Why are games so terrified of sex? - High-Def Digest Forums
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Old 02-28-2010, 11:33 PM
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Default Why are games so terrified of sex?

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Ah yes, sex. Where would we be without it? Certainly, it'd be easier to find parking spaces, but much tougher to find a date to the movies (or perhaps a reason to go on a date in the first place).

Yet despite the fact that most would agree that a good horizontal rumba is rather better than, say, a good session of genocide, the number of real PC games that have dared take on more sexual subjects can practically be counted on the fingers of one hand and… oh, behave.

See, your smirk is the problem. Games have always had an uneasy relationship with sex. From the outside, many seem to be pandering to the egos and fantasies of little boys – developers falling over themselves to create bouncy barbarian maidens in chainmail bikinis, glistened oily hunks with ridiculously large swords, gangsters doing deals in strip clubs, and lithe athletic heroines with chronic back-ache.

Female characters get it the worst, whether it's trying to fight in high-heels or freezing to death in arctic tundra, or suddenly finding that heavy all-covering platemail suddenly morphs into something low-cut that shows off lots of belly, no matter how it looked on the dead orc it was taken from.

For the most part this is as far is anyone dares go. Actual nudity, graphic sex scenes, or even characters commenting on the fact that the team's new Paladin looks like she funds her adventures down the local docks are never actually mentioned, leading to the most incredible coyness.

Take Grand Theft Auto, whose gangsters happily murder, swear, drink and make up whole new laws to break… but where do they hang out? A seedy bar where they can ogle girls in bikinis that could easily go in a PG-rated movie, if not for the naughty language.

When the player romances one of the possible girlfriends in the game, do we see any action? Nope, just a few sound effects played over an external view of the city.

Too hot for screen

It's no surprise that developers are scared. Putting sex into a game not only makes it harder to sell (at least in the US, where the dreaded Adults Only rating keeps titles out of the bigger stores), it paints a bright red target right on its face for the pundits and talking heads.

Two games in particular have faced this in recent years, Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and – more bizarrely – the brilliant Bioware RPG Mass Effect.

GTA is easy to understand – it's a game the moral majority has always hated, so finding out there was a sex-based rhythm game called Hot Coffee buried in the code was like Christmas.

Never mind that it was as objectively erotic as banging Barbie dolls together, and consisted of nothing more than two fully clothed, entirely consenting adults dry humping for a few seconds, the scandal was enough that when GTA4 came round, the worst Rockstar did was the tongue-in-cheek 'Warm Coffee' achievement during romances. Although the first DLC, The Lost And Damned, did slip in a naked politician's dangling penis.

Interestingly enough, a very similar mini-game also appeared in the adventure game Fahrenheit - a quick-time-event involving moving the mouse forward and backwards in time with the main character's thrusts. Silly as it sounds, it worked OK – although the scene was removed for the American release.

Mass Effect's controversy on the other hand was just mindblowing. Its most graphic sex scene consisted of a couple of flashes of a blue woman's bottom and a little obscured side-boob.

It took place almost at the end of the game, between characters who had come to know and care about each other, on the cusp of a mission that was almost guaranteed suicide. It was clean, classy, and so inoffensive that even psychologist Cooper Lawrence described the controversy over it as "kind of a joke".

Who is Cooper Lawrence, you ask? She's the psychologist who didn't actually bother watching the scenes in question before going on Fox News to publicly condemn the game's sexism and objectification of women. Nice one, Cooper. Thanks.

Even worse was one conservative blogger, Kevin McCullogh, who described the action like this: "It allows its players – universally male no doubt – to engage in the most realistic sex acts ever conceived. One can custom design the shape, form, bodies, race, hair style, breast size of the images they wish to 'engage' and then watch in crystal clear, LCD, 54-inch screen, HD clarity as the video game 'persons' hump in every form, format, multiple, gender-oriented possibility they can think of."

