It's about time.
The theme of this column, in fact, was going to be a rant about game companies laying low and relying upon gamers to defend the industry against such controversies. By stepping up, EA ruined that column idea for me, but I'm glad they did.
It was great to see VP Jeff Brown pull no punches in protesting Fox News' Mass Effect hatchet job. Brown got it exactly right, pointing out that Live Desk anchor Martha MacCallum and guest Cooper Lawrence were dead wrong in their characterization of the game as, essentially, interactive porn. Brown also took Fox News to task for institutional hypocrisy. As the EA exec pointed out, Fox lambasted the critically-acclaimed Mass Effect over a single, tastefully done love scene, while nightly serving up far more suggestive fare on prime-time shows like Family Guy and The O.C..
The Mass Effect porn smear campaign has been going on for more than two weeks, in fact. As I wrote on January 11th at GamePolitics, it began with an outrageous report from the Cybercast News Service, a conservative outfit founded by Brent Bozell, the same guy who started media watchdog group the Parents Television Council. Within days the theme was picked up by conservative author and radio host Kevin McCullough. By Monday, Fox apparently decided the story was sufficiently lurid for its national TV audience.
Until Jeff Brown's letter to Fox on Wednesday, gamers and bloggers stood alone on the frontline of the Mass Effect battle. And that has been too frequently the case as far as the video game industry is concerned. Publishers and their lobby, the ESA, generally remain tight-lipped, apparently hoping criticism will simply fade away.
Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. But that's not the point. Look, when someone trashes a game like Mass Effect, it stains not only the game but its fans, as well. As gamers, we've grown weary of the stereotypes placed upon us by non-gaming society: nerdy, weird, obsessed, desensitized, perverted, violent.
During the first two weeks of the Mass Effect incident the industry sat on its hands while a few bloggers (yours truly included) ranted about the unfair coverage. Gamers, not game companies, posted comments and bombarded Kevin McCullough with e-mails and calls to his radio program. And guess what? McCullough relented. He apologized. In response to Monday's Fox report, gamers tracked down Cooper Lawrence's book on Amazon and tagged it with one-star reviews. Hey, I can't condone that kind of behavior, but I understand the frustration that led to it. Because Lawrence slammed Mass Effect without having played it, some gamers apparently felt empowered to ding her book without having read it. The e-mails, the radio show call-ins and the bad book reviews represent a new kind of guerilla activism that says gamers don't intend to be societal punching bags any longer.
But the industry needs to show that respect as well. When culture cops launch their outrageous attacks on video games – and, by extension, on gamers – the suits need to stand up and be counted. It looks like EA's new boss John Riccitiello plans to do just that.
It's about time.
Dennis McCauley is the Political Editor for the Entertainment Consumers Association (www.theeca.com), tracks the political side of video games at GamePolitics.com and writes about games for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Opinions expressed in The Political Game are his own. Reach him at