Something About Mass Effect

  By Shamus   Jan 29, 2008   31 comments

About two dozen people have sent me a link to some article about Mass Effect at the NYT. The link is here, but the Times put the thing behind their registration wall.

I Googled around for a way past the wall, found a site that claimed it would show me an NYT article if I gave it the link. It managed to show me all the ads and none of the prose. Sigh. Forget it.

So, if you have the time or you know the secret NYT handshake, then there might be an article there worth reading.

UPDATE: HeatherRae poaches their text below. It’s actually a pretty interesting read.

ALSO: Jay Barnson has his take on it here.

AND: Augury has videos, pics, and samples from the woman’s trashed Amazon,com book reviews.

201131 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. HeatherRae says:

    I’m going to see if it lets me do this. lol.

    Author Faults a Game, and Gamers Flame Back
    By SETH SCHIESEL

    The Internet hath no fury like a gamer scorned.

    That’s the lesson Fox News and a self-help author learned this week after a program on that channel featured a discussion of the sexual content of the hit video game Mass Effect.

    Bound by global message boards, blogs, chat rooms and of course the games themselves, gamers are perhaps the single most intense subculture on the Internet — fiercely protective of their pastime and at ease with the byways of cyberspace.

    So the game world has been ablaze with indignation since the Fox News program “The Live Desk With Martha MacCallum” said on Monday that Mass Effect, one of the most critically praised games of 2007, contains frontal nudity and explicit depictions of sexual activity. The assertions of virtual lasciviousness first appeared earlier this month among conservative bloggers incensed by brief YouTube clips excerpted from the 30- to 40-hour game.

    Mass Effect, a science fiction game, includes a complicated romantic subplot that is no more risqué in its plot or graphic in its depiction than evening network television.

    To exact their revenge, gamers have turned their vitriol on Cooper Lawrence, an author who appeared to mischaracterize the game when she said: “Here’s how they’re seeing women: They’re seeing them as these objects of desire, as these, you know, hot bodies. They don’t show women as being valued for anything other than their sexuality. And it’s a man in this game deciding how many women he wants to be with.”

    In fact Mass Effect allows users to play as either a man or a woman, and the few suggestions of intimate contact occur in the context of a detailed interpersonal story line. Asked on the air by Geoff Keighley of Spike TV whether she had ever played the game, Ms. Lawrence laughed and said, “No.”

    Irate gamers have flooded the page on Amazon.com selling Ms. Lawrence’s most recent book, “The Cult of Perfection: Making Peace With Your Inner Overachiever,” sending its user-generated rating into oblivion.

    By Friday afternoon 412 of the book’s 472 user reviews were the lowest possible rating, one star. Another 48 ratings were for two stars. Only 12 of the ratings were for three stars or higher. In addition, 929 Amazon users had tagged the book with the keyword “ignorant.” Tied for second place with 744 tags were “garbage” and “hypocrisy,” while “hack” and “hypocrite” tied for fourth place with 710 votes. Gamers have also attacked the book on the Barnes & Noble Web site.

    Many of the reviewers admit that they have not read Ms. Lawrence’s book.

    As one Amazon user put it: “I know all about this book but have never fully read it. Why? Due to the overwhelming backlash, I have no choice but to agree with the 1 star ratings. The rumors are rampant that this book was poorly written and poorly researched. So without verifying the contents myself — I give it a 1 star. Good thing video games aren’t judged in this manner — whew!!!”

    On Friday “The Cult of Perfection” was ranked the 346,106th best-selling book on Amazon. Mass Effect, by contrast, has been a hit, selling more than 1.6 million copies since November. An Amazon spokeswoman said the site would soon begin to remove reviews written by users who had clearly not read the book.

    In an interview on Friday, Ms. Lawrence said that since the controversy over her remarks erupted she had watched someone play the game for about two and a half hours. “I recognize that I misspoke,” she said. “I really regret saying that, and now that I’ve seen the game and seen the sex scenes it’s kind of a joke.

    “Before the show I had asked somebody about what they had heard, and they had said it’s like pornography,” she added. “But it’s not like pornography. I’ve seen episodes of ‘Lost’ that are more sexually explicit.”

    Electronic Arts, the giant publisher that owns Mass Effect, has asked Fox News for a correction. A Fox News spokesman would say only that Electronic Arts had been offered a chance to appear on the channel. An Electronic Arts spokesman said the company had not yet decided whether to accept the offer.