To clarify: No. Just… no. On every level, no. Still, all this did apparently have one effect. Bioware's most recent game, Dragon Age, also has sex scenes. In style, they're very similar to Mass Effect's, with one key difference. This time, the characters keep their knickers on at all times. So far, no controversy.

Of course, none of this means that there haven't been sex-focused games. They've just typically been in their own cordoned-off part of the industry, rather than on the shelves of your local store.

The first to be treated like a proper game was Sierra Online's Softporn Adventure, an awful text adventure game about a man trying to get laid in a sleazy gambling town. This was later remade as Leisure Suit Larry, although what most people don't realise is that this was more a parody of the original than anything else, and that its designer, Al Lowe was far more entertained by humiliating his new creation than interested in arousing the player at the keyboard.

These early games suffered from the fact that text adventures simply aren't sexy, the graphics of the time weren't up to much, and games themselves were still at a Donkey Kong level of complexity.

Most were less games as interactive versions of a horny, somewhat disturbed 14-year-old's notebook, ranging from Atari games like Custer's Revenge (a naked, erect Custer crosses a screen to rape an Indian maid) and Bachelor Party (a Breakout game with ladies instead of bricks), to PC titles whose names really say it all: Strip Poker (served up in sizzling, sexy… er… greyscale), Astrotit (an interactive discussion of Wittgenstein and how his philosophy relates to the quintessential existential crisis), Drive-In (get to third base at the movies) and Granny's Place (not remotely what you think, but we'd hate to spoil that mental image…)

All these games were from the 1980s, before the PC gaming market really started. After that, developers realised that with the growth of graphics, and the increasing scale of the market, this was the perfect time to establish sexuality as a core part of what mature games could handle, and move the market onto a whole new level of advanced characterisation and social worth.

No, just kidding. They made Sex Vixens From Outer Space, Leather Goddessses of Phobos, Girlfriend Construction Set and Butt-Slam, the PC's only dedicated multiplayer board game about sodomy. Makes ya proud, doesn't it?

Then, as now, anyone hoping for any real excitement from any of these games would have been sadly disappointed. The coyness was already in place as early as Leisure Suit Larry in 1987, where the sex scenes were obscured by a giant bouncing CENSORED box. Others, like Coktel Vision's Emmanuelle, hid the 'good' stuff under incredibly tedious adventure games that bordered on abuse for self-abusers.

One thing that hasn't changed over the years is that sex-heavy games are typically awful. Fortunately, there are exceptions to that rule: for instance, 2005's Playboy: The Mansion is a perfectly solid tycoon game, and Leisure Suit Larry: Love For Sail a fine adventure game, but they're few and far between.

One of the worst ever is the most recent Larry game, Box Office Bust, which features some of the worst platforming action you're ever likely to play, characters who look like they've escaped from your worst nightmares, and hysterically for a game which opens on the line "I'd fuck a cliff", a cowardly lack of even nudity.

It's even worse than the previous low watermark: Lula 3D, because while still unbelievably terrible on every level, at least that one offered some entertainment value by being headfizzlingly insane. Not many games feature random shoot-outs with the police, catapulting dogs at Mount Rushmore, or end with a drugged up pornstar shooting imaginary skeletons with a handgun in the middle of a psychedelic New Orleans.

Non sex-focused games can still have a little fun, but it's usually more restrained; restricted to the occasional set-piece here and there. Sometimes, it's just to try and set the mood, or when seen early in a game, to try and hint that if it's offering nudity so easily, imagine what might be coming up later fellas if you stick with it.

The random naked ladies at the start of 1992's Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender (yes, really) and Les Manley: Lost In LA both pulled this trick. Lost In LA promptly followed it up exactly once, with a truly hysterical 'mud wrestling' scene that barely bothered with the wrestling bit, never mind the mud.

Most never even go that far, if only because games that have to rely on this kind of method for keeping players around rarely have anything else capable of keeping their target audience playing. These aren't great games.

