Sex, Violence & Cultural Validity

A lot has been said over the past few weeks concerning the sexual content of Mass Effect, most notably the controversially unresearched Fox TV spot below. As a former member of the dev team responsible, (who directed a portion of the motion-capture actors involved – though full cutscenes weren’t my gig), I can perhaps speak with a little more candour on the subject.

To recap, the story so far:

  1. Conservative radio journalist posts 3-page condemnation of “Virtual Orgasmic Rape” allegedly portrayed in Mass Effect.
  2. Fox picks up the story, (shown above), draughting book author and panel to blast the game’s supposed pornographic nature.
  3. Gamers take offence to the author’s comments, particularly the fact that all of the commentators neglected to actually play the game, spamming reviews of her recent book on Amazon, (some of which is hilarious).
  4. EA, (now the parent company of BioWare), issues a statement to Fox, requesting that they officially correct their misinformed allegations.
  5. Fox responds to EA, inviting them onto the show for a second, predictably biased, debate.
  6. Original conservative radio journalist apologises for his error-strewn piece, surreptitiously removing the initial post.
  7. Author apologises, retracting her erroneous statements after finally observing someone play the game.

EA is correct in saying that this is not only a gross misrepresentation of the game, but it’s especially disappointing ¬†considering I felt Mass Effect offered a somewhat more mature and substantial experience than that described in the segment. I know that others still at BioWare share this sadness that the game has been run through the mud due to a combination of ignorance, self-publicity and a prescribed agenda masquerading as journalism.


Can we honestly, as an industry, say that these kinds of criticisms leveled against us are wholly without merit?

One thing I’ve been repeating a lot recently is that I’m sick of games that involve nothing more cerebral than just shooting people. That kind of baseless content is indefensible against mass-media criticism, and to be perfectly honest, is hard to justify as a daily job let alone a creative one. There’s an almost automated reaction against any form of censorship of videogame content but how often do we, as developers and as gamers, stop to consider the cultural validity of the way we spend our downtime?

I’m not here to argue whether “adult” games are influential to minors that shouldn’t be accessing that kind of material as that’s another debate more well-trodden elsewhere, nor am I to take apart the arguments and sheer lack of research present in the above piece, (which hardly deserves debate), but regardless of the answer, consider this. Videogames, by their very virtual nature, can conjure up any kind of experience imaginable. In the words of my first Lead Programmer, “Anything’s possible, it’s just a question of time“. Why then do we continue to churn out endless waves of puerile and/or conflict-orientated entertainment, and more to the point, why does the general public continue to lap it up?

Our greatest mission going forward, (one that is shared with all the most passionate developers I speak with), is the search for legitimacy as a creative medium and cultural validity as a form of entertainment. I believe Mass Effect is one of a small but growing number of videogames that can stand against the generic criticism thrown around by the sensationalist press, which makes it all the more frustrating that it should be singled out in this way.