Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fighting Demons of Deception: The "Mass Effect" Story

(NOTE: Get comfortable. Make yourself a cup of hot cocoa. You're going to be here a while. A looong while...)

You know, there are plenty of non-controversial video games in the world. In fact, I bought two this week and am thoroughly enjoying them both. However, aside from some pointless review, that's not interesting enough to post on here. Besides, I think it's a valuable service to my readers to provide a explanation of a story that they probably have no idea about. That's why whenever I seem to post on the subject, something's going down.

And this one, it's a doozy.

So, there's game that came out last November on the XBox 360 called Mass Effect. It's made by BioWare, the same company that made the excellent, excellent Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games. Mass Effect has been likened as the spiritual successor to those games, and so I'm waiting anxiously for it to come out on the PC (it hasn't been announced that it's coming to the PC, but trust me, it will eventually). The game has garnered almost universal acclaim and has been said by many to be one of, if not the, best game of 2007. So what could possibly be controversial about it.

Well, you see there's relations in this game.

Sexual relations.

Lesbian sexual relations.

Interspecies lesbian sexual relations.

Ruh-roh, Raggy!

However, before you visit the stables to find a high horse to sit upon, let me assure you upfront, it's really not that bad. In 21st-Century terms, I'd say it was actually done with quite some dignity. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Onto the story!

Chapter One - Cybercast News Service

So...Cybercast. Ever hear of them? Of course you haven't. They're a conservative (and trust me, you'll see a pattern here) news and opinion website. On January 11, one of their correspondants wrote an article on Mass Effect, entitled "Sex in Video Games Makes Waves Through Industry." Now, even though I'm likning to the articles, I don't recommend you click on them, because all that would do is generate traffic and, thus, encourage them. However, I'll give some nice juicy quotes, straight from the article.
A new, best-selling video game, Mass Effect, made for the Microsoft Xbox 360 console, allows the characters to engage in explicitly graphic sexual intercourse.
Okay, let's stop right there. That's the first sentence of the article, and already it's showing complete and utter ignorance: ignorance of the game, ignorance of the world we live in, and ignorance of the words he's using.

"Explicit." What does that mean? According to Dictionary.com, it means "fully and clearly expressed or demonstrated; leaving nothing merely implied; unequivocal." In other words, leaving nothing to the imagination.

Now, you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to show the exact scenes that are causing this controversy (that is, the entirety of the controversy). Now, there are some definitely-intimate things going on, so this may perhaps not work-safe, but it's really...well, I'll just let you judge:





(Note: I am not in favor of stupid post-coital remarks.)

So there you go. That's 2 minutes and 33 seconds (half of which was spent in conversation) out of a game which can last from 30 to 60 hours. That is the total amount of sexual activity in the game, and it's not even a guarantee that you'll see it (as it only occurs after lots of specific relationship development with the computer characters).

And would you say that was explicit? Hell, I've seen more explicit things on NBC Primetime. Really, it's about as PG-13 as you could get, pornographic only in a world where there's nothing but silhouettes.
The game is "clearly marketed to minors," Cathy Ruse, a lawyer and senior fellow for legal studies at the Family Research Council, told Cybercast News Service.
1. Who the hell is this person?
2. Does she have any facts to back up this claim?

I'll admit that I don't see many TV ads - seeing as I don't watch much TV - but I'm pretty sure they're not promoting this show on Kids WB. What I do see, though, is the Internet, and I have not seen one iota of advertising for the game that has targeted it for minors. If they had even brought up one example, I would have been satisfied, but I guess that was beneath them.
The game is rated "M" for mature, as are many video games...
Oh, because that's not a leading statement.

If you'd like the stats, only 14% of video games sold are rated "M". 49% are rated "E" for Everyone, 32% are rated "T" for Teen, and the remaining 4% are "E10+".
"Mass Effect...even goes so far as to allow homosexuality to be on par with heterosexuality and heterosexuality outside of its proper context of marriage."
"Goddamn queers! Queerin' up da place, tryin' makis all ho-mos!"
"There's no First Amendment right to exploit children ... They're making money at the expense of children in America, and they ought to be vilified for that."
Again, evidence? Do we have any evidence to support these really serious claims? No? Aww...

