Equality in Video Games: Yay or Nay?

Hi everyone! I am parklena, a new writer for the ShoutOut! blog this semester. As my bio will tell you, I am an English major and a Women’s Studies minor (although I’m told it is Gender Studies now). I know that many people, when asked what a feminist is, will reply someone who believes in gender equality. There are many talks about how there is still no gender equality in the world and that is why blogs like this exist. However, I did make an interesting observation while idly watching my roommate play her video games.

I recently got her Mass Effect, a game for the Xbox 360. In the game, the main character is Commander Shepard. The player is allowed to choose whether the player can choose to be female or male and the player goes through a series of missions in order to save the galaxy and whatnot. But that’s not what I found interesting. I came to the realization that no matter what gender you choose in the game, the outcome will still be the same. John or Jane Shepard, it does not matter – he/she will still save the world in the end (if you play it right, anyway). My friend, being female, chose to be female in the game and I observed the way they portray the female in the game. Now, I will say now that I have not seen the game played with the male character but I have seen video clips of him on Youtube so this is based mostly on my observation of the female character.

Jane Shepard is not ridiculously well-endowed nor is she really sexy. In my opinion, she looks about average. She is not put into a ridiculous costume that shows off her body or makes her into a ridiculous sex object. In fact, the clothes are really unflattering. Judging from my video observations of the male Shepard, it is the same for him. He’s not attractive but he isn’t ugly either. She is a great soldier who has the respect of all those who work for her. Interesting, no? This game is, if you believe the idea, for boys /men who enjoy shooting at enemies. However, there are no attempts at making the female character sexier to make the game more appealing. I will admit that it could be argued that it is because boys will probably play as the male Shepard. However, this game is amazingly sensitive regarding matters such as race and sexual orientation. There is a romance option to this game where the player can romance certain characters. Of course, being a game meant to be in outer space, there are aliens that you can romance instead of different ethnicities like European, Asian, or African. One such alien is Liara T’Soni.

Liara has the body and voice of a woman but her race can be with males and females and still carry children. Both Shepards have the option of romancing her and because my roommate chose to romance Liara, I got to see this amazing romance in action. There is kissing between them and the final romance scene involves some censored sex in a very short one-two minute scene.

There is a male character, Kaidan, who was meant to also be a romance option for the male Shepard but he was taken out in the final version although, according to the Mass Effect wiki, “It is possible for a male Shepard to have a romance with Kaidan through the use of save edits, although some of the dialogue options are missing” (http://masseffect.wikia.com/wiki/Kaidan_Alenko). I found this small tidbit to be very interesting because the makers of the game were not against other kinds of sexual orientation. Of course, this may also be because the game lets the player romance aliens and they might’ve just thought, “Well, why not?” but I’m being optimistic. This game made me very hopeful that maybe people are becoming more accepting after all because this is such a popular game. It really makes me happy to think that games like this exist for teenagers to play and learn from in order to be open to all sorts of changes.

2 thoughts on “Equality in Video Games: Yay or Nay?

  1. I think this is a really interesting analysis of a more woman-friendly video game! It’s really gratifying to find that the female character is not overtly sexual (unlike other characters that are meant to be “feminist” like the super-sexualized Lara Croft). What I find to be particularly interesting, but also troublesome, is that the female Jane Shepard can have lesbian relationships, but John Shepard can’t — to me, that seems to reinforce the idea that female sexuality is passive and nonthreatening, that even if she does have a lesbian relationship, she can still be “changed” by a man. But for John to have a male romantic interest would “emasculate” him so he couldn’t fully be the hero the game intends him to be.


    1. I do agree that John Shepard should have been allowed to be in a queer relationship. However, personally, I was just glad that they considered it enough to only take it out of the final copy because it shows how far we’ve come. We need to look on the positives too! Changes have been made which means more changes may be upcoming.


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