Reader Request Week 2008 #3: Sex and Video Games

Arachne Jericho wants to know my opinion on:

Sex and video games

Well, I’m a fan of each individually, that’s for sure.

As for sex in video games, I don’t have any major problem with it philosophically; the age of your average game player is the late 20s, so presumably they know about sex (at least in theory), and for those who aren’t quite there yet, the ESRB ratings should tell mom and dad about its presence, the occasional “hot coffee” slip-up notwithstanding. Yes, I know certain people are all het up about it, but, you know, certain people are all het up about a lot of things. It’s just video games’ turn.

But from a game play point of view, I don’t think too much of sex in video games; it seems rather silly at this point. It’s not even advanced enough to be creepy in an “uncanny valley” sort of way; anyone who saw the “hot coffee” minigame in “GTA: San Andreas” saw just how goofy it looked; the only way you could think of it as sexy or titillating was if you had the emotional maturity of a thirteen year old. I don’t doubt that there will eventually come a day when graphics on consoles will provide a sex scene realistic enough to be genuinely erotic, but it’ll be a while yet.

For now, gamers have to settle for “sexy” rather than simulated sex, although even then “sexy” in video games is a matter of some dispute. Lots of boys found early Lara Croft sexy because of her improbably polygonal breasts; likewise there are folks who play the Soul Caliber series just to watch Ivy jiggle about in her structurally-dubious costume, or to get a little bit of fan service when Sophitia did her little victory hop. My money for the sexiest (female) character in video games, however, is Alyx Vance, who features nary a jiggle or panty flash, but instead has a brain, some well-written empathy and is also handy with a pistol that she never has to reload. This you can file under the category of “different strokes for different folks”.

Be that as it may, I will be delighted to do without the potential cut scene in which Gordon Freeman and Alyx graphically do their part to repopulate the species in the wake of the fall of the Combine (or however it all ends), as exciting as such a prospect might be to certain furtive game players. These folks need to get their porn the old-fashioned way — off YouPorn and Danni.com — and leave poor Alyx (and Gordon) alone.

What about games where you play having sex? Well, you know. I suppose they will happen (and have happened, lame as they have been), and for those of you who will have an interest in them, a friendly bit of advice: no matter how adept you become at button mashing, if you try “up, left, left, down, circle, square, square” on a real sex partner, you’ll either get slapped or laughed at. Trust me, sex is one interactive game play experience which is better co-op, and unplugged.

(there’s still time to ask questions for Reader Request Week 2008: Post your question here.)

28 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2008 #3: Sex and Video Games

  1. I guess Mass Effect is a big part of the reason this is on people’s minds – if you’ve played Bioware’s previous RPGs, from KotOR 1 & 2 through basically the whole Forgotten Realms series, you know that an optional NPC romance side story has been in all of them – I don’t know if offering a semi-erotic cutscene as the “reward” for this sidequest is necessary, but at the same time I don’t think it’s really a big step toward pornography in games – I never played it, but I heard it wasn’t much more erotic or revealing than the love scene in Top Gun, which I believe was PG-13.

  2. The love scene in Mass Effect was more of a consumation of a relationship between you and a another character in the game than a side quest. You had to actually explore the personality of the character and interact tactfully. I was suprised in the maturity of the interations, and as for the scene itself, it was very PG13.

  3. …the ESRB ratings should tell mom and dad about its presence, the occasional “hot coffee” slip-up notwithstanding….

    At the time “hot coffee” was discovered, GTA San Andreas was rated M, meaning that the game contained content unsuitable for anyone under age 17. The offended grandmother who filed the class-action suit against Rockstar had purchased the game for her 14-year-old grandson, so clearly she didn’t pay much attention to the ESRB ratings in the first place. (Or to the possibility that a game called “Grand Theft Auto” might, you know, have some skeevy content. Or to the fact that the game was a sequel to some, oh-shall-we-say, mildly controversial games. And she obviously didn’t read any–what are they called?–oh yes, reviews of the game before purchasing it for her impressionable, doe-eyed, virginal grandson.)

