Will Sex Ever Be Rightly Depicted in Games?

Will Sex Ever Be Rightly Depicted in Games?

Sex. Now that we have your attention–

Not every one of us is interested in the act that produces more of us, but for the majority of Earth’s population, it’s difficult to ignore the cosmic dance (rather, cosmic horselaugh) that is human mating. For that reason, sex is, ahem, a loaded topic that is approached very differently by the planet’s cultures.

America, for instance, has a reputation for subscribing to puritan values. The reputation is not undeserved, as even the sight of a woman’s bare bosom on national television can whip the country’s media into a froth.

At the same time, it’s not fair to suggest that America does not welcome depictions of sex in any of its media. If a movie is rated appropriately, and if lewd acts are not committed by properties that are targeted towards children (put your pants back on, Donald Duck), the moral watchdogs will usually let that movie be.

Video games, however, are stuck in a kind of moral no-man’s land. Like movies, games span a huge variety of genres and has content that is meant to appeal to every age group. But unlike movies, games are still regarded by the media and marketers as “kids stuff,” which makes it nearly impossible for a developer to build a mature relationship between two adults in his or her game. Instead, the height of human courtship typically ends with a bit of silliness and a lot of fade-outs.

“It’s more like the sex scene in [the movie] Team America as opposed to, you know, the sex scene in Black Swan,BioShock creator Ken Levine told VG247. “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. There are other problems as well. It’s kind of silly in videogames right now, because – again – puppets with their clothes off.

“The fact that’s even controversial says that 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.”

True, watching two 3D game models having sex can be as awkward as the aforementioned infamous scene from Team America–except the scene from Team America is supposed to be funny. Unfortunately, developers aren’t embracing the chance to improve depictions of intimacy between two in-game character models. Who can blame them? Just say the words “hot coffee” in front of a developer to make him or her blanch. A silly mini-game that was inaccessible through typical gameplay forced Rockstar to scramble and fight against having Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas stamped with an “Adults Only” (AO) rating. The AO rating is essentially the kiss of death for a game at retail, as department and specialty stores like Wal-Mart and GameStop refuse to carry adult-branded games.

What makes the Hot Coffee controversy especially ridiculous is that the mating characters never even take off their clothes. Why did the mini-game invoke such terror in parents?

We carry the inborn desire to protect the younger generation because we want the world to be a cool place for kids. That protective instinct is necessary for the very survival of our species, which might be why we take it a bit overboard at times. Sadly, our over-protective impulses aren’t much help for a young medium that’s still struggling to gain its identity and the respect that comes with it. When you combine the long-standing notion of video game being a kids’ pastime with a society that gasps frequently about how we must think about the children, and then mix in chronic disapproval over matters of sexuality, you’re going to conjure up a mushroom cloud of controversy.

Is there any hope that video games will be allowed to perform serious explorations of human sexuality? At this exact point in history, things don’t look promising. First, we need to see shifts in America’s attitudes towards sex and video games, and budging either sometimes feels like trying to push over a skyscraper. But the good news is, those shifts are happening, albeit slowly. In the real world, young people in America are becoming bolder about talking to the world about their sexual orientation, their gender identity, and what makes them purr. In turn, others around them are inspired to speak up, or else they just learn that sex between responsible adults is not a dirty act. In time, maybe the mainstream public will allow a video game to depict real sex between a married, heterosexual monogamous couple without triggering an explosion. We’ll work our way up from there.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.


  1. Great article, Nadine.
    It seems to me that this prudishness and misunderstanding of video games as childish is largely a Western phenomenom. I think that it would be neat to see if dating sims could succeed in North America the way they have in Japan, but I don’t know if demand exists. Bishojo, otame and eroge are very interesting, but I shudder to think of the reaction many people (anti-gaming activists spring to mind) would have to a visual novel with erotic elements, or a game that pitches erotic content as a main selling point. I imagine that such things would be a hard sell — after all, what retailers would carry them?

  2. i love sexy games

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