Really, it's just a bunch of talk with very few facts to validate any of what they're saying. It's almost like...it's almost like they've never even played the game. But this is the conservative news site Cybercast! Surely they wouldn't be so careless!

Really, the only beneficial thing to come out of this article was a hilariously satirical Photoshop (on Kotaku) adding a new option to the after-the-deed banter.

So, we get off that train, only to hop onto another...



Chapter Two - Kevin McCollough

So...Kevin McCullough. Ever hear of him? Of course you haven't. He's a conservative author and columnist on conservative website Townhall.com. I would provide you with a link directly to his article (written January 13), but it appears as though it's been taken down, likely due to too much traffic and/or heat. I don't remember exactly what it said, so the quotes I'm going to give you came from other sites. However, the article was entitled "The 'Sex-Box' Race for President." While I would love to compliment him on his clever wordplay, it seems some perverted Japanese company beat him to it. Oh, and how exactly does this play into the presidential race?
[Presidential candidates] all probably assume they have better, much more important, urgent, timely, things to campaign on, but I sure would like to get their individual takes on the new video game that one company is marketing to fifteen year old boys.
Ah! So he must have used Cybercast as his primary source! Wonderful! So basically, he's saying that we should be asking our candidates why they aren't addressing an issue that isn't even an issue, or at least not one that has been verified.
It’s called “Mass Effect” and it allows its players… to engage in the most realistic sex acts ever conceived. One can custom design the shape, form, bodies, race, hair style, breast size of the images they wish to “engage” and then watch in crystal clear, LCD, 54 inch screen, HD clarity as the video game “persons” hump in every form, format, multiple, gender-oriented possibility they can think of…
You don't know how many people made the joke "Wow, I'd pay twice as much for the version that McCullough got. Harharhar." Now, there is a character creation screen for Mass Effect. Wanna see it? Here you go! Hard as I looked, I didn't see a "Breast Size" option anywhere. Go figure.

I like the assumption that the game goes straight into lewd territory the moment you finish the character creation. I also like the assumption that all gamers have 54" LCD TV's to watch their "persons" hump in...format? What the hell does "format" mean in this context?
…And because of the digital chip age in which we live - “Mass Effect” can be customized to sodomize whatever, whoever, however, the game player wishes.
I'm sorry, this made me laugh out loud. This guy must still write with a typewriter if he's going to refer to this as the "digital chip age." But really, the whole "sodomize whatever, however" bit...so basically, the game he played is about molesting young boys, or something. And though he did pick up on the fact that there is homosexuality in these sex scenes, he didn't even do enough research to figure out that it was lesbian homosexuality. No sodomy involved.
With it’s “over the net” capabilities virtual orgasmic rape is just the push of a button away.
.....I don't even know what this sentence is even supposed to refer to! Does he think this is some website you log onto and start raping (in a "virtual orgasmic" way)?! This guy must either have the most active imagination ever, or a really, really bad childhood.
How refreshing would it be for a President to… put his pen and signature to a bill that dealt with such simulated sex excess in a way that was punitive to its creators to such a degree that they would never recover from it?
That's right! Obama, McCain, Clinton: listen up (wait, no, not Hillary; she'd actually do it)! We need to stop these orgasmic sodomizing simulators from reaching our kids and put the bastards behind it in prison, America-style!

(Note: BioWare is a Canadian company.)

Now, as you can imagine, there was quite a stir amongst the gaming community. So much so, that the article was floooooded with comments. Thousand of comments. And this is on a website that, from what I've seen in my scan of it, normally has 20 - 50 comments an article. Now, I'm not going to say that everyone was entirely civil; nay, there were quite a number of completely uncalled-for comments in addition to the ones which adequately described to Mr. McCullough how he was wrong.

So, with his toes of his left foot gently tickling the back of his throat, what does this man do? He sticks the right foot directly below the left in his follow-up article "Life Lessons: Gamers 'Rights' to Lesbo-Alien Sex" (see what he did there?). This was his chance to make amends, to admit that he had no idea what he was talking about. Let's see how he fessed up.
If the few who wrote me are indicative of the rest of the gaming universe, we know at least they have passion - for their toy-boxes...
*Facepalm.* That's not a good way to start.
But what was it I was supposed to have lied about? That my friend is the compelling part of this highly emotional drama - if only to one niche of people attached to their X-Boxes.

