Virtual Orgasmic Grilling

[Note: Links in this post are broken as of 2016, but they pointed to a pair of predictably overblown complaints about the moral depravity of Mass Effect, by a pundit named Kevin McCullough. Also, images for a lot of posts were lost during a site move, which is a shame because my Mass Effect character really did look uncannily like Bobby Flay]

masseffectchar.jpgThere’s been a bit of a hullaballoo on the internets about this doofus’ ill-informed ranting about the game Mass Effect, and his equally goofy followup.

There’s no shortage of attention-seeking ignorant people on the internet, and there’s certainly no shortage of excitable and belligerent videogame-fan blog-readers who lap that stuff up. (It has already been made into a comic strip, for instance.) And the article itself is comically ludicrous, but not quite enough to provide epic lolz, so there’s not much of note.

Except for this part:

It’s called “Mass Effect” and it allows its players – universally male no doubt – to engage in the most realistic sex acts ever conceived. One can 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.

The objections to such filth should be simple to understand.

Starting with the disgusting idea that one can “create” their own versions of what people look like, removing warts, moles, and bald spots while enhancing – shall we say – the extended features of the game’s characters tends to objectify women, sex, and human relationships.

“The most realistic sex acts ever conceived” is a standout, of course, simply because of all the layers of imagery the phrase suggests. A less-imaginative writer, by which I mean a sane person, would have simply said “realistic sex acts” and be done with it, but this guy feels that Mass Effect has blazed a trail into undiscovered territory. You have to wonder if these are the most realistic sex acts ever portrayed in a videogame, or if in fact they are the most realistic sex acts any person has ever even thought to do. In which case: damn, I have got to get a copy of this game.

But as it turns out, I do have a copy of this game. And while every sentence of the guy’s article contains at least one factual error, his description of the infinite diversity of the character-customization system is the one that caught my eye.

Because of the hour or so I’ve spent playing Mass Effect, I spent at least 30 minutes of that using the character editor. And the best I could manage was a slightly more grizzled Bobby Flay.

Maybe I just got spoiled by The Sims 2‘s character editor, but every attempt I’ve seen in other games of letting you modify your main character, has ended in wretched disappointment. To the point where I wonder why they even bothered. In a game like The Sims 2, which depends on having tons of modifiable characters, you can see how investing so much energy in the character editor paid off.

But if all I’m doing is seeing the back of this guy’s head for most of the game, with the occasional pause so I can watch him stare blankly at another bland character droning on about some galactic war or some such, then he can look like Steve Buscemi for all I care. The character editor in Mass Effect just lets you choose between male and female, each with a limited section of equally-unappealing pre-generated faces, variations on 5 or 6 hairstyles, and like ten billion different scars. Why?

Even assuming you are desperate enough to try and create a character who looks like yourself, so you can live vicariously through your avatar as he or she makes sweet sweet love to a pixelated, long-winded alien, you can’t. I know, I tried. At least, you can’t unless you happen to look like a weird cross between that guy from “Burn Notice” and Michael Biehn and you can’t manage to grow a beard that connects in the standard places.

Seriously: take another look at the FlayShepard at the top of this post. Is that someone you want to witness committing virtual orgasmic rape? I think not. I don’t even want to see that guy buying car insurance online. I want that guy to go back to his bit part as “Space Marine 2” in made-for-Sci Fi-channel movies and leave me alone.

Which all goes back to my prejudice against BioWare in general and Mass Effect in particular: their obsession with meaningless choices. It’s clear that they put a metric (‘cuz they’re Canadian, see) ton of content into the game, and there’s a ridiculously detailed (if somewhat dull, so far) backstory, and what must be hours and hours of reasonably well-written dialogue.

And yet they insist on undermining that content by delivering it in cheesy “Mad Libs” format. At the start of the gamel, you can choose one of three different backstories for your character; I chose “Orphaned by an alien invasion and picked up by a passing freighter.” Thirty seconds later, during the game’s prologue, an unseen voice says, “He was orphaned by an alien invasion and picked up by a passing freighter, which filled him with rage and an independent spirit. Is this the kind of guy we want saving the galaxy?”

When I was around eight years old, my parents bought me a personalized 45 (that’s like an MP3, kids!) for my birthday. It started with “Hey Charlie, it’s your birthday!” and then went on with the rest of the song without mentioning me directly. Even at that age, I could sense I was being pandered to. It was still more satisfying than my backstory decision in Mass Effect.

Now, from what I’ve seen so far, Mass Effect isn’t a bad game at all. It’s just not particularly compelling, partly because I get no real sense of character from it. So far, it just alternates between dumping the story on me, and letting me make insignificant choices in the story, and there’s nothing that pulls me in. I don’t think I’d mind being limited to one pre-generated character, as long as it was one of the most imaginative characters ever conceived.