    By telephone from Edmonton, Alberta, Ray Muzyka, the medical doctor who is chief executive of BioWare, the Electronic Arts studio that made Mass Effect, said: “We’re hurt. We believe in video games as an art form, and on behalf of the 120 people who poured their blood and tears into this game over three years, we’re just really hurt that someone would misrepresent the game without even playing it. All we can hope for is that people who actually play our games will see the truth.”

  2. Ian says:

    bugmenot.com is your friend (though it seems to be down at the moment).

    The buggeroffbugger/buggeroff combo works fine.

  3. kanthalion says:

    Go gamer solidarity!! I loved the example of the reviews people have been posting on her book.

    Oh, and “Happy Freethinker Day!”

  4. Joe #5 says:

    For some reason I can see the article without being logged in (or ever having logged in). Did they open it to the public?

  5. Mephane says:

    I can read it, too. How weird.

  6. Henebry says:

    Great article.

    The real villain here is Fox News. They didn’t want an informed respondent, they wanted someone who would lend authority to the conservative outrage in the blogosphere, because their goal is to inflame emotions, not inform the public.

    I gather that Cooper Lawrence was willing to play the role of pseudo-expert in exchange for a bit of publicity for herself and her book. Now she’s gotten what she deserves, and I suspect that the next person called on to opinionate about a video game may be a bit more chary of passing off third-hand knowledge of a game as an informed opinion.

    But we should note that Fox has so far received no just punishment for having seized upon and misrepresented Mass Effect as pornography. They haven’t even had to issue a retraction. Their offer of giving EA on-air time to make their case is totally inappropriate in a case when the original story was simply and verifiably WRONG. Equal time implies that there are two sides to the question, that the question can only be resolved by debate.

    Moderator: Coming up after the break, we have a mathematician coming on to give his side of the story. He says 2 plus 2 isn’t 5, it’s 4!

    If EA agrees to Fox’s proffered air time, they will be rewarding Fox by giving them more material with which to fill up the 24-hour news void rather than punishing them by forcing them to admit culpability. So let’s hope EA chooses instead to sue for libel.

    Meanwhile, let’s get a Fox News boycott going!

  7. Shamus says:

    I have a longstanding loathing of Fox news. (Most people hate them because of “political bias”. When you’re a minority viewpoint like mine, ALL news looks horribly skewed.) I read their site on a regular basis, and I find their obsession with tabloid-level celeb gossip to be just sickening. (I don’t read that stuff.) Their headlines are misleading and sensationalist. Their top news stories are chosen for spectacle, not relevance. They really are the worst of a bad bunch.

  8. Joe says:

    When she laughed as a response to being asked if she had played the game, I almost yelled in outrage. How could she have expected that to go well?

    “Hey, here’s a legitimate question about your credibility in this subject,”
    “Hahahahah! F off!”

  9. Joe says:

    You know, I really have to wonder if this was all based on an honest mis-communication. I’ve been playing Mass Effect for…um… how long has it been out? One day less than that. Anyhow, I’ve got to agree – it is like pornography. I don’t mean by that that it’s filled with nekkid people. A technical description of the form and function of a Bugatti Veyron is like pornography too, if you’re a car geek. I wonder if someone said to her that it’s “like pornography” meaning that, for gamers, it’s captivating, enthralling, and stimulating, and she heard that it’s “like pornography” meaning nasty-raunchy.

    I think it’s high time that we force all reporters to use nothing but lojban.

  10. Avaz says:

    I don’t have a NYT account, yet was still able to view the article. Anyway, Fox News isn’t really news. It’s more like a more organized Entertainment Tonight or TMZ TV, without hosts yelling at you about the latest celebrity flubs.

    Like a sensationalist show wrapped up in a news skin. That’s why I get my news from Stewart/Colbert. :)

    Having said that, I’m glad NYT was able to uncover the truth. They’re still a respectable news medium, imo.

  11. Divra says:

    Somtimes, people actually get what’s coming to them. It makes me go warm and fuzzy inside evey time…

    And Fox News is the biggest crock of felgercarb in existence.

  12. onosson says:

    Haven’t read the article yet…

    But, I CAN recommend registering with the NYT website. It’s pretty painless, and a very good read – one of the 3-4 news sites that I’m on every day. Many of the best articles I’ve ever read have come from there.

