Sex in Video Game Makes Waves Through Industry

Evan Moore | July 7, 2008 | 8:06pm EDT
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( - A new, best-selling video game, Mass Effect, made for the Microsoft Xbox 360 console, allows the characters to engage in explicitly graphic sexual intercourse. Some game experts and pro-family analysts say Mass Effect is marketed to young kids and presents a moral danger to them and that the companies making and marketing the game should be prosecuted.

The game is "clearly marketed to minors," Cathy Ruse, a lawyer and senior fellow for legal studies at the Family Research Council, told Cybercast News Service.

"There are cultural implications for feeding porn to kids in this way," and "when you do this, you're teaching them a distorted lesson about human sexuality and human dignity. These are lessons that they will take with them into adulthood and ultimately society," Ruse said.

Mass Effect is made by BioWare Corp., in Alberta, Canada. The game has a strong, plot-driven storyline reminiscent of the Star Wars films or television shows like Babylon 5.

As part of that story, the playable character can become romantically involved with a woman, if playing as the default male character; a man, if playing as a woman; and an alien that looks and talks like a woman, for any play-through. This storyline culminates in a cutscene in which the characters copulate in full digital nudity.

The game is rated "M" for mature, as are many video games, and was banned in Singapore last year, though the decision was later reversed. Mass Effect has sold over 1.6 million copies since its release in November 2007. The game scored "Best RPG" in the 2007 Spike TV Video Game Awards, and it has been nominated for Game of the Year.

Critics blast

Bob Waliszewki, media specialist with Focus on the Family, told Cybercast News Service, "We never shy away from sexuality in the media. It's just a question of how is that sexuality portrayed. One can use the media to portray some very healthy forms of sexuality. And when done wisely with taste and age-appropriateness, it can be done well."

"Unfortunately," he said, "Mass Effect doesn't do that and even goes so far as to allow homosexuality to be on par with heterosexuality and heterosexuality outside of its proper context of marriage."

Ruse said, "I don't know if people are really aware about what's in this game, but [the people who made it] should lose a lot of money, and they should lose consumer confidence, because this is a stupid move."

She noted that "when you expose children, whose brains and personalities are still developing, to degrading and harmful material, you've got to believe that's going to have an effect on the way that they view themselves, others, and the world."

"People try to raise a straw-man argument and say that people from my perspective are saying that everyone who views something is going to go out and become a serial sex killer. Nobody's saying that," Ruse said.

"But, it is profoundly naive to suggest that feeding children graphic sexual material is going to have no effect on their psyche. That's just stupid to think that," she added.

Waliszewki noted that numerous reputable studies from firms like the RAND corporation have emerged over the past four years that show causal links between exposure to sexual images, profanity, smoking, and violence to a higher degree of sexual activity, greater use of profanity, higher smoking rates, as well as higher aggressive tendencies and violent action.

"This is about money," Ruse said. "This isn't about a First Amendment debate. This is about [BioWare] making as much money as it can. It's putting elements in its games which they think will help them sell more games. They don't care about what they're doing to kids."

She concluded, "This is unethical, and they have a duty to be good corporate citizens. There's no First Amendment right to exploit children ... They're making money at the expense of children in America, and they ought to be vilified for that."

The state of the industry

Calls made to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) for comment were not answered by press time. However, a report from the ESA says that the game player population is older and diverse than conventional wisdom would assume.

According to the ESA, the average game player is 33 years old and has been playing games for 12 years. Also, 38 percent of all game players are women. Women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (31 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (20 percent).

The voice of the video game industry also says that parents are strongly involved when their children buy or rent games. Eighty-six percent of game players under the age of 18 reported that they get their parents' permission when renting or buying games, and 91 percent say their parents are present when they buy games.

Furthermore, the ESA reports that the field of choices available to consumers is very family-friendly. Eighty-five percent of all games sold in 2006 were rated "E" for Everyone, "T" for Teen, or "E10+" for Everyone 10+ by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

Cybercast News Service
also sought comment from BioWare Corp but did not receive a reply.

Preventing exposure to children

"When parental involvement is at a high level," Waliszewki said, the warning labels provided by the ESRB could deter children from being exposed to inappropriate material. But he warned that "in many cases, where parents are less involved and oblivious to the world of entertainment these days, an 'M' rating is almost a badge of endorsement."

"Parents really just need to be involved in [their children's] entire entertainment world," he said. "There's just too much gunk out there for parents to be 'hands-off.' They have to be involved. They have to know ... what their kids are into in today's entertainment."

Ruse noted that "most states have what's called 'Harmful to Minors' laws on the books that say that selling sexual material that a jury would deem 'patently offensive to minors, which lacks literary, artistic, political or scientific value.' ... might be prosecutable."

However, she also noted that these laws are "very likely not enforced." Rather than new laws, "we need state and local prosecutors with spines and backbones to prosecute some of these companies that are violating the law" in order to prevent children from being exposed to indecent material, she said.

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