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Sex has always been as much a part of art as real life. Since the technology in videogames has allowed for pixel T & A, people have been attempting to render it. This article is not about the history of videogames and sex from the beginning though, it’s about the mainstream explosion of sex in videogames recently, what really sparked it, and whether or not any of the fuss is warranted.
True enough, there’s been no shortage of controversy in the videogame industry as a whole. It seems that there’s always some group or another trying to make a name for themselves by casting stones. To really figure out when the public spotlight got focused on sex in videogames you need to go back to 2005 and the Grand Theft Auto series. Grand Theft Auto was no stranger then to controversy, the game allowed one to kill basically anyone, citizens, police officers, hookers. Yeah. There’s that. But it was the entry “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” that took the controversy cake. In mid 2005, a mod was released that allowed for the unlocking of some code that was developed for the game and then locked off in the final retail version. Now, nude patches have been around forever (I’m looking at you Tomb Raider) but the difference in this game was that this wasn’t a modification of the game per se, so much as it was an unlocking of hidden features. The mod, dubbed “Hot Coffee” allowed the gamer to take place in an interactive sex game with one of the many girlfriends he could acquire throughout the game. The gauntlet fell and the war was on.
Almost immediately the voices of dissent could be heard coming out of the woodwork. “This game is a danger to the moral fabric of society!” “This game is destroying our children!” Really, it was the expected thing. For years, pundits, lawyers and just general high minded society had been trying to stick the Grand Theft Auto series and finally there was some ammo for their fight. The developers had included code that was not acknowledged to the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) when submitting the game for rating. Keep in mind that the Grand Theft Auto series already shipped with a rating of M (Mature, 17 years and over). The end result of this was that the game got rebranded with an AO sticker (Adult Only, thereby limiting the amount of distribution it had) and eventually Rockstar had to pay out a sum to anyone who could prove they had bought the game and claimed to be offended by the content. This didn’t stop the game from being any less successful, but it was still, in my mind, a horrible injustice.
So yes, GTA: San Andreas was the game that got the public eye heavily interested in videogames and their treatment of sex. But it wasn’t the last to play around with sexuality. Far from it. Before we examine some of the more major parties in this though, let’s look at the taboo of sex in videogames. It’s been represented in all forms of art; movies, music, literature. There is one major difference between all those other mediums and videogames that not only separates it but makes it even more taboo. In movies, music and literature, we are, for the most part, an audience. We’re just looking in on another world, another experience that the artist has created. In videogames however, we’re an active participant, we move that world, we advance it. That in itself can be, at times, an intriguing way of getting the player more attached to characters (more on that in a bit) and yet, any way you slice it, it’s a bit creepy.
Still, we’re in 2012 and there doesn’t seem to be any slowing down or reluctance for game developers to include sexuality in their games. I don’t think this is something to despair about, but rather, something to be celebrated. It represents freedom of art, and more importantly, it can also mean an expansion of what videogames can do in terms of creating believable characters and making the player attached to them.
One of the major games that used sex in recent times would be the God Of War series. This is a series that’s not only known for, but I think AIMS to take everything it throws into it and turn it up to 11. The use of gore and blood and sheer violence is almost unrivaled and one can say for sure the series hasn’t shied away from its M rating. In every single entry into the series there have been sex “minigames” where the player “entertains” some ladies. And surprisingly, when it relates to sex, the game takes an almost coy approach. All of the action happens off-screen and the player’s only interaction is button prompts. That’s not to say there’s no nudity. Boobs are a-plenty. More to the point though, is that even necessary? Well, it certainly doesn’t impact on the videogame or the story they’re trying to tell in any way, but I think it’s used more to reinforce the type of character Kratos is. He’s the anti-hero, he’s not trying to save the world, he’s trying to save himself. He has no problem killing anyone in his way. In essence, he is a man of extremes, in everything.
So there’s God Of War. There’s those will who say that sex in God Of War is trivialized and I’d go right ahead and say, YEAH! But that’s sort of the point. As I said before, God Of War is a testosterone fueled ride through basically every cave man urge, bashing things violently and well, having sex. This doesn’t make it wrong per se because underneath is an intelligently told, many layered story that makes the game just as valid as any highbrow artistic painting. As folks say however, you take one step forward and you take a couple back. I am referring to Dante’s Inferno. It’s not only shocking to me but also disrespectful that this game even exists. Don’t get me wrong. I had REALLY high hopes for it. Yet, in the end it was nothing more than a God of War ripoff, with stuff thrown in for pure shock value to boot. Additionally, the fact that it’s based off a classic piece of literature is just more salt for that wound. God of War may have a “juvenile” representation of sex, but Dante’s Inferno just threw in nudity for the sheer reason that they could. I am referring of course to the enemy designs and Dante’s wife. Say what you will about the game itself, I just think that there wasn’t any need for nudity or the sexuality in this game. When you’ve got gamers traversing a level that’s, for all intents and purposes, a towering penis, you need to stop and ask yourself if what you’re doing is right.
