Mass Effect Retrospective 8: Racists! In! Spaaaaaaace!

By Shamus Posted Thursday Aug 13, 2015

Filed under: Mass Effect 263 comments

Virmire is gorgeous. After the bland monotony of Therum and the frustrating monotony of Feros, it kind of feels like this game just isn’t interested in engaging you visually. But then you reach Virmire and you have vibrant greens contrasting with crashing ocean waves against a spectacular backdrop of lightning. You even get some scuttling indigenous life and some birds to give the place a little flair of verisimilitude.

Come for the beautiful weather! Stay for the mind-control enslavement and eventual eradication of all organic life!
Come for the beautiful weather! Stay for the mind-control enslavement and eventual eradication of all organic life!

There’s a lot going on here. The Wrex confrontation, the Salarian commandos, the indoctrination research, the meeting with Saren, and the Kaiden / Ashley choice. So we’re probably going to need to spend a few entries on this.

We arrive at Saren’s compound and find that he’s cured the genophage and is pumping out an army of Krogan. He’s also researching indoctrination. This guy has all kinds of hobbies.

Wrex finds out about the cure, and doesn’t like the idea of us blowing it up in the process of stopping Saren. So we have to talk him down. Now is a good time to talk about…

Ashley Williams

Racists! In! Spaaaaaaace!
Racists! In! Spaaaaaaace!

There’s something that’s always bothered me. Among fans, Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams is often referred to as the “space racist” of the teamWhich should technically be “speciest” in this context, but “racist” makes the point well enough.. Supposedly, she hates aliens. This reputation comes mostly from a few situations that everyone misunderstands.

The first comment is when, in a moment of wonder at visiting the Citadel for the first time, Ashley says, “I can’t tell the animals from the aliens!” I can understand that if she said this about humans: “I can’t tell Polish people from animals” then it would come off as incredibly prejudiced. But aliens are not humans, and the problem she’s dealing with is that she has no frame of reference. Presented with the lifeforms of the Citadel, you don’t know if one is sapient or not until you try to talk to itIt would of course help if there WERE animals around. Although if there aren’t, then her joke makes no sense, so I guess we need to hand-wave and assume she’s talking about animals that didn’t make it into the game?.

This comment would probably come off as rude or crass to a non-human, but note that she wasn’t saying aliens were equal to animals. She’s owning up to her own ignorance and fallibility, not passing judgement on others.

The other comment from her happens while protesting that so many aliens have free run of the ship. Early in the game, Ash has this exchange with Shepard:

Ashley: With all due respect, should they have full access to the ship?

Shepard: They may not serve the alliance, Chief, but they're allies. At least as far as Saren goes.

Ash: This is the most advanced ship in the alliance navy. I don't think we should give them free reign to poke around the vital systems.

Shepard: You don't trust the alliance's allies?

Ash: I'm not sure I'd call the council races allies. We - humanity I mean - have to learn to rely on ourselves.

Note how she’s referring the the council races here. She could have lumped all aliens in together, but she’s making a clear distinction between the powerful council races (Asari, Salarian, Turian) and the others. And this is understandable. Those three races are powerful, technologically advanced, and have not been kind to humanity in the past.

Ash is okay with aliens, but it turns out she's REALLY prejudiced against Makos.
Ash is okay with aliens, but it turns out she's REALLY prejudiced against Makos.

This is a simply practical political expediency. People do it all the time, and it’s not racism. She’s presumably okay with the Hanar, Elcor, and Volus, or she would have just lumped them all together. She’s not prejudiced against other races, she’s prejudiced against beings that have power over us. If anything, I’d say it shows Williams to be a fairly average person.

The problem here is coding. When an author wants to do some quick shorthand for “this character is a racist”, they often reveal it with comments like this. It’s kind of like parents yelling at their kids. In real life, it’s an ordinary thing that happens all the time. In a movie, a parent yelling at their kid is universal screenwriter shorthand for “this person is a horrible parent”. We’re used to picking up on these cues and extrapolating. If a parent yells at their kid in the first five minutes of a movie, we assume we’re being shown the world in its default state. “This parent is ALWAYS yelling at their kids.” I think some people get caught on Ashley’s dialog the same way. “Oh, she’s ALWAYS ranting about aliens.”

But I don’t think that’s how this is intended. I think the writer is just trying to show some tension and unease is a natural part of our culture. We had a war, we don’t get a lot of respect from the council races, and Ashley just lost her entire unit in a Geth attack led by a TurianWho has an Asari sidekick.. This isn’t racism, it’s realism.

Shepard: Standing up for ourselves doesn't mean standing alone.

Ash: I don't think we should turn down allies. I just think we shouldn't bet everything on them staying allies. As noble as the council members seem now, if their backs are against the wall, they'll abandon us.

Note that she’s in favor of being allies with aliens. Again, not a very hateful or xenophobic trait. She just thinks that aliens won’t always reciprocate. We should note that the story itself supports her view.

You got a pessimistic view of the universe, Williams.

Ash: A pessimist is what an optimist calls a realist. Look, if you're fighting a bear, and the only way to survive is to sic your dog on it and run, you'll do it. As much as you love your dog, it isn't human.

This is the line that gets her branded a space-racist. People think she’s saying the other species are like domesticated animals and that we should ditch them if trouble comes. But no, what she’s saying is that this is how they view us. She’s saying, “If something bad happened, the council races would look out for themselves first and foremost, and treat us like their dog.” And note that she’s not even mad at them. She’s just saying we need to be able to stand up for ourselves in case they do abandon us. And keep in mind they have already done so: The council scoffed at the idea of protecting Eden Prime after the Geth attack. That was fine, inasmuch as the humans put themselves in danger when they pushed so far out into the Attican Traverse, but the point is that the council did what was politically expedient instead of what what best for humanity, thus proving Ashley right.

Given that Williams has family members that were killed or disgraced in the war we fought with the Turians (a war they started) I’d say her worldview strikes me as being incredibly open-minded given those circumstances. Very few people can get through a war and remain this calm and practical regarding their views of the other side.

She doesn’t hate them, or wish them harm, or want to spy on them. She doesn’t want to take things from them. She isn’t even advocating overthrowing their power. She’s accepting of the idea that we’re ruled by non-humans, but doesn’t want us to become dependant on them. I can understand if you disagree with her worldview, but people act like she’s the KKK in space. Ashley Williams is not some hateful, xenophobic racist. She’s mildly and understandably distrustful.

I actually think her attitude grounds the setting and gives it a lot of authenticity. Movies like to sort everyone into “normal people” and “the KKK”, but it’s never that simple in real life. She reflects the attitudes of normal, honest people in the real world, who aren’t evil or dangerous, and who are guilty of nothing more monstrous than simple misunderstanding.

Ashley Kills Wrex

This sequence actually works really well. Wrex has a good reason to be upset, and (paragon) Shepard has good reasons for him to back down that aren't some wishy-washy variant of, 'But we're friends!'. I love this confrontation from a story sense.
This sequence actually works really well. Wrex has a good reason to be upset, and (paragon) Shepard has good reasons for him to back down that aren't some wishy-washy variant of, 'But we're friends!'. I love this confrontation from a story sense.

The final thing that earns her the reputation as an alien-hater is this encounter on Virmire. If you don’t have the charm or intimidate points to make Wrex back down on Virmire, then she seems to murder him.

It would be one thing if failing the Wrex dialog dropped you into combat mode where you were forced to defend yourself, but since the killing happens during dialog, the game is implicitly saying that Wrex wasn’t hostile yet when she shot him. I don’t know if that’s what the author intended the game to say, but that’s what it feels like given how other dialog-based stand-offs in this game work. For example, at port Hanshan when you’re dealing with the corrupt guards, the game simply exits dialog into combat, regardless of who “attacks” first according to dialog choices.

This happened to me on my first trip through the game, before I realized I needed to be min/maxing my paragade score instead of just picking whatever suited my current mood. I was pretty angry with Ash, and I would have court-martialed her (or at least kicked her off the team) if the game had given me the choice.

Kaiden is pouting because he's still wearing his starting armor, which is a pretty big clue that he's not going to be the one to leave Virmire in this play-through.
Don't worry, Ash. He won't be a problem. But murder him real fast if you get nervous, okay?

But on re-playing the game I noticed that she was following Shepard’s orders. Shepard actually tells her to be ready to kill Wrex if it looks like he won’t back down. He does this even if you stay in the “paragon” section of the dialog wheel. He’s the commander, and he’s the one who told her to have a weapon ready. It’s not possible to make Shepard say, “No, it’s fine Ash. Wrex won’t hurt me.” The distrust in this situation began with Shepard, not Ashley.

She’s got a massive crush on male Shepard, and Krogans are indeed the badasses of the galaxy. They nearly conquered it, after all. So even if she was out of line when she shot Wrex, I feel like:

  • She did so after getting explicit orders…
  • …to PROTECT her commanding officer…
  • …from a non-Alliance threat…
  • …a threat which is a stupendous badass…
  • …and is brandishing a weapon…
  • …and is extremely pissed off right now…
  • …during a mission where Shepard is critical to saving the galaxy and Wrex isn’t.

If she messed up, she did so because every possible pressure was pushing her in that direction: Concern for the galaxy, justified fear of an enraged Krogan, her crush, her training that teaches her to defend her fellow ship-mates at all costs, and orders from her commanding officer.

It’s okay to be mad at Ash. Say she was wrong. Leave her to hug the nuke while you fly off with Kaiden if you want, but please stop acting like she’s space-Hitler. She’s nuanced, and games could do with more nuance.



[1] Which should technically be “speciest” in this context, but “racist” makes the point well enough.

[2] It would of course help if there WERE animals around. Although if there aren’t, then her joke makes no sense, so I guess we need to hand-wave and assume she’s talking about animals that didn’t make it into the game?

[3] Who has an Asari sidekick.

From The Archives:

263 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 8: Racists! In! Spaaaaaaace!

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Virmire does really show how well driving around planets with life can get.Its a shame that there are only a couple of those in the whole game.

    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

      It gives me hope, since the Mako is returning, that Andromeda will feature the same quality of landscape design that Dragon Age Inquisition has.

      1. Cinebeast says:

        That could be fantastic if they put a bit of effort into it. Tumbling around gorgeous terrain with a bigass cannon and destructible environments? Sign me up.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          Anything would be better than the random planets in Mass Effect 1

          1. WaytoomanyUIDs says:

            Except they weren’t random. Bioware designed them like that.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Random does not mean the same as procedural.If you use rng to design a level,then save that level so that everyone will see the same thing,thats random.If you design a game to use rng to create a new level every time its loaded,then everyone will see a different thing,and thats procedural.

              1. sofawall says:

                That’s not really true. If anything, you’ve got it backwards. Given the same conditions, procedural generation will always result in the same content. That’s part of the definition, it’s content created via algorithm vs. by hand. Randomly generated content is almost always a subset of procedural generation, as true randomness (as opposed to weighted world-gen with certain rules starting from a given seed) would usually result in completely unplayable content.

      2. Valik Surana says:

        Hopefully, you won’t be also required to farm them like it’s a single-player MMORPG.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The whole animals comment:Im quite sure if extra terrestrials came to earth,at first they would have a hard time distinguishing men from apes.

    1. Thomas says:

      I think she is deliberately being shown as speciest with that comment on the Citadel (but only mildly). We’ve already had contact with the aliens, there’s plenty of time to look them up on wikipedia.

      It’s exactly the same level for me as someone saying “All asian people look the same to me” and I think that’s what the writer is going for. It is a person honestly admitting a fault, but it’s squicky to do so and that fault could go away if they paid more attention and dedicated more effort

      1. Thomas says:

        I feel like, with Ashley, her arc was meant to be that she was like someone who’d grown up in a US backwater hating Japanese people because her grandfather died in the war and never actually having met someone for Japan. Then her adventures expose her to the world and the people and slowly her feelings change as she realises that they’re like everyone else.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          I’ve always thought the way Shamus does about this. I saw all these comments and interpreted them the way Shamus does. There’s maybe a little bit of paranoia and thats it (and its justifiable. The council races ARE concerned more with their own situations than ares. Its practical not to rely on them.) You never get any “filthy alien” remarks or even anything like “Liara, you’re a credit to your species.”

          I took it to mean that there are a lot of aliens and we’re not being shown them all due to budget limits and writing economy. The Hanar look like Jellyfish for crying out loud. How would you know one is intelligent until you’ve spoken to them. The Elcor kind of look like a cross between elephants and gorillas. And the Keepers look like some kind of bugs, if they weren’t constantly operating terminals and making repairs, I’d wonder at first glance of their intelligence especially since they don’t speak and avoid engagement with us. I assume there are more species like that.

          If you want racism, look at the third game when Garrus and Joker are trading racist jokes to relieve tension.

          1. I also interpreted them in the way Shamus did.

            One way of understanding this is that people, in general, have very low expectations for video game stories. One of the reasons Mass Effect was so awesome is that it really felt like a big universe out there, with backstories, agendas, and multiple competing valid viewpoints.

            This is, frankly, rare in fiction in general, to say nothing of video games.

            So you come with normal expectations to a game like Mass Effect out of the blue, you expect a simplified-to-absurdity cardboard cutout of a world, and, well, if you’re looking for that, you’ll always find it. If you’re not looking for nuance, well, the “Ashley = Racist” view is pretty easy to fall into… what other of the major archetypes would fit? There’s only like 8.

            (I realized this while playing Persona 4. Dramatically, the game is structured as a murder mystery. I remember around the second twist/reveal being surprised that the “holes” in the story I’d vaguely subconsciously noticed were actually intentional, and the characters in the story also noticed, commented, and came up with another theory that also had noticeable holes in it, if you were paying attention, but superficially fit the facts. You were intended to be a quarter step ahead of the characters, if you were paying attention. And then I was surprised at my surprise, because I realized that it meant I was totally used to video games just making absolutely no sense, and basically veering wildly from ass-pull to ass-pull, to the point that when picking up a new game I didn’t even consider the possibility it might actually be narratively coherent. Big wake-up moment for me.)

            Mass Effect really is a nice universe. I’m glad their returning to it. I mean, I fully expect to discover it’s a simplified-to-absurdity cardboard cutout by the time the AAA meat grinder is done with it. But it started out as something special.

            1. INH5 says:

              It’s arguable whether they really are revisiting the universe, given that the next game is going to be set in another galaxy. I suspect that the game will be about the descendants of refugees who fled the Milky Way to escape the Reapers (probably through some kind of one-way wormhole or other portal that was closed behind them so the Reapers couldn’t follow) either before or early on in the events of ME3. That way the game has an easy excuse to ignore the decisions of “your” Shepard and Bioware doesn’t have to canonize any of the original trilogy’s choices.

              I came up with this theory as soon as I saw the E3 teaser trailer, but I’m even more confident now after Chris Wynn tweeted a few days ago that none of the original trilogy’s characters would show up in the next game because “story wise, it wouldn’t make much sense,” and remained conspicuously silent when someone pointed out that asari and krogan can live for thousands of years.

              1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                I’d heard that the events of Andromeda were more or less happening concurrently with the events of Shepard’s adventures. In which case, it would make little sense for them to be there because all those characters are busy.

                Though people say they were written into a corner, all you have to do is jump ahead between 10 to 20 years, assume the Destruction ending is canon, and you can more or less justify the setting elements being close enough to give us another Mass Effect style experience.

