Shepard in a Mass Effect movie, I’d cast Denzel Washington.

    Who would you cast?

  13. mim says:

    Well, to put it bluntly, we always knew that the male Shep being non canon is a big pile of – just as the male Hawke or warden not being canon is ridiculous. When every single prepresentation of the game shows us the same inmage, that image is what we’ll see when we finally sit down to play the game, there’s no question about it.

  14. Glarrett says:

    I hope the next IP Bioware creates in the vein of Mass Effect, KOTOR, or Dragon Age has a marketing campaign around the fact that the player has ultimate control in the look of the character. All the trailers would be akin to the intro to ME2 where Sheppard’s looks are obscured until the player has a chance to choose them. Character/Avatar customization is a huge selling point of Bioware titles, and they should embrace it with their marketing campaigns.

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