1. "The most realistic sex acts..." - from the YouTube footage I saw, I still concur, to me these acts are the most realistic put in video games - that I have seen. In the lesbian version one woman's hand appears to stimulate the crotch of the other passing between the legs. Today many of the more perv-oriented gamers took delight in describing for me the detailed description of games they claim are MORE realistic... Ok fine, I'll take them at their word, but for me the statement stands...
So, he's now saying he didn't lie because this is apparently the most realistic sexual acts ever put in a game that he has seen. You know what? I believe him. Because I'm sure the only other video game footage - period - he has ever seen was the first level of Super Mario Bros. However, in his original article, he didn't say "the most realistic sex I've ever seen in a video game." He said "the most realistic sex ever conceived" (emphasis mine). There's a large, day I say "cavernous," divide betwixt those two points. Hence, I still call BS on his original statement.
2. "One can custom design the shape, form, bodies, race, hair style, breast size of the images..." Evidently the only thing I got wrong on this was the breast size, though I would like someone to explain to me how the female characters end up having different sizes again on the YouTube footage I witnessed with my own eyes... But the rest of it was true. race, hair style, color - etc.
I'll grant him that last sentence. Still, when has it been a bad thing to allow players to customize race, hair, and...oh, right, right. It goes against the idea of the perfectly homogenized (but not homosexual) human.
3. "...the video game "persons" hump in every form, format, multiple, gender-oriented possibility they can think of." Again true (not that there are that many combinations of human sexuality to begin with.)
You know, I would say that this is again completely untrue and the man is as bald-faced a liar as any. However, this man was obviously brought up in a very conservative household, and probably only knows of the missionary position (being the "proper church form" and all). Hell, I don't even think about sex and I can think of more "combinations" than are displayed in the game. He then goes on to equate the fact a partner can be a lesbian alien to bestiality. Really, bestiality? That's rather harsh.
4. They also took outrageous umbrage to the claims I made in the column that the game is marketed to teen-age boys. (Though many of those giving me feedback happened to be under the age of 17/18.) The common argument is that because the game is marked "M" that means that no kid under 17/18 (depending on your state) would be allowed access to it. Asinine thinking through and through though. Simply like the fact that movie theaters are this night allowing children underage to purchase tickets, refusing to ask for ID, these games are being sold over the counter by the major chain stores with no enforcement of the age limit suggestions posted on the games themselves. The Gamers act as though the packaging itself is all the responsibility that needs to be taken. Of course they themselves probably started hiding their collection of Hustler Magazine under their beds when they were eleven and have thus a good idea of how the "letter of the law" differs from the "intent." Thus the explanation of why they were so sore with me for pointing out the obvious. The silly "M" label stands for, and accomplishes precious little.
He later recanted - somewhat - this last statement, so I'll give him that. However, I still have yeat to anyone present anything that says anywhere that it's marketed toward minors? Only arguments to the contrary. Even if the ratings system didn't do anything, that still doesn't prove the argument they're trying to make. I mean, do they even know what it means to "market" something? Seriously!
5. The major criticism the Gamers had for me in their reaction was this challenge: "Unless you've spent the 20 hours of game time it takes to get to the explicit scenes, keep your fat mouth shut!" Many challenges stated that unless I played it myself then I had no business pointing out its objectionably content. Would they say the same of a strip club at the end of their block or hookers knocking at their door? Normal people would not. There is an innate instinct that tells us right from wrong, it's called a conscience. Did I play the game? No. Did I talk to some gamers who had and who knew the possibilities of the game. Yes! Does it make the lesbian, alien, hetero, homo sex that a player arrives at in the game a proper thing for teenagers to be tantalized by? Absolutely not!
So the fact that there's an option to experience, or not experience, a segment of the game that makes up .08-.17% of the total package means nothing to this guy? As to opposed to a movie, which literally shoves sex scenes down our throats with or without our approval? This man must honestly believe the game is a hardcore sex simulator. He even compares it to a hooker, for cripe's sake!

