Defending Ashley Williams of Mass Effect
Posted by Alan Edwards
Mass Effect, as a series, is probably known and loved more for the cast of characters Shepard pals around with while saving the galaxy multiple times than any other aspect. Other games do combat better (although I’ve never enjoyed any shooter more than Mass Effect 3, especially the multiplayer), or have better plots or storylines, but no game really comes close to having characters who grow and evolve during the series, in many cases shaped by their interactions the player has with them. Fan favorites like Garrus, Wrex, Tali (I even named my dog after her), Jack, Mordin – all of them are incredibly well fleshed-out, have real growth arcs through the series, and have real resonance. They are beloved.
There is one character, though, who is not beloved. She is rarely even be-liked. She is usually be-fucking-hated. She is Ashley Williams.
Ashley has some serious rough edges when Shepard first meets her. She’s a soldier and doesn’t mince words much. She is more than happy to speak her mind, however unpopular what she has to say might be to Shepard or the person playing Shep. This seems to really get to people. I’ve had this discussion in person with everyone I know who’s played the game, and I’ve recently started listening to ME podcasts where people talk about their experiences. Everyone hates Ashley. Many kill her off in the first game (it’s either her or Kaidan, and the fact that people choose the biotic bowl of instant oatmeal over Williams makes me incredulous), assuming that she never changes some of the early attitudes she displays. Since I seem to be the only person who likes Williams – and she’s one of my favorite crewmates in the game and default romance interest – I’ve decided to defend her publicly. In 2016. 4 years after the last game she was in came out.
Hey, I’m writing fanfic – FANFIC for fuck’s sake – about this world. Clearly I’m a little obsessed. Plus they just pushed back the release date of Andromeda and I’m playing through ME1 again to go through the whole series once or twice more so it’s on my mind. I have a problem. Also, I’d rather think and talk about this rather than read one more thing about the upcoming presidential shitshow. I need some bread and circuses for a little bit.
Anyway, here are the top things people complain about with Ash, and my rebuttals:
She’s a Racist
Probably the #1 thing people say right after you mention Ashley Williams is that she’s a racist. No, she doesn’t hate black or Hispanic or any other kind of people. She’s all about love for the human race. What she isn’t into, at the start, is alien races freely moving about the Normandy. There’s a difference there. She doesn’t trust the aliens on board the ship, specifically (and notably) the turians and the krogans. People label her a racist because she doesn’t think they should be aboard the ship. People are wrong and should feel bad. Here’s why.
For one, she specifically calls out the turians and krogans. The turians were the only alien species the Alliance, i.e. humanity, have ever been at war with. Her grandfather was the commander of the force defending the human colony and Shanxi and was forced to surrender to the more powerful turian invaders, becoming the only human to surrender militarily to an alien. This got her whole family blackballed. So she doesn’t trust turians much. As for the krogans, well, they were the last major threat in the galaxy and no one seems to trust krogans. C-Sec brings Wrex in every time he goes to the Citadel. Shepard blows away about a hundred krogan during the first game. They’re the bodyguards and mercenary force for just about every criminal organization in the galaxy. The fact that Shepard trusts the krogan is due solely to how cool Wrex is.
Secondly, she is an Alliance soldier who has never really been around aliens before. Because she was blackballed, she had to serve groundside on human colonies. She doesn’t know aliens. She’s also aboard the most state-of-the-art Alliance vessel, and having a bunch of aliens on board doesn’t make her feel comfortable. It’d be like having a bunch of Russians on board the latest US stealth bomber. There’d probably be a few people uncomfortable with that notion.
Thirdly, if she were a xenophobe or space racist, she’d be all about Terra Firma, the Donald Trumpiest organization in the Milky Way. Instead, she rejects them as “jackals” full of anti-alien paranoia. Her distrust is rational and understandable.
In any case, her distrust of aliens never changes her duty. She’s never disrespectful to the other crew members, and Shepard can even ameliorate her concerns about having the aliens on board the ship. In fact, she becomes friends with all of them if she survives Virmire. Except, of course, Wrex, if Shepard isn’t able to calm him down on Virmire. Then she blows him away to save the Commander. But, hey, that’s her job. Otherwise, they’re buds!
Ashley Williams is not racist. She’s a soldier uncomfortable with aliens having free access to a top-of-the-line Alliance ship. Get over it.
She’s a Bitch
Ash is blunt, true. She doesn’t always sugarcoat her thoughts or opinions. She is strong, sometimes brash, and doesn’t take shit. So, for a lot of people, she’s a bitch. Subsequent games don’t dissuade people from that opinion, either. In ME2, meeting up with her leads to some harsh words, and in ME3 you end up gun-to-gun. People look at that, attach the Bitch label, and move on.