For the most part, we like to think of sex as a positive thing: fun, romantic, often a bit silly. If that side gets little real attention in games, it's hardly surprising that the darker elements are almost unheard of, outside of the occasional character background story in an RPG, or as another threat for the hero to step in and prevent, such as the classic damsel in distress routine, whatever the specifics or maturity level of the situation.

Dragon Age is one of the few to take it further. The City Elf origin story, taking place on the day of the player character's arranged marriage, is all about a local lord showing up and kidnapping the women from the ceremony (including the player, potentially) for a very specific kind of party.

Your job involves saving the day, as usual, and the player is never in the position of being a rape victim themselves, but it's still a very dark opening, even for a game that's not afraid of being nasty. As long as everyone keeps their pants on.

There have been others however, to various degrees, that have taken the next step. Most famously, Phantasmagoria features a scene of husband-on-wife assault, in a game where the player controls the wife. It's actually very tame by any non-gaming standard, lovemaking turned violent rather than an outright rape (not that we're defending him!), and like most games end up resorting to, clothed dry-humping rather than actual sex.

The fact that it was one of the earliest mainstream full motion video games added much of the impact, especially as the player character, Adrienne, slumps to the ground in tears afterwards, but it's still very tame compared to any TV show or movie covering the same kind of subject matter.

Cyberdreams' I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, based on the short story by Harlan Ellison, featured a more psychological example. With the world turned into a radioactive hellhole, an evil supercomputer called AM is passing the centuries by torturing the last five members of the human race.

The only woman of the group, Ellen, is a rape victim whose experience has left her traumatised by enclosed spaces and the colour yellow, so, of course, her challenge in the game is to explore a cramped yellow pyramid, with AM adding insult to injury by bringing her rapist back from the dead.

As with the other stages of the game, the way to win is to make each character in turn defeat their personal demons and fatal flaws, and it's saying something that Ellen's isn't the darkest of the set; that prize goes to Nimdok, the former Nazi concentration camp scientist who AM feels an unsurprising kinship with. Oddly, he wasn't in the German release of the game…

Do it yourself

But back to lighter stuff! If developers are often petrified of nudity, modders aren't. The humble 'nude skin' has been a regular fixture in games ever since they went 3D. A switched texture here, a new body mesh there and ding! Instant fan-service!

Obviously, this is pretty tragic stuff, but it's an almost inevitable part of popular games now with vaguely attractive female characters. The first Dragon Age mod was a transparent bra to try and get round the main game's prudishness.

There are patches for everything from Quake 3 Arena to Half-Life 2, with players even now gawking at World of Warcraft Night Elves who have no idea they're now dancing au naturel, and in a zombie apocalypse not far away, a Zoey trying to work out why Francis' clothes never seem to get ripped to shreds by Left 4 Dead's zombies.

The nude skinning gets especially strange with story-based games. By now, you'd think Valve would have prepared for it enough to slip in a "Sweetie, you forget something?" from Eli when Alyx Vance shows up wearing nothing but a belt, but no.

In other games, it really gets ridiculous: such as in Oblivion, where there aren't just competing groups of anatomically correct figures, but people modding them with new outfits to wear. Just occasionally though, it can make sense, like the Fallout 3 Sin City mod, which adds back some of the seediness that old-school Fallout players missed in Bethesda's largely innocuous wasteland, or giving the Grand Theft Auto gangsters an actual strip club to visit.

Mostly though, it's as grown-up as Power Rangers. Nude mods have largely taken over from the classic practical joke, claiming that a particular game has a nude code in it. Unsurprisingly, Tomb Raider was the most commonly cited one, with one cheating device actually using a picture of her clothes flying off along with the words 'GET THE CODE' in an advert.

The traditional gag was to see just how much people would do for a glimpse of polygon flesh, like finishing a level on the hardest difficulty in under 30 seconds, or some ludicrous 'turn around 30 times counter-clockwise, then fifteen clockwise and press all buttons' nonsense that would make the victim merely think they'd just done it wrong.

