When defining the “generic female character,” you can talk at length about the roles women in video games are reduced to, their hypersexualized representation, their relation to male characters, and so on. I have written a paper on the subject and will likely make a few posts about it. However, with this post I’ll be going in a different direction. The idea is this: the most generic female character is one that can be completely interchanged with her male counterpart. She is what it means to be a Ms. Male Character.
The term “Ms. Male Character” is simply defined as the female version of an already established or default male character. The name originates from a segment of Anita Sarkeesian’s video series, “Tropes vs Women in Video Games,” which I highly recommend and have included at the end of this post. This concept is a trend throughout pop culture, clear examples being Minnie Mouse, Batgirl, and Ms. Pac Man.
I’d like to focus on this idea specifically concerning Mass Effect, a series where the
player is given the option to play as either a male or female Commander Shepard. The storyline is nearly identical, differences being the available romance options and how other characters might act around you. For example, the female Shepard is mistaken for a stripper by an Omega mercenary. The player is immediately prompted by the option to pull out your gun and intimidate him (which of course, I did). The male Shepard never finds himself in this scenario. Even so, these differences are insignificant. The only relevant change in gameplay between the choices in protagonist is the quality of voice acting, where Jennifer Hale’s performance for the female Shepard is generally deemed superior. This is likely to improve the player’s experience.
However, this difference is not something I see as variance in characterization. The female Shepard’s design is simply to be a generic Ms. Male Character. Noted, the male Shepard is also generic. Now, is this okay? Shouldn’t these characters be more interesting? I think here lies the essence of what it means to be a plot-driven vs. character-driven game. Mass Effect, like Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories, shift the emphasis away from the protagonist and instead aim to create a compelling story. Now whether this type of game or book is better than one with characters that have more depth, is up to your personal preference. I find that games that encompass both are very difficult to achieve — I would like to hear what examples you have. But for a game to be entirely plot-driven, I see generic main characters as not boring, but rather the best way to highlight an intriguing story-line.
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