Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Mass Effect 3: Six Minutes of Double Standards

You know, Mass Effect has always had an interesting relationship with gender dynamics throughout its games. The series seemed to continually zig-zag between one bias or another occasionally, but often trying to maintain some semblance of equality between the party members and major figures. That is until the third game in which the introduction of one character seemed to result in some rather disturbing ideas.
Now, I want to make one thing clear before starting on this: I do not universally side with one gender or another when it comes to problems or representation and equality. I’ll always try to argue for the group I think is losing out the most either in terms of equality or with facts simply being blatantly overlooked or ignored.
To give examples from the comicbook industry I agree that the use of female characters as fan-service is still a major problem as are situations of women in refrigerators. At the same time I’ll also point out frequent occurrences where fan-service has happened to men without complaints or uproar and where women in refrigerators has happened to male characters. One prime example being where the father of Robin, Jack Drake, was murdered during Identity Crisis for little to no reason besides to create angst for Robin’s character. I have criticised the rampant use of rape with female characters as the driving force for a plot such as, again Identity Crisis, with Sue Dibny. At the same time I’ve heavily criticised how media downplays acts of sexual or physical abuse towards male characters, such as Devin Grayson’s mishandled female-on-male rape of Nightwing and refusal to acknowledge it for what it really was.

One of the biggest criticisms I keep making of Warhammer 40,000 is how it is seemingly phasing the only all-female army, the Sisters of Battle, out of the universe. Only using them when they need someone to get brutally killed to make another army look tougher and taking things a step further in the sixth edition, removing any mention of the Sisters of Silence.
To give a few examples from the Mass Effect universe itself, one big complaint I made as the series developed was the objectification of female characters. While this was true for a lot of the romance options in Mass Effect 2, such as Jacob wearing a skin tight bodysuit and Thane walking around with his chest bare, it was often taken several steps further with a couple of female characters. With Jack effectively being half naked the entire time, and the game’s camera giving so many arse shots of Miranda it has become a running gag within the series’ fandom and something even the writers joked about. Not to mention the massive criticisms of Ashley’s appearance when she returned in in third game.

The point is I try to be fair with any gender criticisms no matter which side they’re directed towards. Were the roles of each gender reversed in what I am about to talk about, I would be making the exact same complaints. As such I don’t want to see anyone accusing this article of being chauvinistic, misogynistic or blind to inequalities.
The criticism I’m about to make, and of the universe as a whole only came to light a short time ago. Re-watching a few of Mass Effect 3’s cutscenes I made sure to see some of the dialogue from Eve, the female krogan who might hold the key to reversing the sterility virus inflicted upon their species.  Mostly because of the fact I’d ended up skipping over her accidently during my own playthrough. Now, most of the character was fine. Her dialogue was well written, had an interesting backstory, she was extremely well voice acted and she was a strong, likable character. At least until she started to get onto the subject of gender with this line when she is talking about possible attempts for revenge against the genophage:
“It’s not in the nature of our males to co-operate. They’ve evolved to me selfish, their only concern is survival.”
Now, until this point Eve has been talking about the krogan as a whole. Every act they have taken has been about all of them no matter which gender they belong to, not going into specifics and yet now when pushed she suddenly starts to label only males with any negative connotations. This suggests she at least thinks the female krogan were completely immune to this, that somehow they never became selfish, hoarding or even the territorial aspects they “evolved” to survive because their world was a resource starved hellhole.

This seems like a massive contradiction to the little information we had previously about the females like codex events with female krogan warlords where they were detailed as being effectively the same in their mentality and aspects as the males. They were suggested to be just as violent, just as bull-headed and were a part of events like the krogan rebellions and it wasn’t simply the males who were causing the problems in their society so much as their culture, mentality and traditions. And this only gets worse as she continues to speak:
“Wrex is different, he’s a mutant. And that you can tell him.”

