Ashley Williams (Mass Effect)
|Mass Effect character|
Ashley's design in Mass Effect 3, as presented in The Art of the Mass Effect Universe
|First appearance||Mass Effect (2007)|
|Last appearance||Mass Effect: Foundation (2013)|
|Voiced by||Kimberly Brooks|
|Full name||Ashley Madeline Williams|
|Position||Gunnery Chief |
Lieutenant Commander (ME3)
Abby Williams (sister)
Lynn Williams (sister)
Sarah Williams (sister)
|Relatives||General Williams (grandfather)|
|Origin||Vercingetorix Outpost, Planet Sirona, 61 Ursae Majoris System|
Ashley Williams is a fictional character in BioWare's Mass Effect franchise, who acts as a party member (or "squadmate") in the first and third games in the series. Within the series, she is a human Systems Alliance Marine, who is a potential romance option for a male Shepard throughout the first three Mass Effect games. Ashley becomes part of Shepard's squad during the first observed Reaper attack in the first Mass Effect. In a late-game choice on the planet Virmire, the player must choose whether to save Ashley or Kaidan Alenko in order to advance the narrative; this choice leads to the other character's death. If Ashley is saved, she will return in a cameo appearance in Mass Effect 2 and as a member of Shepard's squad for Mass Effect 3, where she has attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander and is later bestowed Spectre status by the Citadel Council. Ashley is voiced by Kimberly Brooks.
While Ashley has been consistently featured in the original trilogy's marketing and is considered one of the franchise's most prominent characters, her characterization has received a mostly negative reception; much of the criticism focused on the character's abrasive personality, intolerant views towards other alien species, and presentation as being strongly religious.
Ashley is a soldier skilled with weapons and standard combat hardsuits. Prior to the events of the Mass Effect series, she is considered by Alliance leadership to be a "reliable and dedicated noncommissioned officer, but her service in rear-area garrisons has prevented her from gaining actual combat experience". Her great-grandmother, grandfather, and father all served in the Systems Alliance Navy. However, her grandfather General Williams was the only human officer to ever surrender to an alien force, specifically the turian fleet at the colony of Shanxi during the First Contact War, where humanity's first contact with extraterrestrials broke out in violence. Even though her family has been disgraced due to her grandfather's service history, she enlisted with the Systems Alliance as she felt she had something to prove.
BioWare's profile for the character on the defunct official website for Mass Effect 2 described her as "confident, independent, and at times, outright aggressive". She is also "stubbornly insular and not willing to accept help when it is needed". Ashley's xenophobia is noted as one of her major flaws; she is known for her "aggressive instincts and tendency to speak bluntly" which is a liability when dealing with civilians, and occasionally expresses political opinions the Systems Alliance consider "problematic". While primarily presented as a tough and strong-willed woman who is an equal match to a male protagonist, her sensitive side is expressed through her interest in the poetry work of Alfred Tennyson.
Ashley is also depicted in the series as a family-oriented and religious character, though her precise faith and beliefs are never elaborated upon except for her belief in a greater power and a concept of a final and infinite judgment by God. Joshua and Ita Irizarry, co-authors of a research paper titled "The Lord is My Shepard - Confronting Religion in the Mass Effect Trilogy" published as part of the Religion in Digital Games anthology publication, noted that Shepard may engage in explicitly religious discussions with Ashley as she is one of the more openly religious characters in the series. They observed that the character has strong religious beliefs, though she is more reticent in sharing them with other crew members as she is concerned about how they would react.
Creation and conception
Ashley was one of the earliest companion characters to be featured in demo footage for the first Mass Effect game; in a 2006 video demo, director Casey Hudson drew attention to her fully voiced interactions with Shepard and another squad member, Garrus Vakarian, which is meant to evoke a seamless cinematic experience as opposed to the player reading an extensive amount of dialogue text. She ties her hair into a bun, and wears a bubblegum pink and marshmallow white battle armor as her default appearance in the first two Mass Effect games. For her appearance in Mass Effect 3, Ashley is intentionally redesigned with sex appeal and lets her hair down instead of tying it up. She wears a stylish officer's uniform which showcases the new Alliance colors of blue and white when not on the field. An unused idea from the third game's early development process involved Ashley confronting a corrupted Shepard, who had been forced to turn to Reaper technology to accomplish his goals, which echoed Saren's character arc from the first game.
