Defining Shepard – Part 1

Serendipity is a beautiful thing.

When I woke up Wednesday morning the day was looking up; it was my first day off in quite some time and I rejoiced at the thought of being able to sleep in, have a nice lunch for a change, and maybe even spend a couple of hours up-side-down on a couch reading a book (my preferred reading position). In the space of six hours I received two phone calls that would change everything: someone had broken street-date on Mass Effect 2, allowing me to convince the girl behind the counter at EB to hand my copy over “nice and slow-like”; and the framers had worked their magic on my lithograph over two weeks ahead of the expected schedule. One 15 minute journey later and my addiction had reached a beautiful critical mass.

Critical Mass Effect Mass Effect Signed Lithograph

In the months since December of last year I have immersed myself so deeply within the world of Mass Effect, in preparation for the prodigal sequel, that it has started to affect me on a fundamental level. Just the other day I legitimately pondered the required energy to significantly remove the gravitational influence of a pulsar, and began a rough calculation until reality came creeping back into the foreground of my thoughts. I dare say it will not be long before I start demonstrating the positions of known Mass Relays at the Planetarium and am subsequently fired for the preaching of gross falsehoods. I listen to the soundtrack to the first game whilst reading the novelised prequels, and when I shut my eyes I sometimes inadvertently visualise the spinning Mass Relay loading screen.

The degree to which this game has entrenched itself into my cortical lobes gives us the context we need to continue. You see, every time I search for Mass Effect on the Internet, read about it in a press release or through one of my many aggregated RSS feeds, or even talk about it with other sapient beings, something strange happens. I get confused and disoriented! All of a sudden, the world has turned topsey-turvey and I grasp blindly as my brain tries to piece my shattered world back together.

To the rest of the world,

Shepard looks like this

Which is confusing because for me,

Shepard looks like this

The blatant identity crisis would be understandably crippling for Shepard herself (himself?), yet somehow I find myself thinking for her whenever confronted with this discontinuity. Seeing a male Shepard is like looking into a mirror and seeing someone else’s face staring back, even though the face is an avatar for an imaginary character. There is no logical reason why it should unnerve me so much, and yet I find it physically distressing to see “John” Shepard conversing with the Normandy’s crew instead of “Jane”.

While I applaud BioWare for their efforts in creating a game that is (largely) gender-independent in terms of character interaction and development, I find it incredibly interesting to note how severe my reactions are to resulting conflicts created in both the game’s advertising and general public discourse. The role of gender in a games avatar is a topic for another day, but for now I would love to know:

Do you ever find yourself identifying with a specific portrayal of a character in games, books, film, etc.?

Have you ever encountered this alienation when encountering a non-idealised version of these characters?

I would love to hear your comments below!

  • Dan

    The same guys who use the default avatar, are likely the same guys who play madden and got the game in a bundle with their new xbox.

    Lovely game, even almost 6 months on.