That isn’t fair for a few reasons. First, Kaidan acts EXACTLY THE SAME WAY in ME2 and 3. It’s the role they have to fill. So it isn’t unique to Ashley. Plus, in ME2 Shepard has been gone a couple of years and Williams had no idea they Shepard was alive, much less working for Cerberus. Remember, Cerberus is like working for the Nazis as far as everyone else is concerned, genetic purists who really enjoy experimenting on people without remorse. In ME1, the only contact with Cerberus was with the horrible things they did. On Akuze, a pioneer colony is wiped out, marines were sent in to investigate, and slaughtered with only one (or two) survivors. Shepard is one if the Sole Survivor background is chosen, and the other survivor is a marine who was captured and experimented on by Cerberus, who set the thresher maws that wiped out the unit to study how the unit would react. They pulled the same thing with a unit Rear Admiral Kahoku asks Shepard to investigate. Trying to run Cerberus down gets Kahoku killed. This is the group that Shepard ends up with. Williams (or Kaidan, if for some reason you prefer plain rice pudding to literally any other dessert in the world) is freaked the fuck out by this news, and when she finds out flips her shit. Duh. Go disappear for a couple years, run into a close old friend, and tell them you joined a skinhead group trying to reinstate Apartheid in South Africa. See how well your “trust me, I know what I’m doing” argument goes. Of course being involved with Cerberus leads to a few harsh words.
In ME3, meanwhile, the reason you’re in a standoff is because you’re coming after Udina, the human councilor and man that made her a Spectre. That is her actual assignment, protecting the Council, and Shepard busts in with a gun after Cerberus attacks the Citadel. Hey, maybe that looks a little odd. Shepard can talk her down, if they’re close. If not, she does gets shot by either Shepard or one of Shepard’s crew. For some reason, people think she’s a bitch because she’s trying to do her job.
If you think a woman who has opinions and isn’t afraid to share them is a bitch, I have a few people close to me that you should share that with. I will enjoy hearing the ensuing conversation.
She Likes Poetry
This is true. I’m not a fan of poetry either, but at least it’s Tennyson, not the things she wrote in 7th grade about angst and emo nonsense. It’s freaking Tennyson. It’s pretty good.
She is Religious
Also true. I am a huge non-preaching atheist. If I can get past it, so can you.
She is the Worst/Most Boring/Horrible Squadmate
I’ll ignore the fact that she’s a character that grows and changes over the course of the game, has a unique personality and background that is not cliché, especially for a female character, and has an actual story arc. Instead, let’s compare her to some of the other squadmates. Hell, let’s just start with the male humans.
Kaidan Alenko. A biotic who had a rough time in training and gets headaches. That’s it. He’d be the worst if there was anything to him at all. There isn’t. He’s a ricecake without the texture. He’s unsweetened Cream of Wheat. He has less flavor than a glass of room temperature water. I’ve played ME1 seven times and he dies on top of a nuke every time. Kaidan Alenko is terrible.
Jacob Taylor. I had to look up his last name because I couldn’t remember. He’s ME2’s Kaidan. He’s a Decent Guy working for Bad People. He’s not as boring as Kaidan, but everything is less boring than watching white paint dry on a white wall. Jacob is fine. Fine is not an exciting descriptor. I sometimes send him through the tunnels at the end of ME2 for fun. I do not like Jacob.
James Vega. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Sorry. The long-lost Hispanic member of Jersey Shore. He’s supposed to be, like, Shepard’s protégé, I guess, but he’s the worst. The absolute worst. I’d marry Kaidan before I’d let Vega out of an airlock. He’s ridiculous. No one likes him either.
Zaeed Massani. He’s OK. The best human male squadmate. Which is saying almost nothing. His character brings little to the table. Still, he’s better than the other three, but that’s hardly saying anything at all.
The other humans that can be squadmates, Miranda, Jack, and Kasumi are all great. Cool characters, interesting backstories, nice arcs. Miranda gets the Bitch label a lot too – another woman with opinions – but even she doesn’t get the grief Ashley does. It’s odd but pretty refreshing that the game has better female human characters than males, depth-wise. Cortez is the only good male human character on the ship besides Joker, and you can’t take either of them with you.
So Ashley is better than half the humans, at a bare minimum. I think she’s a lot better than Grunt (I hated him in ME2, although ME3 redeemed him as a character for me so I don’t feel quite the same), isn’t half as arrogant or insulting as Javik, and is more interesting than Samara (who’s pretty much the same character throughout, although I do like her quite a bit). Williams may not be the best character on the ship, but she’s far from the worst.
There you have it. You can disagree with me if you want, but you’d still be wrong. And should feel bad.
About Alan EdwardsAn indie writer who does accounting full-time on the side.
Posted on May 17, 2016, in Kerfluffle, Uncategorized and tagged Annoying Things, Gaming, Mass Effect is the Strongest One There Is, Nerdery, Speechifyin', steve montano is the coolest man in the world. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.