So, things kept rolling along. As you may expect, his eloquent words did little to appease gamers worldwide. People wondered why he would continue to bear-bait people like this. One proposal (likely, an accurate one) came from webcomic Penny-Arcade who basically thought that it was his ticket out of obscurity. Because really, the guy is a nobody. Sure, he's written a book, but aside from his liberalism-fighting, he's never done anything.

...Now, there is an ending to this one. McCullough had an Internet Radio show on which he spoke with several gamers about the issues. And, surprise, he learned that he was, in fact, wrong about things, including the fact that ratings actually do things (the percentage of minors successful in purchasing M-rated games dropped from 85% in 2000 to 42% in 2005, and it's likely lower now). He also learned that not all "Gamer-Nerds," as he originally called them, are slobbering idiots who want to sodomize children, but are normal people who care about these issues as much as he does (perhaps more-so, seeing as they actually do research). And so, after 4 days of complete turmoil, the guy - still against the game - admitted that he was wrong on a couple of his original points, and said (in bold lettering, no less),
I DO apologize to the gaming universe!
Ah...all's well that ends well.

Oh, wait.

It's not over yet?

*Sigh* Here we go...


Chapter Three - Fox News

So...Fox News. Ever hear of them? Of course you...have?

So, this is the big one, as well as the most current (that is to say, ongoing).

You know what? No introduction. Watch the clip.


Now, my point-by-point:
1. Again, "SexBox". I think all these conservatives have all the same joke writers - bad, unoriginal joke writers.

2. "A new game...is leaving nothing to the imagination." These people must have small imaginations. Very small.

3. "It features full, digital nudity. Imagine!" I thought we didn't have to, lady! Still, you've seen the clips yourself. I would hardly classify the partial nudity in the game as "full nudity."

4. "The person playing the game can decide exactly what's going to happen between the two if you know what I mean." Yes, because it's so simple to control a cinematic cut-scene.

5. "The game is rated M for mature, but critics say the game is being marketed to kids and to teenagers." ONE EXAMPLE! THAT'S ALL I'M ASKING FOR! Lord almighty, how hard can it be to validate a single sound-byte.

6. Geoff Keighley is a very nice man, and considered the best video game journalists the industry has ever had (and is considered by many one of the best journalists in any field currently). The anchor flippantly refers to him as a "video game expert" (which even sounds contrived) and for the rest of the interview, he's treated like some kind of weirdo. I like how he keeps a stiff upper lip for the entirety of the segment he was in, but you have to feel bad for the man.

7. "Pandora's Box has been opened." Really? Pandora's Box? Those three minutes up there equate to Pandora's Box?

8. "Unless you're hovering over [your kids] every second, they're going to find ways to see this stuff on the Internet." Is she even still talking about Mass Effect? There's plenty worse things on the Internet, lady. A little intergalactic lovin' is the least of your problems compared to - oh, I don't know - child molesters and the like! Just a thought. And you don't have to "hover" around your kids every minute, you just have to be smart about what they have access to.

9. "Let's look at the statistics. Who's playing video games but adolescent males, not their dads." And the stereotypes begin! Yes, Miss Lawrence, let's look at the statistics. The beautiful statistics, which say that they average gamer age is 33. Minors make up only 28.2% of all gamers, whereas 47.6% are aged 18-49, and 24.2% are above 50. Also, a greater portion of the video gamer pie (31%) is taken up by women aged 18+ than it is for male minors (20%). So, given a random sampling or a perfectly heterogeneous group, it's more likely that an adolescent male's mother (or at least older sister) is playing a game than the adolescent male himself. I love statistics...real ones, that is.

10. "You don't see women as being valued for anything but their sexuality." Does she know that in the game, in order to reach these couple minutes of sexuality, you have to go through hours of dialogue, learning the innermost secrets of the characters, what they want to achieve in life, and having to respond in a way that creates a kinship with them? No? Okay, then.

11. "It's a man in this game deciding how many women he wants to be with." How does one encounter suddenly become basis for calling the main character (who can be male or female) a gigolo of sorts. That statement was completely inaccurate, and Geoff thankfully points that out immediately.