  13. Nilus says:

    You know as a gamer and someone who liked Mass Effect, I get offended by uniformed news outlets. But I find it funny that people I know who are not RPG players are hearing about the game more because of it showing up in the news. Its kinda like how GTA: San Andreas had a huge sale spike after people found out about Hot Coffey.

    Of course my thought is always that these games are rated and children should not be playing them. But then again I got into a fight with my brother-in-law this weekend because I would not let me spoiled brat nephew play my 360 because I didn’t have any games for it that were appropriate for him.

  14. Shamus says:

    Person who’s comment I nuked: DO feel free to dump on Fox News all you like, but insulting everyone who watches or reads (which would, you know, include me) is just nonsense, and it’s a great way to start a pointless flamewar.

  15. Aaron says:

    Shamus: +10 to N00king

    Fox news is defiantly the worst of a bad lot. I read MSN news and am always reading between the lines. So much for the idea of an unbiased press.

  16. Althanis says:

    Listen to NPR’s All Things Considered. It’s not completely unbiased, but it’s the closest thing I’ve found. They at least try to present both sides of a story. As for Fox News, its drek. Pure and simple. The fact that it is so popular really makes me sad for the future of America sometimes.

  17. roxysteve says:

    While I comiserate with the Mass Effect people, and can smile at someone getting their own product canned by the same process they themselves participated in, I am a little concerned about the message sent by this “Amazon.com feedback” stunt. The one that was intended was “see what uninformed opinion can do?”, but it also included a hefty dose of “See? This uninformed opinion blitz tactic works!”.

    Just what the anti Mass Effect brigade want to hear – speak and ye shall be powerfull beyond all reason. I wonder who will be sucked in next?

    As for Fox: it is the most perplexing organisation I can think of. On the one hand it showcases truly classic stuff like “The Simpsons”, “X-Files”, “Space: Above and Beyond”, “Malcom in the Middle”, “House” and “Arrested Development”. On the other it puts on “The Batchelor”, “Cops”, seemingly anything with o’Reilly in it (IMO – I’ve never seen that man make the slightest bit of sense but your mileage may vary and I won’t think any less of you if it does) and that stupid, stupid, stupid “the moon landings never happend” eyewash (again, IMO, though if you bought into that I certainly WILL think less of you).

    As always, a thought-provoking read, Shamus.

    Steve.

  18. Patriarch917 says:

    Regarding the criticism of Fox News for allowing her to appear on their station and say incorrect things… I was surprised when I actually watched the video (posted below) to find that Fox pitted her against a guy that had played the game, knew what he was talking about, corrected her uninformed contents, and actually brought out that she hadn’t played the game.

    Is it “fair and balanced” to put on one person who lies, and another who tells the truth? I don’t look to cable news to act as a “filter” and tell me only the side they think is correct, so I guess I’m not really bothered by the report.

    The panel discussion afterward, on the other hand, was just shoddy. But I’ve never seen one that wasn’t, so oh well.

    Here’s the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKzF173GqTU

  19. scragar says:

    Any and all new’s is biased, it’s (almost) immpossible to get around, part of the whole having a person reseach and write it.

    Best thing to do would be to read a wide array of sources and take everything with a pinch of salt, at least until it is confirmed by other sources.

  20. Coldstone says:

    And it is presisely for reasons such as this that I get all my news from Stewart and Colbert

  21. Ethan says:

    I’m pretty sure that registration for the NYT website is free. I certainly haven’t ever paid for it, and I can see the article just fine.

  22. Henebry says:

    Patriarch917,

    Thanks for linking the YouTube clip. You’re right that the gamer guy blew away Cooper Lawrence in the discussion, uncovering the fact that she hadn’t played the game, etc. But that’s not my point about what’s wrong with Fox News, because the encounter was staged. If Ms. Lawrence were an out-and-out opponent of video games in general (or of this game in particular) then it might serve the public interest for Fox News to provide an opportunity for an informed individual to call her out on what she’d been saying about Mass Effect. Mind you, even if this were the case I’m still suspicious that whenever a news organization provides a kook equal standing with an informed expert, it sends an implicit message that “experts disagree.” This sort of thing happened from 2002-2006 whenever news shows debated the “question” of Global Warming, long after scientific consensus had been reached.

