I’m Confused, BioWare…

So just in case you didn’t tap into the hue and cry yesterday, BioWare announced that Jessica Chobot is  going to be a romanceable character in Mass Effect 3. It’s ok if you don’t really know who she is – while you may have seen her hosting various video segments on G4, she’s not exactly a household name.  A lot of folks are pissed about this for a variety of reasons. Some are angry because in her capacity as a correspondent for G4, Chobot previewed the game – seemingly a clear conflict of interest. Some just think she’s a talentless hack who doesn’t deserve the notoriety. Personally, I’m tweaked that her character was made to look like her. The emphasis should be on the game, not the guest star. The character is the important person on that equation, not the person playing them. Every single time her journalist character comes on screen, I’m supposed to remember that it’s Jessica Chobot, which is unfair because it takes away my ability to escape into the game world.

So, yeah, I’m annoyed, but mostly, I just plain don’t get why BioWare put her in there. This is hardly the first time the company has toyed with non-canon crossover, but at least in previous examples, I could understand the basic motivation. Sliding  Blood Armor into Mass Effect 2 not only let BioWare cross promote its two biggest franchises, but also provided incentive to buy Dragon Age: Origins brand new.  The inclusion of Dead Space 2 star “Ser Isaac”‘s armor in Dragon Age 2 was anachronistic and clunky, but it gave EA a chance to cross-promote a game that it wasn’t sure would sell well with one that it figured would (I’ll let you figure out which is which). Things got a bit more heavy-handed when it came to Mark of the Assassin, the Dragon Age 2 DLC starring geek culture icon Felicia Day. As frustrating as it was to see BioWare compromising the game’s visual choices to accommodate Day’s likeness (why not just make her human if you want to make Talis look like her?), the motivation made basic sense. Making Day the star was an effective way to get people’s attention and quite probably got at least some folks to try the DLC who wouldn’t have otherwise. As an unexpected bonus, it may have even also nudged the public perception meter a bit more towards the “Dragon Age 2 maybe didn’t give me cancer, after all” end of the scale. (People really, really hated that game, man.)

So as blatant as these maneuvers have been, their motivations were at least pretty clear – get people like me writing about the games, and people like you buying them. Buying them new, buying them months after release, buying their DLC. A big part of getting people to buy your product is getting them to make it a habit. EA wants you to get used to plugging in those download codes, looking for what kind of goodies you get from the brand-new game you just bought. They want you to do it often enough that it becomes habit, because it’s what’s best for their bottom line.

I get all that. I don’t like it, but I get it. This is a business, after all, and EA is very, very good at gaming the system to get more of your munney. Which is why I just plain don’t understand the Chobot thing. What does including her hope to achieve? Let’s go through the options.

1. BioWare/EA want to sell Mass Effect 3 to a mainstream audience.

Well, that’s certainly true, but Chobot doesn’t help further that goal one bit. The guy who buys a handful of games a year from Best Buy has no clue who she is, and even if he did, isn’t likely to pick up a game just because he can digitally bang her. If BioWare was doing some stunt casting to try and grab the attention of people who don’t normally play games, it makes more sense that they’d go for someone like Lady Gaga. Don’t even tell me you wouldn’t play a game just to have an alien Lady Gaga on your crew,  because you know you would. She’s practically an Asari already.

2. BioWare/EA wants to generate interest in the game, and Chobot’s inclusion will get a lot of press.

Again, true, but it’s not like we weren’t already writing about Mass Effect 3 constantly. Game journalists love Mass Effect and we’re desperate to play the third installment. You don’t need to trick us into writing about the game – tell us what kind of shampoo Commander Shepard uses, we’ll write about it. Do we still get to stock the fish tank on the Normandy? Just let me know, I’ll whip up 1000 words on it. (Seriously, I loved my fish tank.)

3. BioWare/EA wants to attract more players, and is hoping Chobot’s fanbase will buy the game.

This makes sense, except that Chobot’s fanbase – the kind of core gamer that watches G4 and reads IGN –  is the kind of player that has probably already made up their minds about Mass Effect. The first two games were universally praised, hyped, and praised some more. If that wasn’t enough to get Chobot’s followers playing a game in which you quite literally save the universe, it seems unlikely that just adding her to the cast will persuade them to finally join the party. And if they already know how good Mass Effect is, then they hardly need a bribe to dive into the third installment.

4. This really isn’t about getting people to buy the game.

The possibility certainly exists that Chobot’s inclusion has nothing to do with marketing the game and is just some sort of shadiness involving less than sterling morals or ethics. But I doubt it. Yes, people do stuff to get laid, get paid, or get ahead all the time, but the amount of manpower and hours that putting Chobot in the game requires is simply too monumental to make something along these lines all that likely. I’d find the idea that G4 paid EA or BioWare much cash to include her in the game more likely if they were getting some really choice exclusive content out of it, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Also, these people aren’t jerks. So while I must concede that this might be the case, I just plain don’t buy it. I include this only to stave off the inevitable obnoxious comments about Chobot “licking something besides a PSP” to get into the game. Let’s show some class, gang.