12. "Cooper, have you ever played Mass Effect?" "N-n-no." ................*Facepalm*

13. I like how when they show a screenshot from the game, they have an unnecessary large black box around the alien's butt, as if there was anything there but slight curvature.

14. "Geoff, I went on the website for the game to do 'research' and when I tried to go on it there was a little popup that had me enter my age and so I thought it was a scanning process and so I thought 'God, this is gonna take forever' and I enter my age and BOOM you're in! That's a pretty easy screen to get past." World-class journalism there. As far as the "screening process" goes, how difficult do you want it, woman? Do visitors have to give their credit card information to see the site? Honestly, I'm curious to hear how she'd improve the system.

15. Geoff: "One of the great things about Mass Effect - people who've played it know this - is that it's sort of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story and the game doesn't force you down any situation. You could actually play through the entire game without the sexual situation ever happeni-" Lawrence: "Yes, and the young boys are going to be choosing not to have sex, that'll be what they choose." This is where I get a lot of my respect for Geoff. Had that woman interrupted me - in a condescending way, no less - I would have gotten royally pissed off. Plus, she makes it sound like 10 year olds are the only ones playing this.

16. "It's not a simple choice. You don't turn on the game and it says 'Do you want to have sex or not?' It's with the evolution of a relationship with characters and the fact that this game has incredible artificial intelligence, and you can actually fall in love in this game, and it's just like modeling a form of your life." I think this one statement digs at the very heart of the controversy. Most of the people who have been criticizing the game have treated it as though it were just a sex simulator. This is basically Geoff's last attempt at reason. The response...?

17. "Darlin'..." If I said I would have been pissed off before, this would have put me over the edge. What an utter lack of respect and professionalism.

18. "I gotta go with the research, and the research says that there's a new study out by the University of Maryland that's out right now that says that boys who play video games cannot tell the difference between what they're seeing in a video and what's in the real world if they don't have a real experience." Yes, Miss. Lawrence does her research, and she gets only the most recent research, right? Well, I scoured the University of Maryland for any study related to video games at all. And, to Miss Lawrence's credit, there was one. It came out in 2005. So much for that whole "new study" thing. The study, which you can read about here, basically says that students find video games to be essentially harmless. Now, these aren't elementary students. Hell, these aren't even high school students. These are University of Maryland students! Where did Miss Lawrence see anything about "boys who play video games." Hell, they only interviewed two students, and one of them was 19-year-old girl. The only talk in that study about the "damaging effects" of video games (which I will admit, to the non-vigilant, there can be) was always in reference to previous studies. That's some damn good research there, Miss Lawrence. Bring up one three-year-old study with ambiguous results and completely (mis)interpret them to suit your final comment. Well played!

19. "Who can argue, possibly, that Luke Skywalker meets 'Debbie Does Dallas' is a good thing? It's not, it's just not good, and I'm definitely not going to let Mass Effect in my house." Thank you, bespectacled random guy. But, since you bring up Star Wars (the original ones, rated PG), don't you think there was already some, y'know, raunchy stuff in that (like, basically everything related to Jabba the Hutt)?

20. "Once you bring it into the house...our kids aren't always supervised...they let themselves in after school, and what do you think they're going to do when they get there? 'I want to play my dad's video game.' And that's dangerous." If that's your problem, hide the goddamn game disc! Problem solved.

21. "I'm not sure why it didn't merit an 'Adult Only' rating which is the highest rating a game can have. This board that rates them all needs to have their head examined." For all intents and purposes, "M" is the highest practical rating a game can have, and because games rated M are pretty much sold to only those over 17, it's pretty much Adults Only. The issue with the AO rating is that the three console makers (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) have a strict "No-AO" policy, meaning that a game cannot be sold if it is for Adults Only. Hence, an AO rating is an effective banning in the United States. Very few games ever get it, and if they do, they often tone down whatever their issue is until an "M" rating is procured. The exact same thing happens all the time in movies. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was originally rated R, but was toned down just enough to get the coveted PG-13 rating. The ESRB has done an excellent job in my opinion, almost to the point of "overdoing it" (they have a warning about "Alcohol Usage" in games; ain't that adorable?). Someone may need to have their head examined, but the ESRB is doing fine.