                The only thing I’m concerned about moving away from our galaxy is that means we’re probably in the wild west of space which gives them the freedom to further devolve Mass Effect until it is nothing but action schlock and romantic fanservice. Yes I know they’ve already been moving in that direction but I felt like even the third game had some sci fi touches and some Star Trek style conflicts.

                1. INH5 says:

                  There have been official statements that Andromeda takes place both far away (as if that wasn’t obvious from the title) and long after ME3. So while I expect that the trip to Andromeda takes place either before or during the events of ME3, because it’s obvious that they’re moving to another galaxy so they won’t have to canonize an ending (and in fact Bioware people have stated that they will never canonize an ending), the game will probably pick up decades or centuries afterwards.

                  The ending isn’t the only tricky part when it comes to writing a sequel. For one thing, if as you suggest that only move one or two decades forward in time, there will still be plenty of possibly dead characters running around the galaxy. Even if they move the timeline far enough ahead that any character that isn’t an asari or krogan will be dead anyway, the genophage and geth/quarian war decisions should still have serious impacts on the setting. That’s why I think the backstory for MEA will be a one-way and one-time-only trip to Andromeda either before or early on in in the events of ME3, so they can have krogan, quarian, and maybe even geth characters without invalidating player choices made during Priority: Tuchanka and Priority: Rannoch.

                  1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                    I wish Bioware would just drop the attempts to carry choices from one game to the next in both series. Let players make decisions within a single game or possibly a couple of related games, then jump to the next arc and discard the choices. Make canon decisions when then need to and just tell the fans to accept it. The attempt on their part was admirable but even with event bubbling, they’re going to weigh down their series irreparably if they don’t make a clean break at some point.

                    And maybe diverge on the romance a bit. Maybe Dragon Age, being fantasy and (as the numbers clearly show) having the much stronger female appeal of the two series, can continue to be the one thats committed to providing romance options to suit all tastes. Being a fantasy setting, already showing willingness to ignore continuity and player choices whenever it suits them, all adds up to having fewer rules and restrictions. Thus more room to accommodate romance. And frankly its got better atmosphere for it.

                    Mass Effect should be the series that may or may not have romance options if it specifically suits the story, and they should get back to scifi. Kerbal Space Program, FTL, and Star Citizen, are all recent games that show a strong player interest in good sci fi in video games. Andromeda is a chance to scale back a bit (the humans escaped in a hurry, so maybe some tech is lost along the way) and go back to being a bit harder sci fi. With what you’ve mentioned, I’m hopeful for this idea of getting away from Earth and showing humanity in a position similar to the Quarians, treated as vagabonds and space trash.

                    But the puzzling thing is, whats up with the N7 armor?

                    1. INH5 says:

                      The clean break seems to be moving the setting to another galaxy. Though you’re right that the “no canonizing player choices” policy may prove unsustainable at some point.

                      This is pure speculation, but my guess for the N7 armor is just that whatever sort of human government is around in Andromeda carries on at least some of the traditions and organizations of the Milky Way Alliance.

                      Though one thing I should note is that we know that humans aren’t the only ME species in Andromeda. A krogan is visible in the background of the E3 teaser trailer, and if the krogan made it to Andromeda one can assume that other species got there as well. Whatever backstory Bioware goes with, I expect it to have room for every fan favorite species to show up in the game.

                    2. Richard says:

                      N7 is a massive brand in both the game universe and ours.

                      In-game, it’s more or less like the UK’s SAS – an elite group that many military personnel aspire to, with a tough training and selection process that very few are physically and mentally capable of completing.

                      In-universe it’d be kept, for the same reason that the SAS wear their badged berets.
                      All military units have symbols that matter to them and many are very recognisable to civilians.

                      Symbols are important to humans, and presumably important to the aliens in-game (as otherwise the player would find it very hard to understand them).

                      Also, outside the game it’s a trademarked brand.

        2. swenson says:

          This is how I felt, and if she doesn’t die on Virmire (oooh no spoilers), there’s a scene afterward that really backs this up for me: if you take her to the Citadel, you can run into members of the Terra Firma party (an anti-alien, pro-human political party), and Ashley will get into an argument with the guy over whether or not they’re racist. I think by the end of the game, it’s clear Ashley’s come to accept aliens, and realize that even if she might not trust various alien governments, Garrus isn’t exactly a representative of the turian government, Liara doesn’t represent all asari, etc.

      2. James says:

        maybe, but remember Ashley is a low ranking infantry NCO, shes pretty much Blacklisted via her name from any decant post. she has likely never actually met an Alien before and has defiantly never been to the Citadel, i’m sure she knows what the major races look like.

        But comparing it to the “all Asians look alike” is somewhat unfair imo, because Aliens some of which are very varies, Elcor look like weird elephants, Vorca look like bipedal Varren. the line between animal and alien is more understandable in her confusion.

        Additionally it could also be a risqué joke among comrades.

        Also i might be a little biased because i like Ash :)

        1. The Rocketeer says:

          Low-ranking? Ash is a chief. She’s got seniority.

          In fact, part of her character is that she’s frustrated by this; because of her family history, she’s managed to climb the ranks while actually being excluded from important duties. She wants a worthwhile challenge worthy of her position and worthy of her character, and she’s grateful to Shepard for not holding Shanxi and the Williams legacy against her.

          1. James says:

            I think i didn’t make myself clear on the low ranking thing, your right she does have seniority and she is an Officer. but she thinks and knows she is better then that, her test scores prove it and she feels held back because of her family. and she does eventually become a Spectre (that still feels odd, its like wow the second human Spectre just so happens to be your human party member it made the universe feel tiny)

            1. krellen says:

              While NCOs technically are officers (that’s what the O means), the term “Officer” is almost always reserved for those with commissions (in the Army/Air Force, Lieutenant or higher. In the Navy, Ensign or higher.)

            2. Vermander says:

              Yeah, Ashley is an NCO, I think the term “Chief” throws off a lot of people who aren’t familiar with naval ranks. Shepherd and Kaiden are both commissioned officers and technically shouldn’t be getting so chummy with her and the other enlisted personnel on the ship. Maybe they’ve relaxed rules about fraternization in the future?

              1. Syal says:

                How many people are on the ship? The officers I knew were pretty chummy with the members of their division, and if the ship is small enough you could believably get the same dynamic from the higher-ups.

            3. JakeyKakey says:

              Surely it’d make sense for the next human Spectre to be a soldier who stuck around with Commander Shephard, the only other human Spectre and arguably the most prominent figure in recent Galactic history, all the way through and together they saved the Citadel from the Reapers?

              As far as accomplishments go, that’s the kind of stuff that gets you fast-tracked.

          2. Taellosse says:

            She’s a squad leader that has been repeatedly denied opportunities for advancement, due to her family background. That she’s gained seniority amongst the enlisted has more to do with her stubbornness than anything else. She wants to become an officer and hasn’t been able to until she meets Shepard.

      3. Decius says:

        It’s not just Asians. Most people, regardless of ethnicity and even skin color, tend to look the same to me. Seriously, you’re better off telling me that someone is wearing a green shirt than that they have black skin if you want me to be able to identify them in a crowd.

    2. Benjamin Hilton says:

      The one part I think Shamus was off about was on the “sic your dog on it and run.”
      While some people may have disliked her for equating aliens to dogs, I think a great many more disliked her because of how much they do like dogs. There are websites just so people know if a dog survives a movie because they may not want/be able to watch it if it doesn’t. Allot of people really love dogs and, practical or not, Ashley saying she would sic the dog and run makes her unrepentantly evil as far as many people are concerned.

      1. I’m one of those people who’d grab my dog and run (she’s my little furry baby), & Ashley’s response doesn’t make me think she’s evil, just that she and I have a difference of opinion about the value of a dog (which is pretty darn common). I have friends who grew up on farms who think of dogs as very useful livestock, and friends who, like me, think of them as fuzzy children.
        Evil’s reserved for those who mistreat, abandon, or kill, not those who value human life over the life of an animal.
        And the bear analogy has kinda already happened, if you think of the Rachni as the bear and the Krogan as the dog. The non-human species have already proven they’ll risk sacrificing another intelligent species to save their own.
        (Note, never played the series, familiar with it via Spoiler Warning and Shamus’s rants, so apologies in advance if I got that wrong)

        1. Benjamin Hilton says:

          I don’t disagree, but I think it’s also important to remember that in a lot of story telling “not caring about animal life” is shorthand for evil, similar to what Shamus said. So I can still see how people might mistake that line as a “this person is racist” cue.

        2. guy says:

          That’s not really an accurate description with the Krogan. The Council was losing the Rachni wars badly, so they uplifted the Krogan to provide them with numbers and hostile environment shock troops. They were then duly grateful when the Krogan won the war for them and let them snap up tons of valuable real estate, until Krogan population pressure led to them expanding into areas already settled by the others.

          The uplift may have put the Krogan at greater risk of Rachni attack, but the Rachni seemed pretty intent on exterminating all other life.

    3. SlothfulCobra says:

      Well, one’s wearing clothes. That’s how you’d tell the difference.

      That wouldn’t help on the citadel though, because the Keepers wear backpacks and the Hanar are naked.

      1. Bryan says:

        This group over here seems to be able to change its fur color whenever it wants. Huh. I wonder if that’s a camouflage thing? Doesn’t seem to work very well though. Maybe it used to be useful and isn’t anymore, or something…

      2. newplan says:

        People put sweaters on dogs.

      3. Aldowyn says:

        people drive cars, and operate most of the other machinery. That would seem to be the easiest signifier to me.

        1. Mike S. says:

          “According to the records we’ve been able to acquire, Earth has a number of spacefaring species. We aren’t absolutely certain about the canids or the rodents, but there’s clear evidence that Pan troglodytes was the first species to actively operate a spacecraft outside the atmosphere, followed rapidly by Homo sapiens. We hypothesize a brief space race between the two species, ultimately won by H. sapiens, though troglodytes did pilot a single orbital spacecraft before conceding the field.”

    4. Ivan says:

      Might be extra confusing if they dropped into India first, there are plenty of temples dedicated to animals there that see regular worship.

  3. Fizban says:

    Well damn. I didn’t have too much of a problem with Ashley when I first played but I eventually gave into everyone else’s hating on her and look at what happens if you actually pay attention to what she’s saying. Well done Shamus.

    1. Deadpool says:

      I vaguely remember a conversation where she says her FATHER (or family?) has a huge issue with aliens and she’s had to grow up hearing a lot of that crap and it’s hard for her to stay objective.

      Which I’m either imagining or surprised Shamus did not mention.

      She’s STILL not space Nazi though. She IS nuanced. She’s aware of her upbringing and does her best to resist it.

    2. omer says:

      The effect is…subtle.

  4. DeadlyDark says:

    Actually, you don’t even need Paragon/Rennegade your way to not to kill Wrex. I wanted to kill him in third (technically fourth) walkthrough (and I decided to make Michael Sheppard not to be pure one side, but to him mixing Renegade/Paragon options), so at first I used some non-red/blue options and… Wrex is agreeing with me. I reloaded few times before I was able to find dialog sequence that leaves him dead on the ground. May be this was a kinda lucky of me to have three (I guess) tries before killing Wrex…

    1. Zaxares says:

      Did you do his side-quest to find his family armor? If you do, Wrex will always back down and trust your lead, regardless of your Paragon/Renegade scores.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        Oh, is that what does it? I’ve had him back down before without paragade, but I never knew why that was.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yup.If you are a completionist,by this point you will have multiple ways of keeping wrex alive.You have to rush through the early parts in order to really screw up.

        1. DeadlyDark says:

          Huh. Didn’t know this. Live and learn I guess.

          1. MrGuy says:

            Or kill and learn, if we’re getting technical.

      3. Jokerman says:

        Someone said this before in a “You act like you care but you didn’t even do his companion quest” kind of way when i said i killed of Ashley because she killed Wrex (it was a bad time to ask me to chose)

        But on a first playthrough you obviously have no idea this is coming, his quest was on my todo list.

        1. MrGuy says:

          I find this a really story-defeating lesson for the game to teach you.

          “Oh, you didn’t stop and do the sidequest the minute it appeared because you were kind of getting into the main plot and wanted to move it forward? Lol, now Wrex is dead. Guess you should have stopped and run that errand!”

          Sidequests are a tough challenge for open world games, because in most cases, it really doesn’t make in-story sense to do them. Like the example here. On the one hand, we can chase down a renegade council agent who’s plotting to destroy the galaxy. On the other hand, we can help this guy we know recover a family heirloom. The choice doesn’t even make sense to OFFER when you think about it. What sane person in this situation would put the “save the galaxy” on pause for the family armor quest?

          But the way this specific quest works out is really problematic, because it’s not just that Wrex becomes a less effective fighter if you don’t do this. He dies. He’s gone. You have a permanent consequence that you couldn’t have anticipated, at an arbitrary point in the story, because you didn’t do the sidequest right away.

          What this teaches you is you should ALWAYS stop what you’re doing and do the sidequests right away, or you’ll be punished for it. Which makes you “roleplay” Shepard as someone who has no sense of importance. In other words, this guy.

          1. INH5 says:

            This really is a major problem with the ME games. The gameplay is supposed to be about exploring the galaxy and doing various tasks on various planets, but the story is supposed to be about stopping an imminent threat to galactic life. ME1 is bad enough, but ME3 makes it many times worse by having the Reapers already here and killing millions every day but still letting you spend as much time as you like dawdling on the Citadel and doing random side missions that might or might not help the war effort.

            The only exceptions are you crew getting killed in ME2 if you do any missions between them getting captured and assaulting the Collector Base, and the Tuchanka: Bomb mission in ME3 that goes off and greatly reduces your krogan war assets (yeah, war assets turn out to be meaningless, but it is something) if you do 3 other missions after discovering it. Bizarrely, however, if you never do Tuchanka: Turian Platoon and unlock that mission, the bomb doesn’t go off.

            Aside from those points, these gameplay and story elements only line up at all well in ME2 before the Collector Ship mission, where you can’t do anything to directly advance the main plot by yourself and all you can do is recruit team members and complete various side missions while waiting for TIM to give you the next lead.

            Hopefully ME: Andromeda can fix this by making the main plot less urgent and apocalyptic, since the info that we’ve seen so far indicates that it is really pushing the exploration stuff.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Its not the problem just for mass effect however.Most rpgs suffer from the “This thing threatens to destroy everything!We need to stop it quick!But first,lets devote some time to help this old lady get her groceries.”

              1. Matt K says:

                Which is one thing I liked about Kingdoms of Amulur. The story while pressing isn’t an immediate threat that must be taken care of immediately. In fact the game encourages you to explore and at least do a bunch of factor quests to gain their trust.

              2. Jokerman says:

                In some games i can justify why i would do stuff like this, in The Witcher 3 i justify it with “gotta eat” traveling between 3 big countries has to have to kind of cost attached to it, so i can do my Witchering jobs without any break in immersion.

                1. INH5 says:

                  I think the Witcher may have the best explanation in RPG history for participating in random monster killing and other sidequests by simply making that your job. As you say, even when you have a big quest to fulfill you can still justify it by saying that even when saving the world you still have to make ends meet.

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    I find fallouts 1 and 2 as the ones with the best explanation for doing side stuff.You are given one major objective(find a way for your people to survive),and in order to do that you have to explore the unknown world and find out whatever you can about it.Meanwhile,while doing that,you stumble upon the “wants to kill everyone” big bad,and this side objective gradually takes over the story(because everyone includes you and your people as well).

