To summarize my commentary, I liked that they were giving us fans, who already have our own idea of what FemShep should look like, a chance to help decide the new default FemShep look. The original default was disappointing, and I had hoped that they would redesign her now that they were giving her a turn in the spotlight with her own cover art and trailer. I actually tweeted at the time:
In ME1&2, default MaleShep looked much cooler than default FemShep (modeled after an actual model). Hope they'll improve for #3.Yes, the default male Shepard appearance was designed after a gorgeous male model because, being the Shepard used in all the trailers, covers, and promotional materials, he was the face of Mass Effect. I thought maybe they'd redesign FemShep after a model or actress. When they came out with the six images to vote on, I figured it was too much trouble/time/money to design her after a face model. But also, at this point we've already played as FemShep and designed her as we saw fit. BioWare is making the FemShep trailer and cover art because the fans want it. Why not let the fans give input on how they imagine her?
As it turned out, the vote may not have been decided by the passionate FemShep players but by the majority Mass Effect demographic of young men voting for the Shepard they thought looked the hottest. Disappointing, but what can you do? A lot of people complained about the apparent winner being the blonde, but I argued that the blonde still looks badass--even with loose hair. I did have one complaint about the vote, though: While I wanted FemShep to have brown hair (like me!), I had to agree that the blonde's hairstyle was the most flattering. It wasn't fair. Had they given the blonde a tight bun, and had the longer wispy hair style in black, brown, or red, would the blonde still have won? Did she win because of her coloring, or because of the style? I wondered.
In the week or so after I wrote my post, things seemed to be settling down. The vote was over, and people accepted that the blonde still made a cool FemShep (as illustrated in this Penny Arcade comic). And then came Round 2 of voting.
Apparently I wasn't the only one who liked the blonde's hair style but wished it were a different color. The folks at BioWare noticed these comments and organized Round 2, which took the BlondeShep design but offered it in four different hair colors. Having accepted the blonde already, I was slightly weary of the whole ordeal at the time this second vote came up, but it was, after all, what I'd wished for. I voted for the brunette, then decided I really liked how the hair style and eye color looked with the black hair, and voted for her too. It looks like the redhead is going to win, but I'm fully satisfied at this point. Done.
But the controversy is not done. I'm still reading things that I feel the need to respond to. In her post at The Mary Sue, Becky Chambers criticizes the FemShep redesign and vote. It's clear that she liked the original default FemShep; I didn't, but there's nothing to be done about opinion. Still, she specifically complains about the six FemShep appearances offered in the first round of voting, calling them "foxier", saying that they look too young, and supposing that the type of person who would like them is the type who would obsess over FemShep's lipstick color.
I can address these concerns. "Foxy" is not the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the FemShep designs. Determined, strong, confident, defiant, and--sure--pretty are what I see in them. Becky says she imagines Shepard in her thirties, but one doesn't have to imagine Shepard in her thirties. Shepard was born in 2154; the events of Mass Effect take place in 2183; Mass Effect 2 takes place in 2185. If she is 31, that makes her the same age as...Katee Sackhoff. A year older than Summer Glau. Two years younger than Zoe Saldana. Now, maybe my problem is that I'm bad at determining the apparent age of animated characters, but the FemSheps don't look out of line for 31. She also says she imagines FemShep with the "practical" hair of the original default, in contrast with BlondeShep's loose shoulder-length locks. But if you look at the original's hair style, she has loose chin-length locks. They are just as likely to get in her eyes as shoulder-length hair, if not more, since it's hard to tuck those front hairs behind the ears. And lastly, no, I didn't obsess over FemShep's lipstick color. I chose my FemShep's lip color to look like she wasn't wearing any lipstick. But that doesn't mean I can't like the way she looks with mascara. If Shepard has time to solve random domestic disputes around the citadel, she can put on a little mascara in the morning.
At the end of the post, Becky finally throws up her hands with an "Oh, for fuck's sake" at the idea of the second round of voting. I've already done what I can to defend, justify, and praise the new designs and BioWare's decision to let us vote on them. My defense of the second round of voting is basically the same as that of the first round. Let me put it this way:
I love Mass Effect. This makes my 45th post discussing Mass Effect on my blog (I'm kind of stunned to notice this, but that is over 10% of my total number of posts). I always play as FemShep--I don't even use the term FemShep outside of this specific topic because to me, she is simply Shepard. I gave her the longest hair that the designers offered, with little to no makeup (you can see my ME1 Shepard in the middle of my title banner). I did not like the default Shepard in Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2. I thought her face was bland and unmemorable, even with that scar, far below the standard of the default male Shepard and similar in quality to any bit player NPC. I wanted a new default FemShep. I liked being able to vote on her appearance to make her look how I envisioned her. I liked the long hair style--no, tousled hair does not get in Commander Shepard's way--but wanted to see it in different colors. BioWare delivered. The vote may not have gone as I wanted, but that's what happens when you don't share the most popular opinion. I accept that.
I see FemShep as a feminist icon, a paragon of female video game characters (whether you play her as a paragon or a renegade). I'm thrilled she's getting her own promotional material, and I'm grateful for what BioWare has done making a FemShep to please fans and to stand proudly opposite MaleShep. The vote is fitting, not ridiculous. I am a FemShep fan, and I am happy. What else is there to say?