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"Mass Effect" (2007): Shepard Vs Ryder


Ash has an embarrassingly deep love of all things "Mass Effect." Her favorite is the original first game.

Fanart of Shepard and Ryder.

Fanart of Shepard and Ryder.

For some context, I'm a huge fan of the original trilogy, but I didn't play Mass Effect: Andromeda until very recently. The reason it took me so long to actually play the game was a combination of life events getting in the way, and also no longer trusting BioWare to make a game I could actually enjoy . . . I hated Dragon Age: Inquisition and was still pissed about the end of Mass Effect 3.

So when I played Andromeda, I was pleasantly surprised that I actually liked the game, even its spineless protagonist . . Ha. I went online to see if others felt the same, but a lot of fans actually hate Ryder for not being more like Shepard. This was surprising to me. Why would people want Ryder to be a Shepard clone? Why would they want to play the exact same protagonist again?

At the same time, however, I see what these people are saying: Ryder did not have to be like Shepard in order to stand up for herself. Throughout the story, Ryder is insulted and dismissed, ignored and disrespected, and she just takes it. It's the exact opposite of Shepard's story, in which the commander was respected, loved, and feared by basically everyone (and shot anyone who didn't fall in line).

While all of this is true, I think people are missing the point of Ryder's character and her role as Pathfinder, so I'm going to fill you all in.

Spectre Vs Pathfinder

Fanart of Shepard and Ryder.

Fanart of Shepard and Ryder.

As I said before, I understand where these frustrated gamers are coming from. I had finished the first three planets in Andromeda, got chewed out by the Moshae after saving her sorry ass, and suddenly realized I was tired of playing a passive character who let everyone walk all over her. This feeling was only intensified by all the events on Kadara, a crappy criminal world that is a bit like Omega, the criminal space station from Mass Effect 2.

In a fit of rebellion, I had Ryder get smart with Sloane, then wrestle her gun from her and almost shoot her, and . . . it felt so good to finally have Ryder sass someone, fight back, and stand up for herself. When I left the encounter and went to speak with Reyes, he laughed (good naturedly) at me for having blown my chance, and I suddenly realized why Ryder was such a pushover: they kind of have to be.

Shepard and Ryder fan art.

Shepard and Ryder fan art.

Shepard and Ryder aren't better or worse than the other. They were both forced to play a role in order to win against the odds in their story, and they were both the exact person needed for their specific story.

Shepard did not choose to join the Spectres. She was asked. Spectres are not diplomats. They are like the secret agents of the galaxy, there to do the council's dirty work, even it means breaking the law and breaking a few bones. They are there to get the job done at whatever the cost in order to uphold council law and keep the peace.

In sharp contrast, Ryder is a Pathfinder. She is not working for an established government. On the contrary, she's trying to establish one. This means she must remain diplomatic at all times, kiss everyone's butt, and do everyone's bidding with a smile on her face, even as they insult and dismiss her. It's a little similar to Shepard trying to help humans find a place in the galaxy in the first Mass Effect, but even then, Shepard could still get away with telling the council to go to hell (so great) because there was already an established government and absolutely nothing depended on her being nice to the council. Even the council knew and respected Shepard's reputation. It's why they made her a Spectre.

Being Pathfinder means being an alien to the aliens. It means being judged and dismissed, disrespected and doubted by people who don't know you and have every right to dismiss you. The Pathfinder is a newcomer. Unlike Shepard, they do not have a reputation in their own galaxy, let alone the new one.

The Pathfinder kind of . . . has to be a wuss. It's required to keep the peace. It makes for frustrating roleplay, watching Ryder get walked over by everyone, but it's also interesting to navigate and different from Shepard's role as a Spectre, which I can appreciate.

Millennials are Not to Blame

Shepard and her crew greet Ryder and her crew.

Shepard and her crew greet Ryder and her crew.