                    But witcher is right behind those.

                    1. MichaelGC says:

                      Aye – there’s a great bit in W3 (very early on) when someone says: “Clock’s tickin’,” in such a fashion and composition that you know they figuratively mean: “Clock’s not tickin’ at all, really.” :D

                    2. Arstan says:

                      Also Star Control 2 springs to mind – the main objective is mostly tied with making alliances with different aliens.

                    3. guy says:

                      Star Control 2 is also notable in that you do have a time limit. Wait too long, and the Kor-ah win the Doctrinal Conflict between the Eternal Doctrine and the Path Of Now And Forever and begin their journey to exterminate all life in the sector. That’s not the losing condition.

                      You lose when they reach Earth, and prior to then the Kor-ah exterminate a bunch of other species and allow you to visit the smoking ruins of their homeworlds to loot their plot coupons.

                      There’s also a cut conversation with the Melnorme that tells you your deadline, when he discusses an ancient artifact that darkens as its destruction approaches (“Naturally, I keep it under my bed”) and gives you a date for when that’s projected to happen.

                    4. MrGuy says:

                      I really liked that piece of Fallouts 1 and 2. I haven’t seen a game in a LONG time to have the courage to shove you out the door, shout “good luck!” and let you discover the actual plot as you go. Fallout 1 is pretty clear – you need to find a water chip. The whole FEV concept, The Master, the BOS, not even on your radar. Every quest was a sidequest, because you didn’t really know what was important. I actually sort of liked the timer (I think I may be in the minority on that) because it created a balance between “Wander around doing stuff” and “focus on how to find a water chip”.

                      I wonder if the fact that we live in the age of GameFaq’s has ruined this idea of “go find the plot – it’s out there somewhere!” permanently – the frustration point for “I’m not sure what to do next” has been lowered, and the availability of instant online gratification means there’s no need to wander around aimlessly – you can just look up what to do next.

                    5. Syal says:

                      Morrowind also did it well, with a pretty similar style to the Fallouts; you show up, you spend the first half of the game discovering the plot, and even when you do the threat’s not immediate enough to discourage sidequesting.

                    6. Decius says:

                      So, is the problem completely averted if there is a time limit and wasting too much time results in failing the main quest, or some significant punishment?

                      SC2 Kor-ah killing the other races counts; a bonus from a games-design perspective is that it makes the game somewhat easier.

                    7. Syal says:

                      @Decius: Maybe technically, but you’ve replaced the dissonance of being able to do the sidequests with a penalty for doing the sidequests. You’ve moved the problem from one end of the spectrum to the other, and I for one have a much bigger problem with time limits than I do with dissonant freedoms.

              3. Andy_Panthro says:

                Morrowind actually has your main quest giver tell you to go away and explore/level up at a few points during the game. I think you can just leave and come back almost immediately, but it was a nice touch that gave you a narrative pause so you can concentrate on side quests.

                1. Trevel says:

                  I’m 90% sure that you have to be at a certain level before you can continue the quest chain — which may mean you just have to leave and come back, but for my first play through meant I actually had to go out and get a job…

                  Man, I miss Morrowind.

                  1. Aldowyn says:

                    Yeah, that very first part where he tells you to go adventuring a bit happens *very* early in the main story. Probably earlier than the greybeards summons in Skyrim (which is when I usually go off the rails)

              4. CMcK says:

                This is something that I think Morrowind avoided at the beginning of the story. There is no threat established, just “Go see this guy in that town and give him this.” The story continues like that for a little while, during which you’re encouraged to ‘blend in’ and join a Guild or do some Quests. It’s only later that you are told what the threat actually is.
                And it’s a plot kickstarted by the good guys for once.

          2. boota says:

            so much this.

            on my first playthrough i wondered if i would be punished for not going after the reaper threat fast enough, especially since the story escalated so damn quickly. one second you’re a whiny bastard who won’t be allowed in to play with the big boys. the next second you’re granted elite soldier status and all the citadels resources in order to find saren. (which is really wierd because the council don’t truly believe in the reaper threat. and to be honest i’m not sure that i believed in it then. especially since the vision at eden prime basically was orange-tinted concept art)

            this caused me to ditch pretty much any side quests. so basically the game punishes me for doing what it tells me to do.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              The pacing of the threat does pretty much come to a dead stop after the Citadel, though, until Virmire.

              1. boota says:

                well… the pace of the story progression slows down. but the urgency of the matter doesn’t. Why am I gallavanting around the galaxy when in the meantime there is a renegade elite soldier out and potentially making ready to throw down the sitting government and social structure? I know the game tells me I can’t do anything to hunt saren down at the moment. but the alternatives i get are really irrational.

    2. Christopher says:

      The friendly dialogue outcome is something you get for finding his family armor or something, isn’t it? If not, I sort of resent doing it. It was located in one of those copypasted storage room sidequests.

      Well crap I ought to have updated the article before posting a comment.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Its space ninjas.They are everywhere!

      2. Thomas says:

        It’s a pretty cruddy quest, most of the companion quests in ME1 were fairly arbitrary and unexplored. “Shepard do this thing for me” *fight aliens, get the keycard* “Thanks Shepard”

        1. Christopher says:

          As usual, whatever dialogue options you choose don’t change things either. I’m pretty sure I got Garrus to abandon revenge and work inside the law in a similar companion mission. Then ME2 rolls around and he’s Frank Garrus, The Punisher.

          1. Richard H says:

            The Garrus one matters, but it’s subtle. If you paragon your way through the arrest sequence, he tells you that he tried to make another go at C-sec before quitting, whereas, if you don’t, he goes full Punisher immediately after the previous game ends.

            Okay, maybe it doesn’t really matter, but they have a nod towards it.

          2. Jokerman says:

            Garrus was very confused in my game… he would flip back and forth from saying i encouraged his punisher like activities to saying i told him to go back to c-sec.

            Maybe being a renegade who always picked paragon options with him really messed him up. “Do what i say Garrus, not what i do.”

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          But xp!It gives xp!Why would you not do all the side quests as soon as possible and get all that shiny xp?

          1. Aldowyn says:

            I never figured out if it was *actually* impossible to hit the level cap in one run, or just practically impossible.

            50 is easy enough, but 50-60 takes forever.

            1. Ringwraith says:

              You’re actually locked to 50 until you have beaten the game once anyway. You can get somewhere into the 50’s if you have the achievement for doing ~75% of the game from a previous run, as that gives you extra experience (about 10% or something).
              I loved the achievements in Mass Effect, as a lot of them gave little bonuses for earning them, some more significant than others. Like all the skill/weapon related achievements allowed you to take that skill on a new character, so you could have one non-class skill.

  5. The Rocketeer says:

    This is something you’ve done literally for years, so it might be a reflex you can’t retrain by now, but the jellyfish aliens are Hanar, with one ‘n.’

    I think what would have fixed the situation with Wrex is to simply have him seem more hostile. Wrex has his weapon ready, yeah, but even right up until the point Ashley shoots him, the two you are having a very tense, but not yet hostile encounter. Shepard and Wrex aren’t making any progress with each other, but instead of a slow escalation of emotions ending in Ashley’s intervention, we just have a fairly quiet, even tension suddenly cut short with Wrex’ death.

    If Wrex had been getting steadily angrier, and louder, and less willing to listen, then they could have closed by having Wrex in the middle of a clear threat or a sudden hostile movement before Ashely intervenes.

    Also, cutscenes in this game have a really inconsistent belief in whether or not shields actually exist/work, or at what range. On Eden Prime, Jenkins’ shields are alluded to, but Saren kills Nihlus with one shot. On Feros, that one lady takes a potshot at you that gets absorbed by your shields. Maybe they just don’t work at point-blank range? You and Wrex are nearly at arms’ length, but Ashely puts Wrex down from several yards away, in a single shot, with a pistol.

    If I could rewrite it, here’s what I would do: In the middle of your failing persuasions (if you don’t shoot him yourself, which you can), Wrex blasts you with the shotgun, taking your shields down, but before he can take a second shot, Ashley (with a shotgun, preferably) does the same to him from behind, and then kills him with the second shot while he’s disoriented/before he can react. Would use in-game mechanics to explain 1) why you don’t drop into ‘combat mode,’ 2) why Ashley felt justified killing Wrex even without your signal beforehand (since you can signal her deliberately), and 3) why Ashley would be able to kill a KROGAN before he can kill some measly human.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      This is something you've done literally for years, so it might be a reflex you can't retrain by now, but the jellyfish aliens are Hanar, with one “˜n.'

      Its kind of the same problem with shepard.The game likes its exotic writing,even though it feels more natural to write shepherd and hannar.

      If Wrex had been getting steadily angrier, and louder, and less willing to listen, then they could have closed by having Wrex in the middle of a clear threat or a sudden hostile movement before Ashely intervenes.

      Im not sure that would fit well for wrex.He doesnt really raise his voice much,even when angry.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        I was thinking the same thing, actually. We never really see anything else in the game that Wrex has any passion about. He’s laid back and unexcitable even in combat, because he’s been in battle for centuries and it doesn’t mean anything to him but a paycheck. (S: “Why did you become a mercenary?” W: “Because I needed to eat.”) He’s been everywhere and seen everything.

        But this is the one thing that he has no idea how to take in and really rattles him deep. And, like Wrex says, Shepard isn’t just some two-bit hired gun he’ll hang out near until the job is done and then never think about again. Wrex trusts Shepard, and Shep’s intentions to destroy whatever cure Saren’s devised feels personal. If Wrex’s blood can get hot, this is the moment it should happen.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          I just rewatched the scene.

          Wrex gets about as uneven as he gets (which, as you all note, isn’t very uneven but its still unusual for Wrex).

          They keep getting closer as they argue. Shepard and Wrex both draw their weapons when they’re standing about 5 feet apart, and have their sights lined up (which shouldn’t even be necessary, a trained soldier could shoot from the hip at this range. Heck I could probably reliably shoot from the hip at this range.)

          Shepard stands back up and holsters her weapon asking Wrex to talk. Wrex doesn’t budge from his firing stance and instead says “I’m done talking Shepard, its time to do this my way.” Thats when Ashley fires. And note she’s standing at Wrex’s six about 30 feet behind him. She can’t see the look on his face. She just knows he’s remained in a threatening posture and just said something vaguely ominous. Even if he’s not about to attack, a second’s shift in mood at this point and Wrex could kill Shepard before Ashley could react. And he’s clearly got a strong motive to do so. She made a tough call but from her vantage point, I think its the right one.

          1. Wide And Nerdy says:

            And I paused the scene a little too soon.

            She then walks up and puts three shots in his head. I guess as long as she’s already fired, she doesn’t want to give a still armed Wrex a chance to catch his breath. Krogan have redundant organs and Wrex is wearing armor. But yeah, that makes it a little more vindictive. Still think it was the right call but Shepard could have reacted before Ashley’s follow up.

            1. Ofermod says:

              The bit about firing a few extra times… I think there’s a line in the second game (or Lair of the Shadow Broker) where Thane goes into detail about his Krogan assassination technique, and it’s ridiculously thorough, to the point of recommending “using a bomb” or something as an alternative method. And don’t Krogan in the first game have the ability to stand back up after the first time you kill them, or something like that? Because if that is the case, it’s actually a nice touch of gameplay and story integration. Like the D&D equivalent of having someone kill a troll, and then walk over and ignite the body.

              1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                Yeah good point. They do have both redundant organs and regeneration. Once she shot him in the back she had to be committed to that follow up, and by this point in the game, she has to be aware of what Krogan can do in a fight.

              2. Ringwraith says:

                Yeah, Krogan will get back up once reduced to lethal health if they’re not poisoned/ignited.
                Though it’s easy to miss because toxic rounds are one of the better all-round ammo types, working on anything.

        2. SlothfulCobra says:

          By the time we meet Wrex, he’s given up caring about things. Before he was a mercenary, he was a clan leader, and he tried his best to get the Krogan to focus on breeding to help counter the genophage. He wanted the Krogan to stop fighting blindly against anything and everything. He wanted to stop them from slowly dying out as the genophage took its toll out on them until they’re nothing but a footnote in a history book.

          That all ended when one of the few remaining Krogan warlords, his father, betrayed him in a meeting on sacred ground. After joining Shepard, Wrex had a taste of being part of something bigger than him for the first time in a long time, and with the prospect of Saren curing the genophage, there could actually be hope for the Krogan.

          But then Shepard has to kill Wrex’s last hope. Damn right Wrex is going to be angry about that.

      2. shiroax says:

        I always though shepard was the normal spelling, but then I’m foreign. Now autocorrect is telling me it’s not.

        1. MichaelGC says:

          Aye – ‘Shepherd’ is the correct spelling for a person wot looks after actual sheepsies, but names based on that are all over the map: Shepherd, Shepard, Sheppard, Shephard, Shepperd…

      3. Mike S. says:

        Shepard is named after Alan B. Shepard, Jr., the first American in space, so the choice of spelling is intentional there.

        1. MichaelGC says:

          He was also the first person to PLAY GOLF ON THE MOON!! So jealous. And I don’t even like golf.

    2. Trix2000 says:

      The reason they can kill in one shot is because they’re using the cutscene pistol (which is apparently Shepard’s favorite weapon).

      100% accuracy, whatever range is needed, and always a one-shot kill (though perhaps making for a slow death so people can exposit). It is the ultimate weapon.

      1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        If we want to be Watsonian about it, generally the shots are taken from close range -ie, within the shields.

        Ashley’s shot is from range, but I seem to recall she then walks over and shoots him again from close range -so the first shot was maybe a concussive round to knock him over, followed by a real shot inside the shields.

        1. INH5 says:

          Yeah, she does shoot Wrex 3 times at close range after knocking him off his feet with a long range shot.

          Still, after playing as a krogan myself in ME3 multiplayer, seeing Wrex, allegedly one of the most badass krogan ever, getting taken down with one pistol shot will never not look strange to me. Maybe this would have worked better if Ashley had gotten close to Wrex before shooting at close range like the “dodge this” moment in the Matrix.

          In general, the cutscenes tend to be very inconsistent with the gameplay whenever guns are involved. In particular, shields often seem to just not exist in cutscenes, even with characters who absolutely should have them. It’s yet another sign of the lack of coordination between the various departments and writers on these games.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    It would be one thing if failing the Wrex dialog dropped you into combat mode where you were forced to defend yourself, but since the killing happens during dialog, the game is implicitly saying that Wrex wasn't hostile yet when she shot him.

    I wonder what the sentiment would be about this scene if me1 had dialogue interrupts like me2.Especially if the “shoot wrex” wasnt a dialogue choice,but a renegade interrupt you got mere seconds before ashley shot him.

  7. Zaxares says:

    I didn’t quite like Ashley’s attitude towards the aliens at first, but I will say that the game did a good job of making her feel realistic throughout the game series. In ME3, you start running into some new species of aliens, and dialogue with her indicates that she’s still HIGHLY distrustful of anything new and potentially dangerous. However, in that same game you also find Ashley palling around with Garrus, Tali and Liara, so she obviously can overlook her initial distaste once she gets to know people.

    And you know, that’s EXACTLY how real people who have slight (or stronger) prejudices behave too. Even real life racists usually have one guy who they point to and go “I don’t really like , but Joe? Joe’s alright.”

