We all go through stages in our lives where particular stories or characters become more meaningful, based on what we are going through. Often we cling to these stories when they help us through difficult times or have a strong connection because of the good memories we tie to the season when we were playing the games. It helps when a video game has a protagonist that is relatable – one with human emotions and struggles we can connect with. In RPGs that connection is often fostered by the role-playing aspect, where we can input our own choices through those characters. One game series that seems to truly capture what it is to be human in all seasons of life is Mass Effect. For this N7 Day, we (Emily and Steven) have decided to take a look at why we find the Mass Effect protagonists Shepard and Ryder so relatable, and how these characters intersecting with different parts of our lives affect each time we play Mass Effect.
Overall, which Mass Effect protagonist (Shepard or Ryder) did you find you related to most?
Emily: I definitely connected to Ryder a lot more than I did Shepard, which is probably why I’ve played Andromeda more than the original trilogy. They are an explorer at heart, where Shepard is a soldier. I’m an anthropologist, and I value learning as an adventure. I also feel more connected to Ryder’s story because they were just handed all of this responsibility in a difficult time, and even though they felt very underqualified and out of their element, they stepped up. I always want to be the character that might not be as talented or strong as some choices, but is willing to do what needs to be done.
Steven: I personally connected with Shepard more. I spent over 250 hours with The Commander in the first game alone. This was partially due to the fact that it was the first game that I got with my 360. I also connected with Shepard more because, as Emily said, he is a soldier. While I’m not a soldier by trade I have always acted as a protector. Whether it is in video games or in life I’m a fighter and I want to help.
Is there a specific time in your life where you felt particularly connected to Shepard or Ryder?
Emily: I play Mass Effect in the winter a lot. It’s cold, it’s dark, and I usually have seasonal depression. It’s a good game to settle down with and take your mind on an adventure through space, and kiss some aliens.
Steven: In games where I can create my own character I try to play them as close to how I am in life. I try to make the choices that I would actually make… so I guess my answer is always?
In an average playthrough (reaper trilogy) do you find yourself making more Renegade or Paragon choices?
Emily: I think I played a pretty even mix of renegade and paragon. Most characters I make in RPGs are kindhearted assholes. They do good deeds while they make sarcastic comments, and even when they might make darker choices, they care about their friends.
Steven: Throughout all of my playthroughs I probably made more renegade choices than paragon, unless it determined a squad mates loyalty, this is due to my overwhelming need to make as many people happy as humanly possible… even if they are just video game characters.
In Andromeda did you find yourself leaning more towards one tone (emotional, logical, casual, professional)?
Emily: Similarly to the previous question, I had a balance for my Ryder. Because of the connection, I feel to the character I play Ryder a lot like myself. She’s logical and a bit of a hardass when it comes to work, but more casual with some emotional when it comes to her friends.
Steven: I am a pretty laid back person, so that’s how I played Ryder. Yeah, he had a job to do but you better believe he was doing it on his own time.
Emily: I think our Ryders could actually be siblings and it would make a lot of sense.
Did seasons in your life impact the choices you made as either ME protagonist?
Emily: I’d say they didn’t necessarily impact my choices because I play most games with the same approach and always have, but I think I turn to those choices for different reasons depending on the season I’m in. When I’m happy, it’s fun to act a bit like an asshole and give people attitude. When I’m dealing with difficult situations in real life, like I was for a large part of the time when I was playing ME: A, it felt good to have a supportive crew of space friends who had my back in another galaxy.
Steve: Season as in Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer? No, but seasons as in phases of my life? Yeah for sure. I started playing ME1 when I was a freshman in high school I was angry at the world, but as the series progressed and I grew as a person, my feelings towards life changed. I was a happier person and as a result, I made happier choices.
How do the characters you play as impact your connections to games overall?
Emily: I like to be able to tell stories in games, and I always connect more in a game where I feel like the character I play allows me to experience and impact the game world in some way. I want to forge connections with other characters. That’s something I love about Mass Effect because the way you play influences whether other characters like you at all.
Steven: I think it depends on how much time I spend with that character. Characters like Commander Shepard, Master Chief, and Arthur Morgan made lasting impressions on me as a person. Characters, as long as they have a justified reason for doing what they are doing, should always affect the player.
Mass Effect is a game series that lets the player be a part of an exciting story, make tough choices, and develop friendships. Shepard and Ryder aren’t just fantastic heroes, they are characters with personalities we can connect to as through them we face difficulties and overcome them. We can be explorers building ourselves a new home among the stars, or soldiers fighting to protect the people we care about while stopping the destruction of the galaxy, all while punching a few reporters and kissing a few aliens. Sometimes, when life gets hard, that’s exactly what we need.
Bonus Question! Why is Garrus the best squadmate?
Steven: He’s the ultimate space bro. He’s the archangel. He’s space batman, no one does calibrations like that guy… in all seriousness, he is one of the only other people that goes through almost all the shit Shepard goes through, and he’s a crack shot.
Emily: Garrus is the really cool guy you can’t believe is actually your friend, who ends up being the most supportive person in your life. He can also take out all your enemies. Friendship goals.