Warning: Mild Mass Effect 3 spoilers.

Mass Effect 3 has several bonding missions for Shepherd and a crew member. They aren’t quite as complicated as the loyalty missions in the first two installments of the franchise. They are simple cut scenes with a few dialogue options. One in particular has stuck with me since I finished the game. About half way through the game, Garrus sends you an email asking you to meet him on the Citadel to go on a little adventure. When you go to meet him, he drives you up on top of a bridge, and you have a bottle shooting contest. On the third and final bottle, you have the option to miss the shot on purpose and make Garrus the winner (this is also the paragon option) or take the shot.

Neither option has long-term repercussions and the situation is the same for both male Shep and fem Shep. However, this choice bothered me a lot. This is the only point that I can recall in the games where Shepherd is given the option to make herself seem inferior to her teammates in some way. There are many instances where she has the option to make herself personable and “one of the guys,” but never to undersell her skills. I ended up replaying this mission several times, and I didn’t like either decision.

The context here is important. Shepherd is a human, and she takes the place of the player in this world. Even though this is a sci-fi world with aliens and artificial intelligences, the game is still subject to criticism based in the real world. One of the biggest reasons for this is that there is no evidence that gender dynamics have changed that much in the Mass Effect universe. The Asari may be a proud matriarchal society, but they are also all women. Women are missing from many major military and political positions, particularly with humans. Hackett, Anderson, and Udina–the few humans Shepherd actually has to occasionally answer to–are all men. In the FemShep experience, they never put her down for her gender, but the lack of women in these roles is significant.

It is pretty amazing that, if you play FemShep, the first human Spectre is a woman (and possibly a queer woman, depending on who you decide to romance). However, there isn’t really a way to explore this in the games. Your sexuality and gender is unilaterally accepted without also having significant human NPCs in the same position. And that’s not to say that matters of prejudice aren’t explored in the game. It’s just that Shepherd never has the opportunity to examine her own position.

┬áIn this instance, I think that male and female Shepherd should have different options for this scene or it should have been restructured to address Garrus’s feelings of inferiority in some other way. While I like that male and female Shepherd have largely the same experience, I think that this is an instance of painting with too broad a brush. A man purposefully missing a shot to make his male teammate feel better about himself just doesn’t have the same implications as a woman doing the same–regardless of the species of that teammate. And to make taking the shot the asshole option is even worse.