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      but I will say that the game did a good job of making her feel realistic throughout the game series.

      Not really.In 2,she doesnt trust you despite you being her war buddy for quite a while,saving her life numerous times,and maybe even being her love interest.Garrus trusts you,tali trusts you,wrex trusts you,liara trusts you,and all of them are quite willing to overlook the whole cerberus thing,whether you are completely in league with them or if you are secretly looking for ways to undermine tim.But ashleybitch is the one who doesnt trust you,despite you saving not just her,but her colony as well.

      Not to mention the idiotic “Why didnt you call me?Even though I was on a secret mission you knew nothing about and the alliance had specific orders not to tell you anything about this when you asked,you shouldve called me!”.

      1. Khizan says:

        In ME2 she thought you were dead because she pretty much watched you die when the Normandy blew up, only to find you roaming around 2 years later right after she basically lost an entire colony, and we know she had issues about losing her squad the LAST time she met Shepard on a disaster planet.

        I can cut her some slack for going all WTF on me.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Im not cutting her any slack because of how your other companions react.Everyone else is:”Shepard,you are alive?!Im so glad!Shame circumstance didnt reunite us together earlier.Oh,you work with cerberus now?Well,weve been through a lot together and I trust you,so you must have a good reason for this.Maybe you are even trying to destroy them from within.”

          Meanwhile ashley is:”Shepard?You are alive?!Well why the fuck didnt you contact me in this undisclosed location?And you work for cerberus as well?!Fuck you shepard,you traitor!”

          1. shiroax says:

            Ashley is the only correct one tbh. I hope they rewrite that stupid death thing into something more reasonable, like getting dismissed for insisting the boogeyman blew up your ship.

            1. INH5 says:

              What do you mean by “I hope they rewrite”? Is there a remake planned that I’m not aware of?

              1. shiroax says:

                No, I don’t think there is one. I think I forgot to finish that comment, and I forgot I made it.
                I meant when they make a next gen remaster or whatever.

                1. INH5 says:

                  As far as I can tell, next gen remasters generally don’t make changes to the writing or story, especially when voice acting is involved. If they can reuse the original sound files, they will.

                  Obviously full remakes like Tomb Raider Anniversary or series reboots like the 2013 Tomb Raider game work differently, but I have my doubts that we’ll ever see any kind of remasters, remakes, or hard reboots (Andromeda will likely serve as a “soft reboot”) for Mass Effect. The third game’s ending controversy has tarnished the reputation of the entire series in a way that few other video game properties can at all compare to. I think the Mass Effect trilogy is going to be radioactive for a long time to come, and because of that no one is going to want to revisit it.

                  I think that Mass Effect 3 basically burned down the entire franchise, and Andromeda will be an attempt to salvage whatever they can from the ruins.

          2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            I cut her a little more slack. She’s been told by the Alliance and the Council that Shepard is a traitor. She does not believe them, either because she does not believe that Shepard would turn traitor, or because she believes he is dead. She then goes to a planet that is attacked by an unknown enemy, and moments later Shepard shows up.

            Not dead, and working for Cerberus.

            She does send an e-mail later saying that she’s sorry for her outburst, that Shepard just took her by surprise. And making up is an important part of the third game.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              She was on that planet long before you got resurrected.And others have way more reason to hate cerberus than ashley,yet its she that thinks you a traitor for that,not garrus,tali,wrex or liara.Fuck that and fuck her apology.

              1. Arstan says:

                Cut some more slack. But for her, but for Bioware. They tried this lane and mostly failed, but people still liked the games anyway.

          3. Aldowyn says:

            Didn’t Cerberus interact a lot more with the Alliance and humans in general, or am I misremembering? That could explain part of it.

            (Of course, the worst part is she’s getting mad at Shep for something that the player could very well be upset about themselves – joining Cerberus)

      2. James says:

        I blame that on the whole cannot join your crew ‘cus they have to be in ME3 so must be angry and distrustful nonsense and lets give both Kaiden and Ash the same dialogue so they ended up with something that fit neither character and came off as well shit.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Yeah,but they did it way better for talis initial rejection,wrexs and liaras rejection.”I have other duties,and I regret that I cannot come with you,no matter how much I would like that” is a MUCH better response.

      3. boz says:

        In ME1 She was written by L’etoile. In ME2 and ME3 she was written by others. (sidenote: L’etoile’s work is pasted everywhere it’s easy to find, not so much for others writers (or my google-fu failed me))

        1. Gruhunchously says:

          On that note, this is an unofficial, possibly inaccurate list of which writer wrote which character throughout the series.

          But still interesting to look at, I think.

    2. Raygereio says:

      In ME3, you also find Ashley palling around with Garrus, Tali and Liara, so she obviously can overlook her initial distaste once she gets to know people.

      I don’t recall Ashley having any interaction with the ship’s crew in ME3. She just sits in her room the whole time. The only interaction I can think of is Ahsley getting drunk with Vega – another human.
      And even during the Citadel DLC’s party Ashley mostly just hangs out with Vega.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    That summation in the end is 100% correct.And even if she did something wrong,as her commanding officer,it is shepard who should be blamed for it.

    I must admit,I liked ashley in the first game.She was a well written character.And her decisions make sense.Also,people take her attitude way out of proportions.If you move her character into a different setting with only humans(say americans talking about russians in ww2),people would see nothing wrong with it.Just a person who doesnt trust her allies to be as friendly once the common threat is dealt with.

    Now in me2,her character became just a whiny bitch.Its the worst case of character ruination Ive ever witnessed.

    1. Gruhunchously says:

      When her original writer left, I’m pretty sure the rest of the writers had no idea what to do with her. She wasn’t a very popular character and the only thing anyone seemed to remember about her was the “space racist” angle. So when she wasn’t being used interchangeably with Kaiden during the appropriate scenes, the new writer just sandpapered off all the interesting parts of her personality and turned her into an generic soldier character.

      1. MrGuy says:

        Although, this is sort of a reason why her reaction should be different. If the writers are starting from the “she’s a space racist!” angle, shouldn’t she be stoked you’re working with Cerberus, given their pro-human (albeit anti-sense) agenda?

        1. Talby says:

          No, because she’s still loyal to the Alliance and Cerberus are terrorists that kill mostly humans.

    2. Henson says:

      Ashley has always been my favorite character from ME1. Like Shamus said, she feels grounded, like she’s a natural result of humanity being affected by the last hundred years of history. And she’s got a viewpoint that most characters don’t: the military, duty-based, family-centered way of life. It was refreshing.

    3. Zekiel says:

      I think two reasons people disliked Ashley are:
      a) She kills a more interesting NPC (at least, general consensus seems to hold Wrex more highly than Ash)
      b) She seems to take satisfaction from doing it (at least that’s the vibe I got from her dialogue as she finished Wrex off)

  9. Deadyawn says:

    ‘It's not possible to make Shepard say, “No, it's fine Ash. Wrex won't hurt me.”’

    I think it is. Just going off memory mind you, I distinctly remember having Shepard say “Just drop it, he’ll be fine” to which Ashley responds with something like “okay but I’m going to keep my eye on him just the same”.

    Even if I’m remembering incorrectly, I don’t think it’s necessarily to the game’s credit that they justify an NPC’s actions by hamstringing the players choice, especially seeing as it can result in the death of a party member.

  10. Corsair says:

    I don’t think Ashley is a horrible evil space racist, although I’ll make jokes about her being such, I just think she’s a bland, dull character. She’s Jacob before Jacob was Jacob. Mind you this -still- puts her ahead of Kaidan, who is basically Carth’s whinier cousin.

  11. Raygereio says:

    Whenever I get into the “Ashley is a racist” argument, I tend to tell people to replace the Allience with the USA, the Turians with Russia and then imagine the conversation where Ashley explains her distrust of Alians is happening shortly on a fancy new US navy ship, a single generation after the Cold War ended.
    I always felt the best way to describe Ashley is as a nationalist.

    I don’t think it helps that in the ME universe, all the different species have a single government. And that the species’ name is often used when the speaker wants to refer to that species’ government.
    So when Ashley is being distrustful of the Hierarchy, the words that she’s using say “I’m distrustful of Turians.”
    That sort of language muddles the water a bit. I mean, imagine if all humans with black skincolour got together in Africa and declared a single nation for black people: The African Hierarchy. And then someone meaning to say “I don’t trust the African Hierarchy to honor the trade deal”, but instead saying “I don’t trust that nation of black people to honor the trade deal”.
    One of those lines clearly comes across as racist, even though that may not have been the speaker’s intention.

    And offcourse the biggest problem is that some idiot of a writer felt the need to make Ashley say “It’s not racism, but…” when she explains herself. In the real world whenever someone says that in earnest, invariably something racist is about to come next.
    I don’t blame people for hearing that line, and then almost reflexively ignoring everything she said and dismissing her as a racist.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      That sort of language muddles the water a bit. I mean, imagine if all humans with black skincolour got together in Africa and declared a single nation for black people: The African Hierarchy. And then someone meaning to say “I don't trust the African Hierarchy to honor the trade deal”, but instead saying “I don't trust that nation of black people to honor the trade deal”.

      Ive never thought of this before,but why are all the different races present on someone elses planet only merchants and diplomats?Why arent there people who just moved there because they prefer the conditions,or education,or history,or the climate,…..Yeah,going to another planet to establish your home is a bit different than moving to another country on earth,but youd expect there to exist people like this.

      And why arent there any empires consisting of mixed species planets?

      1. Raygereio says:

        Ive never thought of this before,but why are all the different races present on someone elses planet only merchants and diplomats?Why arent there people who just moved there because they prefer the conditions,or education,or history,or the climate

        I think that can for the most part be handwaved as Shep simple not going to those areas where that would make sense. Shep generally goes to military or research bases, or fresh colonies that have just started, not established cities and whatnot.
        Sure, we go to the Krogan’s homeworld. But who would realistically want to immigrate there? On the Salarian homeworld we go to a military base where it wouldn’t make sense for other species to hang out. And on the Asari homeworld we go there when it’s under siege and the only people we interact with are the Asari military, civilians would have run for the hills.

        I think the only real example of a “normal” city that we go to is Ilium. Which is an Asari world and while it’s population is predominantly Asari, you do see other species making a living there.

        And why arent there any empires consisting of mixed species planets?

        I’d settle for species having more then one government really.

      2. Joe Informatico says:

        Space opera in general just seems to default to single-race, single-government, even single-biome planets. Probably because of all the work to detail a couple of extra planets and species. I understand that, but it still irritates me sometimes.

        One time, SF Debris reviewed an episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars where it was revealed that Darth Maul’s species and Asajj Ventress’ species were the same species. Chuck asked why they had to be the same species–why couldn’t one or both of them have immigrated there and lived in mostly peaceful coexistence?

        1. SlothfulCobra says:

          According to the codex, there’s two races that don’t fit in with that, the Asari who have some weird confederation of city-states, and the Krogan, who can only barely convince their fellows to not run off and become mercenaries, much less establish a singular government for their species.

          There’s also the Volus, who are governed by the Turians.

          1. guy says:

            The Turians also used to have a number of separate governments, prior to a lengthy unification war. The different facepaint patterns still represent some form of group allegiance, but I’m not sure if they’re semi-autonomous governments under the Hierarchy or if they’re just cultural.

      3. INH5 says:

        The Covenant in Halo are a mixed species empire.

        But in general the tendency for sci-fi stories to have one culture per alien species is pretty irritating to me. Humans have literally thousands of different languages, religions and cultures, so surely at least some of the aliens out there would have a similar level of cultural diversity.

        1. Ringwraith says:

          Although the game explains how the Systems Alliance is the ‘face’ of humanity to the rest of the galaxy, as they were initially just meant to be the multi-national body in charge of space exploration and their fleets and such, so no one country had control over things. Sort of a bit like a frontier UN.
          They were considered mostly a joke (a bit like the UN) by major governments until they quickly took the fight back to the turians during the First Contact War while world leaders bickered over what to do. That gave them a lot of respect and they became the entity that represents humanity to the rest of the galaxy as a result.

    2. Mike S. says:

      The Alliance shouldn’t be replaced with the US, but with an emerging second or third world country that was recently slapped down by the US, with Ash’s family in particular still feeling the repercussions.

      The Citadel can be seen as the US or NATO or the G7 or something comparably hegemonic. But the Alliance are the new kids on the block. They’re clearly a rising power expected to be important in the future, and the turians in particular are torn between suspicion and grudging respect. Still, right now humans are on the outside begging for scraps.

      (Though how near in the future is a surprise to everyone. For all the criticism of the later games for humans being special, ME1 is pure-quill Campbellian, with the Alliance going from “Spectre now, Council someday, maybe, if you prove yourselves more useful than the Elcor or the Volus for a few centuries” to potentially dominating the galaxy right now. Even if that’s, reasonably, walked back in ME2.)

      That subordinate position changes the shading of Ash’s suspicion of aliens. She’s not trying to keep them out of the cool club. She’s concerned about preserving and protecting her culture from older, more advanced ones. Who recently semi-forcibly enrolled humanity into a supragovernment in which it has no vote.

      Meanwhile, the non-Council species divide up into Council clients she can’t trust to have common ground with humanity– the volus ambassador’s much ruder to Shepard than she is to any alien, and has a bigger chip on its shoulder– and the independent but completely inimical like the batarians and the geth.

      Ash may not be right to make a blanket judgment. But she’s a restive colonial suspicious of the foreigners who’ve upended (and to an extent taken over) her world, not a member of a ruling class trying to keep the lesser peoples in their place.

  12. Abnaxis says:

    We had a war, we don't get a lot of respect from the council races, and Ashley just lots her entire unit in a Geth attack led by a Turian[3].


    (Sorry, couldn’t resist)

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:


      1. Shamus says:

        I love this meme so much it made me sad to fix the typo.

        But I did.

  13. Gunther says:

    The problem here is coding. When an author wants to do some quick shorthand for “this character is a racist”, they often reveal it with comments like this. It's kind of like parents yelling at their kids. In real life, it's an ordinary thing that happens all the time. In a movie, a parent yelling at their kid is universal screenwriter shorthand for “this person is a horrible parent”. We're used to picking up on these cues and extrapolating. If a parent yells at their kid in the first five minutes of a movie, we assume we're being shown the world in its default state. “This parent is ALWAYS yelling at their kids.” I think some people get caught on Ashley's dialog the same way. “Oh, she's ALWAYS ranting about aliens.”

    But that’s why it’s a perfectly reasonable assumption for players to make. It’s not the player’s fault for wrongly assuming she’s a racist when Bioware is using the standard narrative shorthand for “she’s a racist”.

    1. MrGuy says:


      If the writers don’t realize they’re coding her this way, they’re not terribly good writers.

      If they do realize it and want her character to come off differently, they need to figure out how to add nuance to her character and her beliefs.

      Don’t blame the audience for jumping to the conclusion you’ve steered them to.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Ummm,what?They are not good writers because they dont care about cliches others (ab)use?

        1. MrGuy says:

          Absolutely. A writer’s job is to communicate with the audience.

          They are not good writers if they do not understand how their audience will interpret what they’re saying. It’s incredibly arrogant to assume the audience won’t interpret a common trope in the typical way because “Well, WE didn’t mean it that way!”

          You didn’t mean to be interpreted that way? Then write something else.

