“[Mass Effect] is leaving NOTHING to the imagination... in some parts of this, you'll see full digital nudity. Imagine! And the ability for the players to engage in graphic sex and the person who's playing the game gets to decide exactly what's going to happen between the two people, if you know what I mean...” – Martha MacCallum, Fox News
One of the sad consequences of having little regard for a medium is that you might not think it matters much if you embellish a little – like Glenn Beck did when he asserted that Niko Bellic “can cut [police officers] in half with a chainsaw” in GTA IV – or make a lame assumption near deadline, like “’Zombie’ is a video game.” Hell, those are probably even honest mistakes, never mind that someone making a similar error about sports or movies would probably be laughed right out of their career.
Above: HA HA HA
As TV news increasingly pursues overt moral or political agendas, however, we’ve seen a much more disturbing trend: outright fabrications, serving no other apparent purpose than sensationalism. Probably the most infamous case is Fox News’ “‘Se’Xbox?” coverage of Mass Effect, which took a huge, highly regarded space opera and portrayed it as interactive porn.
Above: HURR HURR GET IT??
There were rumors that Fox’s most vocal guest – and the incident’s immediate villain – was misled behind the scenes into thinking the game was much more explicit than it actually was. And so we have author Cooper Lawrence (who later apologized after she actually saw the game) putting on what was probably the most embarrassing performance of her career:
“Currently, nothing under New York State law prohibits a fourteen-year old from walking into a video store and buying... a game like 'Grand Theft Auto,' which rewards a player for stealing cars and beating people up. Children can even simulate having sex with a prostitute...” – former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned after having non-simulated sex with a prostitute
“It's bracing to imagine the day when video-game manufacturer Rockstar announces: ‘We don't want to make money off a game that encourages elementary school students to kill 'hos' and assassinate grand jury witnesses. We're taking Grand Theft Auto off the market.’" – Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam
If there’s one mainstream-media habit that sets gamer teeth gnashing like no other, it’s the constant assumption that videogames are all intended for grade-school children or – at the oldest – teens. In news reports, the idea of adults playing (non-Wii) games, if it’s acknowledged at all, is often treated with the same level of reverence reserved for adults who play with Barbie dolls: it’s not actually intended for them, and it’s creepy.
Above: SO THIS IS WHAT YOU ‘GAMERS’ ARE INTO HUH
In reality, of course, there are plenty of games that aren’t intended for kids, and plenty of adult gamers who enjoy playing them. But every time a violent or risqué M-rated game comes into the public consciousness, the mantra is always the same: How will this affect the children?
As far as the mainstream press is concerned, videogames stand alone in posing a serious danger to kids. Well, maybe gangsta rap stands alongside them. But when an R-rated film like The Last House on the Left is revealed to contain a rape scene, is the response a lot of hand-wringing over what might happen if a kid somehow sneaks into a theater? No, the response is, “Oh Christ, this shitty movie is going to make us sit through a rape scene, too?”
Above: The face of social acceptability
Meanwhile, a game rated M – roughly equivalent to an R rating – is revealed to hide an ugly, unsexy sex minigame accessible to those who download a patch or own a cheat device, and suddenly it’s a worldwide scandal and grounds for Senate hearings. And through the whole sordid process, we kept hearing the words “children’s videogame,” “sex scenes in a game for kids” and “now children can have simulated sex.” Because the people who needed to know what the hell ratings meant just. Didn’t. Get it.
Above: NO YOU’RE RIGHT THIS IS MUCH WORSE
Even today, after GTA IV has achieved mainstream respectability and Halo 3 demolished sales records for anything ever, we still see the same asinine insistence from politicians and media pundits that M-rated games poison our children, that violence is harmful to developing minds, and on and on. So what? Maybe they do. That’s part of why they’re not intended for children.
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