Fear leads to Anger…

I have written before about my dislike of the intolerant, so this article will not come as much of a shock to those of you familiar with my way of expressing myself. To those of you unfamiliar with me, brace yourselves: this could be a bumpy ride.

I am a huge fan of the Star Wars universe (well, excluding The Phantom Menace, anyway) and I am also a believer in LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights, so when a bunch of right-wing, religious lunatics like the Florida Family Association attack EA Games for including the option for same-sex relationships in Star Wars: The Old Republic, I find my wrath beginning to surface. The Florida Family Association, a non-profit charity dedicated to “[educating] people on what they can do to defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values”, wrote an article that accused Bioware, EA Games and Lucas Films of bowing to pressure from “LGBT activists” to include non-heterosexual characters in their games. They claim that “there were no LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) characters in any of the Star Wars movies”.

"I beg your pardon?"

Have they seen the films? C3P0 is about as fabulous as you can get! Anyway, they are suggesting that LGBT pressure groups are forcing EA and their subsidiary companies to include same-sex relationship choices in the game. Jeff Brown, EA’s Vice President of Corporate Communications (which, in fairness, sounds like an Imperial job title), denies that any pressure was placed on them and denounces criticism as “political harassment”. Good for him! The American Decency Association joined the fight, claiming that the inclusion of LGBT options was an “attack on the hearts and minds of children” and accused Bioware of “social engineering”. They also state that the films were “family fare”, which they were – especially if you include incest as “family fare”.

Family Fun?

Quite.

The American Decency Association is also accusing EA/Bioware of “censoring” comments by parents who are opposed to the move, by removing them from the website. However, EA’s Jeff Brown simply said “we don’t tolerate hate speech on our forums”, which rather suggests that the complaints were not worded in an acceptable way. A quick glance at the American Decency Association or the Florida Family Association websites would certainly support this. Both websites refer to LGBT characters as “social agenda characters”, rather than focusing on the simple fact that the player can CHOOSE to play a homosexual character. This is not being forced on anyone, although the Florida Family Association does point out that Bioware will not ” create game rules that would allow regular players to prohibit entry into their games by these social agenda characters.  That would be discrimination (sarcasm.) [sic]” Helpful of them to point out the sarcasm there, we might have missed it otherwise. On the plus side, they won’t force you to play “social agenda” characters either. Because that would also be discrimination. They allow you to choose. Which isn’t.

The ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) has classified SW:TOR as T for Teen, recommending that only players aged 13 or over have access to it. This is because it may contain elements unsuitable for younger children, such as ” violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language”. Hmm. No mention of steamy, man-on-man action there. Maybe they didn’t notice it. Or maybe they don’t consider homosexual relationships to be something that children need protecting from.

Won't somebody please think of the children?!

Either way, if their children are playing these games, it means that they are bad parents. Simple.

This is, of course, a load of right-wing, extremist nonsense. Children don’t need to be protected from homosexuals, they need to be educated about them. They need to realise that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality so that those who are gay don’t grow up feeling the need to pretend to be someone else, with all the psychological pressure that entails. Groups like the American Decency Association and the Florida Family Association need to have the language that they use exposed for what it is: attempted brainwashing. They knowingly use phrases like “social agenda characters”, or “trying to capture the minds of our children”, or “force this offensive content on a captured audience of hundreds of thousands of children”, or “LGBT…activists”, or “radical homosexual extremists”… I could go on.

In fact, I think I will.

“Electronic Arts would shatter that family quality”, or “harassing the game community”, or “a lot of them expressing anger that their kids will be exposed to this Star Warped way of thinking”, or “propaganda”, or “these LGBT activists are pummeling Florida Family Association” (which does at least conjure up images suggesting the real reason behind their fears!).

"You got a real purdy mouth!"