          You don’t have to use the same cliche that everyone else uses. But if you’re not, YOU have to work harder to make it clear that you’re doing something else.

          Analogy from my actual job experience. There’s a principle in web UI design that “your users visit other peoples’ websites 100 times more often than they visit yours.” This means they will come to your site with certain expectations on how UI elements will work, how different pages will interact, how navigation works.

          And no matter how much you think doing “Tabs” vertically along the left edge and starting at the bottom of the screen is “better” than the way most people do tabs, you’re going to confuse people, and they will not thank you for it. You have to respect what people are coming in expecting.

          That doesn’t mean you can’t do things differently if you want to, but the burden is on YOU to make it clear how your different thing works. Not on the audience to “free themselves” from their pre-programmed expectations of how they expect it to work (and look on them disdainfully for “not getting it” when they don’t).

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Terry Pratchett had some _ing words to say about that.

            1. Pseudonym says:

              Terry Pratchett thought that it was appropriate to blame your audience for reading a character that you very clearly coded as having [quality X] as having [quality X]?

              1. Bubble181 says:

                Pratchett would have had something to say about people reading half a sentence and not even bothering to read the second half, yes.

                She’s not “clearly” written as a racist. Just like in real life, you know, not everyone who says “I’m not a racist, but…” is, in fact, a racist. It’s perfectly possible to use that phrase. Watch: “I’m not a racist, but statistics do show black people are more often involved in low-grade criminality. This is probably due to socio-economic factors, and a strong indicator we need to focus more resources on education in predominantly black neighborhoods”.

              2. MichaelGC says:

                Pratchett mayherestinpeace probably wouldn’t put it like that, but he was very big on coding for x and then proceeding to y. Or, you know, f. Perhaps even w.

                “You see an expectation, you subvert,” one might say! :D

                1. Pseudonym says:

                  That’s the thing, though. Under the “not a racist” interpretation, what exactly is being subverted?

                  First of all, why would BioWare choose to subvert our expectations about the use of convenient shorthands to describe character traits in a broad-strokes space opera about evil robots from the dawn of time? One in which, I might add, an awful lot of character traits are in fact communicated in exactly the kind of convenient shorthands that Shamus seems to think are inappropriate when dealing with Ashley’s attitudes to alien beings?

                  Secondly, how do we know that BioWare isn’t instead trying to subvert our expectation that only hateful two-dimensional caricatures are allowed to express racist sentiments?

                  1. MichaelGC says:

                    Not a clue, I’m afraid! – I know a bit about TP; naff all about ME1. The second doesn’t sound especially BioWare-ey, though – do they do that sort of thing a lot? (I’ve only played a few of their games.)

                  2. Andy_Panthro says:

                    Isn’t there also the problem that it’s only Ashley (as far as I remember) that makes these sorts of comments. If the various comments were spread amongst the human crew members then it would have presented the idea that there’s a general feeling of unease from the humans about their various allies (especially the council).

                    If it’s only Ashley making these sorts of comments it makes it seem like she’s the only one who has a problem with aliens.

                    1. Attercap says:

                      Ashley’s the only comrade NPC, but there’s Pressley, the Terra Firma guys, and a singular remark from Joker. But because those are minor line characters (including Joker in the first game), the voices aren’t that “loud.”

            2. Majere says:

              Terry Pratchett actually made the effort to explicitly subvert how he coded his characters/settings/scenarios by giving them further development that made it clear they were not what they originally appeared not to mention it is such a fundamental part of his narrative style that him subverting standard coding is a given. Bioware didn’t do that. They coded her as a bigot and then when they tried to give her depth beyond that they stumbled and coded her as a mildly jingoistic bigot and Bioware has a history of writing characters who play their tropes entirely straight so they don’t even have Pratchett’s assumption of subversion to fall back on.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Thats the thing:Pratchett constantly made fun of our assumptions(because you know what they say when you assume).And here we have a character that is assumed to be racist because of cliche.Not just that,people assume she was written with that explicit cliche in mind.But I ask:How do you know?How do you know that they coded her like that deliberately,and then went to flesh her out?What if the thought of actual racism never even crossed their minds when they were making ashley?I find it really ridiculous to jump on conclusions like that.

                1. guy says:

                  What if the thought of actual racism never even crossed their minds when they were making ashley?

                  Then they’re incompetent.

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Of course,because in order to be a competent writer you need to know all the tropes and not,you know,write good stuff.

                    1. guy says:

                      A major portion of the fanbase considers Ashley to be at least somewhat racist. If Bioware did not intend for her to be perceived (even incorrectly, like with some of Pravhett’s characters) as racist, that outcome is a storytelling failure. In order to tell the story successfully, they must know how the audience will perceive the story they write.

          2. Wide And Nerdy says:

            Fellow web designer and that doesn’t hold as an analogy. A user routinely visits dozens or hundreds of websites and makes their judgment about your content in minutes or even seconds. You’re reusing common web elements because if they have to spend much time figuring out your site, they’ll leave.

            A game asks a greater investment out of you and comes with different expectations. You’re paying 30 to 60 bucks and you’re expected to spend many hours playing. This means Bioware has time to communicate with you.

            Which they do by giving you the lengthy Citadel sequence early in the first game lasting at bare minimum an hour or two of play. It becomes obvious at this point that you’re supposed to learn about and explore the setting. Pretty much everybody you talk to has dialog options for expanded exposition and there’s a codex. This all signals loud and clear that they want your attention because they believe their setting, stories and characters to have depth and substance. You meet four completely different Turians, you meet the thoughtful melancholy bruiser Wrex, you witness a debate between the Elcor and the Volus about humanity’s rapid ascension. You learn those bugs walking around fixing everything are a mysterious species that never talks to anybody and carefully guards the secrets of Citadel technology. There’s mysteries walking around right in front of your face if you pay attention and some of them are called out to you.

            So yes, they can reasonably expect you to pay attention to Ashley and notice that she’s more than a cardboard cutout stock character.

            1. MrGuy says:

              Agree that you have more time to do more than a simple two-dimensional cutout a videogame. I guess we disagree on how effectively the writers in ME1 accomplished that goal with respect to Ashley.

              1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                I will agree that its a bit muddled. Its probably a tough call. On one side, many of your typical video game players will probably gloss over characterization if its too subtle. On the other side, there are people who read into everything.

                I’ll agree that if you’re distracted and not listening carefully, its easy to confuse Ashley’s intent. Particularly the scene where she shoots Wrex over and over again. Its easy to forget that with a Krogan, its necessary. Its easy to read the scene as though she were shooting a human in the back and then walking up to shoot him in the head three more times.

                But I believe the writers at least made a good faith effort to communicate what kind of game this was and what kind of character Ashley is.

                This is also something that kind of bothers me when it comes to aliens or demihumans and using them as allegories for racism. We’ve already discussed the problems with using the Xmen or mages. But even with aliens and demihumans, they’re not just a different skin color from us. They’re different species. I’m not a racist if I point out that dogs aren’t as smart as humans*.

                Sapient aliens are people sure, and should be treated as people but its not wrong to observe or even just suspect that these other species might be quite different from us in ways more fundamental than how differ from each other.

                *Before anyone gets on my case about comparing sapient aliens to dogs, we only have one known sapient race in real life at this time, so doing a species comparison I have to use an animal. Using a racial comparison doesn’t work because my whole point is that aliens could be and probably are considerably more different from us.

              2. Wide And Nerdy says:

                And follow up. My point before is, they aren’t obligated to use devices exactly the way other people use them as is the case in web design because even a very casual game has the expectation of a greater investment of time and focus.

          3. Chalkbrood says:

            Sometimes audiences don’t get something. Overcommunicating an idea or relying on expectations isn’t clever or good writing either. If a member of the audience comes to a wrongful conclusion on a scenario like this that’s not only the writer’s fault. It’s a vague scenario, it’s absurd to suggest this is bad writing because a portion of the reading population don’t think about it

      2. Gruhunchously says:

        This is an interesting point. How would you suggest the writers convey Ashley’s uneasiness without it coming of as racist-coding. If it were up to me, I would wait a few conversations before she brings up the issue with you, so that it’s not the first thing players remember when they think about her.

        Also, much like the rachni issue from previous posts, I think that Terra Firma should’ve been introduced more formally before you start bringing it up with Ash, just so the player has a frame of reference. They could be used as a contrast for Ash’s character and cement the idea that she’s not a mindless bigot.

        1. Pseudonym says:

          I think this is begging the question somewhat. You seem to be assuming that Shamus’ original article is correct, and that Ashley is “Not A Racist” and that therefore the fact that she codes as one is an error.

          But it’s equally possible (and arguably more interesting, and definitely simpler) to assume that the reason the writers chose to have Ashley tick all of the “space racist” boxes is because they intended her to be, well, a space racist.

          It feels to me a lot like Shamus is falling into the same trap that he observes other people falling into, assuming that the only options for Ashley are “Space Hitler” or “Not Racist At All”. This ignores the perfectly possible interpretation in which she’s “just kind of racist.”

          People seem to think that “this character is realistically portrayed and has attitudes that make sense given her background” and “this character is racist” are incompatible. In fact it’s perfectly possible for them to be the same thing. And I’d argue that makes the character more interesting, not less interesting.

          1. MichaelGC says:

            I don’t see that as question-begging so much as examining the consequences of the argument, having been persuaded by it. (I’ll admit that’s quite a fine line!) And there’s much nuance in Shamus’ argument – e.g:

            Ashley Williams is not some hateful, xenophobic racist. She's mildly and understandably distrustful.

            This is not the argument of someone thinking in binary extremes! :D To my mind it’s pretty close to what you’re saying – one could change that last sentence to: “She’s mildly and understandably distrustful, and thus just kind of racist.” If Shamus had been dealing in binary extremes, that addition would make a nonsense of his argument, and I don’t think it does so at all.

            (Just to be clear, I’m not saying Shamus should have said that, of course – I’m just saying it would be possible to say that without descending into nonsense.)

            1. Pseudonym says:

              This is very much an agree-to-disagree thing. I’d say that Shamus’ argument is *exactly* one of somebody thinking in binary extremes. This article doesn’t say “I think Ashley is interesting because her character represents a realistic portrayal of racism as it exists in many parts of the modern world” it says “Ashley Williams isn’t racist.”

              The line you cite: “isn’t some hateful, xenophobic racist” adds up to explicitly this claim. It assumes that being “racist” being “hateful” and being “xenophobic” are all basically the same thing. Shamus doesn’t say “Ashley is racist, just not the hateful xenophobic type of racist”, he says “isn’t a hateful xenophobic racist.”

              I’m not saying the article doesn’t admit of any other reading. But I would point out that at no point does Shamus ever admit that Ashley is a racist of any kind, and continually argues that Ashley’s behaviour is not evidence of racism, and that the reasoning behind her actions renders them non-racist.

              IMHO, YMMV, etc.

              1. MichaelGC says:

                No, I don’t think this is a mileage-variance, for once! There’s too much careful discussion of each point for this charge of binary extremes to apply. And there’s stuff like this, which I think removes all doubt:

                Movies like to sort everyone into “normal people” and “the KKK”, but it's never that simple in real life.

                The article doesn’t say the bit that you say it doesn’t, for sure, and it sounds like Shamus wouldn’t agree that was the idea. But, the point you make there is a different, and interesting, point which stands on its own! So, maybe there you could say your mileage & Shamus’ vary, but on the notion that the original argument fails due to insufficient granularity – no, I think not.

                1. Pseudonym says:

                  Hilariously I think we’re now disagreeing about who disagrees about what and to what extent we are differently interpreting the things that each person is interpreting differently.

                  I agree that Shamus points out that real life is more complicated than “normal people” and “the KKK”. But he seems to do this in order to argue that the people who are suggesting that Ashley is a racist (which I would argue she is) are necessarily also arguing that she is in the Space KKK (which I would argue she isn’t). As I think I said above, I read this article as Shamus falling into the very trap he identifies – the fact that he identifies it doesn’t mean he can’t also fall into it.

                  I agree that Shamus and I interpret Ashley differently, but I think that you and I also interpret Shamus’ interpretation of Ashley differently. To put it in my own words as best I can.

                  I think that Ashley’s behaviour and dialogue in the game makes her understandably racist. That is, I can see why she feels the way she does about aliens, but I feel that the way she expresses and acts on those feelings (insofar as video game aliens can be seen as a stand-in for real life ethnic groups) constitutes racism.

                  I think that Shamus thinks that Ashley’s behaviour is not racist because it is understandable. To me, this almost definitionally commits the “normal people/KKK” error that he describes later in the post.

                  I can see the argument that Shamus has simply come to the conclusion that Ashley isn’t a racist while also accepting that it is possible to be racist in non-KKK-like ways, and I can see how that would be compatible with the article. But I read the article as tacitly assuming that “not Space Hitler” leads to “not racist” rather than that “not racist” leads to “not Space Hitler.”

                  1. Shamus says:

                    Now we end up in the debate about what “racist” means.

                    When I was young, it was a word that identified hate. (At least colloquially. I obviously didn’t hang around in academic circles as a kid.) But since then the definition has become very slippery. (This is the reason so many debates about racism blow up so quickly.)

                    “This face-recognition camera is racist because it can’t handle black faces.” (No hate, just non-malicious oversight or possibly an unavoidable shortcoming / technological limitation.)
                    “This policy of rounding up X racial group and kill them is racist.” (Super hateful.)
                    “This white kid called a black guy ‘homie’ and is therefore racist, even though he didn’t mean it as an insult.” (No harm meant. Just simply social awkwardness and ignorance stemming from youth and inexperience.)
                    On top of this is the newer “systems of oppression” idea, meaning certain groups by definition can’t be racist against other groups no matter how they behave.

                    These are radically different definitions. So when someone says something is “racist”, other people will defend it, saying it’s OBVIOUSLY not racist, but they have two completely different definitions of the word “racist” and so they can’t even understand each other. I have to say I HATE the new definitions of this word, because they cause exactly this type of misunderstanding.

                    For the record: I believe Ashley doesn’t hate Aliens. She may be distrustful of them. If you want to call that racism, that’s your business.

                    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                      Not directed at you.

                      That ‘system of oppression’ one is complete garbage. Each individual is accountable for their own actions regardless of what other people are doing.

                    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      You wrote bl**k,and thats racist!

                    3. Slothfulcobra says:

                      It really doesn’t help that for this whole thing we’re all using the word to refer to species and nations as opposed to races. It is a quicker, shorter, and more convenient word that everyone will immediately understand.

                      The only problem is that the word is absolutely loaded meaning and implications, so it tends to provoke a visceral response in some people.

                    4. Pseudonym says:

                      A couple of points here.

                      Firstly, I agree that we’re using definitions of the word “racist” but I disagree that your definition is necessarily the “original” one. It might be the one that you grew up with, or the one that best matches your personal worldview, but it is neither more correct, of longer pedigree, nor less ambiguous than the version I favour.

                      I also agree that different people understand the word differently, and that this leads to misunderstandings, but it strikes me as bizarrely solipsistic to insist that these misunderstandings only occur because of the existence of the definition you do not personally favour. The situation would be equally unambiguous if you were to change your definition to agree with mine as if I were to change my definition to agree with yours.

                      Either way, though, we seem to be treating “racist” as a magic word, as if the acceptability or otherwise of Ashely’s behaviour and attitudes depends entirely on whether or not they can be described using a particular adjective. This seems to be missing the point.

