Are Mass Effect 2 Ads Suffocating Commander Shepard?

Yesterday I opened the latest issue of my beloved-and-exceedingly-expensive-to-import video game periodical, Edge Magazine. Inside I was given pause by this ad for Mass Effect 2:

The advertisement in question

My question is this: Who is that guy in the center?

I understand that it is supposed to be Commander Shepard…but let me tell you: I played Mass Effect, and that guy ain’t Commander Shepard.

Commander Shepard is a bald, black male with a scar running diagonally across his face. And he doesn’t scowl like that; he has a happy face (despite having been dealt a scar-crossed hand by fate). This is, of course, because I created him to look exactly that way. And then I proceeded to spend a brilliant 20+ hours with him exploring and saving the universe. The result is that I am now connected to Commander Shepard as I know him; not to the scowling generic space marine staring at me from my magazine.

Now, I’m not dense. I can put myself in the shoes of BioWare’s advertising team. Knowing full well that every Mass Effect veteran has his or her own personal version of Commander Shepard tucked away on their hard drive, the ad folks were in a pickle. Faced with the question of how to represent a character with a million unique faces, they clearly opted to create a “standard” version of Commander Shepard for use in promotional images, box art, etc. A difficult decision to come to, I’m sure. But was it the right one?

In creating a standardized version of Commander Shepard, BioWare inescapably sends a message to players that this is the “correct” version of the hero. Sure, I have the freedom to create my own Shepard and import him into Mass Effect 2…but he will never be worthy of appearing in magazine ads. In other words, he is not the “real” Commander Shepard.

And if that’s the case, then why should I bother creating my own Shepard at all? In establishing a standard Shepard, Bioware points out that my Commander Shepard is nothing more than a graphic skin, confined to a file that lives in the recesses of my hard drive. My illusion of Commander Shepard’s reality thus shattered, I can find little motivation to spend time on the character creation screen, breathing life into his appearance. Easier to simply accept the default character model, since it’s going to be thrust upon me in the end anyway.

In the end, advertisements depicting a standardized Commander Shepard model suffocate the character by stripping the player of his or her sense of ownership and attachment. Does the ad-depicted Shepard have a standardized morality as well? BioWare might as well tell me what it is up front, so I can avoid the hassle of making my own choices in Mass Effect 2.

What then, would be a better solution? After I explained the situation to my non-gaming wife, she needed about three seconds to generate one: Have the advertisements take place from the perspective of Commander Shepard.

A-ha! Rather than accept the problem of how to represent a character with a million unique faces, challenge the problem itself. Don’t represent him, and let the player fill in the blanks. Not only would my illusions of Shepard’s reality remain intact, but when I viewed the world of Mass Effect 2 through the eyes of the hero, I might even be reminded how much fun I had the first go ’round, and feel doubly compelled to purchase my copy of the sequel today.

Of course, Mass Effect is played from an over-the-shoulder view rather than a first-person perspective, but even this would present a superior alternative to my magazine advertisement’s approach. Show Shepard from behind, just like when playing the game. He could even wear his helmet to cover up any hint of an illusion-shattering face. Personally, I prefer the idea of a first-person perspective advertisement, but either idea would be better than what we’re currently facing.

Mass Effect 2 screenshot

Would an ad from this perspective be so wrong?

An advertising campaign from either perspective could remain full of character appeal by focusing on Shepard’s new entourage. They are the ones I will be spending time with in Mass Effect 2 anyway – so why not use the advertisements as an opportunity to introduce me to my companions? Doing so would make me feel more like I’m in Shepard’s shoes more than ever.

When I look at the current advertisement, what does BioWare want me to see? The hero of the brilliant first entry in the series? Because right now, all I see is a stranger.


16 Responses to Are Mass Effect 2 Ads Suffocating Commander Shepard?

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  4. Zain says:

    My playhthroughs of Mass Effect 1 and 2 (imported my shep of course 🙂 I didn’t use the default Shepard. I created my own.

    The only person man enough to save the galaxy…..

    is a woman.

    Her name is Zelda Shepard. She’s got dark hair dark eyes and brown skin. She’s of East Indian ancestry and has black lipstick. Even though she’s a highly trained Alliance Marine with years of combat experience she’s still likes to be stylish.

