Matthew Alford continues his exploration of sex in videogames in the second part of a series of features (read part 1 here). This time he lays bare the hypocrisy that occurs when censorship meets gaming…
Next, Mass Effect 2 was picked up on by Martha MacCallum of Fox News. On her show, guest Cooper Lawrence claimed, despite admitting that she had not played the game, that players had “the ability for players to engage in full graphic sex” and that the game featured full frontal nudity. The other guest, Geoff Keighley, argued the facts the best he could but was largely ignored.
EA, parent company of Bioware, quickly released an open letter addressing the wild claims made by MacCallum and Lawrence. Not only this, but fans also decided to give Lawrence’s book the same treatment and the game had had from her. Thousands of angry gamers left negative reviews for her book on Amazon.com, despite never having read it. By the end of the week only 12 of the 472 user reviews were 3 star or above. One reviewer wrote “I know all about this book but have never fully read it. Why? Due to the overwhelming backlash, I have no choice but to agree with the 1 star ratings. The rumors are rampant that this book was poorly written and poorly researched. So without verifying the contents myself — I give it a 1 star. Good thing video games aren’t judged in this manner — whew!!!”
Mass Effect broke no laws and all the content was clearly represented on the ESRB rating. All games that are released in America are rated by the ESRB, which can rate any game as AO (adults only). The majority of retailers will not stock AO games so developers will often drastically change the content of their games to achieve an M rating instead. In the UK, games have to be rated by the BBFC. If the BBFC refuses to rate a game they are effectively banned. Games that have fallen foul of these rating systems include Manhunt 2, where players could decapitate people with hacksaws and suffocate people with paper bags, all the time mimicking movements on the screen with motion controlled remotes, and Battle Raper 2, which I don’t think I have to describe. Mass Effect, on the other hand, received a 12 rating from the BBFC and an M rating from the ESRB.
All this was bound to influence their next game in one way or another, which brings me to Dragon Age: Origins. With this game Bioware made the interesting choice to become more progressive and yet in some ways less controversial – one can only assume to avoid a repeat of the report of Fox News. In this game there were still complicated relationships which could, if given enough care and attention, flourish into romance, but this time there was something for everyone. Male or female characters had a choice between either gender of love interest.
The game itself seems a rather generic romp through a Tolkien-esque world, but play a little more and you will uncover one of the more well thought out and complex game worlds in recent years. The depths of the mythology created for this world span far beyond that covered in the context of the main quest, with an immense encyclopaedia filling up as you progress with details about historical events, neighbouring countries, mythology, religion, different species and more. Bioware is a developer that lavishes so much love and thought on to its games that one can’t help but become completely immersed. The gameplay is quite traditional for a western role playing game, with lots of stats to play with and skills to acquire. However, the main focus of the game is arguably the relationships with your party members, and this is not just limited to romances. The bonds you build with the characters that follow you means that by the end of the game you will truly care what happens to each and every one of them.
Read the third and final part of the series tomorrow.