For Daniel Starkey, Mass Effect isn't just the story of fighting the reapers and saving the galaxy. It's also a story about his mother, the person his FemShep is modelled after.
Writing for Gameranx, Starkey walks us through the life and struggles of his mother, an altruistic woman who is deeply in love with sci-fi. She loves sci-fi so much in fact, that she once bought a second TV set just so that she could play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic while she also watched the sci-fi channel.
Her vast love for the genre makes sense. Sci-fi, after all, can be thought of as the promise of a better future — and when we consider that Starkey's mum worked tirelessly to help the community as a social worker, that's no small thing.
She wanted to pass on that devotion and idealism, so she'd regularly remind Starkey of what her work meant to others.
She made me listen to voicemails from people she had helped. "This. This is what it's about," she would say. "This is why it's important. This means something to someone. It may seem small, but everything you do, every single thing can be used to help real people."
After spending over a thousand hours in Knights of the Old Republic, Starkey's mother looked out to Bioware's next sci-fi game: Mass Effect. Mother and son got excited over the title, and waited patiently for it to drop. They'd go halfsies on a new Xbox, with Daniel selling his Pokemon cards so that he could afford the 360.
Then his mum got sick, developing two autoimmune diseases: rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. After waiting two years for Mass Effect, she couldn't play it anymore: the arthritis reduces the functionality of the joints. Compared to Knights of the Old Republic, which is slower and turn based, Mass Effect required too much of her.
So Starkey did the next best thing: he played Commander Shepard as his mother.
Despite her diagnosis, I wanted to have my mum with me, even if she couldn't experience the game in quite the same way. Instead, I began modelling my version of Commander Shepard after my mother. I gave her the same sense of altruism, of dedication and of hope for a better future. She gave second chances and she was uncompromising in her pursuit of her pro-social ideals, in spite of her sordid past.
We all role-play a little when it comes to games, but for Starkey, playing as his mother was much more personal. They say you can't truly understand someone until you walk in their shoes, and in a way, that's what playing Mass Effect was for him. A way to understand his mother.
What he learns and comes to realise about his mother by playing as her in the Mass Effect franchise is as revealing as it is heart-wrenching. This is especially true when we consider the suicide mission that Shepard undergoes in Mass Effect 2, as well as the ending of Mass Effect 3 — this, in conjunction with all the important moments that happen in-between. It's a good parallel for a woman that put so much of herself to help others out, regardless of what the cost was.
His account of his Mass Effect playthrough and its relation to his mother is definitely worth a read. Check it out here.
My Mother, Commander Shepard [Gameranx]