Sex In Games (or the lack thereof) part one

Sperm Invaders

WARNING! This article contains videos of heavily edited and/or highly unrealistic sex scenes. If you are one of the ten people walking the earth likely to be genuinely offended by such content, please do not play them. Simple as that.

Sex! WUH!! What iiis it good for? Absolutely nothin’!”, as nobody ever sung.

The main reasons nobody’s ever sung that is a) it would be a terribly unpopular opinion, and b) it is self evidently untrue. It is, as I hope anybody reading this would know, how human beings ordinarily make babies (at least until Aldous Huxley’s dystopian production line seen in Brave New World comes about). It also gives fundamental christians another excuse to hate themselves and everybody else. It is something that swims through our thoughts every day – come on, admit it – and something that is exploited by advertising gnomes whenever possible. It is an inescapable and hugely important part of the adult mind and life. As such, every entertainment medium embraces it where the audience is deemed suitable. Video games are no different; though developers and publishers have always been perplexingly cack handed in their techniques.

Sex sells. It’s an overused axiom perhaps, but undeniably true. Sex itself is overused to sell stuff too, and that’s sure as heck true in the world of video games. Well, what passes for sex in the world of video games is overused, anyway. What do I mean by that? Well first of all, let me try to give my definition of what sex is.

If you think about it, trying to actually put into words what sex (as in sexual desire and intercourse) is, is actually pretty difficult. I’m certainly not claiming that I’m about to give the best definition here. It’s fair to say that there is no one overarching definition. Sometimes it’s the expression of our basest instinct; sometimes the ultimate expression of love; sometimes our biggest guilt; sometimes our greatest pleasure; sometimes confusing; sometimes the simplest thing in the world; always a mix of some or all the preceding.

Intercourse can be about domination or submission, fear or love, power or hate, tenderness or energy. Sexual desire has strange effects on the human mind, and needs a whole essay to itself just to scratch the surface. It can further increase the love or hatred of another, or deepen the hatred one feels for oneself. It’s all a complex mix of mental and physical processes we have no control over, and thoughts and acts that we do. Sex, in short, is complicated.

Video game sex mainly consists of large breasts and skimpy clothing.

There are only two reasons anybody buys a Dead or Alive game.

The sad fact is that even today, in the space year 2009, video games’ acknowledgement and exploration of sex rarely strays far from sexist imagery. The worst culprits tend to be beat ’em ups (the worst offenders clearly being the Dead Or Alive games, and their spin-offs) and RPGs. Gigantic bouncing breasts, women dressed as schoolgirls, clothing so improbably small it can only be measured with laser technology, and hilariously revealing armour are depressingly commonplace in these genres. Marshmallow – soft porn for lonely adolescent boys is hardly the correct way to explore the issue of sex; especially if you work in an industry embarrassingly desperate to identify itself as “art”.

Some may defend this attitude by claiming that the movie and TV industries are guilty of the exact same imagery. There’s no denying that there is some truth to this. We’re all aware of superheroines in skin tight lycra (regardless of how they were dressed in the source material), and the James Bond movies have always provoked debate over the way they present the major female characters – most of whom display a cleavage you could wedge a biro in.

Smug git.

Many movies and television shows have treated, and will treat, sex in an intelligent and complex manner. Let’s temporarily forget that though, as it is fair to say that the vast majority don’t. Okay, so movies and TV take an equally ham fisted approach to sex – all the more reason for games to treat it intelligently. Regardless of whether or not you’re one of those painfully eager to declare video games to be “art”, it’d be great for games to have mainstream coverage and respect, right? Things have been slowly improving over the years, but what better way to accelerate the process than for the games industry to be the worldly wise adult to the movie industry’s slobbering teenager?

This isn’t going to happen any time soon, unfortunately. It was with the last generation of consoles that games from big name publishers started acknowledging the existence of sex on anything like a regular basis; and it wasn’t a good start. For example, there was the multiformat game BMX XXX. It was theoretically speaking a BMX themed game. Any sales it achieved, however, were certainly due to the fact that you could choose your BMXer to be a topless female; and the fact that short live action FMV sequences of strippers dancing provocatively, and sometimes displaying their qualifications, could be unlocked.

Some of you went straight to ebay to find a copy after reading that. You know who you are.

BMX superstar Dave Mirra, who proved you can get rich and famous by riding a bicycle, was originally to have endorsed the game – but unsurprisingly went through the courts to get his name removed once the sexual elements were added. More relevant here, is the fact that the North American ps2 version featured no topless characters, and nippleless stripper sequences (the bare nipples were covered with BMX XXX logos – they didn’t film women with no nipples). This implies a perplexing attitude. Somebody somewhere was happy for a poor quality, highly sexist, adult rated game to be released on the ps2…so long as there were no bare breasts. Read that last sentence again, slowly. If you can think of a logical explanation, do please let us know.

