A new video game designed exclusively for the Xbox 360 is stirring up controversy for including an optional lesbian sex scene. “Mass Effect”, from game developer BioWare, will allow players to engage in romantic interludes with other game characters, including same-sex relationships between female characters.
Spoilers on the game were published recently by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which regulates the film and video industry in the UK. The spoilers include details about the game’s content, including a sex scene “triggered by the player making a series of choices about becoming more than friends with a colleague.”
In “Mass Effect”, players can choose to initiate romantic relationships between male characters and female human NPCs (non-player characters) or female-appearing alien NPCs—although BioWare technically specifies the aliens as being non-gendered. Female characters are allowed to choose to engage in relationships with both male humans and female-appearing aliens. The resulting sex scene includes a flash of virtual breast and, as Eurogamer.net states, “some jazz saxophone wailing in the background”.
Previous video games such as “Fear Effect 2” (for Playstation) have included lesbian or bisexual subtext. The RPG game “Jade Empire” from BioWare allowed both male-male and female-female relationships. More recently, the video game “Bully” featured kissing between two male characters.
Although the alien characters in "Mass Effect" are, as previously noted, tagged as being "non-gendered" by BioWare, their strikingly female appearance is behind the sex scene controversy.
Two opposing streams of protest are already being generated by the sex scene included in “Mass Effect” on gaming forums across the Net. On one side of the issue are protesters against the inclusion of any sexual content in a video game potentially put in the hands of children—much less same-sex content. George Walker, Midwest Contributor for Aeropause.com, stated yesterday on the gaming site: "I would hope that 'Mass Effect' could be the kind of game that any teenager would be able to play, but I now see that will not be the case. I know a lot of people don't have a problem with this sort of content, but I do. ...If this stays in the game upon release, I can honestly say I'll be boycotting the 'Mass Effect' series."
On the other side are those who question why BioWare would include same-sex content between what appears to be two females, but not between two male-appearing characters.
David Edison, Associate Editor of GayGamer.net, tells LesbiaNation.com: "...While male same-sex content in gaming is on the rise (see Bully's boy-on-boy kisses, for instance), and heteronormative values of traditionally ideal male sexuality do have dual-appeal as gay sex symbols you might see in a Falcon or Titan video, I'm of the opinion that most, but not all, of that increase is more about general societal openness and lessening of anti-gay reactiveness rather than any real flat-out interest in generating male-male gay game content."
"...While it's nice to see same-sex relations in mainstream media, it's hard to get behind this one as anything remotely progressive," Edison continues. "I see titillation. The exclusion of male same-sex possibilities clearly marks this as another heterosexual fantasy rather than any kind of step forward. That said, if there was equal play opportunity for both genders in the game, it would go a long way toward evening the score, and would definitely show up on our radar as something positive and desired."
Edison adds, "...It's a shame BioWare has only included a specific kind of freedom that panders to the lowest common denominator without offering even the shadow of an equal, opposite choice."
Based on the BBFC’s rating, in Britain—where “Mass Effect” is due to be released on November 23rd—children as young as 12 will be allowed to purchase the game. In the United States, the game has been rated M for “mature” by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, meaning that it cannot be purchased by anyone under 17 without parental approval. As versions of games often vary from country to country, it is possible the sex scene or same-sex options will not appear in the U.S. version
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