Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Costume Changes

I am so excited for Mass Effect 3. BioWare's Mass Effect 2, released in 2010, captured my imagination in ways that few games since Knights of the Old Republic had. Although the core ideas were Star Wars-esque (space battles plus an energy force that granted magical powers), Mass Effect had a distinct visual style, fully-realized characters, dynamic action, and fascinating aliens. The third game, set to be released on March 6 of this year, looks like it will deliver great new characters along with new planets and bigger battles. As a writer, it's the characters that interest me the most.

A lot of exciting information has come out already. I'm happy with what they've shown of the new squad mate, James Vega, so far. A scene recently released to GameTrailers shows off both the way Shepard can interact wth him (fistsfights! awesome!) and a hint at troubles he might have had in the past. It looks like he has a solid backstory and will be a reliable person for Shepard to have around in trying times. New costume images have been released for one of my favorite ME2 characters, Jack, as well for as ME1 squad mates Ashley, Kaidan, and Liara. I'm not happy with the direction the story seems to be taking Joker, but at this point most major plot points are only rumor. We'll have to wait another few months to really find out what happens.

However, we've got some final costume designs to look at, and there has been a lot of talk among fans and developers about what the costume changes mean to the characters who wear them. The one that concerns me the most is Jack.

Even before my male Shepard romanced her I thought her backstory and attitude was interesting. A foul-mouthed, nearly half-naked woman doesn't seem like the usual fare for your pretty conservative host here, but I think Jack's costume choice pointedly reflects the way she sees herself in the same way that her language reflects her tough background. She's covered in tattoos that show her past events and gang loyalties as well as just being what she does when she's bored. Although her ME2 costume bothered me at first, the more my Shepard talked to her the more I thought that Jack wasn't wearing her minimalist clothing to show off her body, but rather, to show off her tattoos. She's all about playing tough, and the markings were a way for her to show that toughness without saying a word. Her shaved head and piercings serve the same purpose. She's not trying to show off to be flirtatious: unlike Miranda, she doesn't see her body as powerful in that way. If she engages in a physical relationship with Shepard before working through her emotional issues she becomes withdrawn and angry toward him. Because of this I don't see the causal romance option as something designed to cater solely to a male audience: it's an important part of her characterization. She's experienced with people seeing her body as something to acquire, but that doesn't help her see herself in a healthy light. Therefore, in her mind, she replaces her body with the tattoos. Showing them off isn't a way for her to get romantic attention: instead, it's the bright colors that warn when an animal is poisonous. She hides behind the tattoos, and as you progress with her dialogue options through the game, especially as a male Shepard, you get to see her come out from behind that shell.

I realize that this is just a fan theory. Mass Effect 3's art director, Derek Watts, has this to say about her  new costume: "Maybe she’s softened up a bit. You can only stay punk rock for so long, you know. Even Johnny Rotten eventually goes, ‘I’ve got to do something different.’ She’d get tired of walking around completely naked and she’d probably grow her hair out, but she’s still Jack and still kinda punk...". "Got tired of walking around completely naked" doesn't exactly encompass what I wrote above. However, I've grown attached to Jack over the last few years and wanted to explain what exactly I think would be consistent with her character in ME3.

This is the concept art that got me thinking.

Keep in mind that the image above is not confirmed to be the final design: there are other possible costumes for Jack floating around out there, varying from more to less revealing. Yes, I usually like conservative clothing. Yes, having problems with franchise costumes is nearly one of my pastimes. But I think I've got something to back me up here. Because if Jack in ME2 was showing off her tattoos, not her body, then the kinder, gentler Jack in ME3 would probably be functioning on some psychological level under the same idea. I don't like that the costume above shows off her chest and stomach, because the Jack who I interacted with didn't seem to be emphasizing those body parts. She wasn't about emphasis at all, but rather about a whole picture. She sees herself as work of art, and the fact that that work was the product of fear and a lashing out against her life circumstances makes it extra interesting.

So my plea to BioWare is this: for Jack's changed costume, don't give her a bikini. Dress her in something that's going to reflect her personal views on herself: creatively minimal clothing if she wants to continue to show off the tattoos, or a less revealing costume if she wants to hide the signs of her past. Having her in something in-between takes away a very little bit of the uniqueness that drew me to her in the second game.

Of course, what really matters is what the character does and says. Clothing is not the be-all and end-all of characterization. I look forward to seeing how Jack interacts with Shepards of both genders.

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