                      It is perfectly possible to interpret Ashley in any of the following ways:

                      A) Her attitudes are racist, but understandably so and not in a way that makes me dislike the character.

                      B) Her attitudes are racist, and unacceptably so, in a way that makes me dislike the character.

                      C) Her attitudes are not racist, and are perfectly understandable, therefore I do not dislike the character.

                      D) Her attitudes are not racist, but are still unacceptable, and they make me dislike the character.

                      If we reduce the space of interpretation down to just B or C we not only limit the potential for nuance in the game, we also make misunderstandings that much more likely.

          2. Alexander The 1st says:

            Pretty much this.

            People tend to associate racism or sexism claims with extremes, like how Saren supposedly wants to kill all humans in ME1 because he’s racist against them, according to Anderson.

            Whereas you *can* have less Space Hitler racism while still having racist components – for example, the Volus feel they’ve been given racist treatment due to being the first species to get an embassy instead of a council seat – a widespread discrimination that the Volus can’t provide good council-level decisions, despite creating the financial economy in space, and handling it to this day.

            With Ashley, it’s more that she treats the Alliance as something that needs to be able to be standalone from council races whenever possible, even to deny their alien allies access to weapons technology on the ship, without citing confidentiality terms that apply to the Alliance public, that really makes her come across as mildly racist, even if it is just her feelings with regards to aliens sicking humans on their threat.

            She’s not super racist, but she is being mildly racist to other aliens out of concern that the Alliance be strong enough for humans to hold their own if they need be.

            Add to that the comment about not being able to tell the aliens from the animals…she’s being discriminatory. She also wouldn’t hold up behind, say, Kaidan, ready to take a shot if Saren was researching how to fix L2 Biotic implants for humans.

            1. Slothfulcobra says:

              For what it’s worth, there are actually space-hitler type racists around in Mass Effect. If your Shepard was born on Earth, you can run into a member of your old gang who has been arrested for trying to poison an entire Turian colony. There’s a Turian on Omega whose main job is to murder Vorcha like vermin. Balak in the Bring Down the Sky DLC tries to wipe out a planet just because they’re humans.

              Ashley’s measured distrust isn’t nearly as bad as that. She even will flip out at a Terra Firma politician for using Shanxi as a racist rallying point.

        2. Syal says:

          I think the best way to show a statist Ashley instead of a specist one would be having her show concern over various anti-alien factions who are in positions to damage human-alien relations. Maybe there’s a humans-first colony on a border world and she’s worried they’re just moving there to start a fight.

          I think the best way to make Ashley’s specism more agreeable is to get her backstory in quickly, and make the aliens you meet shiftier and more menacing. Maybe some of the alien groups don’t think Saren’s doing anything wrong, or maybe they’re trying to play the situation so they come out ahead of the other factions.

          Or maybe make some of the aliens you meet incredibly specist and illogical (Those Asari tentacle heads stole our rain, they can do that you know!) so that Ashley’s specism becomes more of a laughable counterpoint.

  14. shiroax says:

    Are you ignoring the Space God issue because you don't want to start the Earth God discussion or because you didn't think anybody held that against her?

    1. Zekiel says:

      I have a vague recollection that way back when Shamus said he was impressed that Ashley believes in [Space] God, although I may be confusing him with someone else. Regardless, I thought it was a nice touch – it doesn’t seem very reasonable that after thousands of years of various religious beliefs, humans would suddenly all become atheists in the space of a few hundred years (as has apparently happened in the Star Trek universe).

      [Note that this is not supposed to be an attempt to start a discussion about whether humans should abandon religious beliefs or not!]

      1. Mike S. says:

        I also like Ash’s religious comments. (And am always weirded out by the way a few mild comments about believing in some sort of god get caricatured into fanaticism by a vocal subset of the fanbase.)

      2. INH5 says:

        The idea shows up in not just Star Trek but a lot of 1960s – 1970s sci-fi because around that time religion just seemed to generally be in decline worldwide. A huge part of the world was ruled by officially atheist Communist governments. At that time in the US, Evangelical Christians weren’t very vocal and the Mainline Protestant churches which had long been the dominant religious force in the country were seeing a steep decline in membership. Even the Middle East was mostly ruled by secular governments and many traditional religious practices seemed to be dying out. Look up some photographs from Egypt, Iran, or Afghanistan in the 1970s sometime if you want to get an idea of how different the world was back then.

        Stories set in the future very often show more about the time that they were written in than the time they predict.

      3. Joe Informatico says:

        Just like all the “Ashley is a racist” comments that went around before I played the game turned out to be severely lacking in nuance, before I played ME1 for the first time, I expected Ashley to be some kind of fundamentalist zealot based on internet comments. I play the game, and she’s probably a deist for all I can tell: “I don’t really know, but there’s more to existence than what we think we know, right?” And more likely to quote Tennyson than any Scripture. I mean, I don’t recall her really detailing exactly what she believes, beyond “there’s probably a capital-C Creator”.

    2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      I also liked this touch in the character (and that it lets the player decide whether Shepard is a co-religionist or not), and do suspect that this is held against the character -but not in a pure “oh, religious people” way. It’s another aspect of the coding. She’s military. From a military family. Who taught her sister how to hip-throw an aggressive boyfriend. She’s -I don’t know, paranoid? Mildly-xenophobic? Parochial? And religious.

      To those who haven’t actually lived in the South, she broadcasts “redneck.” So obviously filling in the gaps in her personality is going to be stereotypical redneck.

      Being myself a quasi-Southerner (not born here, but I’ve lived in the border states for 20 years, and my dad’s family is from Georgia) I was actually rather happy to see my proverbial people in a relatively realistic light. Warts and All, so to speak.

      1. swenson says:

        Mass Effect is one of the only games I’ve ever played where you can play the main character as a religious person, even if you can only mention it once.

        Dragon Age is the only other one I can think of (and there it actually can get mentioned multiple times, because you interact with religious people more frequently throughout it).

        I wish more games brought in religion, I know it can be a touchy topic, but as a religious person who sometimes head-canons my characters as religious (depends on the game), I wish more games would actually incorporate it. Even if it was just to the point it is in Dragon Age where you can ask priests for blessings (that have no in-game effect that I’m aware of) and so on.

        1. Christopher says:

          Don’t remember which Diecast it was, but there was at least one where there was a lot of complaining about how fictional religions usually are nothing like real ones. usually there aren’t a lot of schisms, noone are actually superstitious, the Gods in question are usually proven to exist or not, they’re often evil cults actually summoning monsters etc. Personally, I’d say they are like that because portraying them more like real life religion can be annoying. I’m already dealing with a whole new setting, different species, the existence of either actual magic or science that might as well be magic and now we’re introducing a major religion with schisms, a complicated history with political powers, believers of different magnitudes of faith and stuff like that. It’s usually much more relevant to the game to have an evil cult summon cool monsters to fight against. The Fade would be more fun with an actual evil ruler commanding all the demons that live there, not less fun.

          Dragon Age Inquisition tied the religion af Andraste heavily to the plot with you being assumed to be the reincarnation of a Messiah-like figure, but in the end I don’t think there was a lot of payoff for that plot thread once what actually happened in the beginning of the game is revealed. I’m much more fond of small comments and hints in the corners of the game, like the Way of White in Dark Souls and what it’s actually all about, if we’re talking regular people dealing with faith in different ways.

          This stuff usually comes down to “something evil is going on in secret”, but I prefer it that way. It’s just more practical to go “This goddess is responsible for resurrecting adventurers when they perish” and stuff like that. “This god is evil, so that’s where all these monsters are coming from”. I can see why you’d think differently if you’re coming from a perspective of wanting more representation of yourself though.

          1. guy says:

            I’m a bit angry that Dragon Age Inqusition introduced the objectively correct religion in a DLC. Well, I guess technically the Chantry could also be correct, but the Avvar are more correct than both the old Tevinter religion and the Elven religion. They outright worship powerful Fade spirits and understand quite well that the Fade is malleable and will outright pray new gods into existence if there’s a problem with their current patron. Also, their gods turn into gigantic dragons when physically incarnated, like certain other gods.

            1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

              Fictional religions usually have the problem that they cross pagan societies with Judeo-Christian religions, or vice versa. Dragon age had this problem less because it was consciously ripping of Pagan Rome’s conversion to Christianity, so the pantheistic elves who basically cultivate their gods’ favor so that the gods don’t smite them for being too loud (something Jupiter wasn’t above, and that Babylonian gods actually did -Fen’haral isn’t treated like either a benevolent deity, or a cosmic watchmaker, he’s a force of nature to avoided), give way to a communitarian salvation oriented religion that emphasizes living according to a specific religious code that offers a chance at a better life after death. That, in turn, gives way to a reformed version of the code which offers a better life on earth. The institutionalized Chantry makes sense in that context. We’re just waiting for the game that has a new reformer argue that salvation is based only on personal adherence to the Chant of Light, or something, to act as our Martin Luther equivalent.

              But you wouldn’t imagine an institutionalized Chantry for the Elven Gods, and yet you constantly see that kind of thing in other fictional religions, with large hierarchies devoted to making sure the gods ignore us…

              In Mass Effect, specifically, though, it was nice to see religious humans because we know such people exist, and so it makes the game feel more realistic. I also like Padok Wiks’ belief in the Cosmic Plan. I almost like him more than Mordin. Mordin is motivated by barely confessed guilt and is essentially suicidal. Wiks, however, is motivated by his belief in a cosmic plan, in which he has a part to play, and willingly follows, even though he knows it will kill him.

              1. Mike S. says:

                One odd note I find in the Chantry: the Maker, according to their orthodox theology, is entirely hands-off. Since the death of Andraste, he’s washed his hands of humanity and the material world, and will have nothing more to do with them till the Chant of Light is sung from the four corners of the world. And yet both the Chantry and lay members go heavily for intercessional prayer.

                I could see prayers of praise, prayer as a tool of teaching and proselytization (to get the Chant to spread faster), etc. But “Maker help us!” doesn’t make any sense. Their core belief is that the Maker won’t help them, ever, until they’ve made the world worthy of it.

                (That would even be fine for popular religion, just as people have come up with, e.g., patron saints for thieves. But Revered Mothers should be discouraging the practice rather than engaging in it.)

  15. Henson says:

    Fun fact: if you didn’t recruit Garrus on the citadel and you haven’t gone to Thessia to get Liara yet, Wrex cannot die. The dialogue simply ends, Wrex saying ‘okay Shepard, I’ll trust you.’

    It seems that while Wrex’s concerns over the genophage might be important, they’re not nearly as important as having two squadmates in combat.

    1. INH5 says:

      The games always do this. ME2’s Suicide Mission won’t let Shepard live unless at least two squadmates survive. And if you do Zaeed’s loyalty mission after a Suicide Mission that leaves only him and one other person alive, then you can’t leave him to die.

      I imagine this is probably because most missions have dialogue scripts written for two squadmates, and only having one around would break things. For example.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Okay, I played the whole series with a female Shepard, and after watching that clip and hearing the voice work … I’m SO glad that I went with the choice I did. Jennifer Hale really is SO much better …

        1. Joe Informatico says:

          It’s so weird, almost everything else I’ve heard or seen Mark Meer in, he’s great. He’s personable in interviews, can be absolutely hysterical, but he’s just so flat in Mass Effect. He gets better later in the series but he’s never as good as Hale for Shepard.

          1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            I have never really considered Mark Meer’s delivery bad. And Still don’t get the complaint. Hale’s isn’t bad either, but so many people think she’s so obviously better and I don’t hear it.

            1. The Specktre says:

              Yay, I’m not the only one. I mean, yeah, Meer is flat, but I never thought he was bad.

          2. Henson says:

            Meer’s performance is flat by design. He was originally meant to be a stand-in voice that a different actor would later re-dub. The Bioware team found that they liked his delivery and kept him as Shepard.

            1. Mike S. says:

              That Meer’s performance is primarily a directorial choice is, I think, demonstrated by the range of other Bioware roles he plays: all the vorcha, many of the volus, Jethan in Dragon Age 2…

              Jennifer Hale is a stone pro, and I lean towards her Shepard, but Meer’s unquestionably a solid voice actor. And I think his Shepard improves over the course of the series, not least because the script gives the Commander more of a sense of humor as time goes on.

  16. Alex says:

    On the “I can't tell the animals from the aliens!” line, you also have to remember that the Keepers are a thing. In Mass Effect, even seeing an alien wearing clothes and operating a computer is not proof that it is a sapient being. Seeing a Keeper and a Hanar for the first time, would you really be able to say for sure that the former is the animal and the latter is the sapient?

    1. Corpital says:

      But…but that would mean she has not seen a single Blasto movie!

      In all seriousness though, I liked what they did with her ‘heritage’ in ME2 if you left her on Virmire. Apparently the whole Citadel is filled with microphones, because they somehow knew about her aliens-animals comment and turned it into something akin to ‘Aliens or humans, we are all just animals.’ and made her out to be a paragon of tolerance.

      1. shiroax says:

        Didn’t all the Blasto movies come out during/after ME1?

      2. INH5 says:

        Apparently the whole Citadel is filled with microphones, because they somehow knew about her aliens-animals comment and turned it into something akin to “˜Aliens or humans, we are all just animals.' and made her out to be a paragon of tolerance.

        The Citadel being filled with microphones is actually extremely plausible, considering that we already live in a world where virtually everyone carries a still camera with them 24/7, and a large portion of the population also carries a video camera and audio recorder with them 24/7.

        1. Mike S. says:

          And increasingly, the microphones are constantly active, in order to be able to process voice commands. At which point the question becomes less what’s possible to overhear than what policy encourages/discourages.

        2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I thought this was explicit in the second game. “How charmingly fascist.”

  17. Zekiel says:

    I think this is great analysis of Ashley’s character – the “space racist” label has always irked me, even though I don’t actually think that much of her as a character really (everyone else except Kaiden is more interesting. Poor Kaiden.)

    What annoyed me about Wrex’s death is that it felt you had so little opportunity to be sad about it. (Going from my hazy memory) the game forced Shepard to be “oh well, he was a threat, well done for eliminating him Ash”. My (second) Shep was dating Ashley and I wanted to roleplay that he was upset by her killing Wrex (even while acknowledging it might have saved his life), resulting in Shep breaking off the relationship. But you can’t do that – all you can do is refuse to sleep with her significantly later. Shame.

  18. MrGuy says:

    By the way, I get the tension being good for this, but the options here are kind of crazy (especially the Paragon option).

    The genophage is the single most top-of-mind fact of life for the Krogan. A Krogan (ANY Krogan) who sees a way to cure that couldn’t possibly be talked out of it. It’s a way to save your species from a horrible fate. How could Wrex NOT insist on finding a way to preserve the cure. “These aren’t your people, Wrex!” Really? That’s the best you’ve got? These might not be Wrex people, but the people back home he could save certainly are.

    And why isn’t there a way to preserve some possibility of bringing the cure with you? Heck, take a blood sample or something. There’s no really convincing reason why the only choice here (and really, it’s not even an offered as a choice) is to completely destroy the cure.

    That said, there are a lot of good reasons why a rational Shepard would have some pause from taking the cure with you. Curing the genophage will not only revitalize the Krogan, but will leave them massively pissed off at the council races. This is a case where Shepard’s interest and Wrex’s interests genuinely diverge.

