As sometimes happens in video games, we’re currently in a moment of group introspection where numerous talking heads get together and ask no-one in particular: are video games too sexual?
A quick look at the most popular games available today sees that if it isn’t a sports title then you can pretty much guarantee sex will be the main form of player interaction with the world. The Call of Booty* series has sold millions of copies with its depictions of First Person Sex (FPS) encounters in locations around the world, with each sequel bigger and more extravagant than the last. Seducer’s Creed puts the player in control of the members of an ancient order of gigolos, using their gifts to uncover secrets and alien artefacts from Roman times all the way through to the near future. XXXCom put you in charge of a group of highly trained individuals dealing with a first intimate contact with aliens. Although very different titles and styles, at their heart they are all highly dependent on sex as a core part of their game play.
Why is that? Surely there are other parts of the human experience that could be substituted? It’s hard to justify how great video games are and how they culturally significant when the vast majority of experiences the non-gaming-public (there are a lot of those people and they vote) will see involves grunts, groans, screams and (typically) the slo-mo money shots rendered in ultra-fine detail.
“But just look at how great the story is!” you will hear in response, but the vast majority of game narratives have all the nuance of a shoot-em-up film. The hero of the story is always right, the bad guys have a paper thin motivation for what they are doing and the main female characters are incredibly attractive with the bodies of models and the dialogue of either submissive helplessness or I’m-so-strong-but-I-need-you-you-big-strong-player-you. It is very clear that in the majority of games, any attempt at narrative and characterisation are sidelined in preference to the attention given to the graphic, graphic sex.
Criticism of sex in games isn’t anything new, of course. Whenever the issue comes up, people point to the lack of strong evidence among academic studies about the impact of playing video games with highly sexualised content. But it’s hard not to think that having put 30, 50, 100 hours into a title that is nothing but linked encounters of sex with other singles, sex with groups and sex with <insert game genre staple here> that something doesn’t rub off. Video game sex is sex with no consequences; sex in the real world is something that’s very different.
Sex in games is obviously a reflection of sex in society, particularly US society where the bulk of English language video games are created. The US loves sex, with it being a key part of society from the Founding Fathers all the way through to today. Hundreds of films, books and songs are made each year that show and describe sex of all descriptions. It’s just part of the US culture. And it’s popular – sexual video games wouldn’t be created if they didn’t sell.
But that doesn’t mean that it is something that is exempt from criticism or analysis. Are video games going too far in their depiction of sex? Processing power increases means that graphics continually get better, with what was cutting edge just 3 years ago now being a seen as a blocky mess. Gaming studios often proudly show off how their new graphics engine accurately model renders every drop of fluid and curve of near-photorealistic flesh.
It often seems to be a contest about who can push the envelope further, with no time to wonder if its an envelope that needs to be pushed.
Sex is a natural part of life – it happens in nature and happened in human society long before video games existed. But, as pointed out by others, video games have moved to a place where graphic sex in video games is so common it’s almost become boring. It would be nice to have more diversity to choose from and to have more titles that didn’t look like hetero-normative adolescent power fantasies.
Are video games too sexual? As a group, I think the answer is yes. Sex is just one part of the world and there’s so much more to offer through the virtual experiences that video games can offer – let’s hope that the gaming industry can grow up a bit and start to offer a wider palette of escapist opportunities than we currently see. And let’s hope that gamers rewards the industry when (if?) that ever happens.
* That’s the only one I’m apologising for because it’s terrible. So: sorry about that. Laylo’s pretty bad too.