I’m replaying the Mass Effect series for the n:th time, because honestly, why not? I’m on the third installation of the game, and I’ve had the dubious pleasure of running into Conrad Verner again. In fact, he’s been there throughout the series. On the Citadel as a fan, on Illium as a fake Spectre and again in the refugee camp on the Citadel, claiming Cerberus’s goodwill to all people.

In all these encounters, Verner is a fanboy plagued by social awkwardness. Verner is well meaning, but kind of a pain in the ass. In the first game, he’s just a super fan, someone so in love with the idea of Shepard as a hero that I get the distinct feeling that Conrad’s a bit stupid. He certainly doesn’t seem to worry about posing with Shepard and having the photo enlarged and put on his wall, even with a wife waiting in the wings. He’s a nuisance, but kind of sweet.

In the second game, Verner is doing what he believes is right. He’s donned the N7 armor (a cheap cosplay version, it seems) and presents himself (badly) as a Spectre. Shepard is believed dead and Conrad, in all his oafishness, thinks that someone has to step up on the plate and be the hero. Again, Conrad’s inability to read social cues and his eagerness to please, paint him as slightly dumb. It’s obvious he’s making a mess of things, but he dearly, dearly wants to be a good guy. Again, his bumbling is born from a sincere wish to do good. And since Shepard died, he wants to shoulder that burden.

In ME2 he’s made a mess of things by misunderstanding, and as far as I can tell, his hero worship of Commander Shepard has cost him his marriage.

In the third installation of the game series, Verner can be found on the Citadel, in the refugee camp, where he’s preaching that Cerberus wants what’s good for humanity. Again, he’s taking his cues from what he knows about Shepard. Shepard was with Cerberus. In Verner’s eyes, Shepard can do no wrong. Ergo – Cerberus must be doing good work.

This time, he’s provided cover to a Cerberus agent sabotaging medi gel dispensers. His nerdy and naïve outlook again presents him as stupid.

However, speaking to Verner this time reveals that he’s a PhD and that his doctoral thesis is just what the massive weapon being built needs. Verner is in other words not stupid.

Another incident clarifies that Verner is indeed prepared to live up to his worship. He throws himself in front of an unarmored Shepard, ready to risk his life in the same bumbling and socially awkward manner that has kept him trying and failing to live up to Shepard’s heroism through three games straight.

In other words, Verner is neither stupid or a coward, but it takes the player three games to get to the point where Verner steps up as a hero. At least in front of Shepard. Verner is obviously not very skilled at reading social cues and honestly his presentation could do with some work.

Deep down, however, his idealism – although sometimes informed by blinding hero worship – and his courage gently subverts the trope of the mindless fanboy. It’s a moment of redemption for the socially awkward Verner, and for Shepard, provided the Commander has had faith in Verner.

Verner for proving he’s brave and smart, although not smart in the social sense of the word.

Shepard from proving that sometimes all you have to do is to be patient with people, listen to them and be kind. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll pay you back by taking a bullet for you.