    What Shepard really means (if, y’know, this had been presented as a choice about preserving the cure) “Look, Wrex, I like you, and I know your species is suffering horribly. But you’ve got to realize – if I let you take this cure, your fellow Krogan will try to wipe out everyone else in the Galaxy, humans included. I can’t let you do that.” Wrex, meanwhile, should be thinking “This is the single most important event in the recent history of my species. This is our holy grail. How can I possibly walk away and accept it will be destroyed?” Now THAT’S tension.

    The genophage is a hugely important fact of the world. The possibility of a cure is potentially (at least given what you know to this point) more impactful than tracing down a rogue Spectre. It’s kind of a shame that the most interesting choice here (do we preserve the cure? Do we maybe sabotage that cure later?) isn’t actually given as a choice. The decision is made in a cutscene, and the only interactive part is convincing Wrex to go along with it or die.

    1. Raygereio says:

      “These aren't your people, Wrex!” Really? That's the best you've got?

      That’s just dialogue-selection-summary. The actual argument is more convincing.
      Yes, the player here selects the intimidate option. But this is one of those false choices: The dialogue is the same for charm & intimidate.

      And why isn't there a way to preserve some possibility of bringing the cure with you?

      The game never goes into detail about what the cure in ME1 is, but the place we’re blowing is later on always referred to as a cloning fascility.
      I don’t think that’s a retcon from the ME2 writing team either. Even in ME1 Kirrahe says Saren is “breeding an army of Krogan” on Virmire. It seems that there never was an actual cure. Saren was growing Krogan in tubes, much like Okeer was doing in ME2.

      That said: It’s somewhat odd that everyone – even Kirrahe who probably should know better – thinks Saren has a cure. But that might be because Bioware hadn’t yet fleshed out what the genophage actually was in ME1.

      1. Alexander The 1st says:

        With regards to bringing the cure with you, from what I understand, Saren never perfected it. Like, it’s referred to as cloning, but it’s possible that it boils down to using cloning chambers to keep the children from dying after birth. We see at least a similar concept in ME2 at least, with the chambers from Okeer, and when Wrex states that it causes stillborn deaths, the idea that a cure isn’t a vaccine in most early cases of the attempt to perform cures but instead a treatment process intended to prevent born children from dying.

        Later on, when we get Eve who was a survivor of one of the experiments involved in trying to find a more permanent cure, it’s possible that they figured out how to inject a vaccine and/or mutagen to reverse the effects of the genophage itself.

    2. Zekiel says:

      I agree entirely.

      Interestingly I felt like in ME2 (and 3) I was very invested in whether or not curing the genophage was a good idea, whereas in 1 I didn’t really care all that much about it. Possibly that was due to having a choice in 2 and 3; more likely it was because the character I was interacting with (Mordin) was my favourite in the series, and so I cared enough to pay attention to his dialogue so I found this interesting ethical problem.

      1. INH5 says:

        I imagine it also helps that you get to go to Tuchanka and see the effects on the genopahge on the Krogan up close, whereas in ME1 all you get is Wrex’s stories which as well written as they are are still only secondhand.

        1. Zekiel says:

          Good point. I was forgetting that.

          1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            Sort of. The state of Tuchanka predates the Genophage, but the Genophage certainly isn’t making it better.

    3. shiroax says:

      I might be remembering wrong, but they really aren’t his people. Iirc, they were brain-damaged, mind-controlled, tube-grow, Krogan-like puppets.

  19. SlothfulCobra says:

    Honestly, the weirdest thing about that scene is that Wrex goes down in one shot, after all that talk about how dang tough the Krogan are, and the fact that he’s armored up (only in his Merc 1 gear, but still). You’d think he’d either come to his senses after being shot, or he’d explode into a violent rage so that you and Ashley have to take him down like a final boss.

    Also, if you try to shoot your squadmates outside of this situation, they all have shields so their exposed heads aren’t so vulnerable anyways.

  20. 4th Dimension says:

    That part about Ashley thinking that non Alliance personell whouldn’t have an unrestricted access is pretty reasonable. Access restrictions are there for a reason, for both the general safety and secrets safety. After all not all crew have to have access to all parts of the ship, so why would “guests” have that access. And your squadmates are the guests, they are not Alliance personell so they don’t need that unrestricted access, and at first before you get ot know them well it’s pretty understandable for you to suspect their ultimate loyalty. After all from what Sheppard heard of untilll now Quarians specialise in “acquiring” tech for their fleet, so not letting Tali ANYWHERE near the engineering would be pretty reasonable untill you learn more about her.

    The only person who might be allowed greater access would have been Garrus and only if Hegemony pulls some strings since they helped humans build the Normandy.
    Also Normandy doesn’t only hold human top of the line tech but Turrian as well. I would expect them to be at least a bit miffed if they learned humans allowed several drifters unrestricted access to the same hardware their main battle fleet has.

    1. guy says:

      Admittedly, Tali totally does swipe the designs for the stealth systems; in ME3 the ship that meets you to talk about the Quarians has a stealth system. Granted, I don’t know whether that happened in ME1 or ME2.

      On the other hand, the Salarians built a stealth dreadnought on their own initiative, starting before Mordin got aboard, so apparently access to the Normandy is not necessary for swiping its tech anyway.

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        It matters not that the other races might know how to duplicate the tech, you still don’t want them to know how excatly you did it. Also you certanly don’t want it to profilerate to some wildcards like the quarians.

  21. Talby says:

    This goes for Pressley too. Neither him nor Ashley are racist/speciesist, they’re just wary about letting military officials from a foreign government have access to their technology. It would be like calling a Polish military official in post-WW2 Poland a “racist” for being against allowing German soldiers to have access to their military bases.

    I’d also argue that being prejudiced against aliens is justified in sci-fi a lot of the time, because they actually ARE different from humans. It’s a stereotype that Asians are bad drivers, but it’s a fact that Krogan are violent and aggressive.

    1. shiroax says:

      I don’t remember why, but I remember liking Pressley and finding his objections reasonable, while wanting to punch Ashley in her stupid mouth. I wonder what made the difference.

  22. guy says:

    The thing about everyone who worries about the Turians having access to the ship is that it’s intensely stupid. The Turians built the thing. Ashley is worrying about the Turians getting to have a look at the advanced gear they helped design. During the Admiral’s inspection, Shepard even explains that the bridge is designed funny because that’s how the Turians do it.

    I can’t find the concerns of anyone who worries about letting them on the ship legitimate.

    1. Jabrwock says:

      Even if someone else builds it for you, and you didn’t add any more tech after you take possession (highly unlikely, every military is going to have it’s own tech, interfaces, devices, message encryption systems, etc they need to integrate) you’re going to go over it with a fine-toothed comb to search for backdoors and listening devices. Even if it was built by your allies, because you never know. They might be wishing to turn on you, or they might have double agents working in their midst. You’re putting YOUR security in their hands.

      As a real-world example, Canada wanted to buy F-35 jets from the US, but the US was unwilling to let the Canadian military access the software to maintain certain components, because they didn’t trust that Russia, Iran or China (or heck, just a rival US company!) wouldn’t just steal it from Canada. And we’re considered a very close ally.

      So once you’re done all that, letting those allies wander around escort-free, especially when it’s been shown they aren’t all that trustworthy as allies, would rub any security-conscious crew the wrong way. Who knows what they could be recording, prodding, or tinkering with?

      1. guy says:

        Except this is kind of the opposite scenario, where Canada is worried that the US might steal the F-35’s stealth technology from them.

        1. Shamus says:

          Just to torture the analogy even more:

          Just because the Americans gave them the F-35 tech, doesn’t mean Canada will let random Americans wander around their bases.

          1. Jabrwock says:

            Or even wander around just the F-35s. If a US tech had to come up to maintain a jet, you can bet they’d be escorted while on base, or at the very least have VERY restrictive rules about what they can do while there.

            I guess a better example might be the subs we bought from the UK. There’s no way we’d let just random Brits wander around inside the subs, especially when they’re deployed.

            I can see the presence of one or two observers from the construction company, or some dignitaries, perhaps council reps, especially on a maiden voyage. But they’d be under pretty heavy scrutiny.

          2. guy says:

            True, but the concern raised is about the Turians stealing the technology. And apparently there’s nothing so classified on board that they can’t let random low-ranking marine enlisted without a security clearance have the run of the place.

            Also, the Alliance did kind of officially turn the ship over to the Council and should probably stop doing things they don’t want the Council to know about on the ship, lest the Council point out that they’re perfectly within their rights to kick the Alliance crew off the ship entirely.

            1. 4th Dimension says:

              I don’t think they actually gave the ship to the Council. They sent the Normandy on a mission to ferry Commander Sheppard around as the first human Spectre. So they actually gave Sheppard a Systems Alliance officer with high clearance this ship to carry him around. They probably could have issued an order to Pressly at any time to bring the ship back to alliance space at any time since it was their ship.

              Random marines DON’T have unrestricted access, and they can’t simply carry off important instruments out on a whim, or contact anyone without going through comm section, so even if a marine wants to sell off some secrets he will find it hard. Also this is a state of the art ship, unless the command is idiotic they cherry picked he crew of the Normandy.

              Also the stealth drive is not the only thing that a foreign power might be interested in. To military analysts ANYTHING from a foreign flagship/top of the line ship would be interesting. From the way the engineering is ran, ELINT procedures and equipment, power supply, down to even the size of the freezer in the kitchen. Also even is the turrians helped us build it, we probably modified it and even the simple modifications would be interesting so they can learn how our command and control works.

              1. guy says:

                Ashley has as much access to the ship as any of the squadmates.

                And yes, it is a council ship now, as evidenced by how when the Admiral shows up to inspect it you can refuse to allow him to board.

                1. Jabrwock says:

                  It did seem like an odd position. Are you a Spectre, answering to the Council alone? Are you an Earth soldier, answering to the Earth military? If the council showed up, would you kick them off, stating that it’s Earth’s jurisdiction?

                  Who’s ship IS this exactly, under WHO’S authority?

                  Is Shepherd being a dick, and is just refusing everyone, playing the sides off on each other?

                  1. guy says:

                    I’m pretty sure it’s technically Shepard’s as a Council Spectre, and the Council could give orders about what to do with it but as a matter of policy doesn’t. Shepard is still listed as a member of the Alliance military, but is expected to act as a Spectre primarily; Admiral Hackett and others expect you to continue to follow their orders but clearly lack the authority to court-martial you for not doing so.

                    The crew, however, is still Alliance military, on loan to Shepard.

                    1. Alexander The 1st says:

                      It is the Council’s ship – it’s why they can ground it at the climax of ME1.

                      As for the Alliance, they *do* court martial you at the beginning of ME3, though they seem to only do so when it’s *really* necessary to do so. Similar to how Hardin got those back-room deals to let him get away with stuff he really shouldn’t have.

                    2. guy says:

                      Well, both those are cases where the other group may have decided to let them; Udina supports grounding the Normandy for some reason or other and the Council may have formally handed Shepard over to the Alliance (assuming your Spectre status was reinstated) after blowing up the star system.

                      I *think* the Normandy is technically one of Shepard’s personal Spectre assets and thus indirectly under the control of the Council, but it could also have been given to the Council and then loaned out to Shepard.

                    3. Frontlinecaster says:

                      I always read the grounding at the end of ME1 as not being because the ship is controlled by the council but being because they are docked in a council port. Presumably, the Council has jurisdiction over the Citadel and who is allowed to come and go, authority that would supersede any of the individual race’s military. So they could just as easily ground an Asari or Turian ship that was docked at the Citadel as your Alliance one.

                      They pull you from your mission because you are one of their agents, then they forbid the ship you are most likely to leave on from leaving port. But that doesn’t mean it’s their ship. If you boarded a civilian ship, or some other Alliance ship that happened to be there, the Council would simply order the C-Sec docking command to not allow that ship to leave either. It’s about keeping you there, not about controlling the individual ship.

          3. Pseudonym says:

            But they don’t let random Canadians wander around their bases either.

            If Ashley was voicing legitimate concerns as a member of the Armed Forces she could say “these guys aren’t Alliance Military” or “why are we teaming up with a bunch of civilians? What are we, some kind of RPG party?”

      2. Pseudonym says:

        Surely the key phrase in this example is “the Canadian Military”.

        But there are two very different scenarios here.

        a) The US is scared that China will steal its military secrets, therefore it refuses to allow key pieces of hardware to be accessed by foreign military organisations.

        b) The US is scared that China will steal its military secrets, therefore it refuses to allow key pieces of hardware to be accessed by anybody of Chinese descent.

        The problem here arises because Space Opera blurs the lines between nationality, ethnicity and actual membership in a political body. There’s an extent to which it *is* legitimate in Space Opera to treat all Vulcans as if they report directly to whatever organisation rules Vulcan, when it would be patently absurd in the real world to treat all Russians as if they reported directly to Vladimir Putin.

        1. Slothfulcobra says:

          Garrus doesn’t seem likely to leak any secrets, but Tali sure is. The Quarians all live in service to their fleet, and Tali herself is the daughter of one of their admirals. Add that to the fact that she is specifically on a mission to bring back something useful to the fleet and engineer Adams claims that she learned so much about the Normandy that she knew more than him.

          Of course, it’s all a moot point because the real intelligence leak was somewhere on the human side, and that’s how Cerberus got the data to rebuild the Normandy.

          1. guy says:

            Yeah, letting Tali, who is from a government that did not cooperate in building the ship and has a strong engineering background, take up residence in the engine core was somewhat unwise from a security perspective. That is a legitimate point of concern that does eventually get justified.

            It’s kind of odd that Bioware makes characters bring up the unrestricted access to the ship when you don’t actually get any choice in the matter. The squadmates who aren’t Tali should be banned from the engine room on safety grounds alone, and the ones who aren’t Garrus could potentially get valuable technical data their government doesn’t already have.

            But yes, both Cerberus and the STG swipe the blueprints from dockside.

          2. Pseudonym says:

            All good points, but I think Ashley-wise it’s a bit telling that she doesn’t distinguish between Tali (who represents a genuine security risk because she is explicitly tied to the Quarian military and obviously has the skills to steal valuable technological secrets) and Wrex (who has no ties to the Council, no technical expertise, and belongs to a species that only even has space flight because somebody else gave it to them).

            It’s also telling that she didn’t express any suspicion about any of the human crewmembers when it seems likely that one of them really was working for Cerberus. Although to be fair to her this is mostly an issue with Cerberus’ plot-device ability to flawlessly infiltrate anything that it would be helpful for them to have infiltrated.

            Again the waters get muddied because it’s a Space Opera trope that every alien you meet is totally indicative of their species and directly connected to their government. It’s mildly absurd how tied in to galactic power politics the Normandy crew are: Daughter of a Quarian Admiral, Daughter of an Asari Matriarch, Future Leader of a Krogan Clan. It’s like the Bullingdon Club for aliens.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Yeah but all the human personnel are alliance.There is really no reason to suspect any of them unless they show some unusual behavior.

              All good points, but I think Ashley-wise it's a bit telling that she doesn't distinguish between Tali (who represents a genuine security risk because she is explicitly tied to the Quarian military and obviously has the skills to steal valuable technological secrets) and Wrex (who has no ties to the Council, no technical expertise, and belongs to a species that only even has space flight because somebody else gave it to them).

              Krogan arent stupid though.Why should you suspect that the one you have on your ship is just some dumb brute and not one of the geniuses?I mean,there are krogan scientists and mechanics.Also,wrex does prove to be very smart,so its only luck that he wasnt interested in the tech on normandy.

