A strange effect

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(370)

Science fiction computer game Mass Effect has won acclaim from critics and gamers alike for its innovative approach to interactive storytelling.

But what is truly exceptional about the game is that it has come under fire, not for programming its supposedly squishy-brained audience with violent behaviour, but for promoting same-sex romance.

The controversy arose when producer Electronic Arts (EA) was inundated with messages condemning the "homosexual content" of its games. A number of EA titles were targeted, but it's the final chapter of the Mass Effect trilogy which particularly captured the frenzied imagination of homophobes. Predictably, "family" and "faith" groups were quick to turn the affair into a media circus.

This response isn't surprising. The web is a current in which all things flow. Unfortunately, some of its tributaries are ideological sewers and the world of online gaming is an out and out toilet. As such any attempt to stand against that tide of bigotry is to be cherished and defended.

The same-sex relationships Mass Effect allows you to explore are (like their hetero alternatives) clumsy and do little to address the idealised body image of the participants. But they are treated with sensitivity and dignity.

That the evangelical right is hysterical is to be expected. What is surprising is that EA has been prepared to defend the positive portrayal of gay characters and story lines.
Obama has just made a rhetorical shift in favour of the right to same-sex marriage, but like EA, I doubt this stems from a sudden enthusiasm for equality.

Maybe it's the return of LGBT activism to mass politics; maybe it's the Occupy effect; maybe it's the blowback from a decade of using gender and sexuality as a justification for imperialism. It's possible that gay liberation has become a kind of symbol for a progressive worldview, and that what is at stake is much more than the "pink" dollar or vote. If so it is an opportunity to fight, beyond the plastic fantasy and political opportunism, for real liberation.