Mass Effect 3 and the Culture Wars.

I haven’t played Mass Effect 3 yet. I don’t even own it. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. Maybe I just don’t want the series to end, or maybe it’s something else.

In any case, I have been reading some reviews of it and I came across this Forbes article by Erik Kain. He’s addressing why there was a massive avalanche of negative user reviews for ME 3 on Metacritic, many appearing within hours of the its release. Kain initially attributed this onslaught to the fact that there are same-sex romance sub-plots in the game, and that this enraged many. However, he did sort of refine that view in his subsequent post.

Kain also links to a post over on the BioWare forums by a user called “Bastal” criticizing BioWare’s Dragon Age II. You can read his complaint in full, but the gist of it is this: BioWare wasted too many resources on the same-sex romance in DA II, even though–according to Bastal’s calculations–only about 5% of gamers are gay. He argued that since the majority of gamers are straight men, they should have designed the game to cater more their interest.

I’m probably a pretty bad person to comment on this, as I have not played either Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age II. However, there are a few comments I can make. First, on Kain’s theory, I suspect his later conclusion is right: somebody somewhere has decided it would be amusing to bomb Mass Effect 3 on Metacritic. Who knows why? Who, frankly, cares why? The vast majority of user reviews on Metacritic are worthless. I mean, even though it’s on a scale of 0-10, the numbers 2 through 8 seem to show up far less than 0, 1, 9 and 10 in reviews of most games. Most users seem to have no clue how to do anything other than love or hate a given game. To me, it looks like the trolls were just faster than usual on this one.

On to “Bastal”s point about Dragon Age II. I understood that it was a choice which romance sub-plot you see in that game. Am I wrong? He complains that they “neglected the straight male gamer”, but I just can’t imagine that as being the problem. Like I said, I haven’t played DA II, but I can imagine that BioWare failed to come up with any compelling characters and romances in it. But that doesn’t follow from them trying to appeal to non-straight, non-male gamers. Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas has, shall we say, something for everyone; and it never detracted from the experience. You could play it how you wanted to play it.

Moreover, after ME 2, it’s hard for me to imagine BioWare ignoring the straight male. If you played the game, there is a scene involving Miranda Lawson that seems to dispel that notion quite thoroughly. You know the one I mean. Also, the Asari are an entire species of alien pretty much designed by and for straight men. And if BioWare did move away from that in DA II, well, who can blame them? They have one product, ME 2, designed for the straight-male gamer and one product, DA II, designed for others.

Anyway, the whole damn thing is sort of ridiculous, and makes gamers look like a bunch of immature jerks.

Well, maybe I’ll have to play this thing now. I can say it’s part of my researches into human psychology and sociology. “I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite sociological issue on the Citadel.”

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