    Not to defend Rockstar or Take-2. After all, their initial reaction was to claim that “hot coffee” was a hack, which was a total lie. The point is that no rating system out there–for movies, TV, or games–has ever saved someone from his or her own stupidity, laziness and ignorance. Or kept them from complaining about the consequences of such after the fact.

    The whole “hot coffee” thing wasn’t exactly a slip-up. Someone in development thought the mini-game was amusing or funny (or whatever), but for whatever reason it wasn’t deemed suitable for the final product (it may have been for the rating, or because it wasn’t actually fun, or for some other reason). Instead of stripping the code–which might have broken something else in the game in some unforeseen way–the developers did what they usually do in such cases: they walled off the code. (This is common in software development; a feature that gets scratched usually isn’t deleted from the code, since there may be unrelated code that calls part of the “unused” code–at least that’s my lay understanding, and I’m happy to be corrected by a coder.) A modder stumbled across it and figured out a way to get back to the walled-off material. For the PC version this required changing a bit of code, for the console versions it required a (warranty-voiding, unauthorized) hardware tweak. A woman who shouldn’t have bought the game in the first place got hooked up to attorney Jack Thompson (who is embroiled in disciplinary hearings with the Florida Bar and may well be “ex-attorney Jack Thompson” before the year is out), and all hell broke loose. Things worked the way they often do: coders coded, modders modded, grandmothers were genially clueless and attention-seeking lawyers did a song and dance (leading to some politicians politicking). But no slips. And nothing a ratings system could have averted (unless you think grandma would have treated an “AO” differently from an “M”; I’m skeptical, besides which the practical–as opposed to perceived–difference between the ratings is whether or not content is suitable for 17-year-olds).

  4. An Eric:

    Agreed the rating was not the issue per se, the issue was Rockstar’s response to it when it showed up. That was the slip up.

  5. You’ve skipped one area of gaming, and that’s MMORPGs.

    Atlas Park, where beginning heroes start in City of Heroes is notorious (at least in the server I play on ) for ‘mistells’ of a graphic nature. ( A tell is a private message between two players).
    Having been witness to one involving a rather disturbing BDSM scene, I’d have been happier to not see it. Though the comments it spawned were pretty funny.

    There’s a few romance related plot arcs, but those are all between NPCs.

    In my own experience, my characters that have had ‘mature’ relationships have all done so off screen.

    OTOH, based on what I’ve seen of some videos from WoW, it appears there’s an official “get it on” mod.

    And keep in mind, even 42 year old dockworkers from Newark need love to:

    http://www.thecaperadio.com/psa.php

    ( see the “gender identification” PSA )

  6. This is common in software development; a feature that gets scratched usually isn’t deleted from the code, since there may be unrelated code that calls part of the “unused” code–at least that’s my lay understanding, and I’m happy to be corrected by a coder.

    Basically correct, although with modern languages and tools this sort of thing is more correctly seen as laziness and bad practice, rather than an intentional design decision.

  7. Warning: unlink(/tmp/temp1206984803.txt) [function.unlink]: No such file or directory in /homepages/43/d110299596/htdocs/whatever/wp-content/plugins/wassup/lib/wassup.class.php on line 271

    this error is showing up when I open you page. I’d email it, but I don’t have access to email right now.

  8. It’s an error caught by the cache. Don’t worry about it, it’s already fixed by the time you see it.

  9. I agree completely on the whole Soul Calibur jiggle vs. Alyx thing. The added bit is that if my wife walks in during the former I know I’ll be in for some serious ribbing. I was also on a business trip last week where both my boss and I were spending the plane ride playing the new PSP God of War. My boss apparently stumbled into the sex minigame in that and was frantically trying to get past it before the stewardess came by to offer drinks.

    I stopped playing one game because of it. I got a shooter called “SiN episodes” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sin_Episodes) on Steam because it was cheap. It seemed ok at first, then suddenly a cut-scene fills my wide-screen monitor with an improbably busty woman in a bikini gyrating in a hot-tub. I wanted to play a game, not watch soft-core porn.