She's about to fall on that bike from a great height.

The last generation also gave us Fahrenheit, a game that featured sex, but did not use it as a major selling point (at least, not in any official advertising). Despite over half the game being QTE sequences, it was an engrossing adventure that prided itself on the choices it regularly offered the player. It featured two sex scenes; but depending on what you did at certain points in the game, it was possible to play the story right to the end without seeing either of them. The first was actually presented to the player as a one off mini – game. Here it is in action, though I’m afraid sound has been disabled due to some sort of copyright issue. Despite the last gen graphics and distant camera angle, Youtube seems to be rather queasy about allowing this footage on the site; so we couldn’t find another clip with sound, nor could we find another clip with less preamble (the sex scene itself is a tiny fraction of the running time). It does at least present the scene in context for those of you who have not played the game:

Generally speaking, game journos the world over were quick to coo over such a brave decision, declaring it to be a tasteful and valid addition to the game. How many such comments stemmed from a desire to attach respect and admiration to the sidelined industry they made a living from, I wonder? Personally, I found it to be an awkward and slightly embarrassing sequence to play, that was only put in so the developers could shout “Look at us! We’ve put sex in a video game, aren’t we grown up!”.

The developer in question is Quantic Dream, who are due to release the similarly ambitious (and similarly QTE based) Heavy Rain in 2010. In this game too, it is already apparent from what relatively little has been revealed that sex and sexuality will feature. An E3 gameplay demonstration gave the example of a female character performing a striptease at gunpoint, and then overpowering her terroriser while his guard is down. Then there is also this gameplay footage, which seems to show the player deciding how much the same character will sex up her appearance in order to get the attention of a male character:

Out of context, this footage doesn’t tell us if this sequence is compulsory or if, as with the Fahrenheit sex scenes, it’s possible to play the game from start to finish without encountering it. If it’s compulsory, it would seem to be a thinly veiled attempt to excite lonely male gamers, and/or another “Look at us, tackling grown up issues!” cry. If this character only encounters this sequence under certain circumstances, then it hints at a game that maybe, just maybe, explores the issue of sex a little better than any other.

The first big game of the current generation to include anything that could actually be described as sex, was Microsoft exclusive Mass Effect. As with Fahrenheit, there are two sex scenes (so far as I am aware) and again, the whole adventure can be played without seeing either of them. Notoriously, it is possible to activate a lesbian sex scene – and here is a video of that scene. The perverts amongst you may want to pull your trousers back up; it’s about as sexually explicit as the ingredients list on a box of cereal.

Not exactly porn, is it? But that’s a good thing. It could be argued that Bioware have given the games industry its most successful example of sex so far. Mass Effect acknowledges the existence of sex; it acknowledges the existence of both heterosexual and homosexual sex; and it acknowledges not just casual sex, but sex within a relationship – or at the least, sex based upon mutual respect rather than animal lust, as seen in this scene:

Whoever recorded the scene was obviously eager to skip straight to the sex, so it’s not obvious that any non – sexual feelings are involved; but trust me, they are. Go through the video slowly to read the subtitles if you like.

Neither of the scenes are overwhelmingly well done, but they’re certainly not pandering to lonely male adolescents sweating in anticipation of something doing an impression of pornography, either. Mainstream media should have applauded Bioware for this. Instead, the game suffered a brief but intense bout of controversy in the USA thanks to right wing propaganda machine Fox News. The following video is of the initial ‘report’ Fox broadcast on Mass Effect’s sex scenes. I strongly recommend you watch this video even if you don’t bother with the others in this article – and to full appreciate it, you need to also watch the lesbian sex scene (the most controversial one), or to have played the game and seen the scenes for yourself in context. Remember, Fox News is the Rupert Murdoch owned news agency with nationwide coverage, trusted (bafflingly) by millions of Americans. This is how they told the American public about Mass Effect’s sex scenes:

I could write an article three times the length of this one listing and discussing the inaccuracies, prejudices, and shameless ignorance running throughout that report. It’s all so blindingly obvious to anybody with even a tiny knowledge of Mass Effect and video games in general however, that I shan’t bother. It’s this kind of shoddily researched ‘news’ with its roots in prejudice that slows down the industry’s rise to respect in the public eye.