Ashley was originally voiced by E. G. Daily, but she was recast when the developers did not feel the romantic chemistry they were aiming for between the character and Shepard. Kimberly Brooks credited voice director Ginny McSwain, whom she had worked with prior to Mass Effect, for helping her "tap into the character" as a woman soldier who is deeply religious and whose family has a strong military service tradition. Brooks recalled that there were well over ten recording sessions and would generally last about four hours, where she often recorded by herself. She said working on a BioWare video game is intense as there is a lot of depth to the story and its characters, and that it is vocally stressful and more labor intensive then other media due to the size of the project and its numerous possibilities. Brooks herself does not play video games, citing a lack of free time, though she enjoyed playing Ashley. Her positive experience as Ashley's voice actor got her interested in doing further voice over work for video games.
In video games
Ashley is the sole survivor of her squad following a surprise attack by the Geth on the human colony world Eden Prime, and joins Shepard's squad during the SSV Normandy's first mission, replacing Corporal Richard L. Jenkins who was killed in action earlier. Later in the game, on the planet Virmire, Ashley along with Kaidan will opt to assist a salarian commando unit in their assault on Saren's lab complex. During the assault, the player is confronted with a choice that may result in Ashley being killed when a nuclear warhead is detonated. If she is sacrificed, later dialogue indicates that the salarian and turian governments have awarded her their most highest medals, honoring her sacrifice for soldiers not even of her own race.
Williams appears in Mass Effect 2, provided she lived through the first game. Now an Operations Chief, Williams was sent to Horizon officially on a mission to provide anti-orbital weapons to the colonists. She is first seen defending the colony against a swarm of Collector insect-like "seekers," but ultimately is overwhelmed and paralyzed. Upon being rescued, she voices disapproval towards Shepard's alliance with the anthropocentric paramilitary group Cerberus. If a romantic relationship between her and Shepard is carried into the game, she will later send him an apologetic email, expressing her desire to be with him once more.
Ashley Williams returns in Mass Effect 3, provided she survives the events of the original game. By the events of Mass Effect 3, Williams is commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander. She is seriously injured during a mission to recover plans for the Crucible on Mars, but makes a full recovery and is chosen as the second human Spectre after Shepard. Shepard eventually learns from the salarian councilor that humanity's councilor, Donnel Udina, may pose a security risk. The Normandy travels to the Citadel, where Shepard confirms with the salarian councilor that Udina has partnered with Cerberus and leads a coup to overthrow his fellow councilors, who are being protected by Ashley. Udina is killed and Cerberus forces led by the Illusive Man's trusted assassin Kai Leng retreat in response, though the salarian councilor as well as Ashley may perish by the conclusion of the event; the outcome is based on the sum total of the player's prior decisions. If Ashley survives the coup attempt, she may be allowed to join Shepard's team onboard the Normandy SR-2, and either start or resume a romantic relationship with Shepard. In the alternative, Ashley is listed on the Normandy SR-2's memorial wall on the Crew Deck.
If Ashley accompanies Shepard on the final mission to the Conduit in London and the player has not accrued enough war asset points, she will die. If Ashley survives and is in a relationship with Shepard, she will place a plaque on the memorial wall on the Normandy. If enough war points are accrued, Shepard will survive and Ashley will not place the plaque, but instead will smile in reminiscence.
In other media
Ashley appears in the third issue of the comic series Mass Effect: Foundation. She is interviewed by Cerberus spy Rasa, who poses as an Alliance psychologist to trick her into recounting the attack on Eden Prime from her perspective.