I've noticed a lot of (paranoid, male) fans complaining that Millennials are to blame for the state of the Andromeda protagonist. As is typical, they view Ryder being passive (and not walking around in boob armor) as a SJW conspiracy and accuse BioWare of being "liberal losers" (because respecting women is for losers, I guess . . .)

I think people keep forgetting that Millennials are not young twenty-somethings anymore, so this game was not targeted at us. In fact, it was more likely made by us and targeted at the younger generation. Millennials are in their thirties and forties right now. I think I had actually turned thirty when Andromeda was released, while I was twenty-one when the first Mass Effect came out. Originally, I was part of the targeted age bracket. Now I'm not. A lot of us hated Millennials still play video games (obviously) but the games are no longer targeted at us, so this game was not made to appeal to us. (Seems like it's just the thing to blame us for everything these days, though.)

So Ryder being spineless has nothing to do Millennials or with "SJWs." There is no evil conspiracy to make everyone more tolerant and less bigoted. It's just a part of Ryder's role as Pathfinder to be a doormat. It's also a(n unfortunate) part of their personality to be that way, and I believe this was done to set them apart from Shepard, not to appeal to any one group.

Ryder is Supposed to Be the Anti-Shepard

Fanart of Shepard and the Ryder twins.

Fanart of Shepard and the Ryder twins.

Back when the game was first being promoted, BioWare made a big deal about Ryder being nothing like Shepard. I think they wanted to differentiate between the two in the hopes of drawing in old fans wanting a fresh story and new fans who knew nothing about the original trilogy.

But it's not just Ryder's role as Pathfinder that makes her a wuss. It's also her personality. Ryder is a not hardened super soldier like Shepard. Scott Ryder barely has military experience, and Sara Ryder is basically Liara if Liara were the protagonist of a story (she's an archeologist who's only fought a few space pirates while on expedition but nothing serious).

Shepard is an older character who's been hardened by the tragedies of war, while Ryder's tragedies happen during the prologue of Andromeda. When we meet Shepard, she has already grown into an adult and is the person she is meant to be. When we meet Ryder, she is still growing. It's like Andromeda is Ryder's origin story.

Ryder is a Doormat Due to Childhood Neglect

This was actually how my Ryders looked, lol. Not my image, though.

This was actually how my Ryders looked, lol. Not my image, though.

There are those who have said that being twenty-two is not an excuse for being a wuss, and I agree. To understand why Ryder is such a big pushover, you would have to look at their childhood and upbringing. Our parents and the way they raise us shapes us for the rest of our lives. They either do a crappy job, and we spend the rest of our lives undoing the damage, or they do a great job and we excel in our youth and beyond.

The kind of person who grows up to be a doormat and a wuss typically had a parent who bullied them and neglected them, so they were essentially victimized by their own caretaker and never learned to defend themselves from harm. In fact, these kind of people often become selfless and loving in a subconscious attempt to win the unconditional affection, love, and praise that they needed as children.

Sounds like Ryder to a T. You cannot play an evil character in this game. Ryder is by default a selfless Paragon.

This was the Alec I had after choosing Asian presets for the Ryder twins.

This was the Alec I had after choosing Asian presets for the Ryder twins.

You can either role play Ryder as being close to Alec or having a strained relationship with him. I think either way, Alec Ryder was a neglectful father due to his career as an N7 and also due to his obsession with trying to save his dying wife. As a result of this, he neglected his children, and what little interaction he had with them came from a cold military man, who insisted (most shockingly) that his kids call him "sir" instead of "dad" and obey him like his little soldiers or something.

When I was going through Habitat 7, I couldn't escape the feeling that Alec was emotionally abusive. He came across more intimidating and dictating than fatherly, affectionate, or loving. By the end of the prologue, it's revealed that this wasn't because he didn't love his children but rather because he didn't know how to show his love.

This is further revealed in Alec's unlocked memories through SAM, where he is shown struggling to hold a normal conversation with the Ryder twins. He awkwardly remarks that the kids are taller while searching for something to say, and Scott quips, "That tends to happen, Dad . . ."

