I love video games, but sometimes playing them sucks. When I look at my favorite franchises or even just the popular games, none of the protagonists I get to play with, experience emotion with, and grow with look like me. I could about all the studies scholars have done to show why representation matters to those consuming media but I don’t want to do that. Instead, I’m going to throw at the fact that I got emotional making my character for Mass Effect: Andromeda.
There are a lot of reasons for this emotional reaction (I wasn’t ugly crying, but I was proud of what I would get to do with this character). I’m woman, and women in gaming don’t get treated to well by the community sometimes (this is an understatement, check out this article to see some of the things that happen online here). So naturally, when I get to run through a campaign as a female character, I’m overjoyed because I can identify with her struggles. In episode one, I talked about how uncomfortable I was seeing the rebooted Lara Croft in peril and some pretty rapey situations. This is because I can identify with these issues and the situations she’s put in – granted I haven’t climbed ice mountains but you get it. As a gamer and as a woman, I am proud that the community is producing and embracing more female-led games. That being said, I am also a person of color.
Finding brown characters in video games that do more than add a few lines is kind of rare. If they do show up, they’re usually in a game like GTA or some fighters, and the actual developed characters tend to be macho men. So being a Latina is hard in gaming. This doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate video games with male or white protagonists. It just means that I long for a connection to a character that I can feel for in a way that it feels like an extension of myself. Games with character creation give me the chance to mold my character. However, as a brown person, the skin colors offered in character creation don’t often line up to me. They’re usually either my partner (check out our Twitter photos) being left out in the sun or the character resembles an Afro-Latinx or African-American character. This wasn’t the case with Mass Effect:
Andromeda. She looks like me.
Katherine Ryder is an extension of myself and it took me two hours (and countless times making my partner come out of the game-room to check if it looked like me) to get her that way. I get a lot of flack from some people because I take so long in character creation screens. But I can’t randomize and go. If I’m going to spend 100s of hours with a character and I have the chance to see a brown girl on screen, I’m going to take it. And it means a lot that Mass Effect: Andromeda offered so many skin-tone variations. This has to do in large part, I think, to the noted fact that majority of the population on Nexus are more blended ethnically than what people typically think.
Now the character creation in Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t nonrestrictive, I have played other games that offered more variation on facial structure, voice, and body type, but the multiple shades of brown are amazing to me. I would have liked more freedom with the character but the face is the closest I’ve gotten to making a character like me and as I embark on the adventure, I have to give Bioware some claps for this. Representation matters, and that’s why I love the Mass Effect franchise. I can be apologetically brown while banging aliens and saving the galaxy (or settling a new one).
Mass Effect: Andromeda is available now.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.