The character is held to be a notable example of the consequences that come with branching narratives in video games. In his article which was published by Gamasutra, Brandon Perdue noted that since players interact with the game through gameplay, the significance of choosing which character to save feels non-trivial and arises from its very real gameplay consequences. Along with Kaidan Alenko, Ashley's role in the narrative of the original trilogy was termed "The Virmire Survivor" and analyzed in the 2017 book 100 Greatest Video Game Characters; whoever is saved serves as a constant reminder of player choices throughout the trilogy.
Ashley has received a generally negative reception from fans and video game journalists. PC Gamer included her in their list of most annoying characters, and ridiculed her pink and white armor, though her default cobalt blue armor in Mass Effect 3 is considered to be an improvement. Gamesradar criticized her abrasive personality and said she has similar traits as Ana Lucia Cortez from the ABC television series Lost. Daniel Horowitz from VentureBeat consider Ashley to be "harsh and brash", and that her attitude is "out of line" compared to the mild mannered Kaidan. Alex Knapp, a staff writer at Forbes, criticized Ashley's revamped design in Mass Effect 3, claiming that she looks like a stripper.
While Ashley is statistically more likely to be chosen compared to Kaidan for the decision at Virmire, some sources opined that this is because Kaidan is perceived to be the less palatable option; she is considered one of the least popular characters in the entire trilogy. Both Destin Legarie from IGN and Andy Kelly from PC Gamer expressed a personal preference for Kaidan over Ashley when choosing the Virmire Survivor in the first game. Horowitz argued that logically Kaidan should be prioritized over Ashley as the Virmire Survivor since she is "merely a straggler picked up on Eden Prime" while Shepard’s history with him "extends far beyond the opening events of the story".
The character has been criticized for being "racist", and her emphasis on her faith has not been well received. Perdue called Ashley "toxically racist" considering she works with several non-human characters, and questioned the emotional weight behind what was "popularly discussed as one of the most momentous decisions a player can make in a game". Knapp opined that her characterization in Mass Effect 3 was awful, alleging that she is "more racist and more of a jerk" and that "everything that had the potential to redeem her character was stripped away". Joshua and Ita Irizarry noted the "broad negativity" many players have shown towards Ashley's expressions of her faith in the original Mass Effect during the course of their research, with only a minority of players indicating that Ashley's flawed personality made their gameplay experience more interesting. They surmised that based on Ashley's assertion that her faith plays a major role in who she is, her "religiosity may have been seen as a reflection of the player, individually, and humanity as a whole". Matt Cronn from Geeks Under Grace, an American pop culture website which publishes news, culture, reviews, and videos from a Christian perspective, felt that the original Mass Effect fumbled on the subject of God and religion. He opined that Ashley "did not go on to represent God in the best fashion", and called her a "hot-headed, judgmental" character who is xenophobic.
—Kimberly Brooks, in an interview with Stick Twiddler.
Chris Thursten, a PC Gamer staff member, dissented from consensus; he said Ashley is one of his favourite BioWare characters, noting her staunch opposition to Cerberus and her willingness to question the infallibility of Shepard's decisions. He argued that Ashley is more than a sidekick and a character who could easily headline as the lead heroine, claiming that she is "one of the most substantially well-rounded characters in the series" as well as "one of the few that doesn't need Shepard to step in and fix her life". In an article published by Gamesradar which focused specifically on Ashley, Thursten acknowledged that while she is probably the most contentious among the original trilogy's cast of characters, he maintained that "her value to the series comes specifically from the fact that she's willing to voice challenging views", and that "companion characters are at their best when they're written like real people."
Brooks released a fully voiced recording of Ashley's email to Shepard on the internet sometime after the release of Mass Effect 2 and prior to the launch of Mass Effect 3. She noted that it was very well received as fans had wanted a more substantial appearance by Ashley for the second game. Brooks is aware of her character being called a "space racist", and observed that "everyone either loved or hated Ash". She noted that the best thing about voice acting for a video game are its fans, drawing attention to the passion and support she has experienced from Mass Effect fandom.
Promotion and merchandise
Ashley was featured prominently in marketing material such as commercials and trailers, as well as cover art for the first game. She is seen accompanying both gendered versions of Commander Shepard to battle in the cinematic trailers which promoted the March 2012 launch for Mass Effect 3. An action figure for the character was released by Play Arts Kai in 2012.
