Aside from the lack of homosexual characters, I had the chance to ask Mass Effect 2 project lead Casey Hudson at last month's GDC about one thing my friends (both male and female) and I have noticed when we first got the game: Miranda's ridiculously tight outfit.
Here's part of our conversation from the brief game demo...
Me: I have to ask about Miranda's super-tight outfit and Jack's lack of a shirt. Can you talk about their character designs and what went into their clothing, or um, lack thereof?
Hudson: I think people will look at the initial view of the characters and say oh, they're going after "this market," especially with Jack. With Jack, people were like, "Oh, it's a marketing thing. They're going after this audience." Of course we don't do that. What we do is, "We're going to create 10 to 12 characters, and we want each of them to be really different." The other thing is there are so many different kinds of players. We like to create all different kinds of characters so that all different kinds of personalities of players that play our game are able to identify differently.
That's one thing we tried with Jack and that's why we make a character like that. A lot of people are repelled by that kind of character. There are other people that see what she's about. That's what we want. The other thing is though that there's always more to that character. So in the case of Jack for example, she becomes someone you care about when you don't initially. Her story makes you kind of care about her and her love interest is intriguing at a superficial level, but the superficial level prevents you from getting to know her. But if you ignore that and try to get to know her, there's so much more there.
Likewise with Miranda. She's genetically engineered to be perfect and beautiful, and she uses that. That's why her outfit is sexy and tight and everything. But, again, it's something she struggles with. She uses it, it's been her gift, but it's also the thing that she feels she's stuck with. That becomes part of it.
Me: I'm not trying to be antagonistic because I love the game, but can you talk about this shot?
Welcome to Ass Effect 2. "Shepard, my face is up here."
Me: The camera angle is an interesting choice...
Hudson: It is an interesting choice. It's also not a transient shot, when you see it there that long (as a dialogue option)...
Me: When you were making the game, did you notice this shot?
Hudson: Oh, of course... Can I ask why was that picture so important to you? I guarantee we've got shots like that of Jacob as well.
Me: Maybe it's because I'm a woman, or I'm a female Shepard, but my other friends - both male and female - also noticed that shot and found it be to be gratuitous. I did notice that Jacob's uniform is pretty tight too, but you can only tell when you stand behind him, and these shots of Miranda just could not be missed. So why...
Hudson: That's part of her character design, she's the femme fatale. It's part of her character and the fact that she's beautiful and this beauty is part of what helps her. As you get to know her, you realise there's more to her.
I understand the idea of Miranda's character, who was made to look the way she did (based on the ideal standards of female beauty) by her creepy dad in order to give her an advantage as an expert Cerberus agent; she even has personal conflicts about being made as the "perfect" woman, which she expresses in the game. However, through the course of my playthrough, I never saw Miranda use her appearance to give her this alleged advantage as a "femme fatale." I like the idea that Miranda could have ambivalence about her appearance and how it's being used, but aside from a few complaints to Shepard about it, there isn't much to show for it except her skintight outfit.
Hudson also makes a point about how pretty Miranda is, as if to explain that's why the camera is on her all the time. But I noticed a lot of shots within the cut scenes that obviously featured Miranda's chest and backside moreso than the other characters, not to mention the ostentatious shot shown above; Jacob's outfit might be tight, but there are no lingering shots of his behind, and he's not sexualised by the camera angles. If Miranda is so self-aware, and if she is such a deep character, why do the camera angles emphasise her appearance so often? While many gamers who play Mass Effect 2 are males, it's instances like these that remind me that the game was not made with female gamers in mind, even though many women may play it.
Reprinted with permission from Tracey John.
Tracey John has written about video games for MTV Multiplayer, Wired, Time, Massively and ToyFare, and is currently an editor at UGO Entertainment.