BioWare’s Mass Effect: Andromeda has proved as popular as was expected since its recent release in late March, but with great success comes great responsibility (to paraphrase a famous saying). How has BioWare handled the explosive issue of feminism and gaming? Some say: by making Mass Effect: Andromeda’s female characters ‘ugly’.
Gaming fans will be well aware of the Gamer Gate controversy a few years ago, in which the perceived encroachment of feminism into the gaming industry led to a backlash from (presumably mostly male) gamers.
One of the main ways in which feminism was seen to be taking effect in games was progressives’ criticism of the way female characters look, with too much emphasis on them appearing sexy.
According to some critics, BioWare has tried to swerve this kind of accusation by making Mass Effect: Andromeda’s female characters ‘ugly’.
Comparing the characters and their models
What makes someone ‘ugly’ or ‘attractive’ is, in itself, a major issue in the world of political correctness, given that it is hard to know what should be taken as the default example of how humans should look. To which perfect specimen can someone be compared to to be considered ‘ugly’?
Whatever someone’s perception of attractiveness, though, there are clearer lines of comparison in Mass Effect: Andromeda. Critics of BioWare’s perceived attempt to make female characters ‘sexed down’ are comparing the on-screen representations to the models they are based on.
In Mass Effect: Andromeda, players can play as either male or female versions of the character Ryder. But accusers say that the female version, Sara Ryder, looks a lot less attractive than the real life lady who modeled for her, Jayde Rossi.
Some less vitriolic criticism says that Sara Ryder at least looks a lot ‘different’ to Rossi.
Are Mass Effect: Andromeda’s female characters ‘ugly’ while the men are ‘hot’?
By means of contrast, the BioWare fansite Biofan presents a Tumblr image of Jayde Rossi and Sara Ryder pictures side by side, plus a pair of images showing model Steven Brewiss alongside the character based on his image – the male character Scott Ryder.
She said: “For me the issue is not the isolated appearance of the character.
It’s that it’s so different from BroRyder that one could say they’re no longer actually male/female avatars of the same character.”
Certain message boards had previously accused BioWare of sexing down their female characters in the Dragon Age series.
Kerzner said that in Dragon Age:
“(The characters) Cassandra, Josephine and Serah were more “normal”, while Dorian was Captain McPerfect Ass.”
“Fantasy is just that, fantasy, and if they send a message that your male star is significantly higher status than your optional female lead, it sends a message that women must choose between being valued for our looks/sexuality or valued for our minds and achievements.
“Making women choose while men don’t have to has profound impacts on real life women in leadership positions.”
There is the further point that however politically correct somebody wants to be, it would be hard to look at either the male model Steven Brewiss or his character Scott Ryder and say they are not conventionally attractive, which critics say raises the questions of bias. Is it okay for men to be super attractive in games?
Women certainly have been used in overly objectifying ways within the entertainment industry for a long time (and Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft and her big breasts may have a lot to answer for), but it it would be unrealistic to say that men’s appearances and physiques are not also factors in those industries.
As to the contentious question of whether BioWare deliberately made Mass Effect: Andromeda’s female characters ‘ugly’, the company has yet to reply to the accusations (and may very well choose not to).