Loving FemShep: BioWare’s first lady finally steps forward

Tuesday, 19th July 2011 08:25 GMT By Brenna Hillier

She’s a full-blown protagonist in both Mass Effect 1 and 2, but unless you’ve played her you may never have seen her. Why? We talk to BioWare about the “other” Commander Shepard.

“FemShep” – the female Commander Shepard.

Voiced by veteran voice actor Jennifer Hale.

First appearance: Mass Effect (2007).

Latest Appearance: Mass Effect 2 (2010).

Frist appearance in promotional materials: Mass Effect 3 (upcoming March 2012).

“It’s a completely different character,” says editor Pat Garratt upon introduction.

FemShep – the Jennifer Hale-voiced, female version of Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard – is soon to make her first official public appearance in marketing materials for the series.

BioWare has so far committed to a Mass Effect 3 trailer featuring FemShep, as well as an appearance on packaging for the game’s collector’s edition, but BioWare marketing man David Silverman didn’t rule out further appearances as hype for the March 2012 release ramps up.

If this can happen now, why hasn’t it happened before?

“When creating a rich sci-fi epic like Mass Effect, you need to keep a certain level of consistency so people unfamiliar with the property can clearly identify who the hero is that they get to become,” Silverman said.

“Had we released images showcasing both a male and female Shepard, people wouldn’t be able to identify who the hero was or what was going on.”

Dodging the question of why that hero had to be male, Silverman said BioWare wanted to “acknowledge” the demand for FemShep material.

“Overall, 18 percent of everyone who plays Mass Effect plays it with a female character.”

“I can’t speak for the entire BioWare team, but I will say that personally, I’m completely taken aback at the sheer level of passion and support a simple tweet has generated,” Silverman said, speaking of a Twitter campaign that went viral.

“It speaks wonders to the level of passion from our fans and also the power of social media. You couldn’t have done something like this a couple of years ago. It’s truly amazing to be able to interact with the fans directly on a one-on-one basis.”

One of the arguments trotted out by FemShep detractors down the pub is that most players never even realise they have the option of playing as a character whose vocal performance feels like an entirely different persona to the male version’s.

But Silverman revealed that only 13 percent of Mass Effect players use the default Commander Shepard: the remaining 83 percent customise their hero, changing class, abilities, appearance – and gender.

Pat customises Mass Effect 2′s FemShep.

“Overall, 18 percent of everyone who plays Mass Effect plays it with a female character,” Silverman said.

He added: “There aren’t enough female heroes in games in general, so it’s something that people can rally around and celebrate.

“Jennifer Hale does an absolutely incredible job doing the voice of FemShep, so people really connect with that.”

Hale’s lauded performance is helped along by a strong script which caters equally well to both genders.

“BioWare has been blessed with some of the best writers in gaming and they truly have a gift of creating some of the most compelling characters that have ever graced the TV screen,” Silverman said.

BioWare’s Mission

Despite the acclaim and fan campaigns, Silverman doesn’t think it’s just FemShep’s inherent qualities that draw fans to her. He feels some fans see FemShep as representative of something almost unique to BioWare, which other developers often overlook:

“I think it’s more about people celebrating and rallying around the fact that BioWare gives people the choice to step into the boots of a hero of their own creation and escape into an epic adventure.

“BioWare was built itself around the mission of creating and delivering quality interactive storytelling. We want to make sure that people can ‘escape’ into our games and feel as if they are the hero or the one saving the Universe.

Playing as FemShep.

“To that end, we want to make sure that we allow people to have full choice as to which gender they make their hero, what they look like, and even who they choose to have intimate relationships with.

“It’s one of the key things that makes a BioWare game unique and why we have such a passionate fan base. Everyone at BioWare is engrained with that mission and it’s why we make the games we do.”

Providing Choice

“The beautiful thing about the Mass Effect series is the fact that the player gets to make choices that actually impact the game and make their entire game experience unique to them,” Silverman commented.

Because of this, BioWare won’t commit to a “canonical” Mass Effect – Commander Shepard’s gender, attitude, abilities and romantic interests are the player’s responsibility alone.

For female gamers, so underrepresented in the media they love, that choice and FemShep’s upcoming marketing debut are seen as a major success for half the world’s population.

Reaction to other female characters – especially Mass Effect 2′s “perfect” Miranda and her frequent butt-shot close ups – has not been as positive.

But, Silverman says, Miranda’s sexiness is an important part of her character – and she’s not the only one.

A video comparing both Commanders’

“The fact is, some characters are defined by their attractiveness, such as a woman who is genetically engineered to be perfect,” he argued.

“Camera angles help tell the story and portray key aspects of each character – in Miranda’s case, her curves and sexuality. We had similar shots of Jacob.”

It’s notable that FemShep, though a remarkably fit lady whose strength and ability are most attractive, is never presented as a sex object – well, except when rolling around in the hay with a crewmate.

If BioWare carries this attitude through its upcoming marketing, FemShep may be one of gaming’s first true feminist and feminine heroes.

Mass Effect 3 ships for PC, PS3 and 360 on March 6, 2012.



  1. KAP

    I wish i created a female shepard in my PS3 verson now… damn.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Brenna Hillier

    It’s not too late – you can do an opposites playthrough. Renegade vs Paragon, easy vs hard, soldier vs biotic… It becomes a pretty different game when you factor in all the choices.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Mythor

    @1, And you probably still have time to go right through the original and the sequel as FemShep before 3 is out…

    My FemShep is definitely not me. She doesn’t choose the options I’d necessarily choose, she chooses what’s appropriate for her. And that’s what I like about Bioware games in general, that freedom to actually play a role and have it affect things around me/my character. And while my FemShep has a soft spot for Miranda, it’s because I choose to play that way, not because you’re forced to be sympathetic.