5. They genuinely think she’s an appropriate addition to the cast.

Yeah, sorry, no. I have no reason to assume that she does a lousy job, but I don’t think that as you peruse a cast list full of experienced actors from TV, movies, and voicework that you arrive at the conclusion that a complete newbie would be the perfect person to add. That just doesn’t track at all. Also, if this was a serendipitious discovery – a sort of “We were just talking one day and discovered that Jessica is actually really good at voice acting!” – then why isn’t that part of the message? It humanizes BioWare and EA, and turns Chobot into a plucky, lucky little everywoman who was just in the right place at the right time…the geek version of being discovered in a soda shoppe.

So, yeah, I’m discouraged, disappointed, and above all, confused. Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic, but this whole stunt has actually killed a lot of my enthusiasm for Mass Effect 3. I’m sure the game will be brilliant, and make no mistake, I’ll end up playing it. But I feel really let down by this crass maneuver.

Oh, and hey, BioWare? The next time you want to include someone tangentially related to geek culture in one of your games? Make it Wil Wheaton. Girls play your games too, you know.

(EDIT: Some folks are pointing out that Miranda actually resembles her voice actress, albeit with different color hair. True enough, though I wasn’t familiar with her at the time I played Mass Effect 2, having never watched Chuck.)

(EDIT #2: If you’d like an option besides Wil Wheaton, may I suggest this guy? Or perhaps this one?)

44 thoughts on “I’m Confused, BioWare…

  1. I had to google Chobot to find out who she was before I got this whole hullaballoo. Not going to make as much difference in my purchasing decision as Origin.

    Oh, and if we’re including people tangentially related to geek culture in Mass Effect, why not you, Susan? Maybe as some sort of deranged pastry chef on Omega? (runs and hides)

  2. Is your face going to be red when BioWare ask you to appear in the next Dragon Age…

    As a side note, I genuinely think that Chobot may well just really like Mass Effect and asked them if she could be in the game. I know it sounds daft, but perhaps she just wanted to be in the game?

  3. I’m secretly hoping that Chobot’s character is a lesbian, and they’ve put her in there to see how the fanboys deal with male Shepard not being able to romance her because of it (similarly, James Vega’s been pinging my gaydar since day one). I remember reading something about how Shepard is going to “confronted” with homosexual “situations” a while back, and if this is how they’ve run with it, then mad props. I get the feeling I might be hoping for a little too much, though. But we’ll see.

    Otherwise, completely agree with what you’ve said here. Chobot previewing (very positively) a game she’s a part of, talking about how she “discovered” some voice-control easter egg or something…it’s painful. And the last thing I want to be thinking about when playing ME3 is f*cking IGN. The LAST thing.

    • I’m pretty sure it was confirmed from the start that Chobot’s character is bisexual, although she was being (or trying to be) coy about the issue in an interview that came out after I heard that, so I’m not totally sure.

      The thing about even a straight Shepard being confronted with homosexual situations, though, comes from a photoshopped picture of a Jennifer Hepler post on the Bioware forums. It might still happen, but I wouldn’t count on it.

  4. Is her role in the game incredibly significant? Does she do a horrible job? I can’t quite grasp why this upsets you, to be honest. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t know/care who Chobot is until I read this post. Even so, if it were up to me, I’d at least make her character a robot named Chobot.

      • Okay, I didn’t word that the best. My apologies.

        I just don’t see how this is any different than anything else in the entertainment world. From actors playing themselves on “The Simpsons”, to Sean Bean referring to his Sharpe character, to Finkle Einhorn and Orphah Windfury (and countless others) in “World of Warcraft”. The fourth wall gets broken, and we’re snapped out of whatever we’re watching/playing on a fairly regular basis.

        Maybe I’ve just become desensitized to it. If it bugged me that much, I’d probably be questioning myself, rather than Bioware. But, that’s me. You’re entitled to feel and react in a manner befitting yourself. I don’t mean to diminish that, or disrespect your opinions, or anything of the sort. I simply don’t understand it.

        Again, I’ll ask, is her character central to the game? Does she do a lousy job? I can understand being outraged if the answers are “yes”.

        • I can’t answer how important her character is (though I imagine she’s relatively minor, along the same lines as perhaps Joker) and I have no idea how good a job she does, as I haven’t seen any footage other than what was released in the short preview video. As I said in the post, I have no reason to assume she’s bad at it – but I don’t have a reason to assume she’s necessarily good at it, either.

