Rants & Essays

Gadabout Gamers: I Am/Not My Avatar

Gadabout Gamers

This month’s Gadabout Gamers prompt was loosely inspired by the “Controlling vs Being Your Avatar” episode of my beloved Idea Channel and my own musings on personal identity and avatars.

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.

Teresa Shepard

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.

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  • Reply
    March 31, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Great post! I know what you mean about roleplaying as your character. I tend to do this a lot when I play New Vegas.

  • Reply
    Jane Y.
    April 1, 2014 at 9:23 am

    that is some awesome collaboration between you and your husband. i’m not so great at certain games too in controlling, shooting, kicking, etc. my husband and i recently started playing kingdom hearts and my husband reads the walkthroughs but i give him the controller after i die a few rounds or fall in the water too many times. so funny about playing mario/luigi depending on which sibling was around. i was always luigi and my older bro was always mario. and don’t think i have ever thought about roleplaying as my character.. but then again i’m not sure if i played many games where there was a whole lot of character development and decision making. i never heard of femshep. gonna go google it now. 🙂

  • Reply
    April 2, 2014 at 8:31 am

    That’s super sweet you play together – brings back memories of playing with ex boyfriends and watching them play but being the back seat driver so to speak “no no don’t go there- no no it’s that way not THAT way” it was probably super annoying – maybe why they’re ex’s 😛

  • Reply
    Joie Fatale
    April 2, 2014 at 10:16 am

    I have never played Mass Effect for the lack of 1st person shooter skills.
    I might have to try and play it the way you described with your husband. When I play with my hubster we play on easy mode for me LOL.

  • Reply
    April 8, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Aww that’s so cool that you guys played ME together. How did you get femshep in ME2? My game didn’t have that option. It made me sad. I’m pretty good at FPS but not so much on games where you have to be sneaky and skulk around in the dark. Like Thief. I kinda… sucked at that game xD

    The only game I got my husband to play with me is uh… Borderlands 2. But he really only played normal mode with me. I was on my own thru true and ultimate. And OP levels. He doesn’t play games more than once. It sucks.

    • Reply
      April 10, 2014 at 7:24 am

      That’s strange, I thought unless you were importing a character from ME1 you could start from scratch in ME2. Unless that’s what happened. Not sure. We imported one of Rick’s old FemSheps from ME1 and I took over the decisions in ME2 and then I played ME3 by myself because they added “story mode” which made combat a snap. No sneaking around for this spazz monkey.

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