Why Do We Talk About Mass Effect's Asari as if They Are Women?

Morinth is dead.

Infected with a curse and known as an Ardat-Yakshi, she was never really alive. Any sexual intimacy she instigated would kill her partner. Morinth’s alien kindred offered her a life of celibacy and seclusion. She chose to run instead, fucking who she wanted, and setting the unjust world aflame. Her mother, Samara, lives. She hunts Morinth, and once she is dead, Samara will return to her other daughters. For her family, Morinth represents shame, the dark, the things we should not become. If Morinth’s sisters chose to run, they too would be dead, like Morinth is.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/4av5mb/why-do-we-talk-about-mass-effects-asari-as-if-they-are-women

The distinction between title of this piece, versus its contents, are interesting. The “surface” answer to the title question - “We talk about Asari as women because they’re coded as women both superficially (their character models are feminine, their voice actors are all women) and thematically” - isn’t really deserving of an article, since its fairly blatant. The actual point of the article - why should the “single-sex” species in Mass Effect be so obviously unchallenging as one designed to be sexually attractive to (presumed male) players, and what does the failure of ME to engage on what it’s own choices imply say about it? - is much more interesting.

(Although I do think it fumbles a bit with the over-contraction of its argument for D&D being racist - having an intelligence stat doesn’t make it racist… but applying “intelligence modifiers” for being a particular race does, especially when those races (really species…) are coded with racial signifiers from our own world.)


I believe it’s always good to keep in mind that writers typically don’t set the title. For this and many other articles with titles that do not actually correspond to the writing, for whatever reason.

Anyhow, I liked this article a lot. It brings to my mind the myriad attempts of otherness in games that have often, still, fallen into very stereotypical molds of sexualization and gender. And, of course, I’m always weak to an author quoting Le Guin for their text. Mass Effect to me intentionally hammered in on the surface level pulp of 70’s sci-fi, and while the style was great I always wished the writing would go beyond the most simple archetypes.

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Yeah, my opening sentence was going to mention that this is a copyeditor problem, not necessarily a writer problem…

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