My limited experience with online games has been nothing but nasty, brutish and short.
A few online rounds of “Halo 2” at a friend’s house showed me just how vicious gamers can be when they smell fresh meat. I could barely run 20 feet before getting cut down. The insults and taunts flew thick and fast. These gamers, they have no mercy.
That’s the sort of experience Cooper Lawrence, billed as a psychology specialist and radio talk show host, has been having over the past few days. Last week, she appeared on a Fox News show, “The Live Desk With Martha MacCallum.”
Terrorism, Elections and Video Games
The show sometimes discusses big topics of major national importance, like the presidential race and terrorism. Lawrence was there to talk video games, specifically BioWare’s new single-player role-playing game “Mass Effect.” To hear the game described on this program, it sounded like the raunchiest thing to come along since the “Leisure Suit Larry” series. Lawrence contributed a handful of broad comments about the dangers of violent and sexual video games to young players.
“If you look at the statistics, who’s playing video games? Adolescent males, not their dads,” she said. “We know that all the research shows that violence has a desensitizing effect. Well, sexuality does too.”
She went on to vaguely echo a few of the assertions the show’s host, MacCallum, made about “Mass Effect” containing full nudity and player-controlled sex scenes (which it does not) and a misogynistic story line (which seems at odds with the fact that the player can choose to play as a female protagonist).
Those were the only comments Lawrence made about “Mass Effect” in particular, rather than sexual and violent video games in general, but the show’s false representation of the game was more than enough to spark gamers’ ire, and Lawrence became their No. 1 target.
Blogs ignited. Forums were furious. YouTube was flooded with dozens of videos mocking Lawrence and calling her assorted degrading names. Finally, some critics had the idea to post hundreds of poor reviews under Amazon’s listing of Lawrence’s latest book, “The Cult of Perfection: Making Peace With Your Inner Overachiever” — and it’s a safe bet that not a whole lot of people who posted bothered to read the book. Most of those reviews have been taken down, but the book still holds a “one star out of five” average rating, and it’s been tagged with terms like “ignorant” and “garbage” thousands of times over.
Depending on your sense of humor, you might find that to be either a hilarious twist of justice or horrid hypocrisy. But Lawrence isn’t the only one to blame for such an incredibly misinforming news show. In fact, pretty much everyone who said anything at all during that seven-minute segment — including the game’s defender, Geoff Keighley of Spike TV — made a mistake at some point. If anyone deserves an online smackdown, though, it’s MacCallum, her show and Fox News.
Blow by Blow
The segment started with comments from the show’s host, Martha MacCallum. She described the game as containing full character nudity, leaving “nothing to the imagination,” as well as offering “the ability for the players to engage in graphic sex, and the person who’s playing the game gets to decide exactly what’s going to happen between the two people, if you know what I mean.”
Electronic Arts, the parent company of BioWare, hascategorically refuted these statements. After the barrage on her Amazon page, Lawrence told The New York Times she misspoke. Now that she’s seen more of the game, she said, the brief and veiled sex scene that does appear in the game struck her as nothing more risque than what might be seen on a prime-time network TV show like “Lost.” Yet it was MacCallum and the headlines appearing on the screen, not Lawrence, who most pointedly asserted that the game contains naughty bits.
It looks like Keighley missed that point. Responding to Lawrence, he asked, “Cooper, have you ever played ‘Mass Effect?'”
“No!” she replied, laughing.
“Well,” he responded, “I think the fact is you talked about another thing that you mentioned is how it has full graphic nudity. That’s completely incorrect. There’s no full nudity in this game. There’s the side of an alien boob, which can be seen. It’s a small sexual situation in this game which is about two minutes out of a 30-plus hour experience.”
Actually, it was MacCallum who claimed the full graphic nudity, not Lawrence.
To his credit, Keighley did shoot down the one inaccurate comment that Lawrence made about the game:”It’s a man in this game deciding how many women he wants to be with.”
MacCallum, perhaps relieved that Keighley was taking Lawrence to task instead of herself, then tried to change directions, dovetailing violence into the discussion. “I have not played this game … There’s nothing graphic that I saw on the pages that I looked at on the Internet. But it does beg the question — what it does to kids in terms of how they think about violence and sexuality? Because they’re engaged in blowing people away in these.”
Then MacCallum turned to a four-person panel to continue the conversation. None seem to have listened to anything said by Keighley, apparently the only person on the show with any firsthand knowledge about the game. “I’m definitely not going to let ‘Mass Effect’ in my house,” said one panelist, who described the game as “Luke Skywalker meets ‘Debbie Does Dallas.'” Another said she wondered why it didn’t get an adults-only rating.
Dumb and Dumber
Lawrence was on the show to talk about the general issue of sex and violence in games. As an expert-for-hire who seeks out radio and TV appearances, allowing herself to get drawn into an argument over a specific video game that she’d never played was not a smart move. But her short comment about “Mass Effect” was nothing compared to the repeated inaccurate statements made by the show’s host and panelists.
Lawrence at least had the intelligence to admit she was flat-out wrong about the game in her subsequent NYT interview — which, granted, appears to have been conducted after her book had been slapped around on Amazon. But so far the only apparent act of contrition on MacCallum’s and Fox News’ part has been to invite EA on the show for another round. That’s an attempt to turn what should be an embarrassing misstep into a ratings payout.
If anyone deserves gamers’ fury, it’s MacCallum and the producers of “Live Desk.” In prepping the segment, it seems as though nobody — not the producer, not the interns, not the fact-checker (if Fox News employs anyone to do that) — bothered to investigate the game they were about to skewer on national TV. Then they picked up a gullible guest expert, fed her wrong info, and watched as most of the offended parties ganged up on her.
She’s recanted, but “Live Desk’s” producers were the ones who orchestrated the whole poorly researched segment from the beginning. Where’s their apology?
Click here to e-mail Paul Hartsock.