Friday, November 7, 2014

30 Day Mass Effect Challenge, Day 7: Favorite Female Team Member

This may not be the most popular opinion, but hey, I'm okay with that: EDI is, by far, my favorite female squad member, and it has nothing to do with her "sexy robot body," which ... ick. Seriously, Bioware? Anyway, she's a strong ally in pretty much all situations, and her character arc is one of the more compelling ones of the season, even if it is an overused trope, especially in sci-fi: she wants to discover her humanity and forge an identity for herself.
Via Los Chaos
To be honest, I would have preferred that she stay just a disembodied voice, but I'll get to that in a second. As a squad member, EDI has some of my favorite tech attacks (overload and incinerate), and she is probably one of the most resilient fighters I had available. She is well-suited to fight any threat, particularly the geth and Cerberus forces, and since I played as an engineer quite frequently, it was nice to have a backup of my very own powers or someone to do combos with (not a sexual innuendo, just in case you were wondering). But ultimately, I was more interested in keeping her on the squad so I could witness her various insights on things: the geth dreadnought's aesthetic appeal, the turian bomb mission, the attack on the Shepard clone (if you get upset about a spoiler that's well over a year old, I think you probably have issues that go well beyond any apology I can give you), etc. One of my favorites was when she, over the intercom, would explain to certain team members (Kaidan, Ashley, or James) about how Tali and Shep had gotten "intimate" during the second game (if you had, indeed, romanced Tali); when I looked over at Three, he confirmed that her tactlessly delivered information reminded him of me and that, given a chance, he would always decline changing that aspect of my personality.

Now, in terms of her character, I'll delve into the whole "disembodied voice" thing I mentioned above. For those of you who don't know, for the entirety of ME2, EDI was on the sidelines and, although instrumental in the destruction (possibly???) of the Collector base, she wasn't an active member of the team because she was an AI housed within the Normandy. Of course, her transitioning into a physical form that wasn't a giant starship was inevitable; actually, it was kind of foreshadowed in the first game when Shepard ran across that rogue AI that was siphoning money so it could gets itself a body and gain freedom from its shackles. But I would have rather seen her stay as the Normandy's soul than have her become a sexual fantasy for Joker. It actually really creeped me out when they became A Thing, and it reminded me of a video that Bioware released that showed the voice acting cast of the games. Seth Green (Joker) was complaining that, despite his "jockin' to get some screen time with Tricia Helfer," his only romance with her is in a video game, and that just made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Like, he felt owed a sex scene with her or something because she's a beautiful woman that straight men* dream about. Helfer is an excellent actress and deserves much more respect than she's given. It didn't help that Bioware designed a body for EDI that was just blatant pandering to the male gaze, an object for which Joker would have baked a cake in celebration of the sexiness that would be his copilot.

Blech. No, thanks.

Even if the Dr. Eva model absolutely had to be a part of ME3, it didn't have to be designed as titillating mannequin walking around. That was a choice the game developers made, as a reward for players who played the game while knowing Tricia Helfer was voicing her.

It's not like they didn't already have an interesting story to tell with her evolution from a VI that had just gained sentience (one of the side missions in ME1) to a fully-actualized artificial human consciousness who chooses to fight for the survival of the universe. That is the part that makes her my most favorite female team member. Her development as a person, from her periodic modifications to her morality to her constant attempts (and occasional failures) at humor, gives me the impression that she is a nerdy teenager, trying to figure out where she fits in the world, discovering her own humanity ... or simply, just discovering what it means to be alive, with no cultural or sociological branding to muddy such a simple yet deceptively complex concept. To add in an incredibly awkward relationship with Joker seems to cheapen what she has learned; it's not that I don't think she should have been a sexless creature - I wish they would have explored what sexuality is in this series, especially considering Kaidan's sudden availability** as a male romance option by the third game - but the sort of fist-pump to Joker was disappointing, at the least. Which is kind of why I would have liked it if she'd just stayed a voice; her friendship with Joker would have remained platonic (hopefully) and perhaps then we would have been able to see EDI grow as a character without having Shepard have to explain sexual attraction as something that cannot (or should not) be simulated through pharmaceuticals.

I didn't intend for this to become a diatribe on the sexualization of women in video games, but to quote Vulture's Danielle Henderson, "I didn't create this patriarchal boner-fueled garbage pit of a planet - I just live in it." And there was so much potential there for EDI that was squandered because they wanted to make her oh-so-Rexy-sexy***. They could have explored the idea of non-romantic relationships between the sexes, discussed the idea of asexuality****, brought up emotional attraction as opposed to physical. Seriously, it could have been an amazing feat that showed the world what video games can truly do. Siiiiiiiigh.

Regardless of my issues with EDI, she is still such a great part of the game. She was on my squad on nearly every mission, and I made sure to talk to her every single time I'd wander around the ship in between missions. Her insights were often things I hadn't considered, even outside the perspective of Shepard - for example, her theories about how to handle the logistics of krogan assistance to the turians. But she wasn't just an information repository or an arsenal of tech; she actually became Shepard's friend and ally and a valuable member of the crew (which can't be said about some people aboard the ship *cough*ASHLEY*cough*). She was actually a major reason I had such a problem with the destroy option+; I mean, sure, the geth were pretty awesome but I wasn't emotionally invested with them like I was with EDI. The pain of knowing++ that I was sacrificing her - while saving the galaxy - wasn't eased by knowing that she would be one hundred percent behind my decision. She had just realized her own self worth, and now I was ending her existence (I couldn't have cared less about her relationship with Joker being able to continue, though). I suppose that's just a way of showing that Bioware knew what they were doing when they created her, with the glitches and all.

* Hey, let's face it. Tricia Helfer is a person that I think everybody, regardless of gender or sexual orientation can look at and think, "Yes, that is a person with whom I would not mind having sex." But that doesn't mean it's acceptable to whittle her down to what she can do for your boner.
** I know that this was more of a Changing of the Times sort of thing, but still, they couldn't have addressed it? In any way?
*** Bonus points to anyone who gets the reference, which really isn't hard, but hey, this is my game.
**** Okay, hear me out here. She's a robot, right? Her self-preservation instinct is more or less about making sure that her platform doesn't expire, and she cannot procreate sexually. She was also programmed by Cerberus but was given a chance to modify her programming, right? Did she add in sexual desires? Based on her and Shepard's discussions, she never once mentioned that she had changed anything in that avenue, and being that this is EDI, she totally would have. Like, I have so many questions regarding this portion of the plot that, you know what? I'm doing a supplemental post on this today.
+ I'll discuss more about this on Day 28.
++ I'm of the firm belief that the damned Star Child was a fucking liar, but whatever.
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