Bioware are due to soon release Dragon Age Origins via EA, and this game too will feature sex. As revealed in the ESRB rating summary, the player will be able to visit a brothel, where they can tell the hostess exactly what kind of ‘company’ they want – including animals. It’s clear from the summary that nothing is ever explicitly shown, and it sounds like the issue of sex and prostitution is mostly played for laughs. Exactly how well this is done remains to be seen, but there’s nothing wrong with the idea of using sex as a tool for humour – and it’s surprising games haven’t attempted to do so more often.

Or perhaps it’s not so surprising, considering how mind shatteringly awful and sexist the Leisure Suit Larry games are.

In part one, you’ll have noticed how I’ve mostly concentrated on how the female form is exploited for sexual or sexualised content. In part two, I’ll discuss when and how male characters are exploited sexually (if at all), and the relationship between men and women in the context of video game sex scenes. If there’s anything else you’d like to see in part two – or if there’s anything you strongly agree or disagree with here in part one – please feel free to leave a comment and let me know.

Research Patrick G; Title Art R. Furie; Words Luke K

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

2 comments

  1. Very good article, and man, I do love that title art. But isn’t accessing that suggestive image all too difficult for children? That image needs to go behind ESRB-approved age barriers.

  2. Sabin Stargem /

    Yo, it is likely that you would be covering Japanese games for this sort of topic, so I figure that I ought to point out a number of titles to check out, along with mentioning why they might have sex in them.

    Many interactive novel games in Japan feature some form of sex or another, which sometimes works well or clashes with the setting, depending on the styling of the game. Take for example Kana: Little Sister, which is a story about the life of a girl who has defective kidneys. Preventing her from leading an active lifestyle, she has a friend in the protagonist who helps her until the conclusion of the story. It is serious and can be heartbreaking, but the sex is forced and largely inappropriate to the way the game plays out.

    I think that the developers of Kana HAD to include sex, for the simple reason that it sells games. To not have sex in a Interactive Novel, would be like forgoing violence in Dragon Age or Deus Ex. That said, some games can employ violence and sex that strongly motivate the player. For example, Lemmings features a horde of sentient beings who are too stupid to live without the player’s guidance, and thus would meet their doom because of smashers, falling, slashers, ect. The player intervenes to save the lemmings, but will also be forced to murder lemmings in order to save the majority.

    Sex is a powerful force for motivation if it is enticing and well done. Tsukihime is one such title. It features strong violence, but a great deal of sex as well, allowing the player to pursue 5 different girls through the various gameplay path, which are actually quite compelling. The paths interlink, but are distinct because of how characters and situations are rearranged, and the text can make the player question the protagonist’s sanity and makes it rather clear that the protagonist is rather human.

    I can’t adequately explain the game, but I highly recommend a playthrough. That said, here is a list of games that you should check out. All feature sex of some kind or another.

    Tsukihime: The protagonist moves back to the Tohno mansion, and begins to encounter strange things – vampires, family history, and how he fits into it. Features strong sex and violence.

    Fate/Stay Night: A ritual known as the Holy Grail War has begun for the 4th time, in which heroes and villains throughout time are summoned to fight. The Servant and Master who claims victory, shall have their wishes granted. Strong violence, moderate amount of sex. Please note this game was made by the same developer of Tsukihime.

    Wanko to Kurasou: A world in which there are Antromorphic dogs and cats, the protagonist raises a dog due to circumstances. Highly sexual, and features little in the way of violence.

    Critical Point: The protagonist is a military investigator who is sent to the moon to investigate the all-female moonbase. As of late, they have somehow been exposed to an Aphrodisiac, which has distracted the ladies from their duties, and indicates the possibility of sabotage – which is a real danger, be it poisoned food or oversexed soldiers. As one would expect, the investigator soon comes into conflict and danger. Moderate amount of violance, high amounts of sex.

    The Family Project: The Protagonist joins a group of people who want to make a home for themselves. Not related by blood, they each take on a role in the family and do what they can to live in suburban Japan. Light violance, moderate sex.

    One popular game is Bible Black, which features high amounts of sex, violence, and Satanism. I don’t oppose any of these things in themselves, but I don’t like Bible Black, it simply doesn’t appeal to me – but I needed to mention it, because it is one of those game titles that would make moral guardians up in arms, so it is an important example to play out. It wouldn’t be fair to play the deep and interesting games I mentioned without having an opposite number to compare against.

    You might also be interested in the Sagara Family, which is strongly sexual and does contain violence, of the blackmail and stalkerish on the part of the antagonists.

    Hopefully, this selection of games would assist in making a balanced and informed article on the subject of sexual games. Sayonara!

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