    But in this particular case I think Ms. Lawrence was a put-up job: she was brought in to represent an opinion that wasn’t hers. Fox News wanted to manufacture outrage and debate, and she wanted the free publicity.

    And if Ms. Lawrence was recruited by Fox News in this way, then Fox News was far from being a “fair and balanced” arbiter in the debate; the organization was, rather, an active participant in the slander of Mass Effect. And this comes out in the “moderator’s” initial characterization of the game as involving “frontal nudity” and “sexually explicit scenes.” The so-called moderator is reading from the same playbook as Ms. Lawrence—no doubt because they were both prepped by the same staff memo.

  23. Taellosse says:

    As someone who actually used to pay for premium registration at the NY Times, I can say with certainty that they no longer charge for online registration at all. I’m a little bit surprised that it was asking you to even register, as that article is only about a week old. But yeah, it’s free to register, and, in my opinion, worthwhile. And you can then read any article they’ve ever posted online, going back to the early 80’s.

  24. Nentuaby says:

    I do very much appreciate the part where the correspondant finally watched somebody play the game for a while and admitted she was wrong.

    She very much went about these things in the wrong order, but at least she came to her sense instead of entrenching like so many other conservative commentators do.

  25. Shamus says:

    instead of entrenching like so many other conservative commentators do.

    Because, of course, conservatives are the only ones who do that sort of thing.

    Sigh.

    Election years are so dismal.

  26. Kristin says:

    I’m impressed. She admitted she was wrong. Not some weasel words like “Mistakes were made [but certainly by other people, not me!]”, she flat out said “I hadn’t played the game, but now that I have seen it, it’s no worse than network TV.”

    And yes, Shamus, you’re right, this is done on every news network and by members of both political parties. It’s part of being a weaselImeanpolitician. But FOX News is the worst I’ve seen about not taking responsibility for their mistakes, and their mistakes are often obvious and stupid (I remember seeing one about a Republican senator who had been caught cheating or something, identified as a Democrat!).

  27. Zaghadka says:

    Fox seems to have gotten the idea that “all news is bias, and therefore all bias is fair game.”

    They have thrown out the ideal of journalistic integrity because of the presumption that there is none. In its stead, they offer the bottom line and the lowest common denominator, targeted for a specific political demographic.

    It’s about as “Fair and Balanced” as a raven haired, drunken tavern whore.

    I am of the opinion that hypocrisy is the foundation of all good ethics. Each one of us must believe that there is something better that what one is, and aspire to it, or we are all lost. The necessary cognitive dissonance on the way is hypocrisy.

    So long as one is aware of that dissonance, and moving towards one’s ideals, I am content with hypocrisy.

    I hope Fox News aspires to simple FACT CHECKING in the future. This Mass Effect BS got out of control, as do many things on their tabloid news network. I hope they aspire to being hypocrites in the near future.

  28. Deoxy says:

    FOX is no worse than any of the others… in fact, I’d say they are a little LESS bad (note: “less bad” – still bad, just not quite as much in comparison), as they bother to put an expert opposite their kook (half the time, the others just put on the kook and let people think “experts agree!” when no experts are even shown).

    As an example of the parenthetical: This sort of thing happened from 2002-2006 whenever news shows debated the “question” of Global Warming, long after scientific consensus had been reached.

    Um, “scientific consensus” HASN’T been reached. A bare majority appears to have been reached just recently, but the media has been trumpeting “scientific consensus” since the early 90’s! (Hint: at that point, the closest thing to “consensus” on the topic was that man was NOT responsible. What, sheer dishonesty? Say it ain’t so!)

    And about the NYT: an article that was actually not drivel? What a rare find! The NYT is among the worst of a bad bunch.

  29. Cineris says:

    I have to give Cooper Lawrence credit for correcting herself, it’s pretty rare to see that these days. Fox really ought to be ashamed of themselves for not doing the same. Guess they’re just out to prove you can trust Cosmo more than big media outlets.

  30. Joe Cool says:

    Having said that, I’m glad NYT was able to uncover the truth. They’re still a respectable news medium, imo.

    Two words: Jayson Blair.

  31. ArchU says:

    #7, Shamus: “I have a longstanding loathing of Fox news. (Most people hate them because of “political bias”. When you’re a minority viewpoint like mine, ALL news looks horribly skewed.)…”

    Amen to that. “News” should be renamed “Opinionated Trivia”. I take every news report with a grain of salt.

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