As a 26-year-old, sex is never too far from my mind. Yet it seems to always be quite far from my games, and that’s a damn shame. I realize that sex is a controversial topic, and that many would rather stick their fingers in their ears, cover their eyes, and try not to think about where babies come from, but let’s face it: that’s no longer an option.
Sex is explored everywhere these day. It’s in Oscar-winning movies like The Wolf of Wall Street, in indie films like Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, and in popular books like 50 Shades of Grey. If gaming is going to stay relevant, or (dare I say it) become progressive, then we need more sex in video games
The current situation
I don’t need to tell you the current situation, because you probably already know it. Games are usually designed with guys in mind, and when thinking about guys, most developers seem to have come to one conclusion: guys are dumb.
Sexuality in computer games is less complicated than the magazines I hid beneath my mattress as a teenager; at least those were honest in their crudity. Most games prefer to hide sex behind revealing costumes and ever-increasing bra sizes. Just look at 90s-era Lara Croft and Dragon Crown’s woefully-disproportionate sorceress. Shooting at wolves or casting spells with serious back pains must be terrible!
Some games go one step down. Lollipop Chainsaw springs to mind as the best example of a highly-sexualized game that steered clear of actual sex. In Lollipop Chainsaw, the characters make constant innuendos and the camera angles encourage upskirt peeping, but the game never dares to actually talk about sex, let alone discuss its worrying obsession with schoolgirls.
The same is true of Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars; a game which features high school students “classmating” to create “star children.” Lots of metaphor with no real discussion. In short, today’s games focus on titillation and avoid encouraging anything more meaningful than an erection.
What about Japan?
Well, what about it? Sure, Japan has more sexual content in its games than any other country, but it’s not exactly quality content. Japan has an unhealthy obsession with the kawaii teenage girl, who appears in almost every sexually explicit game. This creates a dichotomy for developers, because how can someone be both cute and adorable, and yet engage in sexual acts? There are two methods of doing this: one is you rape her, the other is that she engages in the act without full understanding. In both cases she is as a toy for male players, and has little agency.
But what about dating sims,? Those are popular with women, and they often have some kind of sexual content. Although, let’s be clear about this: a sentence saying that a girl “stayed over” at a boy’s house is not sexual content.
Dating sims are about as reflective of real sex as they are of real dating, meaning that they’re not at all reflective. Dating sims are made for women, but they are not exactly genre-defying. It’s a new genre spouting old ideas.
Girls remain sweet, innocent, and shy. They are either pursued by, or sometimes tricked by handsome men (they are the ones with agency) and in the end, the girl in the game selects one of the men to “date.” There are endless variations on this, but I am yet to see something that truly breaks the mould.
Now, this is not to say that Japan is hopeless. There are movements in Japan which want to rectify this. There is one visual novel that really stood out from the crowd: Katawa Shoujo. Katawa Shojo is a visual novel set in a school for disabled teenagers; you control the actions of a young man with a heart condition recently admitted to the school. There is sex in Katawa Shojo and it is from a male perspective, but there’s something liberating about it. Whether it’s a girl missing her legs engaging in risky outdoors sex or a badly burnt girl using sex to assert her beauty, there’s more to this than just otaku fap material.
Something similar can be said about yaoi. Yaoi is obviously not a perfect representation of the complexities of homosexuality in Japan, but the fact that it exists at all is progress. The men may be overly-sexualized and the plots overly-dramatic, but they represent an alternative to “standard” sexual behaviours, and most importantly, yaoi offers a safe space for female and homosexual gamers.
Despite this, I think it’s still fair to say that Japan has a long way to go before its sexual content does anything more than arouse its audience. But hell, at least in Japan everyone gets to be aroused, and that’s equality I can get behind!
Who is to blame for this?
There are your usual suspects of governments who care more about re-election than progress, media that care more for ratings than facts, and religious communities with more power than they deserve. These three entities, when combined, form a beast completely impervious to fact, reason, or debate. This makes it difficult for well-meaning developers to make any headway.
Right now, developers are handicapped by what they can do with sex, because a single mistake can be disastrous. Rockstar learnt this lesson back in 2004 with the Hot Coffee Mod fiasco. The Hot Coffee Mod was an unofficial modification for Grand Theft: San Andreas which unlocked a mini-game buried within the game’s code. The mini game was a sex simulator.