    Really must get back into Mass Effect 2…

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Gurdil

    @2 true that! I did a male paragon soldier for my first ME2 playthrough and started a new playthrough immediately afterwards with a female renegade engineer (that I played more like a biotic… bad, bad Gurdil! ^^). Totally different gameplay, loved it! I think I’ll do a third playthrough as a biotic, just to be sure about what I wanna play first in ME3

    #4 3 years ago
  5. Stace Harman

    Great to see FemShep finally getting some love and another stellar article from Brenna.

    Incidentally, my FemShep’s name is Pi.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. Erthazus

    “And that’s what I like about Bioware games in general, that freedom to actually play a role and have it affect things around me/my character”


    What choices? 3 big choices for the entire game? Give me a break.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. pukem0n

    my femshep became a redheaded, renegade goddess lol

    #7 3 years ago
  8. KAP

    Yea, i might go back then.. can i be arsed to play it thru again though, hmmmm..

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Night Hunter

    Almost got a herat attack when I saw the picture, but it got better when I realized that this is not the actual BioWare FemShep …

    Still, it gave me a pretty good scare

    #9 3 years ago
  10. psybass

    Erthazus@ What the hell are you expecting? there is the bed choice and a good choice, no need more than this. by the way your “fantastic” game the witcher 2, is not better than mass effect with the choices part.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. Patrick Garratt

    @9 – That’s the default FemShep in the images in the gallery.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. Night Hunter

    @11 – Really? Looks kinda odd. Anyway, I got my custom FemShep, so I won’t need the new BioWare design for her anyway …

    #12 3 years ago
  13. OrbitMonkey

    What a crock of shit. Since when has a object of dweeb tittilation, who’s sole purpose is to provide lesbian sex jerk off material, been a strong female role model?

    #13 3 years ago
  14. spiderLAW

    Its funny that my main job requires that i remain artistically creative yet i play through both Mass effect games as the standard male shephard model hahaha.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. YoungZer0

    God, i really hope they do something with that hair, it looks disgusting.

    @11: Really? That’s uninspired to say the least. One of the problems i have with FemShep. Wonder what she will look like in ME3.

    #15 3 years ago
  16. Aimless

    I think I feel somewhat more connected to my FemShep — despite the obvious gender difference and her propensity for making choices I wouldn’t — due to having put a lot of time into crafting her look.

    When starting a male Shepard it’s rather hard to create a face that lives up to the quality of the basic Mark Vanderloo model given that it exists outside the constraints of the editor, whereas the default female face is fairly non-descript, encouraging people to dig into the sliders and really make the character their own.

    Speaking of which, the following is my FemShep: 141.91H.W11.F81.GWG.11W.1GW.71W.QG7.G13.2G6.176

    There are a few things I want tweak if given the option when importing to ME3 — some elements tend to look slightly different in the editor to in-game — but I’m definitely more attached to her look than my male character.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. YoungZer0 <That's my Shep. I really miss the scar from the first one. :(

    #17 3 years ago
  18. Deviija

    Thank you, Brenda, for spotlighting this and chatting with Mr. Silverman. FemShep has long deserved her time in the marketing push, especially since choosing your character’s gender and romantic relationships is a part of the game. Something the uninformed audience may never know about just by looking at ME1 and ME2′s boxes and the websites back in the day. I didn’t pick up ME1 for eight months as I didn’t know you could play as a lady, with her own dialogue, romances, and etc. Moreover, she isn’t a video game blow up doll in proportions or camera fan service, thank above. She’s a take-charge commander, she’s Shepard, and I appreciate that.

    I do shake my head and sigh at the (expected) response Silverman had to the Miranda lingering slow pans and ass-cam shots. :P Jacob did *not* had a camera poised at his bend over ass in conversation, and his once over panning and suit are nothing near Miranda. So, poor comparison.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. SuperTechnoFunk

    I’m can’t wait for the clip. I have both female and male Shepards, but my favorite, and best, character is my first female Shepard. :D

    #19 3 years ago
  20. lexph3re

    Started my game off with fem shep. Mainly because im a dude in real life, had nothing to really do with a desire to see her struggle or anything. Her default look is atrocious though. I made my girl look like a Latina/something else. In the end she looks a hell of a lot better. And, she nailed Jacob in the end. So, now I have to play through as male renegade shepard and nail either miranda or Im going for The blue chick. OH PLEASE LET THAT BE POSSSIBLE!! And im selling Legions ass, that dude made the ending way to easy.

    #20 3 years ago
  21. OrbitMonkey

    Creepy guys talking about creating their petfect little femshep is creepy o_O

    #21 3 years ago
  22. Aimless

    @21 We’re hardly embroidering custom body pillows.

    I spend just as much time customising male avatars in games as I do female, the process is no more sexual than picking out one’s clothes or checking the mirror in the real world. In other words you appear to be projecting; look back at the comments, no one else is hung up on virtual gender.

    #22 3 years ago
  23. YoungZer0

    @18: Mirandas Beauty was an important part of her character. So i guess that’s why they focused so much on her great butt.

    #23 3 years ago
  24. Giskard

    Male Shepard is so much better still, even after watching the enclosed youtube videos. I don’t see what ya’ll see in FemShep.

    #24 3 years ago
  25. GwynbleiddiuM

    I played two versions and I liked them both equally, still haven’t finished my femshep in ME2 wanna do that near the ME3′s release date to keep the hype buff up.

    #25 3 years ago
  26. SamJ

    Glad she is getting the attention she deserves. She “was always there, though quiet; she hid under a brief and unassuming series of character customization options that let you pick a face, a hairstyle, and most importantly a set of reproductive organs.” And now it will be more than that.

    #26 3 years ago

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