Alien sex and fake news

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The original ‘Mass Effect’ controversy is all too familiar

By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer

Ten years ago, the original Mass Effect was released to astounding critical acclaim. The depth of the world, the realism of the characters, and the retro-futuristic synth soundtrack became hallmarks of a franchise that changed how RPGs were made. The game wasn’t without its controversy, however. It did something that few games have done before, and even fewer with such finesse and tastefulness: sex. It was in small doses, a side-piece to a vast and sweeping game. The sex scenes were brief and optional with a small number of characters and relationships, but it was more than enough to become one of the largest gaming controversies of the 2000s.

In late 2007, a blog post by neoconservative blogger Kevin McCullough claimed that the sex scene between the protagonist and Liara, a companion character, was completely customizable with full rape being “just the push of a button away.” The post gained traction with both conservative websites and gaming websites, who generated enough outrage for the article to become popular. It was picked up by Fox News, which ran a segment on air discussing the sexual aspects of the game. One of the most notorious outcomes of this segment was a Fox News presenter referring to the Xbox as a “Sexbox,” as well as a psychologist brought on to discuss the game claiming that it featured a full-on hardcore and controllable sex scene, despite that psychologist having never played the game.

The following controversy was loud enough for the psychologist to retract her statements, and for Fox News to drop the issue altogether. Even infamous anti-gaming advocate Jack Thompson declared the whole affair a non-story. Despite this, Mass Effect became associated with egregious and over-the-top sex acts spanning genders and species. This pattern can seem all too familiar given the nonsense that was journalism in 2016, particularly around games. It’s the pattern of a non-story rapidly spinning out of control and becoming the main association the general public has with a game. This was before the fact that Mass Effect features a potential homosexual relationship became common knowledge and expanded upon in the second and third games.

It’s a real shame that this controversy existed and grew in the way that it did. Very few video games approach sex at all, let alone with the respectfulness and emotional significance that Mass Effect did throughout the franchise. The portrayal of sex in video games has always been either nonexistent or hilariously self-indulgent, and when a game finally broke that mold, it was attacked by people who had never played it. In spite of the loud and obnoxious think-pieces against it, the Mass Effect series continues to portray sex as a normal, healthy thing that different people have different approaches to.