There’s many other examples one could call to mind when talking about sex in videogames. 2010′s Red Dead Redemption is one that stood out in my mind. The game is an absolute masterpiece in all regards and a total joy to play. As is expected of a Rockstar production, the graphics, audio, scripting and gameplay were all top notch. It’s how those elements coalesced into one tangible experience that left a mark on you at the end that is amazing. That game makes a strong argument for games being true art. Of course, being a Rockstar game it courted controversy. Strangely enough the game didn’t allow for you to have sex, but there was plenty of sex being had. There was the depiction of rape and graphic, violent sex as well and while some might cry foul, saying the company was going for shock value, I’d disagree. There’s a very different feeling between something that’s set out to shock you and something that genuinely affects you in a human way. I think the way Red Dead handled sex, rape and all, was something akin to reading about it. It disgusted you, but actually affected you, and when you left the game it wasn’t just forgotten, it stuck with you for a while.
The final example I’ll call to the table is 2010′s Heavy Rain. A unique title in every regard, it wasn’t so much a videogame as an interactive movie. With no traditional control scheme, a highly polished story and reportedly, full sex scenes, it was set to make waves long before it’s release. When it came out it lived up to all the hype AND the sex scenes were handled in a really mature, adult manner. GASP! What was that? It just might be a first in a video game but the sex scenes in Heavy Rain were way more about two adults falling in love and sex happening as a consequence (y’know, kinda like real life!) rather than the focus being on bouncing body parts. The player had control over everything, all the little aspects, from the two making out, having eye contact, to taking off Madison’s clothes. Now, while that in itself is a little creepy, I don’t think it’s ever been done that a sex scene felt less campy in a game and more real. Sure, at the end of the day we all knew that the characters weren’t real and that sex wasn’t happening. Except, that’s not quite true. For a second, players were able to connect with those characters caught up in that moment, understand them, even empathize, so yes, in that sense, for a second those were very real characters. I think in that instant, there was a collective murmur through the industry when people realized that sex could happen in videogames, it could be done tastefully, purposefully and didn’t have to be relegated to those trying to cash in on the young, lonely and horny.
In the end however, the argument FOR censorship and AGAINST sex in videogames is a moot one I think. If we’re going to be totally open and honest and talk about this issue, there’s some points that don’t stack up. Firstly, all games that have sex explicitly (or not so explicitly) have been rated M for mature. That means they aren’t made to be played by individuals under the age of seventeen. Of course, I’m aware that the ratings system is hardly ever paid any attention in real life, but it’s there. Parents can make the choice to limit the games their kids play to their appropriate ages. If by age 17 you don’t know what sex is, even if you haven’t had it, well….Let’s just go with the fact that by age 17 you’d know what sex is. I mentioned above that games with sex are rated M and that’s not a lie. But some games (if you can call them that) like Rumble Roses have no explicit sexual content but are dripping with innuendo and oversexed characters, get rated T for teens.
What’s the deal with that? Yeah, I admit even I can’t wrap my head around that one, but Dear Reader, wrap YOUR head around this. The society we live in today is an oversexed one. Even if you’re a virgin, the media has changed it for everyone. We’re all oversexed, desensitized and numbed to the whole idea before we even have it. That is not the fault of videogames. Turn on any television set and flip to a music video, chances are there’s girls dancing suggestively in it. The very act of infidelity and the inherent personal breakdown is now something that’s collected and televised for everyone to see. The internet’s not safe either, and is far from it as most of you know. All it takes is a kid making an innocent search on google images for something totally not related to sex for him to suddenly get intimately familiar with the female form. Hell, sometimes you don’t even have to search, sex site pop ups are more than common, they’re a foregone conclusion to browsing the internet.
So that’s the rub of it, isn’t it? Sex is everywhere, it’s on our streets. Girls are dressing older and older, younger and younger. I don’t mean to come off sounding preachy. Trust me, that’s not what I’m trying to do. I am just trying to paint a picture of society as it is now, as we’ve made it. The main point, at the end of the day is that sex is all around us. It seems quite a bit of nice hypocrisy that videogames are portrayed as an evil destructive force, eroding the morals and values of a generation when really, what are games doing that doesn’t happen every time you turn on a tv, radio or walk outside your house? It’s really like this, censorship must exist, I get that, but not to the point where you stifle creativity. It’s not fair for developers, essentially artists, to be put on a chokechain, not when the rest of the media branches are given such a greater degree of free reign.