Before starting, I would like to clarify that I do not wish to moralise on the subject of sex in video games. This is not one of those discussions – there’s enough of them already. Just like in movies, books, and tv programs, the role of sex has become increasingly common and accepted in video games, although some people just love to disagree.
No, this is about whether it works or not, and why that might be.
Having just played through the Witcher 2, where sex and boobies are abundant, I feel the subject requires some exploration. I found myself squirming uncomfortably in my chair when such a scene commenced and ended up pressing the Esc key almost every time in order to skip it, and I started wondering why that was. I don’t consider myself a prude, you could argue that said sex scenes are justified from a narrative perspective, and I don’t mind sex in movies or books – so why does it feel so out of place in the medium I spend the most time exploring?
After doing some thinking, and after reading others’ accounts on the subject I’m beginning to realise that there are a number of things standing in the way of video game sex (note, not romance, there’s plenty of great romances) feeling natural and awesome and sexy. Let me elaborate.
Maybe there’s just not been enough exploring. While movies have well over 100 years behind them, and books have far, far more, video games are only in their 50s. Could it be a question of maturity? Do video games still have some growing up to do? Michael Thompson writes for Ars Technica that sex in video games may seem shocking to us because it’s still a novelty. We’ve come to expect violence, but are surprised, and maybe even taken aback when there’s a sex scene, simply because they’re not common enough. We’ve not played enough games containing them, we’ve not read enough articles, and seen enough news reports in which the media condemns the practice and claims it harmful to our children, and we’ve not yet been upset enough times by such games being banned or censored. But could that really be the whole of the issue? I think there’s more to it.
Another important thing to take into account is the fact that video games were for a long time considered toys and as such were marketed to kids and teenagers. Although I am now an adult and I play games mainly for adults, maybe this connotation still prevails. If that is the case, no wonder I’m uncomfortable. It would be like making sex a part of Lego or Lassie – not something I would consider acceptable.
On the same note, it’s only recently that developers have started taking a more unisex approach to games and the characters and stories within. For a long time, computer and video games were made by and marketed to boys and it’s not until recently we’ve started seeing strong, believable female heroes and supporting characters. I can’t imagine that games weren’t influenced by the environment in which they grew up.
Games like GTA and God of War portrays women as a distraction, or a past time, rather than as actual characters with personality and goals of their own, which I think is why the sex scenes in those particular games feel extra cringe-y – they give off very strong porn vibes. If I wanted to play a game containing pornography, I’d go pick up something Japanese, or Leisure Suite Larry, or maybe I’d skip controlling a character altogether and just watch a film. You get my drift, if I wanted porn, I’d go seek it out. I don’t want it randomly interspersed into my video games.
But what about games like those released by Bioware in recent years, where you, the player, initiate a romance that ultimately leads to a romp between the sheets? It certainly feels more meaningful than the above examples, to me at least. Although to other players the sex scene at the end might just work as an incentive to develop relationships in the game world. I think, however, that we can safely agree that where there’s a build up and the sex is part of the story, it feels less awkward. There’s still something that’s bothering me though. And I think I know what it is.
It’s something that Ken Levine, the creator of BioShock, expresses quite well in an interview with VG24/7:
I think it’s not about being interactive. I think it’s more about people not understanding what it is. If you think about the amount of, for example, nudity in a videogame… it’s not even nudity. It’s a puppet with its clothes off. There are other problems as well. It’s kind of silly in video games right now, because – again – puppets with their clothes off.
It’s more like [the movie] Team America. The sex scene in Team America as opposed to, you know, the sex scene in Black Swan.
Mr Levine also ties in to my points above about video games still being a relatively new medium for sex, and many still perceiving them as toys:
The fact that’s even controversial says that the perception of the industry is that we’re making toys or something, as opposed to making creative expressions for a range of audiences – including adults. I think there’s still some prudishness.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s little things, like syncing movements and making sure someones arm doesn’t go through the bed, or even worse, though their partners face. Thus far, sex scenes in video games need a fair amount of work before they’ll look acceptably natural and feel sufficiently passionate, for me to feel anything but awkward – even if there’s a cracking romance leading up to them.
- But that’s not saying we’ll never get there, in fact, I’m looking forward to the day that we do.