While these comments are not in themselves openly homophobic, they do use the persuasive techniques and biased language in a blatant attempt to influence their audience. As their audience is largely comprised of (dare I say it) ill- or under-educated, right-wing, knee-jerk fundamentalist Christians, this kind of ‘subtle’ manipulation is often very effective. Political activists of all shades of opinion have been using these techniques for centuries – look at the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, John F Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara. It is particularly effective among those who traditionally do not ask questions, such as fundamentalist religious groups (and I’m not deliberately having a go at religion again, just those who abuse their power over those less well-educated, such as politically motivated religious leaders and pressure groups). Of course, the pro-gay side has the right to use such tactics as well, but they face an uphill struggle, as they are going against the ingrained teachings of generations of homophobic morons. The fact is that homosexuality hasn’t been seen as a bad thing for as long as most people think. Plato (424-328BC) wrote about the way that same-sex relationships were a healthy part of any young man’s love life, although he changed his views later in life, possibly as a result of changing societal norms. Roman rulers were almost all bisexual and openly took male lovers and it wasn’t until Emperor Theodosius I (a Christian ruler) that homosexuality was banned. East Asian countries have long accepted homosexuality and transgender as equal to heterosexuality, especially in Thailand (the famous ‘ladyboys’) and Japan, where samurai warriors would often engage openly in same-sex relationships.

Samurai: Well gay.

It is almost always religion that suppresses, criminalizes and persecutes those people who do not conform to their expectations or belief systems. This includes followers of other sects, ideologies or lifestyles. Religious institutions see themselves as the moral and spiritual guides to society, even if (especially if) that society does not want them to be. Homosexuality is illegal in most Muslim countries, and frowned upon by extremist Christian groups in the West. It is these extremists that are attempting to force their narrow view of loving, and sexual, relationships on the general populace once again. I am by no means tarring all Christians with the same brush. It is not my intention to attack any religion for its attitude to homosexuality. I know some Christians who support same-sex marriage. I even know at least one openly gay clergyman. It is the fringe groups, like the Florida Family Association, the American Decency Association, the Westboro Baptist Church, that are trying to force their petty, narrow-minded and bigoted ideologies on the rest of us. They accuse EA and Bioware of giving in to pro-gay pressure groups, a minority that was trying to prevent the First Amendment rights of the anti-gay movements, which obviously ignores the First Amendment rights of the pro-gays. It’s all a bit confusing, isn’t it!

Well, no. It shouldn’t be confusing. It’s a fairly simple situation. Let’s go through it step-by-step.

Step 1: If you are offended by homosexual content in a video game, don’t play the video game.

Step 2: There is no Step 2.

Oh, well, I guess it’s not that confusing after all!

So, if you find yourself complaining about something that isn’t being forced on you, there is a simple solution: Shut the fuck up. The LGBT community has had your bigotry and hate forced on them for years – they have a right to complain. You have noticed that you could choose to have a gay relationship in a video game – you have the right to silence, please exercise it.

 

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“I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favourite blog on the Citadel.”

 ATTENTION: SPOILERS INCLUDED

It’s not long now until the third and final installment in the best-selling and award-winning science fiction series Mass Effect is released, so I think it’s a good time to look back and see what makes this game so successful.

The games are described as action role-playing games; basically third-person shooters with role-playing elements, including decision-making that shapes the story. This decision-making affects the story across the installments as well, because you are able to import your character information from the earlier games (a feature that is continued in the latest title, making it possible to continue your character development through all three games). You play Commander Shepard  (either male or female, depending on your preference), a human soldier who uncovers the existence of a race of mechanical beings called Reapers. In the first game, a Reaper called Sovereign, aided by a Spectre (SPECial Tactics and REconnaissance) named Saren Arterius, is attempting to open a route for the other Reapers to enter the galaxy and exterminate all sapient organic life. They are aided in this by the Geth, a race of artificially intelligent synthetics, originally created by the Quarian race as servants/slaves. Once this threat is dealt with, the Reapers (in Mass Effect 2) work through a shadowy race called the Collectors, who are kidnapping entire human colonies. Shepard is killed by the Collectors at the start of the game and brought back to life by Cerberus, the human supremacist group responsible for some of the nasty side missions in the first game. You find out that they are not necessarily as evil as they appear, but you decide how much to trust them and work with them. The third game apparently focuses on the final attack of the Reapers as they enter the galaxy determined to exterminate all sentient life. I think it’s fair to say that we can expect a really big fight, especially if the trailer and this screenshot are to be believed!