The scandal was so big that most major US retailers pulled San Andreas off the shelves, and it was even debated in the US senate. That’s right, the most powerful political entity on the planet discussed the dangers of an unofficial mod in which characters unrealistically simulated poorly-choreographed sex scenes. Time well spent? I think not!
What’s even funnier is that the Hot Coffee Mod didn’t even remove the characters’ clothes. The whole thing was more of a dry-hump simulator, and watching pop music videos at the time was a hell of a lot more exciting.
The hysteria surrounding sex in computer games has led to all major consoles and publishers refusing to deal with “adult content.” This makes it financially unviable for developers to make sex-based video games, because an “adult only” label is not an option for most developers.
The long and the short of it is that you aren’t going to be playing any sex-based games on your console, or downloading them from Steam, iTunes, or Google Play anytime soon.
However it’s not all bad news. Some developers are pushing the envelope. Bioware bucked the trend by including sex in its Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. Not only did Bioware include sex, it went one step further and included both inter-species and homosexual relationships as well.
Needless to say, the reaction to its rocking the boat, was not wholly positive, and the games themselves are still far from good analyses of sexuality. Sex in Bioware games is still an afterthought, an interesting diversion from the main plot. It usually contains the usual romantic tropes of love, betrayal, and all that other gooey stuff. Sure, it’s interesting, but actual sex is well-explored elsewhere. I want to see sex as the forefront, in the spotlight. Warts (metaphorical, I hope) and all!
Why does this need to change?
Sex is essential to the human condition. We are hardwired to want it, think about, and be intrigued by it. It is one of the primary motivators of action, and the heart of many human interactions. Other art forms focus on sex without scrutiny or bias, and yet we don’t have any games doing the same.
In all honesty, how can we have a game that truly investigates love if we can’t also investigate sex? Look at the most popular romantic film ever: Titanic. Nobody thinks of this film as anything more than a romance, but it has a sex scene more intense than anything I have seen in any video game and full frontal nudity. It won Academy Awards, and nobody batted an eyelid, because the sex is there to serve the purpose of the story, not just to excite viewers.
I’m under no illusions that games allowed to portray sex would always do so responsibly. We all know that Xbox-based porn would instantly appear on shelves the moment consumers started becoming more accepting of such content, but that doesn’t mean that everything would end up like that. Judging anything on its lowest possible form is hardly fair.
One of the biggest reasons this situation needs to change is because of its exclusionary nature. I have many female gamer friends, and almost all are sick of the way women are portrayed in games. Why do the women always have the useless boob-exposing armour? Why would anyone go into battle in a g-string, and who the hell can run, let alone stand straight, with boobs that big?
And it’s not just women; homosexuals, bisexuals, transexuals, and practically anyone who isn’t a straight heterosexual male are still unrepresented by the medium. Gaming is for everyone, and everyone should be included. We have a responsibility to make that happen.
For me, the most important point is that games are art, and must be treated like art. Art can’t have limitations placed on something as all-encompassing as sex without being seriously compromised. I’m looking forward to the day when computer games are taken seriously, not only by those within the community, but by those outside it too. I would love to see Media Studies classes have “required gaming”, or even to see a literature course discussing the intricacies of Bioshock Infinity. This isn’t going to happen if developers are too afraid to deal with something as fundamental as human sexuality.
How can it be fixed
My mother always said: “if you want to be treated like an adult, then you need to act like an adult.” In order for games to develop, they need to be able to discuss sex in a manner dissimilar to a 15 year boy. We don’t need Hideo Kojima-style breast-ogling or Lollipop Chainsaw panty shots, we need substance. That doesn’t mean it can’t be exciting, naughty, or even a taboo; it just needs to be mature.
And that, my friends, is where we come in.
Gamers need to expect more. We need to demand more from our games than skimpy outfits, inhumanly large breasts, and artificial cuteness. It’s time to grow up. Sex is here, it has always been here, and if games are ever going be a reflection of life, it needs to be included in them.
Straight, gay, trans, bi, and everything between, I want to hear your stories, I want to see your stories, but most of all I want to play and understand your stories. If the best way to understand another’s perspective is to walk in their shoes, I can’t think of a better way to do it than through the interactive medium of gaming.
So developers, I ask again: more sex please. Show us what you can do.
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