  5. I very much agree with everything you’ve said. It’s not personal it just seems another bout of stunt-casting driven by marketing. There are countless numbers of skilled voice actors who are professionals in the industry who would likely sacrifice a limb to be in Mass Effect. Chobot has stated in interviews she wants to be a G4 producer, not a voice actress. Why not book someone who actually wants to do the job?

    No offense to her, but she also lacks the professionalism of the other voice actors hired. Talking about ‘doing herself’ on the G4 blog may be great for drawing in viewers, but it seems woefully out of place among such distinguished and classy company as Martin Sheen, Keith David, and Jennifer Hale.

    I’m sure the writing behind the character is quality, as usual with BioWare, but I’m afraid her lack of experience will detract from the words she’s been given. I’m almost embarrassed to admit I’m considering not recruiting her or having her leave the ship, if possible, to avoid having the immersive experience jarring broken at every encounter.

  6. When I had heard that Jessica Chobot was announced as a voice actor in the game after having previewed it, my first thought was “Who?” After seeing the voice acting trailer, my thought changed to “Oh her…cool?” Once I remembered who Chobot is, her inclusion certainly didn’t give a positive influence toward my decision on whether or not to purchase Mass Effect 3.

    I’m somewhat on the fence with the game as it is because: 1) I LOVED Mass Effect 2, but didn’t care for the original. 2) Street Fighter X Tekken is to be released the same day, and I’m a poor college student who can’t make tough decisions. Chobot’s inclusion is not a deal breaker for me, but it doesn’t help. I do agree with you, that it’s going to hurt the immersion of the game. I suppose Miranda did the same to some in Mass Effect 2, though? I guess I had no idea her voice actor looked like her character until…a couple minutes ago.

    Maybe I can take a dry-erase marker and draw a mustache on my TV every time she shows up.

  7. The whole Miranda or Martin Sheen argument is stupid because they are ACTORS. They are professionals that make a living off of convincing audiences that they ARE the character they are playing. Chobot can’t even convince me that she’s played 99% of the games that she talks about on IGN or G4. She may have a different name in the game but everytime I see her she will just be the girl that I see on my Xbox dashboard all the time talking about tips and tricks.

    If Bioware still cared about delivering it’s customers an immersive experience they wouldn’t be ham-fisting stupid geek culture cameos into games like this.

  8. What if it’s as simple as one person at Bioware knows Chobot and asked if she wanted to be in the game? Maybe she loved the idea, auditioned and got the part?

    (Really, how hard could it be. If MaleShep got the lead role in the series then anyone that speaks English can work on that game).

  9. Fun article but I really feel like they think they’re doing gamers a solid here. It’s just pandering for teens (or tweens?). It’s not going to change a lot of opinions about the game.. but her avatar looks pretty good. (And hey, even evokes that Felicia Day song)

  10. I think a lot of the criticism of Chobot’s new role in ME3 is fairly offbase.

    The argument that designing her character to look like her breaks the fourth wall is undermined by the fact that famous faces have been playing wildly varying roles in TV, film, and theater for a long time. If you think seeing her likeness in game is going to take you out of the experience, then you are either, a) too invested in your own preconceptions about who Chobot is or what she represents, or b) not giving her (or Bioware) a fair shake to demonstrate her acting chops.

    The argument that there may be some conflict of interest is more valid. It’s true, we have no idea how she came to be cast in the role, and I understand the suspicions being raised about the whole affair. Personally, I’ve never been one to buy easily into conspiracy theories, and in an industry (gaming television) where the very foundation is “backscratching,” I would find it difficult to give a damn if there was something going on behind the scenes. If you look at the history of work Chobot has built covering video games, it becomes pretty clear that the possibility of negative coverage of ME3 was never really on the table. I’m not saying that makes it right, but it’s a little bit like shouting, “Swindler!” at a convention for used-car salesmen.

    Finally, I think there’s a double standard at work here. There’s no denying that Chobot has a certain reputation among gamers, not entirely positive and (to be fair) at least partially of her own making. It seems fairly obvious that this reputation is a sticking point for a lot of people on this issue. What if it was Geoff Keighley? He’s a guy who does a similar sort of work to Chobot, but his reputation with the gaming community is pretty solid. He gives the impression of being a real fan and gamer, and not a pretty face thrown on screen to pander to his audience. Would the reaction have been the same? Obviously, there’s no way to definitively answer that question, but I think the outcry would have been of a significantly smaller magnitude. I’m sure some people would have (rightly) raised the question of conflict of interest, but the fact remains that Keighley, in comparison to Chobot, is already widely liked and respected. And I think that counts for a lot more than some people are willing to admit.

