As Generic As They Come: The Ms. Male Character

Ms. Pac ManWhen 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.

BatgirlThe 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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0 thoughts on “As Generic As They Come: The Ms. Male Character

  1. I’m wondering if the creators of these games purposely make generic characters in order to focus on the plot-line. I feel that it is easier to place yourself into games/plot-lines with generic characters. Although I feel that having generic main characters would weaken the overall story. For example, from what I have heard, Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey both have dull main characters that make it easier for the reader to insert themselves into their positions, but it doesn’t enhance the story line. I agree with your idea if you mean that bland characters can make a more immersive experience.

    1. It’s an interesting trade-off. It must be an intentional choice creating generic characters for a more immersive plot, but you end up losing the interest of players who want a well-developed protagonist. For some gamers, compelling characters are a prerequisite for immersing themselves in the plot. I think this is one of the reasons why Mass Effect presents the Paragon/Renegade choices — to provide somewhat of a compromise, despite being a plot-driven game.

  2. This is one of my favorite blogposts simply because it brings up an issue that has existed for a really long time and annoys me to no end. Why can’t superheroines/women in stuff like this just have their own names? Why are they always created as female counterparts of the man, made just to be the female version of the hero? Batgirl, Miss Martian, Supergirl, Spidergirl… the list goes on and on… Thank you for bringing up this issue, and I do think it’s important to give each of these characters, both male and female, individual and original characterizations. Most of the time, they deserve it.
    Speaking of which, have you seen the new Supergirl trailer? I was wondering what you thought of it. Personally, I found myself very very disappointed…

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