So why are these games so good? Well, Bioware (also responsible for the Dragon Age series and the recent MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic) have put a lot of work into designing and developing their universe. The locations (while occasionally limited) are well realised and the cut scenes well animated. The voice casting is excellent, with characters voiced by Seth Green, Martin Sheen, Armin Shimerman, Lance Henriksen, Marina Sirtis, Claudia Black, Adam Baldwin, Carrie-Ann Moss, Dwight Schultz and Michael Dorn among many others. It’s like a cult TV/film convention guest list. The bonus is that the voices sound familiar without being distracting, allowing you to immerse yourself into the game without spending time muttering “I know that voice. Who is that? For fuck’s sake, who is it?” and missing half of the plot.

Or is that just me?

The depth of the universe is well demonstrated by the number of non-human races, all of which have their own talents and weaknesses. There are the Asari (blue, pseudo-psychic squid-haired women), Batarians (four-eyed criminals and slavers – very anti-human), Collectors (insectoid bad guys), Drell (lizard people with eidetic memories), Elcor (elephantine and slow speaking, the Elcor state their emotions explicitly to avoid confusion), Geth (sentient machines with a hive-mind), Hanar (religious jellyfish), Krogans (hardcore warrior toads), Quarians (interstellar travellers with poor immune systems and excellent technical skills), Salarians (hyperactive scientists and spies), Turians (honourable raptor-like creatures), Volus (dumpy diving suits), and Vorcha (barely sentient scavengers and fighters). Over the two games so far released, Shepard will build a team featuring several of these races, with recurring characters who come to trust and respect the leadership of the player. Other races have been introduced through the downloadable content, comic books and iOS games: I have focused on the main installments here.

Some of the races you'll encounter in the Mass Effect universe

The universe is arranged in star clusters, which Shepard can travel around at will using the galaxy map in his ship (more about that later). Some planets can be landed on, with side missions and main missions taking place in a wide range of environments. In the first game, the player has access to the Mako, a six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle armed with autofire weapons and a single shot cannon. This allows Shepard to roam the surface of terrestrial worlds searching for resources to collect and enemies to slap. This vehicle is missing from Mass Effect 2, replaced by a system whereby you scan planets from orbit using the map screen and launch probes to collect resources. This does rob the game of some of the exploratory feel of the original, and makes it feel somehow smaller in scale. However, it does bring me to the next item on my list: The Normandy.

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SSV Normandy - Possibly the most beautiful ship in Sci-Fi history

Look at it! Just look at it! Isn’t she beautiful? Sleek and sexy, a design classic! Sorry if I’m getting carried away, but I really love the Normandy. As you play the game, she becomes more than just a vehicle, more than just a base of operations, more than a home, even. She becomes a character in her own right. Which is why the opening scene of ME2 is so heart-breaking. An enormous Collector ship appears from nowhere and blasts the Normandy into scrap, killing Shepard in the process. I don’t mind admitting that it brings a tear to my eye every time I see it, even though I know that Cerberus will bring Shepard back to life and supply him with the SR2 (a slightly redesigned Normandy). It is the design of this ship that helps breathe life into the franchise. The designers could easily have created a functional, practical ship to haul Shepard’s team around the galaxy. Instead, they came up with something iconic. Good for them.

Another area in which the design tem excelled themselves is the armour and weapons. Shepard’s N7 armour has become something of a classic among the fans, and the weapon sets available match the design perfectly. In ME1, you could choose from a range of armour, depending on preference for heavy or light, colour and appearance, but this option was removed for ME2. In the second game you had one set of armour, although you could customize it in terms of colour, pattern and material, as well as purchasing add-ons which altered the appearance and granted combat bonuses.

The famous N7 armour

I am, as I’m sure you have realised, a huge fan of the Mass Effect universe, and I am really looking forward to receiving my copy of ME3 when it is released. But I am a little worried. I hope they have managed to keep the feel of the game. I hope that they have kept the sense of scale. I hope that they haven’t lost the love. If they have turned the game into a bog-standard shooter it will be an enormous disappointment. The well scripted and intricate story is what makes these games great.

They need to keep the promise made by ME1 and 2. If not, it will be a massive tragedy.