Having not grown up playing games the way that Rick did, I can’t really say I ever really felt attached to a particular character that I played in a video game as a kid. I wasn’t aware of RPGs at the time, so I didn’t have the experience of leveling and crafting a character, but I also didn’t play any games that had a particularly involved story. I mean, I played Mario Bros. as either Mario or Luigi depending on which of my siblings were around, but I never really identified with either of those avatars. At the time, they were mechanical instruments with only the barest character development necessary to differentiate them from the paddles in Pong.
However, years and years later my husband Rick introduced me to Mass Effect and inducted me into the cult of FemShep.
By then I’d been working in the industry for a while, and under Rick’s tutelage I’d been absorbing everything I could about gaming history and culture. The lack of interesting female protagonists in games was something I was acutely aware of, so the fact that BioWare had created one in FemShep, basically by accident seemed especially revolutionary to me. Add to this the fact that I love space operas, aliens and starships and I knew that I had to find a way to play this game for myself and create my very own FemShep.
This initially proved difficult for me because I’m just not very good at 3D shooters. I don’t have the coordination or reflexes for them. So, Rick and I developed a compromise. He would import one of his characters from Mass Effect 1 and we would play Mass Effect 2 together. Rick would do all the gameplaying, I would make all the decisions: what missions to take on, who to talk to and when, etc. This FemShep would become mine, the product of my choices and motivations.
That said, I’m not sure I personally ever identified as FemShep myself. But I did definitely find myself roleplaying as FemShep. That is to say, I didn’t see FemShep as an extension of myself in the game, but rather I saw FemShep as someone I could wear for a few hours in a game. My decisions were based on her personality, not on what I, personally, would do in that situation. She was tougher than me, more decisive. She didn’t have time for emo girls or beauty queens. She was a commander on a mission… And obviously, it was liberating.
It is rare in our lives, especially as women, that we get to experience a singularity of purpose like we see in video games. We rarely have clear objectives to make up a quest chain of “living.” We can fail an objective multiple times and still end up fulfilling our dreams. And yet sometimes those simulated successes, like defeating the Thresher Maw, are enough to help you face those more uncertain outcomes in your own life.