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GDC_Banner_Women.jpg POSTED BY EA Staff ON Mar 19, 2013

#PlayAs1: Ann Lemay, Mass Effect

This week in our #PlayAs1 series, we hear from Ann Lemay, a writer on Mass Effect. She shares her story about creating a strong female character for the game:


The topic of diversity in games is one which comes up frequently among gamers and developers. To many, this often comes down to “Why is it such an issue to create diverse characters?”

When I first started at BioWare in the summer of 2011, a lot of the high-level narrative work for Omega had already been done. I was handed the story-concept document and asked for my thoughts on it. Something that stood out was the character of Nyreen. She was originally an asari and a local gang lord (leader of the Talons), with no particular relation to Aria or anything else to make her stand out. However, with a DLC (downloadable content) focused on Aria and therefore likely to lean strongly toward a more Renegade storyline, it occurred to me that we could introduce a much stronger character with a definite Paragon bent as a foil to Aria if we made Nyreen a turian instead. This also meant we would have not just one strong character with Aria, but a new, equally strong character with Nyreen—both of them women.

When I made the suggestion to Eric Chartrand, our lead designer in Montreal, he simply nodded pensively and told me he’d go ask about the availability of budget and time for an entirely new character design. The proposal implied the creation of an entirely new rig and model: an expensive undertaking, but the only way to introduce such an important character to the Mass Effect universe. The question made its way through management, and barely one week later, Nyreen Kandros was fully approved. I started working on her background and history with Neil Pollner and Eric's collaboration, while our concept artists started working on sketches of her.

In all of my years in the videogame industry, this request process was the simplest and smoothest I’d ever gone through, particularly for the creation of a significant female character. There had already been a great deal of foundation work done by a lot of people at BioWare beforehand, when it came to the creation of a female turian. With the budget set aside for Nyreen, everyone involved in her creation, from character concept to modelizing her to bringing her to life in game, threw themselves into the work with great enthusiasm and dedication. In doing this, we ended up with a DLC that, should the player choose to play as the female Commander Shepard, features a triumvirate of interesting, diverse, and powerful female characters. And it was never an issue.

Which is just as it should have been. The creation of Nyreen Kandros was an incredibly positive experience—not just for me as a woman, but for every single person in our team who worked on her and brought her to life, and for the fans who got to know her as well.

Creating diverse and engaging female characters—or any character that isn't both white and male—should not be such an issue. If we can move beyond the resistance to such characters in our games, both as non-player characters and as main protagonists, I honestly believe that we’ll end up with richer narratives and a broader audience, and the industry ends up with a bigger and more interesting playground.

It’s a win-win all around.


Why do you think it's important to have strong female characters in videogames? Share your thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #PlayAs1 for our Diversity & Inclusion team to read. The first 5 people to tell us their stories will receive a copy of Mass Effect 3, and everyone who answers with the hashtag by March 29 will be entered to win the grand prize of an EA Swag Pack!
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Comments (7)

  1. Comment Flagged +2 0
    hey. I need a EA worker to tell something about your EA logo. A company is using your logo for his company. The style that blue background and white letters... I will give you the photo of it and the adress of the company. I'm doing this because I'm a graphic designer and I know it's not legal. Waiting for your answer. Have a nice day. By the way I know it's not the place where my this writing has to be but I couldn't contact otherwise...
    Mar 19, 2013
    0 Replies
  2. Comment Flagged 0 0
    and sorry for my bad English.
    Mar 19, 2013
    0 Replies
  3. +2 -2
    I loved the Omega DLC and it's really cool to hear from the perspective from one of the writers. I can't, and don't want to, imagine the Omega DLC without Nyreen!! I played the entire ME trilogy many times as female Shepard and only recently began a campaign as male Shepard. It's disappointing to me that so few people choose to experience playing female Shepard. They're really missing out! She is definitely a very inspiring and strong female game character, which remain few and far between.
    Mar 19, 2013
    0 Replies
  4. +1 -1
    I absolutely love Nyreen character and it was an great experience to play with her with a femShepard. The video game world needs more strong female characters like her (protagonist and otherwise). She is determined, courageous, and really stands out from other female characters in other games. I am really glad EA, along with BioWare, encourages this because it is something that really needs to become more common in several entertainment fields. And for that, I thank you EA and BioWare :)
    Mar 21, 2013
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  5. 0 0
    I have an outline for a story about a female Krogan set in a post-reaper-invasion galaxy that I'd LOVE to pursue, but since I'm a relatively obscure writer (I've been published once, "honorably mentioned" by the Writers of the Future competition once, accepted into Temple's MFA program, and I was a national semi-finalist for the Norman Mailer 4-year college writing competition) with no contacts in this particular industry, I've filed the story in my wishful thinking drawer.
    Mar 22, 2013
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  6. 0 0
    Nyreen was fun! But I wish there was about a single-mission's worth more of content with her in the party. As well I *SPOILERS SPOILERS* wish there was a choice to allow her to sacrifice to save others, or to save her instead, causing her to be more mentally scarred (a 'Paragon Lost') instead of dead, just as we can keep Aria super-Renegade (at the price of Omega's good), or bring her Paragon.
    Mar 26, 2013
    0 Replies
  7. 0 0
    Hey, if you ever need writers or just college grads to make coffee runs, do please let me know...
    Mar 29, 2013
    0 Replies