This comes right after that last line. Wrex is an exception, something not often seen – that’s something the series always stated but the big change here is how he is one. When you encounter him in the first game Wrex is jaded, bitter and has no illusions to how far his race has fallen. He’s become disillusioned with their culture, society and all aspects which have them desiring to get revenge for what was done to them hundreds of years ago and pointlessly fight everyone. He was suggested to be different from the average krogan. This conversation, taking into account that last line, says now he’s only different from the average male krogan leader. This is only reinforced when she goes on to talk about how things will change after the genophage is cured:

“Our species will find its balance again.
Females will help shape the future like in the ancient days, before we were just pawns of power hungry males.”

Again, this is a titanic contradiction to a previously universal presentation of their species suggesting that women have no power in their society and, once again, the males are only to blame for their current state. Every mention of the krogan we’ve had in the past suggested females had considerable power, living separately from the others in their own clans and raising new krogan. With males only being allowed to occasionally see those they sired, they’re not used as trophies or pawns they seemed to have actual power in their society. There’s more to this but I’ll speak about that later on.  She just keeps bringing up how krogan males mistreat their females, something highlighted by this exchange when Shepard asks about her treatment:
“How has Mordin been treating you?”
“Better than krogan males do, he’s not like a typical salarian.”

Apparently even giving a damn about her health is something beyond anything any krogan male might do even if, as she claims, they regard her kind only as ways of boosting their power. Someone wouldn’t be much of a trophy if they were dead after all. And she just keeps going on about how everything is the fault of only the males, to the point where she starts to even contradict herself:

“Rivalries are the invention of the males. Under their rule Tuchanka has laid in ruins for over a thousand years.
It’s time females took back our places in society and resurrected our future.”

Now let’s just make this clear: For a race who is built like tanks, can be driven into a berserker like state, who are violent and all of who are combat capable regardless of gender: rivalries are something invented by the males.
No, apparently they weren’t created when their society bombed itself back into the stone age.
Not prior to the genophage when their entire society wouldn’t have had reasons to place so much value upon females.
Not when they were formed into clans thousands of years old with traditions fighting over resources in the most inhospitable post-apocalyptic planet in the entire galaxy where there would have been no difference in gender roles. And their lack of rebuilding has nothing to do with their lack of numbers, resources or the fact they were almost completely reliant upon the salarians for knowledge of tech when they uplifted them from a barbaric state.
No, apparently their fragmented society only turned in on itself a relatively short while ago and rather than it being something their whole race can be blamed for, it’s only the fault of the ones who have dicks. And every single last problem will be corrected once females retake control.

As if this were not enough it’s capped off with this little gem, if you’re playing a female Shepard anyway:
“I’m glad to see humans treat their women with respect. Your people have placed a lot of responsibility on you.”
“No more than yours have on you”
“Then maybe we can show the men how it’s done.”

That last line might have been amusing were it not for what preceded it, something joked about to relieve tension. Instead it comes across as her believing that due to her gender she is naturally superior and desires to prove how much better she is innately to the males of her kind. What’s more is that line seems to suggest females have no respect in her society at all. Now, rather than repeating the previous points about how krogan females were presented as having power in their society and a major role, let’s look at a more specific example of how they were respected.
Those played Mass Effect 2 might remember the krogan/vorcha enemies of the Blood Pack. A few of you might have not looked into their history, it was listed outside the gameplay after all, but it does show one very important thing about their society: The krogan treat their females with a huge amount of respect. To quote the wiki:
“The Blood Pack was transformed into a mercenary legion by visionary krogan battlemaster Ganar Wrang. Exiled for striking a female in anger, Wrang obsessed over reclaiming his lost status.
Leading the vorcha pack as a pirate crew, Wrang cultivated recruits and infamy for a decade before incorporating his fighters as a security company across the Skyllian Verge. His notoriety ensured his initial public offering for investors made him rich beyond the krogan’s dreams. Wrang triumphantly returned to his clan, rallying elders, krogan hordes, and their firepower and biotic support towards professional violence in the Terminus Systems.”

