Our guest blogger: Mallory  is a 21 year old college student studying screenwriting and a long time Mass Effect fan. Find her on Tumblr here.

Today she tells us how she started to love female characters like Ashley Williams and Miranda Lawson.

Like many players, my first run through the Mass Effect series was full of mistakes. Wrex died on Virmire because I had no clue he had a personal mission. Tali died on the Suicide Mission and I had not the slightest clue until halfway through Mass Effect 3, and the Quarians ended up dying because I failed to make peace. My EMS score was so low that I managed to get the worst possible destroy ending. I’ve since learned from my mistakes, thankfully, and have been able to play the game without annihilating half the galaxy in the process.

Though there was one hiccup I made in my first playthrough that I didn’t realize until multiple playthroughs later, and one I’m happiest to have learned to fix.

Mass Effect isn’t just a video game set in space. Of course, being able to travel across the galaxy on massive adventures, and hit giant aliens in the face with a biotic charge is a great time, it’s not what makes Mass Effect so special to me and so many others. It’s a story about people, perseverance, adventure, and doing the impossible, among other things. The adventure the series takes us on wouldn’t be what it is without the colorful and complex characters created by Bioware. The cast of Mass Effect is full of varied and diverse individuals. While the representation isn’t completely perfect, characters of different races and sexual orientations are given voices and brought to life. Among those voices are so many strong and incredible women.

Science fiction has always held a special fascination to me, and as I got older, I began to realize that I admired the way science fiction offered such bold roles for women. It so often imagines a future where inequality and discrimination are not what they are today. Sci-fi has shown us amazing female space heroes, and Mass Effect is no exception. It’s given players brilliant female scientists, engineers, military officers, warriors, and more. Yet, the first time I played Mass Effect, I found myself intimidated by some of these powerful women, and pitted them against my female Shepard.

Starting the games, I knew right off the bat my Shepard was going to romance Kaidan. He was sweet and adorable, and I loved him all too quickly. I was also enamored by the interesting alien characters, so when I arrived on the Citadel with Kaidan and Ashley, and heard her say “I can’t tell the aliens from the animals”, I wrote her off. She was racist, and she was mean to the other aliens, and when it came to Virmire, it was her or Kaidan. The choice was easy. Ashley was going to be left behind. I snarked at people who saved her over Kaidan, and got defensive because I couldn’t imagine why someone would pick her over him.

Then I reached Mass Effect 2, and it introduced me right away to Miranda Lawson. Miranda was built to be perfect. She was beautiful, she was fierce, and she knew how great she was at just about everything. And to me, that sure seemed like she wanted to run my mission. I took every dialogue option to tell her to back off, follow Shepard’s orders, and not get in the way. I didn’t like her, and I certainly didn’t trust her. And when I failed to give her the Alliance resources she needed in Mass Effect 3, because I didn’t think she had the right intentions, she died during Priority: Horizon. I wasn’t particularly sad.

I set out to play the games again, and again, and again. Though this time, I did something I failed to do in my initial game. I talked to them. I engaged in conversations with both of these women after each mission in their respective games, and instead of skipping through dialogue, or completing the dialogue just to win brownie points or unlock missions or ship upgrades, I listened to them. I did it with all characters, even the ones that I’d written off as dull or insignificant initially. Ashley and Miranda simply taught me the most lessons.

What I found was that both of these women were incredibly strong and well-written, and I had more in common with them, and more to learn from them than I thought. Ashley was spunky, and had a great sense of humor. She was in touch with her religion, but never pushed it on others, and held strong opinions and convictions without doubting herself. She stuck up for what she thought was right, and was accepting of other alien cultures, even if many choose not to see it. Miranda was so incredibly intelligent, and believed in herself and her skills in ways I wish I could, and once you spoke to her and treated her with the respect she deserved, she was absolutely not a bitch, like I’d written her off to be.

I was astonished how I could have missed the depth and importance of these characters. I talked to them, I took them on missions. Did I really just have to dig to find the complexity to these women? No, it was there from the get go. I’d just ignored it. I found that I wasn’t giving Ashley and Miranda, and other female characters, the consideration right off the bat that I was giving to characters like Kaidan, Garrus, and Thane. I presumed that those male characters were deep and interesting right away, and I had to investigate further to find the depth in the women.

This problem is not unique to me, or unique to the Mass Effect fandom. There’s a natural inclination to accept male characters at face value, and feel a need to work toward the same depth in female characters. It was easy to write Ashley off as a racist, but understand why Garrus and Wrex had reservations toward other races, or roll my eyes at her religion, but want to know more about Thane’s. I found powerful men in charge like Hackett or Anderson fascinating from the get go, but not Miranda. And I swooned over cute male characters, but shamed Miranda for her good looks. It was hypocritical, and I’d deprived myself of so many great characters throughout the games.

It wasn’t limited to Miranda or Ashley, as I learned to appreciate so many others of all species and genders. From Samara’s resilience and strength, to Jacob’s lighthearted, hopeful determination, just to name a few, I was grateful that I’d learned this lesson.

As more information about Andromeda comes out, and we prepare ourselves to head on a new adventure, it’s something I’m really keeping in mind. For me, it’s too soon to judge characters, or to plan out my romance, or really plan out too much of my Ryder, but I know when I begin to play the game, every companion, no matter who they are will be given the same consideration. Even if they seem trivial or far from my type. I simply don’t know what I could be completely missing by closing off.

To me, Mass Effect has always felt like going on an adventure, where I save the galaxy, make friends, fall in love, and much more. I have no doubts that Andromeda will be another adventure, but this time I know that the adventure is all the better when you give people and new stories a chance.