Editorial – Ignorance is Massively Effective at Boosting Blog Hits

If you’ve been following game news lately, you’ll know that Kevin McCullough is the latest non-gamer to take aim at our hobby and prove that he can really miss the mark when it comes to understanding what we do.

This past Sunday, McCullough blogged about Mass Effect, Bioware’s latest sci-fi RPG offering, claiming that it allows players to “custom design the shape, form, bodies, race, hair style, breast size of the images they wish to “engage” and then watch in crystal clear, LCD, 54 inch screen, HD clarity as the video game “persons” hump in every form, format, multiple, gender-oriented possibility they can think of.”

Naturally, he’s wrong on a number of points. First, had he actually done some research before getting his knickers in a knot, he’d know that after choosing your character’s gender, you can only customize him or her from the neck up. You can also select his or her personal history, which determines how the world regards the player’s character, but McCullough doesn’t care about immersive role-playing. He’s only focusing on carnal matters, which leads to his second mistake: ignoring the extensive romantic character development prior to the game’s main sexual encounter. By opting to portray the game as a sex simulator, he also ignores the fact that the sex scene is only one brief moment in time in Mass Effect‘s galaxy. Most of the time, you’re too busy investigating crimes, recovering important cultural artifacts, and protecting colonies. The universe won’t wait while you try out your pick-up lines on your brainy and beautiful Asari crew member. Third, he greatly exaggerated the nature of the sexual encounters; he even used the word “sodomize” when in fact, no one gets poked in the pooper or the piehole. The scenes are actually brief and tame.

After erroneously opining about Mass Effect‘s close encounters of the horny kind, McCullough was called out by gamers everywhere. Instead of humbly admitting his mistakes, he smugly crossed his arms and defended each of his statements in a follow-up post. He stood by his description of the customization options, though he pretended to retract his claim that players could adjust the characters’ breast size. I say “pretended” because in the next sentence, he smirked that “the female characters end up having different sizes again on the YouTube footage,” thus tacking on the mistaken assumption that players can customize NPCs as well. He then insisted that Mass Effect is marketed to teenage boys, in spite of its “M” rating, and suggested that “gamer-nerds” – a group that he broadly stereotypes as basement-dwellers who are fond of threatening innocent bloggers with violence and the F-word – lack a conscience that tells them how to distinguish between right and wrong.

It would be very easy to fill this page with paragraphs about how gamers are older now, that “M” rated games are obviously not for children, and that the sex scenes in Mass Effect are tame compared to what I’ve seen on cable while channel-surfing at 10 o’clock at night. But we already know all that. We’ve been trumpeting these things ever since Jack Thompson scalded us with RockStar’s spilled Hot Coffee.

What’s interesting is that McCullough completely ignored – or was ignorant of, perhaps – the fact that Mass Effect allows players to make moral choices, some of which lead to mortifying consequences. You can become a hired gun for a crime syndicate, assassinate your targets, then kill the crime boss who hired you. You can skip negotiations and resolve disputes with your assault rifle. You can even commit genocide. Of course, you can also save hostages, provide sustenance to a dying colony, and show mercy to the cruelest souls in the galaxy, but that won’t make the evening news.

Assuming that McCullough knew about Mass Effect‘s violent nature, you might wonder why he didn’t blog about that as well. Really, yet another non-gamer pundit railing against plain-as-day violence in video games? Join the mob; I bet they have free donuts and coffee. But making false claims about as game as a sex simulator? That’ll get the hit counter rolling like the Griswold’s kilowatt meter on Christmas.

By getting it wrong, he gets more attention. By flamebaiting us, he brings out the worst of our kind. By becoming the spectacle, he keeps the spotlight on the demonization of video games.

It’s sad that my favorite hobby – one that has challenged me, introduced me to my closest friends, and made me laugh, cry, and scream – is under fire from people who fail to understand what it’s really about. It’s even sadder that someone believed that he had to stoop to such blind ignorance and arrogance to accomplish his goal.

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