Okay, I guess I am still capable of being surprised. I didn’t really expect that there would be any major blowback to my last piece, about the controversy-filled several days Electronic Arts experienced last week, when Consumerist named it the Worst Company in America and it was revealed that it’s been under attack for its depiction of homosexual relationships in Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3. And yet, so soon after it posted, it seemed as if at least one commenter was already trying to ensure that this week turned out to be a bad one for me!
Here’s what that commenter, Happeh, said(I’ve left this completely unedited, by the way):
“Don’t let your children play them. Take responsibility for your own decisions about what is or is not appropriate for your family.”
I really hate smug people with this smug argument.
Did Bioware advertise Mass Effect 3 by saying “Buy Mass Effect 3 where your child can have fun shooting aliens and learning all about homosexuality?”
NO. THEY. DID. NOT!
The parent who bought that game for their child was not given the opportunity to put that filth back on the shelf where it belongs, because Bioware knows that they will not be able to sell a game that teaches children about homosexuality.
Those parents should sue Bioware for not placing a warning on the Mass Effect 3 box that says in large capital letters “CONTAINS HOMOSEXUAL CONTENT. DO NOT BUY THIS GAME IF HOMOSEXUAL CONTENT OFFENDS YOU”.
I must admit a bit of confusion about one thing. The relevant part of my post concerned my standing up for individual rights, and advocating making your own decisions, rather than thinking that I (or anyone else) knows what’s right for you and the people who are close to you. How does that make me “smug”? I assumed — or maybe “hoped” is the better word — that my showing respect for others’ abilities to make for themselves the choices that work best for them and their families would be seen as the fairest and least restrictive option. Certainly not smug, which was in neither my heart nor my words.
And, for the record, I would not say that Mass Effect 3 “teaches children about homosexuality.” (I haven’t played Star Wars: The Old Republic, so maybe it does, though I’d wager it’s more concerned with instructing in the proper care and feeding of lightsabers.) The gay relationships — like the straight ones — are fairly well buried; you actually have to be looking for them to find them. One male character makes a passing comment about having a husband, one female character remarks that she finds the computer’s female voice attractive. Those aren’t lessons, those are references, and oblique ones at best. Perhaps Mass Effect 3 acknowledges that homosexuality exists, but that’s where it stops — it doesn’t “teach” anyone anything about it any more than it teaches anyone anything about straight relationships. This is a game about fighting violent aliens, not interstellar sexual politics. (And, if I may interject an editorial comment about that: Thank goodness.)
I guess I do owe you all a mea culpa about something Happeh brought up, however. No, neither developer BioWare nor publisher EA advertised the game with references to its sexual content (or much more than the barest suggestion of the rest of what it contained). And, for that matter, theMass Effect 3 package does not indicate anywhere that it contains “homosexual content.” So if advertising and packaging are all you’re going by, then Happeh is technically correct.
But implicit in my original argument — and, it seems to me, pretty much the entire home video game industry — is that the information about potentially objectionable material is out there if you want to find it. And, in fact, it can be found even on the Mass Effect 3 box.
Look at the bottom-left corner of the front cover (pictured above) and you’ll see a label stating that it has been rated M by theEntertainment Software Ratings Board, which means that organization has determined it’s most appropriate for ages 17 and up (this is printed there, too). Turn the box over and you can learn even more (pictured right). Listed right next to the “M” is a description of what comprises that rating: “Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence.”
Nope, there’s no “homosexuality” there, but as I suggested last time — in about the only sentence I would say could potentially maybe almost be considered bordering on being smug — one would think the presence of any sexual content at all (to say nothing of “partial nudity”) would convince most parents that Mass Effect 3 isn’t right for their children, regardless of whether it’s between humans and other species or between the same or opposite genders.
But I stand by everything else I wrote. Just as I don’t believe it’s the government’s role to censor games or other entertainment products of any sort, I don’t believe it’s other adults’ role to dictate what your child should or should not watch or play (or, for that matter, eat). What works for one family doesn’t always work for another, and kids — like their parents — have different levels of tolerance, maturity, and morality that need to be respected, tolerated, and addressed. I guess I have strong feelings about whether homosexual and heterosexual sex should be treated as equivalent within video games. But I’m not going to get into them here, because they don’t matter. They affect only the choices I make for myself and my children (or, er, would if I had children); there’s no earthly reason why they should affect yours. For me to assume otherwise would be… smug.
Happeh was wrong about something else, too. Parents were given the opportunity to pass up “that filth” — but some initiative was required on their part. If they didn’t want to read either the front or the back of the box (or if they purchasing the game via digital download), the information, in even more thorough a form, was and is waiting for those who know where to look and are willing to take the time to uncover it. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if there are dozens of websites on which similar content rundowns can be found, off the top of my head I am aware of two.
The first is the official ESRB website, which is potentially more convenient (and goes into greater depth) than the labels on game boxes. All you have to do is go to the site, type the game’s title in the “Search Game Ratings” field, and hit the Search button. You’ll be presented with a brief summary of the game’s contents, but click the “[More]” link to get the full story. These ratings are voluntary, so not every game will have them, but huge numbers of them do. Such as, for example, Mass Effect 3.Its entry goes into even deeper detail about exactly what players can expect in terms of the violence and sexual content (though it avoids any mention of homosexuality).
You may have heard about Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian organization; among other things, it made headlines two years ago when NFL quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother made a commercial for it that ran during the Super Bowl. It describes its mission as providing “help and resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design, and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles.” But you might not know that it also publishes a website called Plugged In, which is devoted exclusively to reviewing movies, TV shows, videos, music, and video games through that same kind of lens. (You can probably guess how seriously its reviewers take what they do.) Yes, Mass Effect 3 is covered there, too — and, unlike the ESRB site, the Plugged In reviewer does mention the gay angle.
Resources like these exist to help you take control over the entertainment options you and your family are exposed to. Take advantage of them! And by all means do additional research to discover if you’re being well served by the movies, TV shows, and video games you’re planning on partaking of. Everything you need to know is out there. But the ball is in your court and no one else’s. If you don’t make the most of the wealth of information available, and end up disappointed or even enraged by what you discover — sorry, but you have no one to blame but yourself. The up side is that, when your children grow up and demonstrate — and, just maybe, pass on to their own children — the values and beliefs that you hold most dear, you yourself might have something legitimately worth feeling smug about.