From the first moment I saw Commander Shepard, protagonist of Bioware’s Mass Effect series, I knew I wanted to be her.
I came into the series at an unusual point, playing the second game first after receiving it for free. I had no idea what I was getting into, and I didn’t even play it for the first several months I owned it. I was dissuaded by the cover – the requisite gaming male hero and his sexy female companion didn’t engender much faith in me. Then I entered the game and realized I could customize my own character and my love affair began, but this is about so much more than my adoration of Mass Effect.
The second game opens with Shepard literally being brought back to life, having died when their ship exploded. You can customize a lot about how your Shepard looks, but there’s one thing you can’t change in the character creator of Mass Effect 2- Shepard’s scars. They serve as testimony of being resurrected from the dead, and they’re hardly subtle. My Shepard was pale, and the scars are a deep, blowing red that took up a lot of her face real estate.
The decisions you make in the game shape how Shepard’s scars heal- or don’t. At one point, you can receive technology that will completely get rid of them. At first I was eager. Scars didn’t seem like a mark of beauty for me. I’m not proud of this way of thinking, and I’m especially not proud of it in light of what I am.
I have a lot of scars; I might have more than the average person, though I try not to count. In the future I’ll have more, and they’ll be even bigger and more obtrusive. Right now they’re small and probably mostly invisible to people who aren’t doing a minute examination of my skin, but that doesn’t seem to stop me from being keenly aware of them at all times. They certainly don’t help my own fragile sense of self-appearance- the ones on my arms are fairly easy to hide, but I have some small facial scars, and I have persistent bruising and marking on my stomach from insulin injections that make it nearly impossible to wear a crop top or swimsuit, both staples of a California lifestyle. Then in came Shepard.
Her scars were mandatory and they were large. They could fade in time, but I ended up finding a mod that let me keep them as they were, a bright banner of the battles she had fought. Shepard was scarred, but it showed the things she had survived and endured. It showed she had seen death and somehow managed to escape – as someone with a terminal illness, this was especially key. And, perhaps most importantly to me, Shepard was loved.
For me, Shepard’s romance was Garrus, but the who isn’t truly important. I’ll only note that Garrus is scarred himself, a mass of tissue that takes up a good half of his face. The most important thing is that Shepard’s choice of love interest doesn’t care that they’re scarred. The scars are part and parcel of the person they love, not a detriment to pursuing a romance. If you carry over a romance from the first game, the scars don’t make your Shepard suddenly unlovable. If you start a new journey, the scars don’t prevent Shepard from being flirted with.
It was, in so many ways, a revelation. I’d been told my scars told my story, but it wasn’t until I saw that story actually play out in front of me with my own input that I truly understood it and soaked in the message. It wasn’t until I saw that someone with scars could be the hero of a journey and could be respected and loved that I began the process of acceptance.