Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Speechless (Except Not)

Attention, everyone! Journalism has hit a new low. Meet Kevin McCullough. This writeup, "The 'Sex-Box' Race for President" is probably the most reprehensible article I've ever read. We're all used to journalists using creative rhetoric and omitting key details to be misleading. This, on the other hand, is downright slander based on a bunch of bold-faced lies.

You can read the article for yourself, and the (currently just shy of 700) comments responding to it are more than enough of a supply of counters to McCullough's inane statements. The corresponding GP article also highlights the important parts.

That said, here's the rundown: BioWare's Mass Effect is a recent sci-fi adventure title for the Xbox 360.
There's been a fair bit of hype about it, and it lived up to the hype when it was met with very favorable reviews. (Praise for the game emphasizes excellent story-telling, among other things.) Mass Effect's ESRB rating is M for Mature, meaning that retailers agree to refuse sale of the game to persons under seventeen. It's about the same as a movie being rated R, although this particular example has nowhere near the mature content of a contemporary R-rated film. Note that games that are exceptionally violent/course/explicit are shunned by mainstream platforms and consumers.

Mass Effect contains a controversial "sex scene" between the player-controlled character and another character in the story. Which two characters are involved varies depending on what character the player chooses to control at the start of the game, and what choices they make up to this point. In the scene, two characters are seen kissing, and what follows is some very dark footage of the characters' faces close together, a hand running down a back, and, oh yes, a glimpse of some buttocks for all of one second. Raunchy stuff. The sequence is less than a minute long, and the rest of the single-player content takes around 35 hours to complete.

Mr. McCullough's article claims that Mass Effect targets teenage boys around the age of 15. He calls it a sex game, a porn game, wherein players customize and control a graphic sex sequence for nearly 3 minutes. He even goes so far as to say, referring to the 360's internet connectivity,
"With it’s [sic] 'over the net' capabilities virtual orgasmic rape is just the push of a button away."
And there's a lot more where that came from. Frankly, that statement alone is far more perverse than anything I've ever seen or heard of in a video game. McCullough goes on to challenge the American presidential candidates to address this pressing issue, and expresses the wish that constitution would bring down the hammer on seedy, unsavory firms like BioWare.


So what's the big deal? I'll tell you. As far as I can remember, I've never given a thorough explanation on this blog of my philosophy around video games as emerging media. And when I say "my philosophy", I actually mean a widely shared opinion that is basically considered fact by people who study or think about media. This incident of slandering an awesome game is a great example of what gets under my skin.

The fact is, video/computer games are an artistic medium just like books, radio, TV, film, et al. They are the new kid on the block, so it's easy to point our fingers at them and accuse them of being the root of all kinds of problems. TV, comic books, etc. endured the same criticisms in their infancy.

The biggest misconception that a lot of people are still operating under is that video games are for children. Video games, as a whole, are not for children. Pulled straight from the Entertainment Software Association's (ESA) website, the average gamer is 33 years old. Think of it this way: some movies are for children, but most of them aren't. Instead of assuming, "Oh, it's just a video game," when they buy video games for their kids despite being rated T or M, they need to realize that's no different from letting your kid watch Restricted movies - because things get rated a certain way for a reason.

It's upsetting to gaming enthusiasts, or media enthusiasts in general like myself, when the public, politicians, and other groups set unfair double standards for games versus other media, or otherwise target games for non-legitimate reasons. The attacks and restrictions not only impede the growth of the medium, but overstep the boundaries that protect civil liberties like freedom of expression. Additionally, it should go without saying that the medium does more good for people than stereotypes would have you believe. (Consider, for example, all the heart-warming stories that come out of a highly social game like WoW.)

That's why Kevin McCullough's article is infuriating to people. He slanders a perfectly legitimate and well-respected project, and then suggests the government step in and punish the artists. Why get angry if some idiot is flapping his mouth? Because a lot of people will listen to that idiot, not knowing any better themselves. McCullough's failure as a journalist was completed when he tried to defend his statements, summed up well in this interview-style post from popular game news blog Kotaku. The defense includes resorting to ad hominem attacks, (many times), dismissing the effectiveness of ESRB ratings, and other tomfoolery.

That's not to say all critics of games and gaming culture reason and argue like children. However, I think it's reasonable to ask that people refrain from dressing up speculation as discovery. Do your research, please.

Oh, by the way, want to see what all the fuss was about? A 57-second video clip of that attention-mongering sex scene is right on YouTube. Here it is.
Warning: The following footage contains some heavy breathing and a bum. Feint of heart, weak of mind - avert your eyes!!


Top 10 Facts About the Gaming Industry (Things you probably don't know)
The ESRB Rating Guide
What They Play A new site for parents that gives an informed, honest, and unbiased look at popular video games
The Daedalus Project An ongoing research project conducted by Stanford University's Dr. Nick Yee into the various psychological aspects of MMORPGs.

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At 7:46 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

I read that article yesterday. It confused me a lot because I hadn't played Mass Effect. After confirmation from Boy that the game is not in fact the best-kept-secret sexfest out there, it made me laugh. Doesn't infuriate me because the comments on the article show that the world is nowhere near tolerant of his bullshit.

I know, I know, you get really mad about the principle of it, people's misconceptions about videogames being ohsobad. But honestly? I don't think it's hurting the industry, or gamers, one bit -- just like various generations' condemnation of rock'n'roll, comic books, what have you, ultimately accomplished squat. Have you ever met someone, irl, who legitimately thought vg are the devil? Other than my mother, who decreed Care Bears too violent for her eldest daughter to watch? (That is not a joke, ask her about it sometime.)

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Dave said...


I'll agree that *ultimately* it doesn't matter much. But instead of holding our breaths for a better future, I think it's worthwhile to fight for our rights today. (Sounds really cheesy but whatever.)

As for misconceptions and prejudice against VGs not hurting the industry/gamers? Haha. Take a peek at any of the following links:

German game developer Crytek gets raided by state police:

Indian government is considering outright banning all violent games

Manhunt 2 receives AO rating from ESRB and denied a rating in the UK, effectively banning it from all of N.America and the UK. (Tasteless? In my opinion, yes, but still.)

I can't track down a good link for this, but in China there's a law that you can only be on the internet for 2 hours at a time. This was implemented right after a couple of idiotic parents played WoW for a few days straight and neglected their baby, which died. This is bad for Blizzard, since you pay for WoW by the hour in China, and that's where the majority of their subscribers are.

...As for the care bear thing, instead of tarnishing my stellar reputation with your mother, I think I'd rather just make fun of Erica for not being allowed to watch the wussiest show on earth. (Unless you're talking about your step-sister...whose name I forget. =/)


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