22. "This made me feel old, watching this. Whatever happened to Atari and Pinball and Pac-Man?" ..........................................*Facepalm*

23. Some Guy: "At the end of the day, it's up to parents to control what their kids are seeing and doing and playing." Anchor: "It is. Unfortunately, it makes being a parent a much harder job." Yes, because being a parent is supposed to be easy. Why do I have the sick feeling that if I were given a kid right now, I'd still be a better parent than these people? Yes, you're kids can access things all over the place (it may be hard to download Mass Effect by phone, however), but that's just called "living with the times." Put some effort into your children, people! My parents did, and I turned out just fine.

24. I think the saddest part of this whole thing is that Geoff's words seem to have fallen upon deaf ears. He made a beautiful case for the game in the extremely short time he was given, and yet they all still act like it's just pornography.

Well, I guess that's Faux News for ya.

...But wait! It's not over yet!

Electronic Arts, who recently acquired BioWare, sent a letter to Fox News. I honestly can't blame them. After all, their quality game was completely trounced and dragged through its own filth in an unfortunately mainstream news station. You know what that's called? That's slander, children.

Basically, they requested - requested, not demanded - that Fox News corrected many of the errors that they made, including the ideas that the game shows full nudity and graphic sex and that it's been marketed to teenagers. The end of the letter, which I'll reproduce here, tries to reach out to Fox News' supposed good side.

The resulting coverage was insulting to the men and women who spent years creating a game which is acclaimed by critics for its high creative standards. As video games continue to take audiences away from television, we expect to see more TV news stories warning parents about the corrupting influence of interactive entertainment. But this represents a new level of recklessness.

Do you watch the Fox Network? Do you watch Family Guy? Have you ever seen The OC? Do you think the sexual situations in Mass Effect are any more graphic than scenes routinely aired on those shows? Do you honestly believe that young people have more exposure to Mass Effect than to those prime time shows?

This isn't a legal threat; it's an appeal to your sense of fairness. We're asking FNC to correct the record on Mass Effect.
Normally, I would never claim to be on EA's side, but Jeff Brown (VP of Communications, who wrote the letter) is completely right. Think if you were one of the many people who worked on this game for years, and have its name sullied by half-truths and whole lies. It is insulting. It is also ironic that Fox News is in the same empire as Fox, which seems to have exactly opposite morals. Finally, I appreciate the fact that they didn't threaten legal action. They must have learned from my example.

But things weren't so easy. The producer of the show on which the segment was hosted had sent a single line text message to Brown, blowing off his whole request. Brown then commented that he wouldn't let the good people of Canada to have their work and reputation slandered, and that there would be a fight if Fox news did not come clean.

Finally, Fox News did make a statement, but not the one that EA wanted.
Fox News Channel has extended several invitations to EA through a company representative to appear on Live Desk With Martha MacCallum to discuss Mass Effect and the segment which aired on Monday. We have received no response.
So, they're forcing EA to come on to their show to pry out an apology like so many rotten teeth. Isn't a news company supposed to fess up when they make a mistake and/or lie? Well, any with integrity would. I guess that's Faux News for you.

But what of Miss Cooper Lawrence? You know, that obvious feminist who condescends grown men and does research that would make Inspector Clouseau shake his head in disbelief. Well, you may remember that when she was introduced, she was noted as the author of the new book "The Cult of Perfection." Well, I wonder how that book is. Let's check out Amazon.

Heh.

At it's peak, there were over 500 1-star reviews. As of this writing, there are 382. I'm sure most will be taken down before too long. So far, Amazon mainly deleted those which included personal attacks on the author (name calling, threats, etc.). The rest is fair game. A lot of people are saying things to the effect of "If she criticizes games without playing them, I'm going to criticize her book without reading it," and "She's using her womanly body on the cover for no other reason than to sell more copies of her book. That teaches kids poor morals." In case you're wondering, no, I haven't written a review of the book. Though I do find myself smirking at the situation.

Which brings me to my final point.

If you have any sort of occupation which connects you in some way to the Internet, tread carefully when talking about gamers. Because - and I say this without pride nor malice - gamers own the Internet. It's essentially the same population. And with tools like Digg, news travels fast. Hence, action can be taken swiftly and brutally. It will overload your website's server, it will flood your inbox, and you can be damn sure all your books will have poor reviews.