In practice, one of the few games that let you do anything even close was Max Payne 2, which offered a code that let you replace Max with any character in the game, including the naked version of Mona Sax that was only used for a cut-scene where he sees her in the shower.

Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude also offered an 'Everybody Naked' option for finishing the game, which, again, got taken out of the original US release (but got put back in again for a separate Uncut version later). Not really a cheat though, even if many did just download a savegame to access it without finishing the game.

The next generation

Can we expect games of the near future to cast off their childish roots and embrace sexuality in a smarter, more mature way? No.

As nice as that thought might be, right now the games industry, as a whole, remains petrified of the idea, ensuring the same split between the companies desperate to avoid potential controversy and those actively courting it for promotion's sake.

There are individual titles trying new and interesting ideas, including Heavy Rain on the PS3 (one scene involves a player character having to do a striptease for a criminal, with the idea being more to pass the feelings of degradation over to the player rather than arouse them) and Dragon Age, which offers everything from a genuinely tender romance to a casual off-screen foursome, but for the most part, this is going to be terra controversial for as long as the mass-media continues to have gaming in its crosshairs.

This will, of course, change in time. Just as the breaking of the Hays Code let films enter a world where couples didn't have to be married to enjoy a Scene Of Passion, and comics escaped the dreaded Comics Code Authority, games will reach a point where any arguments can be with individual titles, and a Grand Theft Auto or Call Of Duty isn't treated as a representative of all games.

For the moment though, expect more the same naughty bikinis and peek-a-boo immaturity, because they're certainly not going anywhere.
Interesting read. Full article with easier to read format here:

http://www.techradar.com/news/gaming...2547?artc_pg=1
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Old 02-28-2010, 11:38 PM
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Hey! It mentions Mass Effect!
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Old 02-28-2010, 11:40 PM
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No mention of Heavy Rain though.
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Old 02-28-2010, 11:42 PM
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Originally Posted by gamma626 View Post
No mention of Heavy Rain though.
Yes there is... do a CRTL-F to find it.
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Old 02-28-2010, 11:42 PM
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Originally Posted by gamma626 View Post
No mention of Heavy Rain though.
Yeah, there is:

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There are individual titles trying new and interesting ideas, including Heavy Rain on the PS3
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Old 02-28-2010, 11:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Snadinator View Post
Yes there is... do a CRTL-F to find it.
I can't do that. I have a Mac laptop.
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Old 02-28-2010, 11:46 PM
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Yeah I was going to mention hearing "Phantasmagoria" had some pretty strong sexual content. Frankly I think it's gotten worse since gaming has gone mainstream.
I say fuck the scaridy cats and do it and be smart about it. In pushing the envelope and creating a smart, compelling Erotica game they really can't talk smack about it. I'm talking about sex being a focal point of the game, not being completely used for titillation purposes.
As far as the Cyberdreams info I'll have to check out that game, it sounds interesting.
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Old 03-01-2010, 01:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gamma626 View Post
I can't do that. I have a Mac laptop.
Bad decision was bad.
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Old 03-01-2010, 01:12 AM
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Originally Posted by BBM128 View Post
Bad decision was bad.
Should have used the command key!

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Sarang

Yeah I was going to mention hearing "Phantasmagoria" had some pretty strong sexual content. Frankly I think it's gotten worse since gaming has gone mainstream.
I say fuck the scaridy cats and do it and be smart about it. In pushing the envelope and creating a smart, compelling Erotica game they really can't talk smack about it. I'm talking about sex being a focal point of the game, not being completely used for titillation purposes.
As far as the Cyberdreams info I'll have to check out that game, it sounds interesting.
There is that Bonetown game coming out for the PC...
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Old 03-01-2010, 01:43 AM
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Sex in general is hard to do well in any medium, its not limited to games. And digital cocks are hilarious.
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