Defining Shepard – Part 2

While an interesting point was raised in talking about the emotional bonds that seemed to have formed between myself and the Commander Shepard of my “Mass Effect Universe” as distinct from the individual and separate universes that exist around other the characters created by other people, someone pointed out to me another interesting point. I am going to paraphrase in order to mitigate the implied (though mostly sarcastic) hostility:

“Why do you always play as a girl?”

To save face here I am going to first of all admit that, while I do have a tendancy to create female characters, I am fully capable of playing my own gender in RPGs and in fact do so on a more than regular basis. I cannot deny that female characters make up a large fraction of my gaming avatars; some recent example come to mind*:

From the depths of Ferelden:

Vaera of the Dalish

From the mines beneath Torchlight:

Vela the Vanquisher

Leading the armies of Chaos:

Vaera, Disciple of Khaine

Why then did I chose a female Shepard in a game that is so deeply engrossing and personal? When faced with this question in the past, people often fall back on the argument of:

“Oh, I just wanted to see the Shepard-Liara romance scene in all its intended glory

This might be all well and true for some people but I have to admit that I do enjoy playing a game with a strong female protagonist. Unfortunately, games designed with a strong female protagonist in mind often fall short of the experience that I was seeking in the first place, purely for the fact that the gender of the protagonist plays some vital and attention-worthy role in the story. In my mind a strong character should be able to stand up on its own as either gender and still evoke the same emotions and responses from the audience/player. This is one of the many things that Bioware games do often and to great effect; one of the reasons that I continue to seek out their games like rare and precious gemstones in oceans of useless soil and dirt.

This does not answer the initial question posed; what is the attraction in playing a character of the opposite gender? I honestly do not believe I can give a satisfactory answer here. Why do we enjoy movies where the lead role is a gender other than our own? I dare say the vulgar repetition of bland male action heroes would eventually render audiences immune to the stories being told, in the same way that a man (or woman) forced to eat a prime rib-eye steak for every meal of his (or her) life would soon crave a breast of chicken like a newborn child craves oxygen.

Yet movies are passive and the adventures that the characters eke out are vicarious at best; gaming brings you one step closer in a way that helps you better bond with the protagonist in question. Furthering my own dilemma as presented here, many of my female characters reside in the highly social realms of Massively Multilpayer Online games. So why then would you chose to indulge in a cross-gendered avatar, especially when social interactions play an important role in the game.

Personally the answer is simple: I enjoy it and I find the change both refreshing and comfortable. I know that some people I play with will flat out refuse to play a female character for the exact opposite of these reasons; ultimately it comes down to personal taste. I would love to hear from any of you in your opinions on playing characters of another gender, both good and bad, and to those of you who emailed me in response to my last post: Thank you and I hope you continue to enjoy my ramblings.

Which brings me to ask you, kind readers:

How many of you play characters of an opposite gender? If you do, what are your reasons, and if not then why?

Comment below or email me at

*These are the three games that I could find screenshots for. I feel sorely remiss that I cannot find an image of my Age of Conan character, Ynnifer. That red haired scoundrel :P

  • Dan

    Ynnifer was a harlot and a strumpet.

    Was I the one who posed the original emasculating query? If not, I wish I was.

    Interesting and well written blog post, A++ would read again!!1

  • Now clearly this is a concept I am going to have to explore at length.If, for no other reason than to replay my favourites in the alternate.

  • Full-metal Barbie

    It’s an interesting one – I’m a girl and I always play avatars that are girls that look like me. It probably stems from deep-seated desire to give up my day job and instead zoom round the universe in a pimped-out spaceship shooting things in the face – but alas, I do not have a spaceship and if the latest NASA discoveries are anything to go by, any astrobiology out there probably wouldn’t have a face to shoot anyway. So me-based avatar it is. Therefore it annoys me when they only give you a choice of boy avatars – *I* want to ambush the Nazi base, I don’t want some thick-necked bad-haircut to do it and get all the credit.

    It’s also annoying when many of the games where you can play as a woman the other characters and storyline do not necessarily change to accommodate. I have found my character in a number of accidental lesbian trysts, which in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I just wish I had a choice!

    And on the topic of female characters in games – even though I’ll play as a girl, my units are almost always entirely made up of men. I had heaps of trouble at the beginning of ME coming to grips with Ashley being my best fighter – it just seemed really weird hiding behind something and flinging this tiny girl at a room full of machine-gun toting baddies. But she’s a tank! I perhaps would not have taken as much notice of that character if it was male – which I suppose is just as chauvinist, if I ignore the boys on my team why should I make a fuss of her fighting ability just because she’s a girl?