So, are gamers just a bunch of thugs who will bully anyone who disagrees with them? No, no, no....well, yes, some are. But most are fairly reasonable. Here's an interesting thought: why don't academic institutions that post anti-gaming studies not hated upon (much)? My idea is that it has to do with credibility. These organizations did actual research and experiments to come to their conclusions. They didn't pull things out of midair.

Second takeaway point: when you're watching the news and you see these sensationalist stories, don't take them at face value. Often times, they're based on ignorance and speculation.

So, long story short: if you want to criticize a game, make sure you know what you're talking about! That's all.

Holy hell, that was long. Hopefully, you're still the same age you were when you started reading. I guess this counts as my beginning of semester thesis. In any event, I'm interested in hearing your opinion on the subject. Am I wrong? Have I been downplaying this sexual encounter? Do you have an example of Mass Effect being marketed to children (I'd really like to see one)? Whatever you have to say, sound off in the comments.

Laters.

***UPDATE 1/26/07***
So, at this point, Amazon has removed all reviews of Miss Lawrence's that were from people who have obviously not read the book. As of this moment, there's only 21 left (though, interestingly, they're still all 1 and 2-star ratings). Additionally, Miss Lawrence has come forth and apologized. Here's the story from the New York Times. (If you don't have a NYT account, I recommend getting one; it's free.) It's worth a read, mainly because it's pretty amusing for a newpaper article, with lines such as "The Internet hath no fury like a gamer scorned." In the article, Miss Lawrence comes clean and admits that even though she was the "expert" for Fox News, she had no idea what she was talking about. Here are the prime paragraphs.
In an interview on Friday, Ms. Lawrence said that since the controversy over her remarks erupted she had watched someone play the game for about two and a half hours. “I recognize that I misspoke,” she said. “I really regret saying that, and now that I’ve seen the game and seen the sex scenes it’s kind of a joke.

“Before the show I had asked somebody about what they had heard, and they had said it’s like pornography,” she added. “But it’s not like pornography. I’ve seen episodes of ‘Lost’ that are more sexually explicit.”

Some have claimed that this is nothing but damage control to try to prevent more negative reviews from sending her Amazon book ratings "into oblivion" as the article author puts it. Personally, I think it's sincere, from a person who was honestly unaware of the far-reaching implications her words would have. Either way, I applaud that she had enough grace and dignity to admit her mistake. We'll see if anyone else (i.e. Fox News) follows suit.

3 comments:

Squall said...

Well done Andrew. I plan on making video games my career, and I am very much a gamer, so thanks for all of that, I appreciate it.

I also like the link to Amazon, where it shows the tags that the book is linked with, among the most popular are Hypocrisy and Garbage, among others.

I also would like to offer some information on this:
4. They also took outrageous umbrage to the claims I made in the column that the game is marketed to teen-age boys. (Though many of those giving me feedback happened to be under the age of 17/18.) The common argument is that because the game is marked "M" that means that no kid under 17/18 (depending on your state) would be allowed access to it. Asinine thinking through and through though. Simply like the fact that movie theaters are this night allowing children underage to purchase tickets, refusing to ask for ID, these games are being sold over the counter by the major chain stores with no enforcement of the age limit suggestions posted on the games themselves. The Gamers act as though the packaging itself is all the responsibility that needs to be taken. Of course they themselves probably started hiding their collection of Hustler Magazine under their beds when they were eleven and have thus a good idea of how the "letter of the law" differs from the "intent." Thus the explanation of why they were so sore with me for pointing out the obvious. The silly "M" label stands for, and accomplishes precious little.

