Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Validate Me Bioware!

I don’t get what the hubbub is all about. Thought I’d write my thoughts down to see if I could sort this out.

People have been raging. Gaming News sites have been writing articles. About the sexual options available in Mass Effect. Real people have been carrying on that if they cannot have sex with various aliens of various genders then… ? I get lost right there. Are their life choices not being validated by Bioware? Why does it matter?

Let’s back up. Mass Effect is a big name game, yeah. For whatever reason. The setting, narrative, aliens, technology, everything, are so generic it hurts. All but two of the races of aliens look like a human with a funny mask on. Weird since the artists could have drawn anything. It’s not like a movie and the cost of CGI or the workability of animatronics / puppets can limit how “alien” things get. The narrative has been pillaging every famous work of science-fiction to construct its Man vs. Machine theme, with each new game providing the devilish twist that “No! Twas not these machines all along but the real threat is an even older, more nefarious group of machines”. The writers have been up front that Mass Effect doesn’t want to break new ground. The game is meant as a vehicle to have players adventure in classic sci-fi. Fine. I could and would like to tear apart the game top to bottom but here I just want give a general feel for Mass Effect. Like it or hate it, this is the universe that has aroused so much passion.

Now the sex itself isn’t really sex. The characters touch and kiss but players aren’t “treated” to some full-on, full nude, scene. It isn’t porn. It lasts two minutes at the most from conversation start to in-bed finish. Not a big part of the game. So I don’t think everyone is upset that Bioware isn’t dishing out juicy sex scenes. Nor are there in-game rewards for “completing a romance” (it’s treated like any other mission or quest in the game). So that just leaves the choices for partners as the source of discontent.

Oh, and “why not other games / why Mass Effect”? Because Mass Effect is a role-playing game with a focus on player choice. I mean, no, it doesn’t promise to recreate every nuance of the human culture, but it does strive to provide more avenues to reach it’s end than the typical game. It opens itself up to this kind of talk. More later.

And it’s only this and the ending that has riled people up so! Sex. Why sex?

Because it is a key issue of the current times. Gay marriage and whether or not to ban it or not is being debated nationally (US nationally, I’d be interested to know if other countries give a shit or not about this). And I think homosexuality has become the mark of progress for culture. That’s the thinking right? States that have allowed gay marriage are ahead of the times while states with bans are bigoted and backward. Thus by allowing homosexual relationships, Mass Effect validates and represents a progressive section of society, reflecting that back onto society. It is saying “I am good, I represent you, therefore you are good”.

I believe calls for more partner choice in Mass Effect are also the will of people to drag media into the future people desire (not necessarily the one that exists or will exist). Same with movies only featuring white people in lead roles. Lots of upsetness about that (The LastAirbender for a recent example). Mass Effect is a cultural artifact, acting as mirror. As such it has made itself into a cultural battleground with the current hot topic spilling into it. One could release Mass Effect at another time in history and get controversy focusing on some other aspect of the game. But right now, people want, as a basic, bedrock element in all representations of cultural moving forward, a representation of homosexual culture. Not having the option for gay sex in Mass Effect is like not being able to create a non-white non-male character. It is offending people by not reflecting back the image they wish to see. Hence why the personal vehemence in a fictional character not being able to have relations with other fictional characters. The mirror has called us ugly.

As for why Mass Effect? It may be just some weird tick of society. Like some episode of Ghost In The Shell, attempting to unravel the choices of a supposedly rational society, one could debate endlessly why this product was picked. Articles like this only help it. Something that “everyone is talking about” demands a response. I wrote this not because I believe Mass Effect is special in any way, but because of the cultural storm surrounding it. And as with all things that relate to a wide variety of people, no one answer will suffice. Nothing becomes meaningful to a large group of people by only representing one thing. It has to catch everyone’s fancy in some way.

Do I care? A little. It’s a shitty, stale, universe. I do not pick it to be my mirror. I consider it low culture. I dismiss it as unimportant. Yet I’m angry it attempts to represent science-fiction in so poor a disguise. I have placed value in science-fiction and do not wish to see it degraded. I’m angry Mass Effect is popular. It’s not shallow, it’s vain. I want the ideas, concepts, things, I associate with myself to be pretty. It says a great deal for the value of a thing if all representations of the thing are flawless.

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