When the Asari were first presented to the world in the 2007 game Mass Effect, BioWare’s inclusion of the blue skinned humanoid creatures seemed like an easy thing to dismiss, a lazy trope that should’ve died with most of the sexist '60s science fiction tropes.
But what if deconstructing the green space babe trope can be not only a way of bringing more inclusivity to your games, but also makes your game more profitable? Alexandra M. Lucas, one of the content writers for Microsoft Cortana, believes it is.
To reinvent a classic science fiction trope, a sexpot that has enthralled star captains and large alien slug monsters for decades, would take work. But maybe the writers at Mass Effect have already started the task.
Blue Skin/Green Skin
Just who is the blue skinned space babe? If you’ve watched a science fiction movie in the last fifty or so years, you’ve seen her ilk. She’s a suspiciously humanoid looking alien lifeform with green (in later years, blue has been used more as the green has become almost an immediate sign of parody or self reference) skin, with a slim waist, large breasts, and big eyes and some feature that makes her not quite human. Maybe she has large tendril like ears or ridges above her brow. She’s a sexually insatiable creature, maybe a lounge singer or club dancer, interested and ready to seduce our white male protagonist. From Captain Kirk to Peter Quill, many a star captain has been possessed by the creeping sexual clutches of these women. She’s a sexual object, just with a hint of green body paint.
The Asari are a conscious reaction to that trope.
Where the space babe is sexually insatiable, the Asari are sex positive. Where the space babe is infantile or seen only as sexual creatures, the Asari are supposed to pursue science and education before returning to their community to share their knowledge. Asari women are prized for their diplomacy, biotic powers, and the Asari are one of the first space faring creatures to reach out into the galaxy and find the citadel.
In Lucas’s opinion, they are a direct subversion of the Triple Goddess -- the Maiden, Mother & Crone. A literary and sociological construct, the Triple Goddess is a life cycle where the maiden is a young huntress searching for a partner, the mother is a font of creation and life, and the crone is an unsexy soothsayer, spouting doom from the corners of abandoned streets.
The Asari life cycle, by contrast, is about community and self-actualization. The Asari Maiden is a scientist or mercenary. She’s meant to go forth and find herself, not a man to become her husband. When you meet your Asari companion Dr. Liara T’Soni, she’s relatively young in her life cycle but she’s already a respected Protean researcher ready to investigate the galaxy. “The value there is based on their intelligence vs. the maiden where the goal is to find a mate,” Lucas explains. Liara can participate sexually with the player if you choose the romance route, but her initial interest in you is based in scientific curiosity -- Shepard touched a Protean artifact earlier in the story. And besides, part of the Asari young adulthood is about experimentation and sexuality, embracing those elements as a part of a natural and healthy life.
Likewise, the Mother and Crone elements of the Triple Goddess expressed in the Asari life cycle are more focused on consent, respect, and wisdom. Throughout, sex and reproduction are treated as fun, consensual and optional. Older Asari women can be intelligent and ruthless and assertive, sexually empowered whether they choose to engage with seduction or not. Where the green space babe is determined by her attractiveness to the male protagonist, the Asari characters have lives and desires all their own.
Socially and Ethically Profitable
While speaking at the GDC Narrative Summit, Lucas told her audience about how there are several different character metric variations, from age to ethnicity to gender identity and on to sexuality. These, as she put it, are avenues for the writers in the industry to exercise some creativity. “Move the slider all the way over and see what happens,” as she put it.
She suggests consulting and paying experts when talking about identities that are not your own. Embracing women's sexuality not as a terrifying creation to be feared, but a consensual and thoughtful part of the human existence. All of this enriches the shared experience and increases the player base of people who want to see characters that are like them, who have been waiting to play themselves.
“We wield enormous powers as producers of entertainment media, so please try. We owe it to future generations to give them a platform to communicate the progressive and inclusive ideals we want to see in the world.”