Extremely minor Mass Effect 3 spoilers follow.
Bioware. You people, let us chat. Long time listener, first time caller. Love your work, have even devoted some of my professional research time to one of your creations (Dragon Age 2). Enjoy the Mass Effect series a whole bunch. Am even a SW:TOR subscriber. So I’ve established my credentials as a fan of yours, right? I’m not against you. I respect you. And that is why I have to ask you:
WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE.
Okay, look. I am going to level with you, internet: I like sexy ladies in video games. THERE. I said it. I, the big homo, enjoy sexy ladies. They are fun to look at. I enjoy their curves. I often, I should add, enjoy the sheer stupid ridiculousness of their designs. While I think it’s her personality that makes me love her, Bayonetta is one of my favorite video game heroines of all time and she is, without question, a Sex Bomb.
I just got home from GDC and am skimming the art book that comes with my ~*N7 Collector’s Edition*~ of ME3. One, let me just warn you, if you haven’t read it, it’s got MASSIVE PLOT SPOILERS IN IT. So let’s just get that out of the way. But two…
The first few pages of the book are all about returning squadmates from ME1 and ME2: specifically, Ashley Williams: Space Racist, Kaidan Alenko, Liara T’soni, and the always-enjoyable artificial intelligence, EDI
The new designs are featured. Which is nice! Everyone got an update. Which is nice!
“For Ashley’s reappearance in the series we let her hair down and gave her sex appeal…”
See above: “EDI’s body needed to be sexy, chrome, and robotic, the Mass Effect version of Maria from Metropolis.”
Not so nice. And while I think this sexification of the returning females is the most problematic issue (though Liara seems to have avoided it… of course, the Asari’s in-universe reputation as erratic, psychic space sluts in skin-tight armor means you don’t really have to in her case, she’s already in trouble), I want to say that the men aren’t immune either. New badboy Jimmy Vega’s hyper-muscular look is described as “a blue-collar military officer,” which is pretty hilarious and dips into some interesting class-related issues.
And then there’s Kaidan Alenko. Now, let me give you some in-universe dish on Kaidan. He’s a Sentinel, which means he specializes in tech powers (science!) and biotics (psychic powers!). He’s like an alpha nerd dream come true: cute (kinda) and not a total psychopath, and has super science and super psychic powers. Here’s what they changed for him in ME3: “The team bulked him up to show that he’s seen a lot of action and is ready to fight…”
Oh, and they updated his head model. More muscles, head update.
Look. I think Bioware has done great things for representing people who don’t often find a voice in video games. I’m really happy with a lot of the things they’ve done and I’m not going to scream “MASS EFFECT 3 IS AWFUL BECAUSE OF THIS YOU GUYS” because that’s dumb as hell. But I will say this: not only were these sexifications unnecessary, they’re counter to the very notions of the characters involved. Vega might get a pass, there; while the class issues of that “blue-collar” label are odd, the idea that a frontline, non-desk-job soldier would be pretty buff and like to work out isn’t too far-fetched. But…
Look at Ashley Williams, Space Racist in ME1. She’s a down-home girl, a practical type, family-oriented and no-nonsense. Her class is Soldier: she wears heavy armor and wields heavy weapons and goes out and shoots things in the face. She’s a little butch and maybe worried about her femininity, in a few discussions you have with her. Why does she suddenly need to be, if I may quote a very old Bloom County strip, a “light speed whoopie-wench in pressurized lingerie?” It makes sense that Ashley isn’t emphasizing her sexuality or her appearance. Sure, she probably likes to look good, but I’d imagine she’s more concerned with battle readiness than smooth and silky hair.
Same with Kaidan. He’s an intellectual and a very powerful biotic. Do we need to pump him up to show he’s a badass? No. Have him flay a few Husks using only his brain a couple times. That’ll drive the point home.
Don’t even get me started on EDI. There’s no reason she has to be sexy. Why couldn’t she look like Velma from Scooby Doo? I think that’d be amazing, frankly, and it would fit her in-game class role of Engineer: a pure-tech science nut who doesn’t do a lot of guns-blazing combat shooting.
Look: it’s not that the addition of sexy pisses me off. Like I said, I enjoy sexy! But when it’s added in cases where it doesn’t need to be there — and when there’s very little, if any, alternative representation of women’s bodies in the game — it just annoys me, a lot. These characters are multifaceted, interesting, nuanced: the things Bioware is really good at, in my opinion. So why fall back on “EVERYONE! TITS AKIMBO!” Hollywood blockbuster movie shit? Let people be a little less sexy, a little more normal. We need to make sure that physical representations are as diverse and nuanced as emotional ones.