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    Session Beyond the Blue-Skinned Space Babe: Deconstructing the Empowered Asari in ‘Mass Effect’


    khawk
    Speaker: Alexandra M. Lucas, Content Writer | Microsoft Cortana
     
    The session began with a quick run-down of the green-skinned space babe trope, a quick reminder of Mass Effect’s main context, and some basics about the Asari.
    • The green-skinned space babe trope is a recognizable sight in science-fiction; a scantily-clad, green- or blue-skinned, hyper-feminized and hyper-sexualized woman who is depicted as sexually insatiable but almost infantile in her ignorance of human love.
    • Mass Effect begins in the year 2183, and the player’s character Commander Shepard (either gender) is fighting the mechanical Reapers to save all organic life in the galaxy.
    • The Asari are a matriarchal monogender (though typically feminine) alien race who live to be more than 2000 years old in the Mass Effect franchise. They are graceful, skilled in diplomacy, and can utilize incredible biotic powers. They value individual self-actualization, pacifism, and community, and are presented as a sex-positive culture.

    Alexandra’s deconstruction of the Asari’s empowerment is dependent on a comparison of the Asari to the classic triple goddess.

    The Asari’s life stages consist of maiden, matron, and crone:
     
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    The classic triple goddess consists of maiden, mother, and crone:
     
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    Alexandra emphasized that the Asari maiden’s focus on self-actualization and exploration measure her value in terms of her intelligence, while the maiden goddess’ focus on her virginity and the goal of finding a husband measure her value solely according to her future relationship with her husband.
     
    For the Asari matron, sex is optional, fun, and consenting while her purpose in life is found elsewhere, but the mother goddess is defined solely by her ability to reproduce.
     
    Lastly, the Asari matriarch subverts the crone’s ugliness by valuing mature beauty, and the crone’s doom-filled predictions are replaced with wisdom that helps the community.
     
    Alexandra continued by giving examples of characters in each of the Asari life stages:
    • Maidens include Dr. Liara T’Soni and the Asari nightclub dancers
      • While the dancers embrace consensual sexuality and experimentation, while also demonstrating financial independence, they are typically cloaked in shadow to appear naked, share the same body type, are typically nameless, are not prominently featured in quests in any meaningful way, and have minimal lines or character development. They are presented as objects of the male gaze rather than characters with their own agency.
    • Matrons include Aria T’Loak and Morinth
      • While both Aria and Morinth may seem to conform to some stereotypes, context for their actions and variety in female Asari representation prevents either character from being tokenized or stereotyped and protects the illusion of the characters’ agency.
    • Matriarchs include Samara
      • While Samara wears revealing clothing, it is evident that her outfit was a sex-positive decision made by the character and combats de-sexualization of older women.

     

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    Alexandra continued on to provide five suggested focus areas for improvement of representation in games:
    1. Vary character metrics such as age, race, ethnicity, body type, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual/romantic orientation, and ableness.
    2. Experiment with the societies represented in games, not just the people! Consider experimenting with pronouns, extremes and absolutes, reversals, and alternative norms and customs (e.g. if homosexuality were the norm in a society)
    3. Prominently feature consent and agency correctly. This could be done through core mechanics, as a facet of character development, or as a societal feature.
    4. Seek inspiration and themes from media outside of games.
    5. Consult and pay (or hire!) experts. Avoid tokenism or stereotypes, and eliminate the excuse that inclusivity is extra work” by incorporating it from the beginning of the design process.
     
    Finally, Alexandra summarized the benefits of inclusive representation.
     
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