Bioware, a gaming company founded in 1995, is responsible for titles such as the Mass Effect series, the Dragon Age series, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Baldur’s Gate, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and more. Bioware is lauded for having a narrative focus in their games and prioritizing strong storylines and characters over gameplay. Gameplay is what most gaming companies focus on, since gameplay constitutes the core of the game itself, especially in terms of the game’s combat systems—is it a shooter? A turn-based combat? Command-and-conquer? Etcetera. The gameplay is also just generally what it is you do in the game, and generally companies focus on that functionality before anything else. Bioware, though, has a focus in creating a rich and compelling universe and they allow their players to feel like a part of that universe. They fill that universe with characters and storylines that immerse players fully into the world.
Bioware has had a history of being inclusive and friendly to more than just the typical male audience of gaming. They often write developed and complex female characters, allow you to play as female characters, and offer romances written for female gamers. Bioware also writes romances intended for LGBT gamers, opening their games up to a more diverse audience. Due to this, Bioware has amassed a large following in LGBT communities, and they attract more female gamers than most other companies.
For instance, the massive-multiplayer-online (MMO) game Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR), has a significantly large number of female gamers in comparisons to other games in the genre. A study on female gamers ended up discovering that SWTOR has a significant impact over the percentage of females that play online MMOs:
This is a rather significant number, especially in the MMO genre. For instance, World of Warcraft, which has long dominated the MMO market, has a 23% female player-base, which SWTOR beats by 6%. Those percentages may seem small, but it is a rather significant increase compared to other games in the genre.
Bioware’s most recent release, Mass Effect: Andromeda, has run into criticism for several things, but most notably its animations and “female models.” The word “model” here refers to how the characters actually appear in the game, basically it is their digital animated appearance.
This is an example of one of the many posts that instigated the mass bashing of the game, taken from a gaming website discussion forum. The picture that this user posted has been used in several YouTube videos and forum posts since its’ posting here:
This is the first of many comments that are in this vein, and this is just a sign of a much larger movement in gamers where they are focusing their critique specifically on how the female characters are modelled.
Other than forums, comments similar to this are riddled all over YouTube videos that themselves comment on the “facial animations” in the game (this largely seems to be an excuse to avoid saying that the female characters are considered ugly, although several videos and commenters admit that as well).
One such comment stream can be found in the comment section of the video “Did Bioware Make Intentionally Ugly Female Characters for Mass Effect Andromeda.”
(taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-93nd6xWjMU, one word is censored)
This is just one of many comments that fall into similar topics. The “SJW agenda” is often cited, alongside comments about how video games should present wish fulfillment via personal beauty.
One of the things Bioware was trying to do with this game was create more realistic female models, and in doing this, not all of them look like models from a magazine. Apparently, gamers (male gamers specifically, but there are female gamers who are jumping on this bandwagon as well) find this unacceptable, as they aren’t conventionally attractive. Mass Effect: Andromeda has been called “Mass Effect: Downs Syndrome” and “SJW Pandering” (Social-Justice-Warrior, a subculture online dedicated to social rights and activism) by entitled gamers who probably haven’t seen a real woman in their lives. (I want to know if their mothers look like supermodels).
Basically, there is an outcry surrounding the fact that the female characters supposedly aren’t attractive. Which is a completely ridiculous argument to make to cite an entire game’s reason for failure. And that several people have called it “Mass Effect: Downs Syndrome” is just offensive towards people who actually have disabilities. The SJW-pandering claims are also largely baseless, simply an aggressive backlash against an already existing platform of ideas (that, themselves, are not inherently tied to this game regardless of their actual merit).
The game has been panned by critics for several reasons, but it always comes back to the “models.” Apparently having average looking women isn’t something that should be done in a video game because videogames are meant to be fantasy wish-fulfillment for players and apparently aren’t allowed to be anything else.
There isn’t anything wrong with wanting a character to look conventionally attractive in order to play a game, but to demand that every character looks like that is where the problem lies, because it then simply serves to perpetuate stereotypes. Attractiveness is a subjective idea, and while conventional options can exist as an option they should not be the only option. People speaking out against Mass Effect: Andromeda are claiming that every female character is unattractive.
This isn’t necessarily correct though.
The character creator lets you tweak your character so you can make her/him look however you want, as long as you spend time working with it. For instance, I made my character a bit closer to conventional beauty standards than I usually do because I wanted to:
And to the right is Cora, a female character that is a soldier who works with your character. She is an important member of your crew and is considered by gamers who aren’t bashing the game to be a beautiful character in this game. Meanwhile, the gamers that are complaining about the female models are not addressing that not every female character looks the same and that there is a mix of characters who are and aren’t conventionally attractive.
This population that is focused on critiquing the models in the game is largely made of male gamers, and their claims against the game are unfounded—they are simply unhappy that they are suddenly not the only target demographic and that Bioware is seeking to cater to female gamers and more socially-active minded people.
Being an advocate instead of blindly pandering to the wills of the typical gamer is a risk, a risk that Bioware chose to take for its’ female and LGBT-minded audience who wanted more relatable characters and more realistic-looking female models.
Being an advocate is worthwhile, it is risky, and Bioware took that risk and are worth being supported for it. They didn’t take the easy road, they didn’t just make a game full of models that don’t look like the average woman. They chose to be different and to actually represent more realistic women. The game is still struggling with criticism, but most of it is unfounded. There are complaints to be had, I have clocked in 22 hours of game time, and I haven’t been completely satisfied in every regard, but that’s the case with literally every game that is ever released. None of them are perfect. Bioware, with this game, tried to do something new and tried to actually have representation for women, who are often ignored.
Bioware is admirable for being an advocate, and should be supported. It would have been easier for them to make a game that simply didn’t take any risks at all and conformed to all the usual standards for appearance and gender. Instead, they have always tried to reach out to female and differently-minded gamers. They give the options for people to use if they want them, and have made their fictional worlds more compelling through having a diversity in physical appearances.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is among the many games that they have created that should be supported.