You see, I work in a video game store. A rather major chain, probably the only nationwide coast to coast chain that specifically focuses on selling video games, as far as I know. So, I think that qualifies me as someone who would know what a major chain does. Company policy, not law, not statute, not anything involving the government or any other outside entity, but actual Company policy is as follows: We cannot sell any M rated game to a minor without the consent of an adult. The adult should be responsible for them (this usually means parents, though it also allows for siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.) and must be told not only that the game is rated M, but why it has that rating. As an employee, I regularly tell parents about the M rated games their children bring up to the counter, and check for ID if someone wishing to purchase a game looks like they might be under 17 (though this is somewhat like carding people for alcohol or tobacco and anyone who looks under 30 should be carded) and I can vouch for my store, and some others in the area, that are following through on this policy.
One thing to note is how often parents are surprised by the content of the games, which is in my estimate, 4/5 times a parent is told about the rating (usually on games like grand theft auto). Then, almost every single time, the child will pipe up with the statement that they already have games in this series, and that the parents have bought them before or that someone else has bought for them. Most parents seem about ready to destroy their child's game collection at this point, and refuse to purchase the game.
Of further note is that this policy is enforced mostly as a public service, as stated before, the policy is not, to my knowledge, enforced by any outside entity, and in all likelihood results in significant loss of revenue for the company.

Well, hope that's not too long, but it just bugged me, so I had to put something in. Thanks again Andrew, I'll now expect things like this about games every week (/jk).

Squall said...

I'll comment on your update too, since I too applaud her comments, and the fact that she has apologized, and acknowledged that she misspoke is encouraging. However, I hope her book is sent into ratings oblivion anyway.
Why? Because her attitude on the show was so awfully self-indulgent and self centered. She practically insulted the other "expert" on the show, then when the host ended their banter, she had to quip "Let me at him". Only one internet communication can fully express my rancor, WTF!?!?!?!?!?!?1?1?oneoneone.

Christopher said...

Once again Andrew, I argue that you are the Keith Olbermann of gaming. Unfortunately, I have heard of Cybercast News Service (Air America Radio host Thom Hartmann was debating their editor.) Regardless, I think there is great irony in the fact that the people who are "most uncomfortable" with sex are the most vocal about it. I mean, yes, there are the Gay Pride Parades, the nudists and what not, but it's not a celebration or condemnation of sex, it's a celebration of someone's true nature, a nature that extends beyond the confines of the bedroom.

It would be easy to dismiss this as more sensationalist attempts to garner ratings. After all, Fox News, Cybercast News Service, et al all caters their message to the same base - the typical conservative mind. Rather than tackling the real issues of our day - the Occupation of Iraq, the cutting off of supplies to the Palestinians by Israel, the income gap between the rich and poor, the potential for a faltering economy and so much more, they focus on these issues which will rile up the base. Never mind that the government of George W. Bush has lied to the country officially 935 times (I personally think this count is much higher, but I stopped counting after the 2000 election.) Rather, I think this is merely re-arranging the deck chairs of, as Stephen Colbert said, on the Hindenburg. Their movement is fractured by their Presidential field, morally bankrupt by the likes of Rudy Guliani, Ted Haggard and so on and has nothing to run on.

Normally, I would scratch my head for someone to focus so much on a video game. The content of a video game can not hold a candle to an illegal occupation, a misguided economy or a criminal presidency. Everybody knows that this will not be the defining issue of a generation. It’s pettiness at its worst – simply a dangling of a shiny object to capture the attention of a few. However, it is not the accusations or the video game that matters, rather it is the subtext. These individuals, this extreme minority, are trying to impose their insecurities and fears upon the majority. If there was real harm being done by this game, then maybe they would have a point. However, with the systems and programs established by the government and the private sector, the potential for harm has been effectively diminished. When there is no harm done, there is no reason, no compelling interest to duct tape the mouths (or in this case, hands) of people. This call to arms, so to say, is one that crosses a line too far – a constitution is designed to limit the government so it may not its people.

Maybe we have become too comfortable with sex in our media, but that is not for a few to decide alone. Nor is that for me or you or anyone else to decide alone. That is up for us as a society to decide through the political and economic processes that are part of our system. We may object to things, we may restrict things within our own home, we may even speak out against it, but we must not persecute or otherwise harm the name of people who have done no harm.

Note, on Fox News' "expert" (or as local Radio Personality Stephanie Miller says, "Foxpert"), I am glad she apologized. However, it is her moral and professional obligation as someone on the media to know what she's saying before she says it. I have had a long, healthy skepticism about the media, but this merely validates it.

Kudos to you Andrew. As they say, "sunlight is the best disinfectant."

-Comrade Chavez