It’s not surprising that Mass Effect: Andromeda allows you to customize the look of your main character, and it’s a pleasant bonus that the game also allows you to customize the look of your fraternal twin (and alternate protagonist, depending on what gender you choose) as well. Especially since your sibling remains a central character in the game, regardless of which of the younger Ryders you play.
What’s less well known about the game is that the choices you make when creating the Ryder twins (I’ll call them by their default names, Sara and Scott, for this post), are translated into the appearance of a third, critical character: Alec Ryder, their father, whose role is not insignificant.
And it’s not a subtle thing! A quick dip into twitter shows a veritable rainbow of Alec Ryders out there.
alec!!!! i would show my other ryder but idc about him tbh pic.twitter.com/E8w2F5rROe— lola @ andromeda (@ladyetchat) March 21, 2017
Alec Ryder looks like Peter Stormare. pic.twitter.com/iWggzaYp31— J.K. Nicholson (@JKNicholson1) March 22, 2017
The above, I’m pretty sure, is what Alec Ryder looks like if you choose the default settings for your Ryder twins. My Alec is the top image on this post, and here’s Alec in our own Simone de Rochefort’s game:
In my game, at least, character customization decisions also seemed to follow through to the single picture I’ve seen so far of Alec Ryder’s late wife, mother to Sara and Scott.
Now that I’ve shown you a lot of dads, let me get to my point. I love this.
Here’s why I love this
First off, the fraternity of scifi and fantasy’s greatest is full of widowers and orphans. Epic genre heroes with a living family are not unheard of, but they’re definitely the exception to the rule. Mass Effect: Andromeda gives you a central story following the Ryders, Alec’s history, and their place in this new galaxy.
This isn’t the first time BioWare has taken this tack with an RPG. Dragon Age 2 also prominently featured the Hawke family, consisting of Hawke, one of Hawke’s two twin siblings (depending on what class you chose), Hawke’s mother Leandra and Leandra’s brother, Gamlen. The various members of the Hawke family were a central part of many of Dragon Age 2’s storylines, some of the game’s most heart-wrenching.
The Hawke family also had appearances that changed depending on your choices for Hawke in the character creator, though they were significantly more subtle than in Mass Effect: Andromeda (it was also a far older game engine, obviously).
This touched me, personally, because while your siblings’ and mother’s appearances changed to be like yours in Dragon Age 2, your late father’s didn’t. This quirk of game asset efficiency necessarily made the Hawke family a mixed-race one (provided your Hawke wasn’t of pale and fair complexion like their father), a real point of identification for me, as a mixed-race Latina.
That’s not a nuance that’s available to orphan heroes — or at least, not in a way that is quietly present and unremarked upon through several major story subplots. There are plenty of stories out there of people who discover they’re half-alien or half-fairy or whatever — far fewer of folks whose parents just happen to have differing skin tones and ethnic backgrounds in a way that doesn’t become the crux of their entire hero’s journey.
The cascading effect of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s character customization is doing something slightly different. The protagonist of color is a vanishingly rare thing in blockbusters of all kinds, whether they’re games or movies or television shows.
Instead of simply a protagonist, Andromeda allows you to create an entire family of color, and place them at the center of an epic scifi narrative. And that narrative puts them at the forefront of the most unique of humanity’s achievements in a galaxy full of advanced alien races — the creation and execution of a massive effort to explore an entirely new galaxy.
I took my usual care in crafting my Ryder siblings in the menu before the beginning of the game, deciding that for this particular RPG go-round I’d make some twin space-Latinos with matching, mirrored tattoos. When Alec Ryder, the N7-ranked Pathfinder of Ark Hyperion, walked onto my screen, the first thought that leapt into my mind was “Wow, he looks like my actual dad.”
And that’s not nothing.