Alec's love for Ryder is demonstrated in the fact that he gave up everything, risked everything to save them. He passed on SAM and made Ryder Pathfinder so that they would survive. This meant placing a tremendous burden on his child, putting the Initiative at risk, and screwing over Cora, who he'd been training to become Pathfinder in his place. But he did it anyway because that's how much he loved his kids, just as he was willing to be discharged from the Alliance in his attempts to save his wife.

It's a plot ripped straight from Tali in the original Mass Effect. Tali's father was a military man who didn't know how to show his emotions and whose responsibilities to the Migrant Fleet didn't permit him to spend much time with his daughter. As a result, Tali grew up wondering if he really loved her.

If you think about it, playing as Ryder is kind of like playing a cross between Tali and Liara (a male version of Tali if you're playing Scott).

Ryder's "Wussiness" Was Needed

My first Ryder looked a lot like this one. The Asian preset is so beautiful.

My first Ryder looked a lot like this one. The Asian preset is so beautiful.

So because of Alec's neglect, Ryder is a pushover and a wuss who goes out of her way to help everyone, puts everyone else first, and herself last. As it turns out, this was exactly the kind of person needed to become Pathfinder.

Think about it. You spend most of the game (basically all of the game) dealing with the angara, who are an emotionally open and honest people. Jaal even complains (in party banter with PeeBee) that humans are not open enough with their feelings. Ryder is very open, honest, and expressive, but could you imagine stoic, distant Alec making peace with the angara? Ryder only manages to win their trust because she's honest, free with her emotions, and shows that she cares about people. Alec was completely incapable of this.

In the end, Ryder is the way she is for a reason very specific to the story, and not to appeal to "SJWs" or "feminists" or whoever else gamers love making up paranoid conspiracy theories about.

Ryder is More Relatable

Another screenshot of beautiful Asian Ryder.

Another screenshot of beautiful Asian Ryder.

I think the biggest reason people prefer Shepard over Ryder is that Ryder is realistic while Shepard is a power fantasy.

A lot of people play video games to self-insert themselves into a power fantasy. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's one of the reasons I love Shepard so much.

Ryder is the exact opposite of a power fantasy. Shepard is the person you want to be, while Ryder is probably the person you actually are. If you saw people looting in the streets, would you really go up to them and shoot them or threaten them? Shepard would, and why wouldn't she? By Mass Effect 2, Shepard is a cyborg on top of already being a genetically enhanced super soldier. But Ryder, the Everyman, would only do so much as acknowledge the looting was happening and then keep walking to stay out of trouble.

Shepard commands fear and respect everywhere she goes, while reputation-less, baby-faced Ryder commands only dismissal and ridicule. I remember during the assault on the Exaltation base, one of the angara laughed and mocked my Ryder with, "What's wrong, alien? Can't keep up?" My Ryder was doing just fine combat-wise, but this snarky angara still felt the need to insult her in the middle of a battle.

I think it was good that they had some of the angara be assholes and some of them be decent. They were depicted as a nuanced people with flaws, rather then helpless good-guy victims or something. At the same time, the angara's disrespect also had a wonderful way of playing into Ryder's arc as an unsung hero.

Ryder is not the typical heroic badass who saves the day and gets the girls (in fact, her romance is highly likely to flirt with someone else while she's standing there!). She's a down-to-earth, dorky, passive nerd, horrified by the dangers she must face, rather than hard and fearless. She is what the player would really be like if they were placed inside the game, even the ones that insist otherwise. She is Shepard with every power fantasy aspect stripped clean away, leaving a vulnerable and imperfect person laid bare for everyone to criticize.

Personally, I like that they did something new and different from Shepard, and I liked that they explored the Everyman trope this time, rather than a power fantasy. But people who are here for a power fantasy . . . are not going to like it.

Funny fan art of a retired Shepard warning Ryder.

Funny fan art of a retired Shepard warning Ryder.

In the end, Ryder is a great protagonist. She's not better or worse than Shepard, just . . . diferent.

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