  11. Hey Susan,

    I’ve been very confused by this as well. It seems kind of scummy and pathetic. Nothing against Jessica Chobot personally, as it could be anyone, but why in the name of God would you put her in a game? Has this ever been a great idea? Did Lucas enjoy the backlash about Nsync (or whoever it was) that he wanted to put in Star Wars?

    Anyway, seems like a weird attention grab for a super-famous game. It’s like the Beatles adding a fifth member as a promotion.

    Oh, and btw, liked your Dr. Who article on NHS the other day. Talked about it briefly on the Quarter to Three podcast.

    Take care!

  12. I suspect Chobot has many friends in the gaming press and Bioware is hoping her friends will want to be nice to her.
    But given the ham-fisted nature of the James Vega character, maybe there are simply people on the team who are able to get bad decisions pushed through the process. Could be industrial espionage.

  13. 1) Bioware obviously has staff who are actual fans of some of the internet culture that has sprung up around gaming. Fans with the ability to incorporate people they like into their product, just for the hell of it.
    2) Chobot is pretty, and likes Mass Effect.
    3) This is more press for them.
    4) Is this the best idea ever … hell no. Is Bioware perfect? Have they made mistakes in the not so distant past? Yep.
    I doubt the issue goes any deeper than this.

  14. Can’t really say anything the article already has so here’s something minor but maybe of relevance to you…

    I recall a while back that one of the BioWare team tweeted about doing an insane playthrough and perhaps regretting that they’d spent 1000 credits on a fish. So, I guess, fishtank confirmed? Hehe.

  15. I didn’t know who she was but now that I know she’s a known person, I’m annoyed. Why did they have to give her her real name? Why not change the name? If putting her in was her own idea, she should’ve been chuffed enough at having her face modelled! Miranda was called Miranda, not Sarah.

    Regardless of all this, Tristan Shepard will be chasing after Jack and shoving all other ladies aside. Besides, she’s a reporter… that’s boring in a universe of aliens, gunslingers and Jacks.

      • Oh, is that her character name? I assumed that was an ingame shot with an ingame label. Well, if she’s not called Chobot, that’s a bit better, I suppose. But I doubt it will ruin my ME3 playing because I don’t know nor care who she is.

        It’s the same sort of feeling my friends get when they watch a movie with a known soap star in it. I don’t know who they are, so it doesn’t grate on me when I watch the film, but it grates on them.

  16. Since it makes absolutely no sense, I’m really wondering whose decision it was to include her in the first place. As you’ve said, the cross-world marketing for previous bioware games has been far more understandable than this.

    And as far as I’m aware Chobot hasn’t done anything above and beyond to advertise Bioware, and has been given a role she has no known qualifications for…
    Whereas Felica Day made debatably decent webseries for them (I enjoyed it) and plugged DA, praising it highly. And was rewarded with a skippable non-romancable DLC character, which she probably wouldn’t have been allowed to voice without her years of serious acting… I think she has a right to be a little pissed off by this honestly.

    I don’t see how the quality of relevant guest has stepped down so much, which their role has increased. Or why they felt a need to include a guest at all?

    (Also by buyer’s interest would be more perked if they had a character voiced by Vic Mignogna, Troy Baker or Gavin Dunne. Two of whom are VA veterans, and the other would happily write a song if not an album to thank them :P)

  17. Its indeed highly questionable putting her in the game. With all of the voice talent involved a few of them actually do ad to the game by having a semi likeness attached (See: the Illusive Man), but a random secondary character who is a very minor celebrity seems to be the last person who should be immortalized in a game like this… And like you, i’ll probably be kicked out of my immersion every time I see her in the game and in exchange I get nothing…

  18. Jess: Casey, it would be totally awesome if you could put me in the game would be fun for me and my friends to see
    Casey: Sure Jess, mabye we could give you a small cameo or something

    There doesnt always have to be a conspiracy

    • No, but there does typically have to be more of a motivation than “hey, why not?” when it comes to allocating development resources. Sure, it’s possible that it really just a matter of them doing it as a lark, but I find that unlikely.

  19. I really don’t see it as a big deal. Doesn’t influence my decision to purchase or not, just makes it one more neat inclusion of a familiar voice that’ll make me smile because I can identify with it. I read absolutely nothing about ME2 before playing it and lost my stuff when I heard Martin Sheen as TIM. Tricia Helfer, Seth Green, Carrie-Anne Moss, Adam Baldwin are all big names in entertainment accompanied by others we’ve never heard of but they still got their place in the game. Mark Meer didn’t exist to me until he voiced ManShep so it doesn’t bother me that she has a minor spot in game and if the ME dialogue with reporters stays true to its roots you’ll be able to exact your wrath on her if you choose.

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