Playing a Black Commander Shepard, Part 1 – “Rich with Daddy Issues”

In video games on March 7, 2012 at 1:47 am

In every Bioware developed game the player has to deal with intimacy between other characters. Yes, that sounds about as strange to a person that doesn’t play games as it did to me when I wrote it. Obviously, it isn’t actual intimacy but more like a simulation of it. It’s an optional mini-game. The player must interact with the characters through dialogue trees to determine what type of relationship he/she would like to have with each character: professional, friendly or that’s my boo.

Sounds silly, but over the years, Bioware has really mastered this aspect of their games. In the case of ME2, the characters are so intriguing and the dialogue between them and Shepard are so well written that you really get into it. But, for those who don’t care for it there is a strategic reason to play this mini game. The way you interact with your crew will determine what happens to them in this game and the next and, if you don’t work on the relationships with your crew you can all die.

So, faced with having to build a relationship with Miranda, Jacks and Tali’Zorah, I slid into this rather strange role as the Black Commander of a spaceship crew. As the hours passed, I began to consider the experiences of American Black men and the kind of guy I thought this Shepard was. I started to ask what kind of relationships do I feel comfortable building with these three women? I was surprised to learn by the end that the result was an uncanny reflection of my personal experiences and personal bias.

“Miranda Lawson is a rich white woman with daddy issues”

Shepard’s Executive Officer, Miranda Lawson, is the daughter of a powerful businessman who had her artificially created for pique intelligence and attractiveness. This quality of Miranda ends up being the centerpiece of her personal story (and one that presented the most problems for me). Seemingly perfect in ability and appearance, she is an incredibly privileged woman who is dealing with a demanding father.

I really wanted to build a closer relationship with Miranda. Her icy demeanor made me wonder what kind of person she was underneath her uncompromising logic and professionalism. [I did enjoy her side story where she breaks character and shows true vulnerability for a sister that she tries to keep away from her father]. But, my interactions with Miranda forced me to acknowledge a personal bias. I have an issue with spoiled rich white women, and the game forced me to make decisions where this was shockingly thrown in my face in what was perhaps one of the best therapy sessions I’ve ever experienced.

I once worked with someone just like Miranda. She was a white woman from a privilege background who just so happen to be working with and for a very different demographic. She also had issues with an abusive father. I liked her, a lot even, but I hesitate to say that we got along. We had our moments, long stretches of them, in fact. But, inevitably we would get into it over something and eventually we became two people who were not able to work comfortably in the same space.

Like my coworker, Miranda and I often but not always butted heads around important decisions. I had an issue with her attitude, something that my activist colleagues would call white privilege. And it’s important to note that I didn’t feel this way about the other white female crewmembers. (I loved the ships doctor and I flirted with the ships shrink every chance I got). I found it interesting that as the game went on her and Jacob began to get into disagreements. Jacob was clearly someone that I looked at as a brother (in the Black ideological sense of the word), so after a while she started to rub me the wrong way.

Slowly, throughout my play through I noticed we were not getting along so I used every conversation opportunity to build a good rapport with her. I liked Miranda as a character and I wanted her to be an ally. I wasn’t sure what kind because I kept having trouble relating to her, but I did value her and desperately wanted to explore why.

After her side quest where we managed to keep her sister safe, Miranda and I began to get along fine. At that point, there was the matter of deciding what type of relationship I would have with her. I flirted with the idea, coming into her office to talk with this new and more open Miranda Lawson. If I kept coming to talk to her after missions and such, I would get to the bottom of this character, I thought. I could get beyond the perfect physique and amazing hair, the callousness, the rhetoric, the obsession with being correct or being heard. The privilege. I figured, but the end of the game that I would understand Miranda, and I hoped by extension, my former coworker. Actually, I was convinced this would happen, until the moment Jacks entered her office.

Jacks and Miranda were arguing and after getting the facts around what they were arguing about it became obvious that I had to pick a side and end the dispute. Neither character had a truly correct position but it was Miranda and the way she talked to Jacks that kept rubbing me the wrong way. She was essentially talking down to a character that I had just learned (through Jacks’ side quest) was abused and tortured throughout her entire childhood. It was a classic case of a person of wealth devaluing the oppression of another person… and I was not cool with that shit.

I had to make a decision. I sided with Jacks. Little did I know, however, the person you side with becomes unquestionably loyal. The other person, Miranda in my case, no longer trusts you. But, here’s the kicker…no matter how you play the final mission, and believe me, I played it eight different times, she dies.

I applaud the writers for the way they wrote her character. Miranda is genetically perfect and she acts like it. We don’t have genetically perfect people in the real world but we do have near perfect looking rich people and some of them do, in fact, struggle with separating their supposed better ways with the way everyone else behaves. “The educated need to be street-ucated,” a colleague of mine would say.

Although I appreciated the humanity they gave Miranda she never rose above a rich spoiled white woman with daddy issues, one that my version of Commander Shepard would never mess with. As for my coworker, no she did not die — heaven forbid — but I did quit a few months later.

The galaxy just wasn’t big enough for the both of us.

* Like it? Check out Playing a Black Commander Shepard, Part 2Brotha Jacob Taylor and Part 3 A Gangsta and a Ridah ain’t the Same Thing.

  1. Enjoyed reading this. I am playing Mass Effect 2 right now, and may I ask where did you get that picture of Miranda?

  2. On my first playthrough I didn’t get Miranda killed because you can just rip them a new one with enough Renegade. If you played it EIGHT times and still couldn’t save her, I think you have some major issues with wealthy white chicks.

  3. […] BlackShep on cover art is not racist. It’s just a choice. Few of the FemShep fanatics though dwell on BlackShep or any of the issues that come out of that. I don’t know why that is, but maybe it’s […]

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