James Portnow has yet another good article on Next Generation, this one about sex in video games.
I think the issue is an important one, and I agree with his take on it, with a caveat: the whole scandal surrounding Mass Effect (which the article provides good links to) is actually good for the industry (and even Mass Effect itself). No, sex doesn’t traditionally sell much better than no-sex in video games, but Mass Effect will do fine. This fracas ultimately won’t have a noticeable negative impact on sales and may even help a little. Harry Potter books were catapulted to unbelievable success in part because they were surrounded with a similar controversy–they were banned in some places–but I’m not saying this is good because it will help sales.
The Mass Effect ordeal is significant because it marks the recognition by the mainstream of a leap forward for the game industry in terms of maturity. The American Library Association, on the last week of September every year, celebrates Banned Books Week. They do this because a large portion of the greatest literary works in history have been stigmatized and banned in their time; the Harry Potter series is only one of the most recent examples. They also do it to promote the preservation of our civil liberties, but if history did not show the quality of the works people of the time have demonized, the idea probably would never have come about.
Works with this sort of impact–enough that they can bring these types of subjects to the fore, and of a quality to be ardently defended–are the mark of a mature (or maturing, in the case of video games) art form. The games industry so far has much more limiting boundaries of what subject matter is considered controversial than, for example, film or literature. But it is also maturing much faster than either of those media have, and I look forward to the day when games can begin to approach the same type of range of expression that those can present. Every new controversy means the boundaries are pushed just a bit farther, so make no mistake: that day will come. The industry will drag its detractors kicking and screaming (is anyone ever dragged any other way?) into that new world, as did the other art forms that have gone before, and it will be good. That is why this upheval is a step in the right direction.
Perhaps we should each do our beloved medium a favor and go pick up a copy of Mass Effect.