    They needed a default Shepard for advertising ads. I understand that but like other readers if the option to customize your own Shepard was not there, my enjoyment of the game would have decreased alot.

    Default Shepard is basically a dull, generic white action hero. The type we’ve seen a million times before. I choose to play as the complete opposite. A Dark skinned female because in my story. THAT is the real Commander Shepard and when I saw the cinematic trailer in which Shepard nods to Thane and Grunt before attacking I visualed My Shepard nodding not the one in the ad.

    That’s what makes Mass Effect so great it’s YOUR story.

    The default Shepard is used for advertising purposes that’s it. They need a face. A helmet would look dumb and out of place and they a way to diffrentiate Shepard from other NPCs.

  5. […] Are Mass Effect 2 Ads Suffocating Commander Shepard? Yesterday I opened the latest issue of my beloved-and-exceedingly-expensive-to-import video game periodical, Edge […] […]

    • Amelia says:

      Psh. Commander Shepard is a WOMAN!

      She has blonde hair, red lipstick, and a nose so small and pointy it could be used to cut diamonds.

  6. Nylok says:

    The author is clearly having a white person vs black person issue. If that wasn’t the case, the author would have realized that he’s completely ignoring the FEMALE Shepards. There’s no way to show a figure and have it look completely ambiguous.

    Jesus Christ, I hate Generation ME. Just stop playing video games if you’re too weak-willed to play them without feeling violated by something completely insignificant.

  7. Hemtroll says:

    Really? I doubt Bioware runs ads just to entice the people who played the first game, they’ve already made up their minds about the sequel. Like Justin and others have said, those unfamiliar with ME 1 need a face to relate to.

    If Shepard was the only one wearing a helmet or facing away he would look silly and out of place, if everyone was wearing a helmet or facing away they would all look silly because then you wouldn’t get to see the cast. You say the default Shep suffocates the player and I agree, if that player spent 30 hours looking at the cover instead of immersing themselves in the game.

    If you get so upset about this that you don’t want to customize your own Shepard in-game then you obviously didn’t care all that much to begin with and are just seeking attention.

  8. Justin says:

    You realize that the default Shepard is there as a marketing move to give the game itself a face. I don’t use the default, and didn’t in the first game as well. However, I see it as a necessity to show him both the conversation and gameplay videos, without confusing people as to whether or not the character is indeed Shepard and not another human NPC.

    This game is so based on Shepard making choices and conversing with other characters that it seems naive to think they couldn’t show a face. Giving a face to Shepard strengthens the brand in the public eye as well as giving coherence to the trailers and overall advertising campaign.

    That said I would be very upset if the option to create my own Shep was not there. But the advertising did not effect my enjoyment of either game.

  9. Tom says:

    You do realize they did the exact same thing for ME1 right?

  10. bentreanor says:

    @CShep, Despite making my purchases on Steam, I am well aware of both covers. But what difference does Default Shepard’s appearance on the first cover make? Just that BioWare was clueless from the start?

  11. Casey says:

    I agree. I have found myself in a similar position.

    I played ME1 through I don’t know how many times, and I used the same Shepard I made in each play.

    Then I lost my save files.

    Starting ME2, I had to remake my Shepard, and no matter how hard I try, I couldn’t find the right combination of features to recreate what I imagined was my Shepard. When I hear Shep’s voice, I picture “my” Shepard, the one I made in ME1. Now, I have what appears to be a badly made clone with “my” Shepard’s voice. It’s kind of distracting.

  12. Marcy says:

    Brilliant article. Biware’s adverts are appalling. They try to push ME as a dull, generic shooter with a stereotyped action-hero, and we all know it’s better than that. I would never have bought this game if all I saw was the advertising. Bioware has a unique selling point here and they’re too dumb to use it.

    After 18 playthroughs with my black, female Shepard, I can’t bear the revolting default one at any price.

  13. CShep says:

    That’s been the “Default” Shepard since the first Mass Effect, or did you not look at that cover either?

  14. J M says:

    What a worthless article.

  15. Nekojin says:

    An elegant solution, except you’re forgetting that Shepard can also be female. It’s even more jarring to those players.

    Personally I just ignore the male Shepards.

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