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A Brief History of Gaming Sexual Failures part 6

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Adrian Hatwell
Adrian Hatwell

Despite disappointing performances time and again, the gaming industry never satiated its innate sexual curiosity. Never mind how incensed the media would get when some small, crude, decidedly unsexy dalliance snuck into a title, the quest for meaningful sex in games continued.

Developers Bioware, who made a name for themselves on excellent Role-Playing Games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, are well respected for their storytelling prowess within a medium that is often hostile to traditional narrative. Being that they can spin a digital yarn better than most it made sense that they should take steps to inject a little honest sexuality into their 30+ hour saga of intergalactic drama and personal interaction, Mass Effect.

It was tasteful, positive, respectful, lead naturally from the story, and it drove the media absolutely insane.

Mass Effect – 2007

In the year 2183 mankind has managed to kick off the shackles of the solar system and mingle with various alien races throughout the galaxy thanks to the discovery of some left over technology from an extinct alien civilization. Taking control of Commander Shepard, players captain the extraordinary space frigate SSV Normandy through a tale that mashes up the likes of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Blade Runner.

The story is by no means wildly original, hitting the familiar SF tropes of colonization, exploration, and the pitting of man against artificial intelligence. As with any good space opera, the narrative's main thrust is garnished with plenty of melodramatic relationships, rivalries, and romances. The fairly rote premise is made more engaging through innovative gaming flourishes like being able to chose Shepard’s gender, abilities, and background, as well is being able to direct in-game conversations through dynamic conversation trees.

That’s just my way of describing Mass Effect however, and everyone has their own take on things. For example evangelical blogger Kevin McCullough would tell you that the game allows players to “engage in the most realistic sex acts ever conceived. One can custom design the shape, form, bodies, race, hair style, breast size of the images they wish to "engage" and then watch… as the video game "persons" hump in every form, format, multiple, gender-oriented possibility they can think of.”

Furthermore, Mr. McCullough would probably find it remiss that I didn’t mention that “because of the digital chip age in which we live… "Mass Effect" can be customized to sodomize whatever, whoever, however, the game player wishes. With it's "over the net" capabilities virtual orgasmic rape is just the push of a button away.” In my defence I never mentioned this stuff because it’s a bunch of wholesale lies.

Over the top, reactionary chest beating from a conservative blogger might not strike you as the most noteworthy bit of Internet reportage, but that’s why you don’t run Fox News. On January 21 2008 everybody’s favourite newsmongers ran a discussion based on the ill-informed blog post on "The Live Desk With Martha MacCallum”. The TV spot flashed the sensational headline ‘SEXBOX: New video game shows full digital nudity and sex' and throughout the show it was claimed that this aberration, aggressively marketed towards children as it was, allowed players control of full graphical sex scenes.

Everybody loves a good lynch mob, but if the media rabblerousers (and the gigantic news corporations that irresponsibly parroted the story throughout the world without doing a shred of investigation first) had put down their pitchforks and picked up a controller they would be in for a rather dry play.

It’s true the game does give you the opportunity to bring a relationship to physical fruition, but it’s no heady space-orgy, nor is there even a hint of rape, there’s nary a nipple in sight, and you do not control the gyrations in any way shape or form. Rather, over your hours and hours of space exploration the player is given the option of becoming close with two members of the crew (which members they are depend on what gender you have chosen to play). What’s more, you can’t even bed both of your crushes, going all the way with one will result in the other relationship ending – in this day and age that’s positively prudish.

As for the graphic depiction of the deed, it just plain doesn’t exist. The scene in question is an almost-steamy conversation in which the dialogue is kept so stringently ‘proper’ its almost inadvertently funny. There’s a fair amount of face stroking and eye gazing, then two bodies embrace and fall out of frame. The only real indication we get that anything even vaguely fun is going on at all is a hand writhing about at the climax. There’s not even a little tender post-coital spooning, it’s straight back to saving the universe after that.

There is one caveat to the game’s thoroughly vanilla sexual offerings, one of the characters either the male or female Shepard can bed is a comely blue alien lass. So yes, there is indeed lesbian alien sex. Though, as above, it sounds a lot more titillating than it really is (and, in an unusually cowardly display from Bioware, there’s no male homosexual encounter to be explored, alien or otherwise).

It might not have conveyed a great deal of meaning or have been particularly hot, but Mass Effect definitely gave us the most non-exploitative, mature depiction of sex in a game to date. And even then the media chew us out for it, but the Mass Effect case also represents a time when gamers Internet-wide stood up to the madness. Sick of the spiteful beat-up, gamers took the fight to the aggressors, bombarding blogger McCullough’s blog with vitriolic corrections, eventually forcing the disingenuous into an apology of sorts.

The wrath of the gamers was also levelled at hack psychologist Cooper Lawrence, who appeared on the Fox News report to share her opinion on a game she had never even played. With a dash of poetic irony gamers began to bombard with negative reviews of Cooper’s latest book, not feeling particularly guilty about damning a product they hadn’t read for themselves. Comments like “too much sex” and “Didn’t actually read it but I’m sure its horrible” still dog the single-star rated product page.   
 Next: Into the future of sex.

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