Please insert… disc – Sex in the gaming industry

Posted: April 7, 2011 in Gaming, Politics
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sex is always going to be an area of contention in mass media entertainment, whether it be cinema, television or video-gaming. A significant reason accounting for this is just how accessible everything is these days. Despite a growth in 1984-esque parental controls on most modern technological appliances, it’s clear that they are not enough to solve the problem. Sex permeates throughout modern Western society, used for advertising anything from the new Lynx fragrance to the latest Burger King sub.


It’s  constantly on television – usually on BBC3 in one of their God-awful comedies or ‘Bizarre Penis Shapes’ documentaries – and in films, making restricting access increasingly difficult. The problem is worsened with the inclusion of sex in videogames.

Today in a discussion with Ken Levine, the creator of Bioshock, it was revealed that he feels, for the time being at least, that sex is not a suitable subject matter for the gaming industry.

When questioned about the visual representations of sex in videogames he described that perhaps the biggest problem is not the level of user interaction, as many would suggest, but the actual content. He suggests that it’s so far removed from the emotions and physicality of actual sex that it simply does not fit – whether the Alan Titchmarshes of the world would agree or not.

“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.” This he said, making an interesting, and not wholly inaccurate, reference to the ridiculous sex scene in the spoof-puppet film Team America, “the sex scene in Team America as opposed to, you know, the sex scene in Black Swan”.

He also noted that there are other problems, essentially because “It’s kind of silly in videogames right now”. This is entirely true. Think of sex in videogames; apart from the odd more realistic representation, like those present in Mass Effect, the depictions are completely laughable, and deliberately so – much like Team America. For example, the audio QTE sex-scene in God of War; although somewhat childish, you can’t help but smile as you tap X, producing a wild scream of ‘Kraaatoosssss’. It’s a comical element producing a similar reaction, nothing base or even overtly sexualised. The very fact that you can simply tap a button to enhance some sexual vocals is funny in and of itself. Similar representations can be witnessed in Fable 2, very much an audio scene set against a black screen, or the Sims ‘woohoo’-ing beneath a bed sheet. And who could forget the infamous FPS tea-bag? Wait, scrap that.

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But how would a developer aim to rectify this criticism? In the current climate, political correctness in abundance, it is extremely difficult to represent anything considered taboo or immoral in games. Doing so may well harm the business potential of a release with the guaranteed outrage that is to follow – or perhaps it would increase it; there are various reasons why Modern Warfare 2 was one of the biggest selling games of 2010. Perhaps one of the key changes that needs to take place involves the consumer perception of the industry. Levine comments on this also: “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.” Before games are able to represent sex in the most effective way, perhaps there needs to be a significant shift in society itself.

On top of creating visually realistic scenes, a further issue is that of narrative significance. It is not acceptable simply to thrust a sex-scene into a game for the sake of it. It must drive the plot, acting as a catalyst, or at very least enhance the representation of characters and relationships in game. Without this weight of authority, the scene becomes nothing more than a cheap attempt at drawing in a male teen audience.

In an industry that continually attempts to deliver the most realistic, the most accurate visual portrayals, but is so incessantly criticised for doing so, is there ever likely to be any real degree of change from the status quo regarding sex. For the near future at least, it does not seem so.


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