The Mass Effect “Controversy”

Fox News and Cooper Lawrence provide a perfect example of how to derail any sort of thoughtful discussion concerning sex, nudity, and violence in video games.
Mass Effect

On January 21, Cooper Lawrence appeared on a Fox News segment about Mass Effect, where she decried its sexual content and objectification of women.

Now, anyone who has spent any time actually playing Mass Effect would immediately realize how preposterous those claims are. Yes, Mass Effect does contain some sexual content, but it’s absolutely wrong to characterize it as “pornography” or as the focus of the game. Indeed, it’s entirely possible to sidestep that content altogether, depending upon how you play Mass Effect and what choices you make throughout its 20 – 30 hours of gameplay. (And let’s not forget the moral weight that Mass Effect puts on your choices, be they romantic or otherwise.)

However, as Lawrence even admits in the segment, she never actually played Mass Effect. In fact, according to the New York Times, she was basing her statements on what someone else had told her:

In an interview on Friday, Ms. Lawrence said that since the controversy over her remarks erupted she had watched someone play the game for about two and a half hours. “I recognize that I misspoke,” she said. “I really regret saying that, and now that I’ve seen the game and seen the sex scenes it’s kind of a joke.
“Before the show I had asked somebody about what they had heard, and they had said it’s like pornography,” she added. “But it’s not like pornography. I’ve seen episodes of Lost’ that are more sexually explicit.”

And there you have it. You can read the full article here, which also includes more info about the gamer backlash against Lawrence’s claims. (Registration might be required.)

I find this “controversy” entirely predictable, and sadly so. Here we have a news program bringing on a “pundit” who knows absolutely nothing about what they’re talking about beyond some hearsay, and it’s foisted on the public as a serious and reasonable debate — which lasts all of 5 minutes or so.

This might make for good soundbites and clever promos (I especially liked the “ Se’Xbox” headline in the Fox News spot), but ultimately, it’s nothing more than disinformation and deception.

Should there be a frank and respectful discussion about sex, nudity, violence, etc., in video games, and the effects that they might have on children (and adults for that matter)? A discussion about the concerns parents might have, and the steps that they can take to protect their children from such things should they want to? Absolutely. But Fox News and Cooper Lawrence have given us all a perfect example of how to derail and undermine that kind of discussion and prevent it from ever happening.

Read more about Mass Effect.