  10. I dig the jiggle. That’s all well and good.

    But the sex minigames are just stupid, and it’s pretty ludicrous to think that they are sexy or titillating.

    Leisure Suit Larry wasn’t either, it was just mature humor. Picking up a hooker in your car in GTA was the same… not sexy, just kinda funny.

  11. …if you try “up, left, left, down, circle, square, square” on a real sex partner, you’ll either get slapped or laughed at.

    That’s because it’s “up, left, left, down, circle, square, triangle.”

    Durr.

  12. I think I may have discovered the first unintentional “sex” in a game, although it was not a video game.

    Back in the late 70’s programs were loaded from an audio tape and memory space was at a premium so the games were text based and all the commands were truncated to three characters or less. Commands had the syntax VERB NOUN (or sometimes adverb). For example, you could type in “LOOK LEFT” or simply “LOO LEF” which would have the same effect.

    Well in this game who’s name escapes me I was absolutely stuck on a ledge with a bear blocking my way. This was before any FAQS or tiplines or even friends who played the same game. I went so far as to dump out the memory to view all possible commands and objects but nothing worked.

    Finally out of frustration I typed “SCREW THE BEAR” and it said “The bear is so startled it falls off the ledge.”

    I was so startled I nearly fell off my chair.

    I found out later the game saw “SCR BEA” and thought I meant “SCREAM AT THE BEAR” but my sentence accomplished the same thing.

  13. Dave,

    Basically correct, although with modern languages and tools this sort of thing is more correctly seen as laziness and bad practice, rather than an intentional design decision.

    Yeah. {Grumpy old man mode}

    Cheap memory and disk drives have led to laziness and program bloat. Why I remember when . . .

    I also dislike the term ‘code’ because it does not really describe what programming is and I think it simply tries to add to the ‘mystique.’ It implies some sort of encryption or secret knowledge instead of writing a sequence of instructions.

    Of course the archaic command line syntax and the horrid “Linux/Unix” practice of naming every command or utility after a food or obscure animal or plain old stupid things is meant to obscure with jargon as well.

    The priesthood loses prestige when the Mass is no longer recited in Latin.
    {/Grumpy old man mode}

  14. Well, I’m for both of those, too!

    I may have misread it — I do that from time to time. Sorry if I did. Since I just got back from a trip to a video game company, I may have video games on my mind.

  15. Tripp, that was awesome. Better yet, I suspect it might work on a real bear. Or it would kill you. One or the other.

    I have actually encountered some truly erotic sexy bits in text based games or dialogue exchanges (without animation) in more recent games. Funny, really, how words can still get across what cheesy CGI can’t….

  16. Actually, there is a bit of panty-peek in relation to Alyx Vance. It’s very noticeable in the first game’s first elevator ride if you have textures on High setting. : ) (they’re purple)

  17. Well, I’m for both of those, too!

    *g*

    I may have misread it — I do that from time to time. Sorry if I did. Since I just got back from a trip to a video game company, I may have video games on my mind.

    That’s quite alright. I think this is pretty amusing. And fitting, after all.

    Sex and video games—I think that more or less hit overdrive when Second Life came along.

  18. An Eric @20:

    Thanks. I appreciate getting the positive feedback. Everyone around here has already heard all my good stories and I mostly get “I know, I know, you screwed the bear.”

    Come to think of it that might be a good inscription for my tombstone. I’m keeping a list of candidates. Currently “I knew this would happen” is at the top but I am always open to new ideas.

  19. Tripp, you might consider this variation on a line from The Big Lebowski for your tombstone, then: Sometimes you screw the bear, and sometimes the bear screws you.

  20. An Eric,

    Thanks! I’m not really sure how much they can fit on those things. You wouldn’t by any chance know, would you?

    For years “F the bull, get the horns” topped my list but my wife has never liked it and most likely she’ll be the one paying for it so I don’t think that is going to happen.

  21. @14 That’s because it’s “up, left, left, down, circle, square, triangle.”

    wil wheaton FTW!!!

    and the scalzi/wheaton combo (but not like THAT) just made my freaking day. thanks for that!

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