Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fox News Employs Mass Effect Strategy



On my usual morning visit to Gametab the headline "Lukeskywalker meets Debbie Does Dallas caught my eye. I clicked through and saw the very disturbing video I posted up above. It is game journalist and tv host Geoff Keighly being served up on television like a stuffed Christmas goose in mid 18th century England. He was blind sided, set up and denigrated by Fox News over Rock and Roll. Well, not really Rock and Roll. It was over games, they are our generation's Rock and Roll.

In the fifties adults hated Rock and Roll. It was Satan's work. Records were burned in the streets, sponsors pulled ads from radio stations, studies were created and cited to "prove" harmful effects and kids listened even more. Over the years the age of the listeners increased and the listeners moved into the societal roles of the attackers. They stopped attacking because they were listening. All of a sudden the heat died down. Not really, the heat was simply redirected to other things, like rap music, television and games.

The mainstream has a pattern and practice of making up lies about the video game industry. It is fun and easy. We never fight back in a credible way and our images provide a really great target. The segment started with a false premise and simply piled them on. Geoff tried to respond to the arguments, but the issue was incorrectly framed from the outset. Just about every word spoken by the two women, who admittedly had not played the game in question, is false. As if that is not enough, after Cooper Lawrence accused Geoff of supporting games that catered to gender stereotypes and degraded women, she referred to him as "darling" in a very condescending tone. You don't have to watch the whole video, let me paraphrase it for you:

Martha MacCallum: Games are bad.
Cooper Lawrence: Yes, they are really bad. Games killed Jesus
MacCallum: Games are being playing by kids.
Lawrence: Yes, they are being played by babies and no one watches. They are advertised on PBS during Barney.
MacCallum: This game is like a porn film.
Lawrence: Yes, in this game you have sex with a woman and then kill her.
MacCallum: Now let's meet the game expert.
Geoff Keighly: Have either one of you played the game?
MacCallum: No, but I looked at the web page.
Lawrence: I didn't have to.

If you don't believe me, watch the interview. It starts with a chiron statement under the talking heads that says "Se Xbox." MaCallum introduces the piece by saying there is full frontal nudity and sex in Mass Effect. She then throws to Lawrence with the statement that sex and nudity are everywhere and we can't control it, kids have access to on the Internet. Wait a second, the Internet? Kid's do have access to porn on the Internet. This is truly a major issue, but this segment is about Mass Effect, which is not porn and is not on the Internet. It is an M rated game, playable on a machine that has a password protected age gate.

Lawrence picked up the discussion by smugly pointing out that while we say we make these games for adults, statistics show they are being played by adolescent males. Once again, this is simply not true. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of a game player is 33 years old, and this has actually been increasing by one year each year . The average age of the buyer is 38 years old and 80 percent of console game buyers are over 18. Anyone under 18 cannot purchase an M rated game without parental consent and any parent can lock the game console to prevent M rated games from being played. Of course they are still being played by some kids, but they are a small minority of players. These are either conscious decisions by the parents, or a failure on the parents part to monitor their kids. It is the parents' responsibility.

Keighly then made the critical, tactical mistake of trying to argue the facts. Anyone who has watched The Colbert Report knows the facts aren't relevant. This debate was about the truthiness of the issue, not the facts. Keighly asked the women whether they played the game. Neither had played. MacCallum said she did not have to because she watched the preview. She pointed out that the age gate was very easy to get through. All she had to do was enter her age. Isn't that the point. So you enter your age, and see a preview that is approved for all audiences. A preview that is not quite as bad as the commercials shown for horror films during prime time television. She doesn't mention there was no nudity, sex or violence in the preview.

Keighly tried to explain the intricacies of RPGs to the panel. He explained you can play through the whole game without having sex. It is the natural evolution of a relationship and the choices you make. Lawrence incorrectly pointed out the misogyny of the game. She explained how you must play as a male and how your male character makes the decision whether or not to have sex. Geoff tries to explain you can play as male or female, but it falls on deaf ears. After all, it is not a part of MacCallum's fiction.

My favorite part is when Lawrence, who just told Keighly that games portray inappropriate gender stereotypes and don't respect women, refers to Keighly as "darling" in a condescending choice. She points to a University of Maryland study indicating that young gamers are not able to distinguish between reality and game content. This is a very disturbing concept. It is also very wrong. Lawrence dangerously inserts this gross mischaracterization of the study, creating the risk of potential spread of this attractive and incorrect meme. The findings of the study are much narrower. The study indicated that kids who play games apply gender stereotypes from games to the real world. Wow, what a surprise. Game content can impact the real world the same way as books, films, television, music, schools, other kids and any other form of media. This means we may actually have to watch our kids and god forbid, talk to them.

Then the fun part happened. The discussion is thrown to a panel of experts who talk about all the porn contained in the game. One woman says she does not understand why the game was rated M instead of AO. She says there must be something wrong with the rating system. If the game actually had the content discussed on the show, it would be AO. It does not. One of the men says the game is Luke Skywalker meets Debbie Does Dallas and is evidence of the decline of western civilization. Again. If this were true, it would be troubling. Fortunately it is not.

It is hard enough to defend the stuff we actually do. Why are we put in the position of defending the stuff we don't do and why is it acceptable?



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