Fox News on Mass Effect; or, Play the Darn Game!

So, according to this clip from major news outlet Fox News (which I have no overarching gripe about), Mass Effect is chock-full of graphic violence and sex and should be rated Adults Only and kept out of the hands of most gamers, since virtually all gamers are prepubescent boys. And this they know because some psychologist who hasn’t played the game, who in fact laughs at the hinted suggestion that she might ought to play the game before she rails on it, says so. Geoff Keighley tried his best to counter these ludicrous claims, but kept getting cut off before he could fully make his point. Which is, of course, that these are absolutely untrue, ludicrous claims, as anyone who’d actually, like, played the game would know.

Yes, there is a sex scene in the game. It comes after about 30 hours of play and lasts less than a couple of minutes, as Keighley points out. And there is no graphic nudity in it. In fact, it’s rather tastefully done; so “tastefully” that it’s almost funny, in the bad ’80s movie sort of way. And it’s presented as part of a long story/relationship-arc that has to be handled in a certain way to even get to it. It’s quite possible to play the entire game multiple times and never see the sex scene. Oh, and the anchor at one point, while showing a clip of the beginning of said sex scene, says “the player gets to decide exactly what happens between these two characters, if you know what I mean,” her tone intimating that you’re controlling the sex act itself, which is utterly untrue. It’s a cinematic cut scene; you control the dialogue and relationship choices that may or may not lead up to the scene, but you do nothing during it.

There are so many other little things here mostly stemming from people talking about things they know nothing about. Talking about ESRB game ratings, the anchor says you have to pick up the box and read the back to find out the rating; not true–the ratings are ALWAYS prominently displayed on the front (much more prominently than MPAA ratings are displayed on DVD cases, for example); as if reading the back were such a chore anyway. One of the other panel members at the end mentions buying an inappropriate game for his daughter because he either didn’t see the rating or didn’t know what it meant. I don’t know about all game stores, but certainly the ones I’ve shopped at have the ratings and their meanings displayed all over the store. The psychologist states categorically that most gamers are teenage boys, but the average gaming age is over 30 now. My favorite is when one of the panelists says she doesn’t understand why Mass Effect isn’t rated AO (adults only, the equivalent of NC-17 for movies) instead of M (mature, the equivalent of R for movies). Well, if any of these people had bothered to play the game instead of just condemn it, they would know that had Mass Effect been a movie, with the exact same amount of violence and sexual content, it would almost certainly have been rated PG-13.

I think that’s what really gets me; I understand the principle of not wanting sex and violence in games, but I don’t understand the double standard whereby games are vilified for having shades of things in them that movies have had for ages and very few people get unduly up in arms about anymore. No one goes, OMG, Shakespeare in Love has a sex scene with nudity, without at least considering the rest of the film and whether there’s value in it. But that’s exactly what people do with video games; forget the fact that Mass Effect has a film-quality story and script, excellent acting, incredible graphics, and groundbreaking gameplay. Nope, it’s got one sorta sex scene that we’ll blow all out of proportion and thereby condemn the game entirely. (At least the anchor does attempt to be somewhat fair by pointing out how gorgeous the game is.) And believe me, when you finish Mass Effect, the thing you remember from it won’t be the fact that your character got laid. Unless the media continues to hype it this way to the point where you can’t remember anything else.

(via Joystiq.