- Ashley Williams Galactic Codex Entry on the official Mass Effect website at the Wayback Machine (archived June 26, 2009)
- Ashley Williams profile on the official Mass Effect 2 website at the Wayback Machine (archived August 23, 2011)
- "Mass Effect: Meet Ashley Williams". IGN. May 15, 2012. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
- Jaime Banks; Robert Mejia; Aubrie Adams, eds. (June 23, 2017). 100 Greatest Video Game Characters. Rowman & Littlefield, 2017. ISBN 978-1-59582-768-5. Search this book on
- Irizarry, Joshua; Irizarry, Ita (February 14, 2014). "The Lord is My Shepard - Confronting Religion in the Mass Effect Trilogy". University of Heidelberg.
- "Mass Effect Xbox 360 Feature-Commentary - X06 Demo (HD)". Official IGN Channel. June 23, 2011. Retrieved October 6, 2020 – via YouTube.
- Daniel Horowitz (February 13, 2013). "The Right Choice In Mass Effect: Kaidan Alenko". VentureBeat. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
- Richard Cobbett, Wes Fenlon (February 19, 2018). "The dumbest armour in PC gaming history". PC Gamer. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
- The Art of the Mass Effect Universe, p. 133.
- Ryan Taljonick (July 31, 2013). "Mass Effect concept art shows Shepard as a Reaper, Tali unmasked, and more". GamesRadar. Retrieved October 6, 2020.
- The Final Hours of Mass Effect 3.
- Lucy James (June 6, 2012). "Kimberly Brooks Interview: The Voice Behind Mass Effect's Ashley Williams". Stick Twiddlers. Archived from the original on June 15, 2012. Retrieved October 6, 2020. Unknown parameter
- Indigo Boock (May 1, 2018). "Panel Recap: A Q&A With Kimberly Brooks". GeekGirlCon. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
- Brandon Perdue (August 18, 2011). "Ethical Dilemmas and Dominant Moral Strategies In Games". Gamasutra. Retrieved October 4, 2020.
- Destin Legarie (June 16, 2014). "13 Best Mass Effect Moments". IGN. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
- Andy Kelly (May 12, 2015). "PC's most annoying characters". PC Gamer. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
- Reparaz, Mikel (July 28, 2008). "The Top 7… Irritating female characters". GamesRadar. Archived from the original on September 7, 2012. Retrieved April 10, 2020. Unknown parameter
- Alex Knapp (May 14, 2012). "Mass Effect 3: The Return of the Shepard". Forbes. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
- Chris Thursten (February 20, 2017). "In praise - and defence - of Ashley Williams, the most contentious character in BioWare's sci-fi epic". GamesRadar. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
- Matt Cronn (July 4, 2017). "Bioware's Treatment of Religion in Video Games". Geeks Under Grace. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
- Kelly, Andy (August 26, 2014). "The best and worst BioWare companions". PC Gamer. Retrieved September 14, 2014.
- Wes Fenlon (December 14, 2016). "The Mass Effect companions, ranked from worst to best". PC Gamer. Retrieved March 16, 2020.
- "Mass Effect PC Launch Trailer". Official Electronic Arts Channel. March 8, 2012. Retrieved March 22, 2020 – via YouTube.
- Kirk Hamilton (April 13, 2013). "As Video Games Changed, So Too Did Mass Effect". Kotaku. Retrieved October 6, 2020.
- "Mass Effect 3: Take Earth Back Trailer (FemShep Version)". Official Mass Effect Channel. March 8, 2012. Retrieved March 22, 2020 – via YouTube.
- "Mass Effect 3: Take Earth Back Cinematic Trailer". Official Mass Effect Channel. February 21, 2012. Retrieved March 22, 2020 – via YouTube.
- Jose Gutierrez III (April 17, 2012). "Play Arts Kai Mass Affect 3 figures". Nerd Reactor. Retrieved October 6, 2020.
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