Why sex is still a non-issue for Mass Effect 2
Here's the thing about the upcoming video game release, Mass Effect 2 - Yes there will be sex in space.
No, that should not concern parents, or the self-appointed (dare I say puritanical) defenders of the nation's video-game playing children.
At this year's E3 video game expo, developers Microsoft Studios and Bioware unveiled cut scene and gameplay video of Mass Effect 2, the sequel to one of the most critically praised games of 2008. It looked great, and has generated a good deal of excitement from the gaming public, mainly because the first game was so damn good.
But that game also brought condemnation from critics for portraying sex scenes, including a female on female alien* coupling. Fox News hosted a now infamous and often-mocked "debate," with the screen title"SeXbox."
Now, anyone who has actually played Mass Effect knows that sex is a small, and far from gratuitous portion of the game. I mean, what other game makes you listen to Tennyson before you can consummate the relationship? Videos on VH1 are racier and more gratuitous in their depiction of sexuality. Due to graphical shortcomings mapping over facial animation, your character and your love interest never even kiss, and the actual nookie portion of the cut scene doesn't even last the better part of a minute. In comparison, the game is designed to occupy a thorough gamer for upwards of 30 hours.
Should anyone be able to play Mass Effect? No, but I would say that the Teen rating on the game is entirely appropriate. Any video gamer under 12 or 13 is not going to have the patience for this type of game anyway, and I promise you, I'd rather my own child go through that game, fostering a relationship with one of those characters in the game, than learn about love and sex through such fine PG-13 films as "The Dukes of Hazard" or the Scary Movie trilogy.
The official Mass Effect 2 Web site states:
Part of telling a great action / adventure story is having a love interest to give deeper meaning and character development to the relationships. So much like in the original Mass Effect, you will be able to develop relationships into love interests over the course of the game.
Which sounds a lot like the same tone, and same type of sexual content will be included in the sequel.
This is a good thing. The Mass Effect writers handle sexuality in a very adult way (that's adult as in mature and realistic, not in the pervy sense). If I was a pundit concerned with video game's impact on youth, I would want to encourage, even applaud their efforts, not call for boycotts or bans.
More often than you think, video game publishers have actually toned down games that are released in America, ranging from removing some bawdy joke from a Final Fantasy title, to axing whole sex scenes from very adult games like Indigo Prophesy. The poor gamers of Singapore were denied Mass Effect entirely because of the lesbian* couple option. Censorship is no good, and the whole point of a ratings system is to let the marketplace decide what the public wants to see for itself.
Knee -jerk hysterics over the sexuality in games like Mass Effect is distracting and divisive (what gamer could ever keep a straight face, debating the issue with any of those pundits from the Fox segment?). But let us be honest, the nexus of video games and sex is something worth talking about.The folks at Ugo.com don't even rate the Mass Effect sex scenes in their top 20 game sex scenes for a reason- there is much more explicit, and gratuitous stuff out there.
Gamers can and should defend sexuality as part of the range of human
experiences that can be portrayed in the the video game genre. Of course sexual content itself can mean quite a variety of things. Currently, sexuality in games stretches from the absurd and humorous world of Leisure Suit Larry, to the juvenile ability to ogle Laura Croft's butt for hours on end, to the violent and misogynistic underground market of rape fantasy games.
People of all ages now play video games, and we should be vigilant about clearly labeling game content that is clearly sex for the sake of sex, e.g. the Hot Coffee mod for Grand Theft Auto. As a community, we should also be vocal about not wanting to ever see certain things see the mainstream light of day, such as the pixalated disgrace of Custer's Revenge for the Atari, or the aforementioned rape sims.
Mass Effect 2 won't be the last game to possibly stir the issue of sex in gaming, but hopefully critics and gamers alike can move on to other games and leave the well-written love life of Commander Shepard alone.
* - Note: It is possible for a female Cmd. Shepard to complete the love interest storyline with an Asari alien. While the Asari all speak with feminen voices and have breasts, they are explained to be an asexual species in the game.