So let’s make this clear: The penalty for striking a female of a race who settles verbal disputes with headbutts, have Wolverine-esq healing and can all but ignore pain, is so severe the one who breaches this law is exiled. So severe that the only act of glory and honour seen as being sufficient to allow his return was to create one of the strongest PMC units in the entire galaxy. Yet in spite of all this, Eve apparently claims the krogan women are treated with no respect.
Hell, if you want a more visual example just take a look the scene where Eve is introduced to the krogan in Mass Effect 3. Her presence is able to instantly stop a dispute bordering upon violence. A few lines convinces both sides to support a seemingly suicidal plan involving races they dispise, and no one even begins to question her decision even though most have not even spoke with her prior to then. If that is not a sign of respect and reverence I don’t know what is.
If it’s not clear to you by this point, not only is this discussion a massive contradiction to the previous portrayal of this species but it comes across as horrendously sexist. It portrays every problem as only being the result of male krogan while exonerates female krogan from any past negative action like the Rebellions. Worst of all it seems to outright state “they will be better off under a matriarchy where those childish, blind men are kept from becoming a danger to everyone.”  Each section where she keeps making pot-shots at the males of her species. Blaming them for their state feel out of place with her character and seems to contradict an otherwise universal disillusionment with her race’s current state and how they need to be guided. In no other scene does she single out one gender to be the blame for all this and in all honestly this feels like it was written by someone unfamiliar with the character. That or someone trying to push a political message.
Now, this was bad. The message was grotesque and the obvious discrimination at play, with no option to confront her and felt heavily insulting. However, it was only six minutes of a several hour long game. I could understand fans wanting to overlook it, but fan reaction to this seems to have been far worse. There seems to have been only a very small number of people willing to call out this scene on its blatant misandry, while almost all others have been accepting of it. Calling it a sign of progress for equality, claiming it is acceptable and ridiculing any who actually thinks a message of “women good, men evil” is wrong. Here’s a few stand-out examples:
“Wanting women to be treated with respect = RIDICULOUS OFFENSIVE FEMNAZI CHARACTER
Oh, gamers. “

“How is this offensive? It's science fiction. Krogan males are overrun by testosterone (or aggression-inducing krogan hormones). Krogan females are the wise ones in this species, I don't see anything offensive there at all. More interestingly, I giggled a bit when Mordin labels Abrahamic religions as "human mythology."”

“I'm a man and honestly, if any men found this offensive, get a vasectomy. You should't breed and spread that sexist belief. Our women have endured and still endure enough shit.”

This is quite frankly disgusting. I would hope that no matter the gender, displays of open discrimination and hatred would be rightfully criticised not defended with claims of “sexism” to any who oppose it. There is a huge double standard at work here. Imagine for a moment what the reaction would have been had it been Wrex spouting lines like this:

“Rivalries are the invention of the females. Under their rule Tuchanka has laid in ruins for over a thousand years. It’s time males took back our places in society and resurrected our future.”

There would have been an uproar, mass accusations at Bioware’s writers and the near universal flipping of tables. You would have seen a huge demand for changes, insults hurled at the creators, EA and anyone involved. Yet when the genders presented as here it is seen as perfectly acceptable by both the fans and at least one person involved in Mass Effect 3. You would not see people claiming that because it is science fiction it is perfectly fine to create a species with females who have barely any self-control who will only bring ruin to their people when not led by a man.
Now, this isn’t a demand for people to regard any negative portrayal of males as being wrong or any such nonsense. It’s something highlighting where an otherwise well written and relatively intelligent piece of media spectacularly failed. It’s a look into the responses people seem to have to scenes like this and how some can be blind to problems due to the roles of the races or genders involved. But most of all it’s a request for any who read this to keep an open mind while analysing moments like this. The next time you start to see something which generalises blame and portrays a group with near universal negativity, think for a few minutes how acceptable it would be if they were reversed.

If you feel the need to comment or speak out against this then feel free, but I ask anyone to read and most of all please think before you respond.


Mass Effect and all related characters and media are owned by Bioware and Electronic Arts.

1 comment:

  1. Recently started playing mass effect 3. Long time since I played mass effect 2 I had forgotten some of the krogan mythology.

    Some things to point out:
    When talking to wrex you can say something like:
    "females have good ideas too". Do the Developers want us to believe that the krogan are sexist?

    Wrex says females have "so many good ideas" and ... what male krogan don't?

    Certain people will excuse anti-male biases by saying their male family and friends are different than men in general.

    Thank you for writing about misandry in video games;
    something that is completely ignored or ridiculed by the mainstream gaming press.