To celebrate this year’s very special N7 day, members of the Mass Effect trilogy got together on an emotional panel.
The panel, which lasted for two hours, was hosted by Ash Sevilla from Nerd Appropriate. While most on the panel were voice actors, there were a couple of developers, as well. It featured Jennifer Hale (Female Shepard), Mark Meer (Male Shepard), Karin Weekes (Lead Editor), Patrick Weekes (Lead Writer), Caroline Livingstone (Voice Director), Ali Hillis (Liara T’Soni), Kimberly Brooks (Ashley Williams), Raphael Sbarge (Kaidan Alenko), Courtenay Taylor (Jack), D.C. Douglas (Legion), Alix Wilton Regan (Samantha Traynor), Steve Blum (Grunt), William Salyers (Mordin), and Keythe Farley (Thane Krios).
The whole panel is worth watching, but we’ll highlight some of the more touching moments that stood out.
When asked about why they think Mass Effect remains so beloved all these years later, Weekes — who was brought on as a writer some time into the first Mass Effect’s development — immediately attributed it to the characters.
“We wanted to tell a simple story, you know, good versus evil, what makes humanity great,” they said. “What makes people great. And the answer comes down to friendship and found family. People coming together to triumph over adversity. It could’ve been just another kill everything game. But you’re getting to know people, to care about the inner lives of the people you’re working with until at the end, you feel this is someone you’d be willing to lay down your life for. And I think that’s really powerful.”
On the subject of how the character an actor played impacted them, Taylor — who played Jack — and Regan — who played Samantha Traynor — offered some answers that made this queer lady and immense Mass Effect stan get fairly teary-eyed.
“I relate to her [Jack] so much,” said Taylor. “I was a tough kid who had feelings too big for me and was just really angry.” Jack helped Taylor as an adult to be able to look back and forgive herself for how she struggled with her emotions; to become whom she eventually became. And she loved her arc, for Jack maintains her fiery personality by the end of the series. But the key is that she grows into an adult who learns to love and be loved.
“I have two moms. I don’t have a dad. Recording the lines as Samantha was emotional,” shared Regan, reflecting on a specific romantic conversation female Shepard has with Samantha Traynor. It was the first time she shared this aspect of her life publicly, and she explained this is why she cares so much about LGBTQIA+ advocacy. “Being raised by two women in the ’80s was pretty radical … to see that represented in a video game in the most lovingly casual, normal way … was amazing.” For her, representing the journey of her mothers was vital to her.
“There was so much honoring everyone’s humanity,” said Hale, who played female Shepard.
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Hale also talked at length about how playing female Shepard has impacted the industry and the roles for women within it. It’s something she has talked about at length throughout the years. She recalls that on the launch night for Mass Effect 3, she saw the first cover in the trilogy with female Shepard on it.
“We were at GameStop at midnight on a Saturday … I had heard that you guys [the fans] really pushed the honoring of fem Shep as well as male Shep,” she said. “Everyone at BioWare listened, and put fem Shep on the box. And when somebody dropped that first box in front of me, I stood up on the table, held it over my head, and screamed at Casey Hudson [General Manager at BioWare] over the crowd. ‘Casey Hudson! Thank you!’ … It was a divine moment.” Hale sees Mass Effect as the moment “when the boot crashed through the glass, and it’s glorious. And it’s not my boot. It’s a boot that happened to be on my foot powered by millions of women.”
“I think that things have definitely changed for the better for roles for women. For roles for women of color; brown and Black women,” said Brooks, who voiced Ashley Williams. “One good thing that has come out of 2020 is this movement and this awareness of inclusion and the lack of it.” She says the scripts she’s been getting have changed, and it’s exciting for her to be a part of it.
Weekes elaborated on how they feel the women of Mass Effect are especially able to “be flawed in ways female characters aren’t always allowed to be flawed. They don’t have acceptable girly flaws. Jack can be, and is, angry. Tali is racist against the Geth, she has problems. Ashley is a career soldier who also has some issues. Those are things that, in a lot of cases, women don’t always see that as something they’re allowed to have as a character flaw.” They won’t take credit for it because it was a large team effort, but they think it changed things for the better and maybe helped open some doors that way.
I believe that, despite all the ways in which Mass Effect propelled women’s representation in games forward, it wasn’t perfect. I would attribute a good deal of it to the marketing. This is why I feel Regan hit the nail on the head and said something extremely poignant when she commented:
“What I’ve realized…a lot of the time, it doesn’t come down to the actors, or the directors, or the writers. It comes down to the marketing team. I won’t name names, but it’s been all over the press this year. Big game companies aren’t pushing their female protagonist forward, and therefore she doesn’t get equal publicity or equal airtime even though she has the ‘same journey’ as the male protagonist. And that’s just really sucky.”
She recalls her experience as The Inquisitor in Dragon Age: Inquisition. “The Inquisitor [on the cover] was androgynous, and that’s one of the reasons why it worked so well. I look at some of the marketing stuff sometimes. And I really do wonder whether the marketing team knows what it feels like to be the actress who spends the same amount of time in the voice booth as the man, often trying to copy the man’s timecodes…possibly paid less than the man. But you’re still like, ‘I’ve done the job. I’ve done the story. It’s going to be something different.’ And then you see the images, you see the press, you see it on TV, you see it on the side of buses, on the posters in town, and there is just nothing of the female player character. I can only speak as an actress here, but it is crushing … marketing really needs to step up now.”
The panel goes on to cover so much more, including the most emotional recording moments. You’ll know Hale’s if you’ve listened to her past interviews (hint: it’s related to Garrus Vakarian, a.k.a the best man in the universe). There’s also a PDF of voice lines that the actors recite in ways both familiar and new, hilariously and emotionally. It’s well worth a watch for any big Mass Effect fan. You can watch it below.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is planned for a Spring 2021 release on PC and consoles, with Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 upgrades to follow.