“Sex is natural, sex is good” at least that’s what George Michael said back in 1987, and for the most part the depiction of sex in mainstream media has taken large steps forward in our country.
Things that might have been seen only on paid cable networks 20 years ago have found their way into prime time television. Movies, music, TV, even print magazines have been able to get away with increasingly sexual content over the years and very little fuss has been raised in reaction to this trend.
However, the medium we all enjoy, video games, still takes a beating almost every time they try to add sex into a mainstream game. Why is this still an issue every time it occurs? I can turn on ABC at 9pm and watch a bunch of old horny housewives try and screw the pool boy, but god forbid that Master Chief suddenly throws down with a female soldier in the middle of his attempts to save humanity.
So whose fault is this? Is the media just so harsh on gaming that sex will never be something that is just allowed to be in games? Is it the developers themselves? Do they view sex as “that thing you don’t put in games,” or is it us – are we not ready for real sex in video games?
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand we do get away with some things in gaming. Obviously both Mass Effect and Dragon Age have sex scenes. Also I am very aware of the amount of scantily clad women that fill almost every video game out there. The argument I am going to try to make here is that sex in games is the exception and not the rule. More often than not, if there is a sex scene it is a cut to black and then back out to whatever we were doing before. With that being said, I am also not talking about showing full penetration either. I know there is a plethora of “sex games” out there. Most of these titles however are little more than ‘set up your virtual sex dolls and then watch them do it until you climax.’ What I am looking for in gaming is more what would be considered ‘soft-core’ action. To be able to see the act, the passion the two characters are sharing on screen, and understand that this is a moment for them. I see this on TV and in the movies all the time. Why can I not see it in my games as well?
I think one of the major problems that the outside world has looking in on us is that we are still viewed as a medium for children. Even though games have obviously matured to meet more adult tastes, there is still that view out there that only 10 year olds play games. I am all for carding minors when they purchase rated M games, personally I have never had an issue with this. There are just some things that younger people should not have access to. I used to actually try to talk parents out of buying games like GTA for their younger kids, because I did feel that this was not appropriate for children. At the end of the day however, this choice is ultimately with the parents and it must be left up to them to decide what is ok for their children to view. Still, the media gets in an uproar every time there is some kind of explicit sex in a video game. Why? Because that M rated game is sold on the shelf near games that are safe for kids? Well what about all the rated R movies shelved next to kids movies? We seem to draw this line between the different mediums, and I really think it is going to take a lot of work to try to finally make people understand that games are not just for kids any more.
With all of that said, the fact is non-gamers do not understand video games and they probably never will. As my generation starts to become the ones in power I think you will see the heat on the video game industry from the outside begin to lessen, simply because we will have more people in power who understand that gaming is just another form of entertainment that all ages enjoy.
The real issue I think is with the developers themselves, and the fact that they are not quite sure how to approach sex in video gaming. It has become so easy for most developers to throw any level of violence they want into video games. I mean hell, just look at the stuff that is out there now – Gears of War, Mortal Kombat, even Mass Effect have gone to exceptionally gore filled experiences without really batting an eye. With sex however they are like 16 year olds trying to unhook a bra, for the most part they just fumble around until the mood is gone and just call it a night.
Like I said above, I know there are some games out there that have done sex, but I would say few of these have done it well. I enjoyed the sex scenes in both Mass Effect and Dragon Age, however my issue with them is they feel very wooden. The sex is a reward for talking to one character a lot and making the right choices in dialogue. They always happen towards the end of the game and are more like a reward for playing a mini-game correctly.
The one exception to this is the Jack sex scene in Mass Effect 2 where it just happens in the heat of the moment. Of course though if you do this one encounter not only are you shut out from Jack for the rest of the game, you are shut out from ever other main love story. On some levels I get that, but at the same time I just feel it is an unnecessary punishment for doing what felt natural at that time. Sex is one of those things that needs to feel organic – it needs to feel like it could happen at any moment. I have never had a sexual encounter where I knew when sex was coming, it just always happened when it was supposed to happen. I would love to see games integrate this somehow. Sex is not the reward for playing a mini-game the right way, it is an act as important to most stories as the conflict between good and evil. If you don’t believe that this kind of moment can exist in video games I would like to draw your attention now to people’s ‘exhibit A': Heavy Rain
There is one game in this writer’s opinion that nailed how to pull off sex in a video game. That game is Heavy Rain for the PS3. Now if you have never played this game and you own a PS3 I really do urge you to go pick it up. I have never been as engrossed in the narrative of a game as I was in Heavy Rain. While there was some sexual content in this game a lot of people would probably at the very least find uncomfortable and may even find it disturbing.
The moment I am referring to is after a very grueling personal test one of the main characters Ethan returns to his motel room burned, bruised and struggling to survive. Madison the reporter following Ethan trying to land the story on the killer finds him, and begins to treat his wounds. As this scene plays out there are a lot of soft glances and tender words back and forth. This eventually leads to Madison revealing why she has been following Ethan and the player is given a choice. You can tell her to leave if you feel her betrayal of your trust warrants the action, or you can choose to forgive because you have begun to fall for this woman. If you choose to let her stay things can escalate into a full on sexual encounter. It is handled very well – they undress each other, and there is real passion being shown between them. In short, it is a perfect sex scene and you even interact with it. This moment was not some carrot on a stick if my memory serves, it happens more towards the middle of the game and most importantly it does not feel like something I earned because I made the choices I knew I had to make in order to get laid. Rather, it happened through narrative and became something far more than a reward, it became a part of the story.
This is what developers must shoot for when it comes to sex in games. We have to move beyond the idea that sex in video games is so much filthier then sex in any rated R movie. This also requires that gamers take a more adult view of sex in games. It is not something that is just there as “fap” material, it conveys emotion on a level that could become very useful for story tellers. If it can become a natural part of what the game is, and not just something thrown in for adolescent teens to go “hehe I nailed the blue chick,” then maybe we will finally see games truly grow up with us the way we have grown up with them.