              1. SlothfulCobra says:

                There’s not much they could do with it if they stole it. They’re not allowed to have warships since the Krogan rebellions.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  And humans arent allowed to build ai,but there is edi.

                  But even if krogan were not developing a ship in secret,nothing says that wrex couldnt steal the plans for the stealth drive and sell it to someone.

                  1. Mike S. says:

                    In particular, if a group of krogan had interest in building a treaty-violating fleet, a stealth system would really be helpful for that.

                    The second Normandy is a pretty fair demonstration of the limits of Citadel intelligence in tracking and nipping these things in the bud. If Cerberus could build a better-than-state-of-the-art frigate without anyone noticing, why can’t an enterprising krogan clan?

                    (They’re watching Aralakh like a hawk, sure. So maybe don’t build it there.)

                    Once something like that exists, it’s kind of a fait accompli. Hard to hunt down a stealth fleet if it doesn’t choose to force a confrontation, and reprisals against Tuchanka don’t really do anything to it.

                    On the other hand, I’m not sure what it’s useful for beyond piracy or terrorism. (Odds of something that can challenge turian naval power directly seem really low.) Maybe a little conquest out in the Terminus systems, but the genophage is the real limiting factor on krogan expansion.

                    So I don’t really see Wrex making use of the opportunity. Though a more traditional krogan might well feel that profitable mayhem is justification in and of itself.

    2. Joe Informatico says:

      I wasn’t clear though–how “need to know” is that knowledge? Maybe Ashley, being a mere senior NCO, doesn’t have clearance for that information. Especially since she wasn’t originally assigned to the Normandy, but picked up on Eden Prime. If that’s the case, then for all Ashley knows, the Normandy is an Alliance ship with Alliance markings and an Alliance crew.

      1. guy says:

        So far as I can tell, it’s as “need to know” as the existence of the Normandy itself. Which admittedly means Ashley might not be aware of it, but the admiral who inspects it definitely is.

  23. Hitch says:

    I was only mad at Ashley for kill-stealing. I wanted to beat down Wrex myself.

    1. MrGuy says:

      Muh XP!!!!

    2. Henson says:

      You do have that option, you know. I took it.

  24. Okay, Shamus. Yes, a person such as her visiting the Citadel for the first time might be forgiven for not being able to tell what is sentient and what isn’t and that’s not particularly space-racist. A person who doesn’t have the forethought to not blab that out loud like it’s an okay thing to do, hmmmmmyeah…kinda spacist.

    Like she’s very clearly supposed to be analogous to real-world behavior and these justifications – while I’m well aware are purely in the context of world-building analysis – sound uncomfortably similar to arguments I’ve seen justifying some totes not-cool behavior. Don’t get me wrong, I get what yer doing…I’m just kinda cringing a lil while ya do it.

    1. Pseudonym says:

      I share your discomfort, but I think it’s tricky because of the context of Space Opera. What makes Ashley’s behaviour code as racist to me is the way in which she treats all aliens as if they represent their entire species – she can’t distinguish between distrusting the council as a body or the Turians as a political entity and distrusting individual aliens.

      The problem is that in Space Opera (and especially in Mass Effect 1) the individual aliens you meet literally do represent their entire species. In a very real sense, Wrex *is* the Krogan people, as far as the narrative of the game is concerned.

      1. Hell, I’m still having trouble getting past the Volus as ME’s go-to for Jews In Space. Squat, ‘tribal’, uncouth people that are good with money…fucking REALLY? We’re still doing this shit?!

        1. Gruhunchously says:

          I thought the Quarians were the Jews in space…

          1. guy says:

            Quarians are Space Gypsies.

        2. Pseudonym says:

          People seem to have a massive blind spot over the “space Jew” archetype.

          The Ferengi in Star Trek were honestly and very specifically supposed to be a satire of modern western consumerist capitalism. Even the name came from – I believe – Farangi, which was a name given to Frankish merchants. But somewhere along the line the developers decided to make them short, give them big noses, and have them played almost entirely by Jewish actors.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Im really puzzled by this sentiment.So someone else used similar rhetoric to justify horrible actions therefore the rhetoric is the problem?

      Yes, a person such as her visiting the Citadel for the first time might be forgiven for not being able to tell what is sentient and what isn't and that's not particularly space-racist. A person who doesn't have the forethought to not blab that out loud like it's an okay thing to do, hmmmmmyeah…kinda spacist.

      So voicing your confusion makes you spacist?Not being actually hateful or hurtful,just voicing your confusion?

      Also,its sapient.All animals are sentient.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Smart people.

  25. SlothfulCobra says:

    It’s a bit of a shame that you’re killing off Kaiden for this. He’s neat in his own way, even if he’s boring. He also had reasons to not be so fond of the Turians, but he got over them before the game began.

    Of course, his story about how developing biotic powers put him through so much trouble, along with the rest of the lore about biotics doesn’t really fit with the way biotics work in the game. Shepard’s biotics never give him any trouble. Wrex is biotic too, even though the codex says it’s rare for Krogan.

    1. guy says:

      Kaidan used an earlier generation of biotic implants that came with severe side-effects for humans.

  26. Scerro says:

    Oddly enough, I believe I saved Kaidan, and ended up losing Wrex at that point. Probably mostly for the reasons Ashley had.

    Now you make me slightly sad that I did kill her off… hmm. Apparently she was more grounded than I realized.

  27. General Karthos says:

    I just want to say that I never thought Ash was a speciest, though she will put humans first (but honestly, who wouldn’t put their race first) given a choice. But there’s a scene where you see the “Earth First” or “Terra Firma” or whatever political party they are where she agrees with certain of their views, but finds their methods (and ignorance) disgusting. I find her an intriguing and realistic character; quite a bit more so than Kaidan (which is why she tends to make it through even if I’m not romancing her).

    I’m glad to see you voicing what I’ve always thought and felt with a lot more eloquence and verbosity than I was ever willing to dedicate to the subject.

    1. The Specktre says:

      Same here. I really appreciate this post, Shamus. I’ve never thought of Ashley as a “space racist” and I’ve always liked her as a character.

  28. p_johnston says:

    I actually think that she is speciest. She is not the space KKK though. What her behavior reminded me is the kind of low level racism I see in a lot of people. They don’t want to hold weekly hate rallies, but they do have a tendency to lump people into a them vs us attitude. People who tend to make a lot of comments that are more cringworthy and thoughtlessly racist rather than actively hateful.
    I suppose what I’m getting at is that Ashley’s view seems to be that “They aren’t human and I put humans first.” Whereas the paragon Shepard option seems to be more “It doesn’t matter if we are made up of different species, races, and genders. We are still all one people and need to stand together.” If that makes sense.

    1. The Other Matt K says:

      Yeah, this. She definitely comes across as having her views on aliens. It is certainly possible to be racist without being ‘space KKK’. I think having that low-level bias humanizes her – it is a flaw, but one that you can understand the origins of.

      Now, Shamus seems to be indicating that those origins (the tension between mankind and humanity, the different visual appearance of aliens) somehow justifies the bias, which I don’t agree with. But I do think it makes it understandable as to how she got that way, and they avoiding making her viewpoint on it so extreme as to be the sole defining aspect of her character.

  29. Christopher says:

    I think she’s just realpolitik and isn’t afraid to show it. She IS a human who hasn’t had a ton of exposure to aliens and it is like being dropped in a foreign country, but at the same time she’s very much right on all counts.

    The behavior is ultimately very human. When given a choice wherein you help your tribe and another choice in which you help another tribe and that tribe claims it will help your tribe, most tribes picked helping themselves. Especially in what we would call extreme circumstances.

    She’s also dealing with the fact that earth, while certainly not a subject state, is now no longer the ‘big dog’ in the arena. Prior to the Contact War the humans thought they were alone in the universe with ancient tech whose creators seemed long dead.

    Suddenly they’re part of an intergalactic community in which they are relatively small fry. They just were shown that they aren’t able to stand toe to toe with even a fraction of the councils military might. That can shake people.

    Also I had forgotten she was religious because unlike many religious characters it’s not something she spouts off about constantly. She mentions it in one off hand comment, and then you can question her further on it, which is RUDE by the way, and then if you want to be a megadick you can imply her grandfathers a zombie.

    Liara is almost certainly religious as well, considering her race as a whole has two major religions they follow and she blasphemies “by the goddess” on a regular basis.

    That being said, if BioWare ever wanted to make a 40k game with Ashley returning as a Sister of Battle I wouldn’t complain :D

    1. I ‘unno man. You’ll never see me in church, but that don’t stop me from ‘blasphem’in’ on a minute-to-minute basis.

  30. Matthew Melange says:

    I still think that Ashley is a space racist. It makes her a lot more interesting, because even if I were to take the article’s point of view that she just has her own political opinions then she just comes off as someone who watches space Fox news. She’s still accusing the council races of being against humans. Which would be similar to saying something like all non-white senators are against white people.

    I do like the point of those few colorful sentences she said may just be her opinion on those matters when they’re brought up but we never see the opposite side of that. It would’ve been nice to see her actually help an alien, like dragging them out from a burning fire. It could’ve been a nice way to introduce Tali, by having Ashley give her medical treatment after their first firefight.
    So I still believe she’s a space racist.

    1. Pseudonym says:

      To be fair to Ashley, her references to the Council Races are – in the context of the Mass Effect universe – more like the kinds of complaints you get from Civil Rights organisations about representation in government. It’s not like the Council Races are a minority in an otherwise human-controlled senate. The Council Races seem, in essence, to be three alien species that have taken it upon themselves to tell the rest of the galaxy what do do.

  31. Ateius says:

    I didn’t min-max my Paragade meter when I played ME1. I finished the game with it roughly even (between 75-85 for both sides, iirc) and I was able to make almost every choice I wanted right up to the very end (I was locked out of the Renegade option in the final Saren confrontation, but still got Paragon). I just picked whichever options seemed appropriate, and dumped skillpoints into the Charm and Intimidate skilltrees.

    Sure, I wasn’t quite as big an unstoppable badass as I might otherwise have been, but honestly I was a pretty unstoppable badass anyway by endgame and I don’t know that slightly more bullets would have made an appreciable difference. I certainly don’t feel like my character was gimped at all, I wasn’t frustrated by opponents that seemed relatively too difficult, and I got to actually roleplay rather than pre-plan my responses according to the morality meter.

    Now, in ME2, they dropped the Charm/Intimidate skilltrees. There was no longer a way to boost your Paragade scores outside of direct dialogue choices (and interrupts). That was when we lost the ability to roleplay our character (or make interesting choices) without being locked out of dialogue choices in the lategame.

  32. Ite says:

    I feel that the “she’s a space racist” crowd is ignoring a rather key element to Mass Effect games: almost of all of the game happens in some kind of a military or paramilitary context. (This is actually one major reason why it actually makes some sense that your companions most of the time just follow you around and do nothing except shoot at what you’re shooting at.)

    Things such as access to places is not a trust thing in the military. It’s about regulation and authorization. Shepard isn’t really a by-the-book kind of commander, especially since being Spectre there really isn’t a book for her to follow. Ashley on the other hand is born and bred military. It would be weird if she wasn’t weirded out by seemingly rather random foreigners wandering around the ship all willy-nilly.

    Also we don’t talk about it much, but a key part of modern military training is learning to dehumanize “the others” so you can shoot them if necessary. And by shoot I mean kill. And of course you’re taught to follow orders. It’s not really a racist thing, more like subtle fascism that we don’t really like to address.

    Ashley shooting Wrex the way she did was one of the many things that I really like about that game. It’s one of those things that gives the game some bite.

    Ashley is generally likable IMO. Shepard is certainly supposed to be likable. Wrex is likable, and has very good reasons to be emotional. And yet Ashley doesn’t just shoot Wrex. She KILLS Wrex, with intent and focus. Because orders, because Shepard said so.

    Fucking military. Love them or don’t, but the game does not pretend this side of the military does not exist. Except of course if you make it about “OMG it’s Just Ashley Being Racist.”

    (Ashley should have been standing closer to Wrex though.)

  33. natureguy85 says:

    I’m glad for your comments on Ashley. Calling her racist is still common/popular but I’ve been arguing that she is nationalistic, not racist. It’s like if we were doing a joint project with some Iranian scientist, there would be things we wouldn’t want that scientist to know because he has different loyalties.

    As for Wrex, it depends on the dialogue with Ashley. Shepard can tell her to be ready if you hear her concerns and do either the top or middle option. However, Shepard can express confidence that Wrex will fall in line or tell her to drop it entirely, which she will acknowledge but advise that she will be watching Wrex closely. I still make the argument that she’s looking out for her CO after having given Shepard a few seconds with a gun pointed at him.

  34. CdrJameson says:

    Ashley is fundamentally speciesist, and the dialog shows this.

    Her choice of the dog analogy (and I’m sure other conversations) show that in her mind the alien races are fundamentally separate. They are not human, and being human (as opposed to sentient) is what counts to her. She’s not seeing them as ‘people’.

    Humanity may be the dog in her example, but she clearly sees aliens as ‘other’. I can’t see her ever having an alien as a friend.

  35. jd says:

    Meanwhile, Bioware now hires actual racists, constantly tweeting about how much they hate white people. Yeah, Andromeda won’t have much nuance with any characters like Ashley…

  36. peacemon says:

    I think the “is she a nazi or not” discussion doesn’t do it any service.

    Maybe I should point out how I met her. I, cosmopolitan Shepard, am trying to build a team and forge alliances beyond the limitations of race or any such thing. Deeply individualist, I judge the people I encounter on the basis of their personality, not their race. Mass Effect seems to encourage that. Then Ashley comes along, seemingly criticising that I allow access to the Normandy based on personal preference, instead of ethnicity.

    My first thought is: well of course, aliens are just as much saint or sinner as humans are. There’s no reason to trust some human more than to trust some Turian.

    Second thought is: you sound like some gun-toting midwest gal who will only trust her own kind and her guns.

    Third thought: You also made your point about God and afterlife and stuff, so I’m not sure if I can take you seriously. Because honestly, I think that’s bullshit.

    BUT! I’ve still learned to respect you.

    While I disagree with the “defend yourself against anyone else, trust only your own kind” stuff, I do see you have a point. While I disagree with the notion that only humans can be trusted, I do see there’s a reason why you think so. I may disagree with your views on meaning and higher purpose and afterlife and shit, but I’m humble enough to not claim my point of view is the only correct one.

    We disagree on things, I may bite my tongue on some matters, but I know you do too. I’m aware that what I demand of you isn’t easy for you, and I appreciate that you are going with it nonetheless. I deeply respect you as a human being and as an invaluable member of my team.

    See what ME1 is doing here? I deeply care about a fictional character, maybe more than I should. I imagine Ashley’s got to bite her tongue much more than I do. Earning respect that I usually don’t grant people who think their own kind is in any way better. I disagree with her views, but she does with mine. She tries to get over her reservations, and I feel compelled to do too.

    She cares about me. I care about her. No matter the differences. I’ve never “romanced” her btw, this is earnest.

    It is incredibly rare that a game makes me care about a fictional character, and it’s incredibly rare that I get to respect someone with such different views. This only shows how great ME1 is if you ask me.

  37. Mr. Wolf says:

    I cannot for the life of me figure out how the Normandy managed to land like that.

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