It’s about time for one.
There’s no doubt that Mass Effect Andromeda has sparked a lot of hype, especially since its preview at E3 2015. Fans everywhere have been dying for more details about where the game will be set, who the companions will be, and where the story will take the new protagonist. But there’s one question I’m concerned with most of all: who will be the face of Mass Effect Andromeda?
This time around I think it would make sense for the default character to be female, and there are quite a few factors pointing in that direction. First, though, I should clarify what that would entail. I’m not suggesting that there should only be a female character option– BioWare games classically feature different gender options, and I don’t think that should change. But who do we see on the cover of the Mass Effect Trilogy? Male Shepard. What gender does your character default as when you enter character creation in most RPGs? Male. Andromeda should consider defaulting to the female option, and here’s why:
FemShep is life
FemShep from the original Mass Effect trilogy has a cult following that is almost disturbing. While she may not be the exclusive choice of Mass Effect fans, those who prefer to play as FemShep swear by her superiority. Many claim that the voice acting is of a higher quality, that the available romances are more engaging, and that the plot is more interesting with a female solider as the lead. Personally, I’d have to agree. There’s something about the outsider factor of a female commander that lends a lot of good conflict and charm to the series.
BioWare slowly seemed to catch on to the FemShep obsession, releasing an alternate cover for Mass Effect 3, and even recently revealing on Twitter that Commander Shepard’s animation was originally tested for the female option. Plus, The N7 day trailer for Mass Effect Andromeda featured the voice of FemShep (Jennifer Hale). Are these indicators of BioWare hopping on the FemShep bandwagon? Better late than never.
Inquisition plot intended for female character
As BioWare’s most recent major RPG, Dragon Age Inquisition is a good place to look for what direction the developer is moving in. Even though the technical game default for Inquisition is neutral, I’d argue that the plot is intended to be played as a female elf. Why? Because that’s the only type of character that can romance Solas: the Inquisitor’s sexy, bald, and mysterious elf companion.
I’ve played Dragon Age Inquisition a few times through as an Inquisitor of different genders, races, and sexualities. What romances and plot lines I haven’t played through, I’ve seen played by my Inquisition-obsessed roommate. Not only is Solas the most engaging (and heartbreaking) romance option, he’s probably the most important character in the game. Given the ending of the Trespasser expansion, I’d say it’s even likely that he will be the main focus of the next Dragon Age game. Really though, the only way to fully understand Solas and get the most out of the game’s disturbing plot twist, is by romancing him. You have to be a female elf to do that because Solas won’t get into it with anyone else (so picky).
Perhaps since the female option was so clandestinely important to the Inquisition plot, it would be beneficial to see a more outright connection to a female protagonist in Mass Effect Andromeda.
BioWare has the pull to make a difference
The main reason that BioWare should make the jump to a default female protagonist is because they can. There is a lot of prejudice and sexism surrounding female protagonists in games. I have often heard people (usually men) say that they don’t want to play a game as a female character. This type of attitude polarizes the gaming community in a completely unnecessary way.
If an indie or lesser known developer launches a game with a female main character, they may be penalized by a smaller audience and thus earn less revenue. Unfortunately, more women are willing to play as a male character than men willing to play as a female character. If a big developer like BioWare decides to default the female option, however, they are unlikely to lose their audience.
We saw this happen with Star Wars. Everyone said a movie with a female lead couldn’t be a blockbuster hit. Enter Rey, or what I like to call the best thing to happen in Star Wars history, and you’ve still got record-breaking sales on your hands. Why? Partly because Daisy Ridley is an ass-kicking goddess, but mostly because it’s Star Wars. Even misogynists love Star Wars.
With the kind of pull and fan-base that BioWare has, people are going to play even if they hate having a woman on the cover. That in itself is a force for changing the gaming community’s perspective on female gamers and female identity. It’s important stuff.
Lastly: why not?
At the end of the day, having a default female character for Mass Effect isn’t going to hurt anyone. No matter what, the game will still feature the option to play as female or male. So why not switch it up a little? With the trends we’ve seen in BioWare’s last two major platformers, it makes sense to give the female protagonist a shot by making her the default. Surely the franchise’s male fans are not so insecure as to be threatened by having a woman on the cover of their favorite game. Because that would be utterly ridiculous.