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On FemShep's Popularity In Mass Effect

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On FemShep's Popularity In Mass Effect

Editorial - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Thu 9 September 2010, 12:25:29

Tags: BioWare; Mass Effect

Gamasutra put up an editorial concerning the popularity of female Shepard.

What, You Can Play As A Female?

The weird thing about the popularity of the female option is that there has been absolutely no marketing for FemShep. Commander Shepard, as evidenced by posters, box art, promotional videos and television advertisements, is male. He is voiced by Mark Meer and the character is modeled after Mark Vanderloo. In some ways, he might as well be Mark Shepard.

Any casual observer may be entirely unaware that playing a female protagonist is even an option in Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2. So why is FemShep so popular? Any standard textbook on marketing will lay down some laws about brand and name recognition. Icons, figureheads and mascots tend to be very clearly defined for just this reason. Imagining a completely unadvertised female version of Kratos is, while sort of sexy, mind-boggling.

There are two main reasons as to why this has occurred. The first and admittedly less academic of the two reasons is pretty simple to explain: female gamers may jump at the chance to play female characters. (Not to mention that anyone wanting to romance Jacob, Thane or Garrus has to play as FemShep.) That isn’t to say that females can’t play as Mr. Commander Shepard but simply that, given the rare option, it seems like women would be prone to trying to play their own gender.

With the more general hypothesis out of the way, the second is that people play as the female version precisely because Commander Shepard is male in all other ways. The lines, the character animations and various other tidbits are male-oriented in a way that makes FemShep more than your stereotypical RPG female protagonist. For one, she wears practical armor. Well, mostly, but it is science fiction after all; we can accept floating visors and the like.

Mass Effect is a bit of an odd franchise because while all the official materials that relate to marketing and the like showcase a man, leading many to assume that the canonical Shepard is one, the story within makes every effort to avoid such insinuations. Pronouns are used sparingly and often tend to be gender neutral at best and at worst the “he/she” conversion is integrated smoothly into the dialogue. Even in the Mass Effect: Redemption comic series, they refrain from referring to the Commander as one or the other, going so far as to say that it’s difficult to discern gender from the remains they found.

Remember, only 20% of all players played the female Shepard. So for ME3 we can just streamline Femshep away. Only the male version stays, voiced by Jennifer Hale.


Spotted at: GB

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