By J. Callina (Post includes mature content -Ed.)
The title for this article is without a doubt this is the most salacious title I have ever written. In some ways it conveys an intended jolt. Sexuality often is a speed bump in a narrative. While there have been some examples of mature handling of sexual content the majority of treatments we see in the past focus on titillation and are targeted towards a young male audience. Fortunately I think the medium is starting to evolve away from the early examples. In the last three years we are starting to see sexuality enter into the narrative as less of a shock and more of an enhancement to the story and plot.
Let us start with some brief history. My intent is not to thoroughly cover the subject but to talk about where we have been and where we are going. Note: I am mainly covering games that are released in North America. Discussing Asian games would be a different conversation with its own positives and negatives.
Ah, Mystique. Rarely has a company name been so ironic. There is very little mystique involved with what they were trying to accomplish and who they would attract. Custer’s Revenge wasn’t the only pornographic game for the Atari 2600, but it is one of the most notable for its garishness and offensiveness. Complete details here.
Rape should never be a gameplay mechanic. There is very little to see here and discuss, the game wears its intention on its sleeve.
No direct sex or nudity here and I consider the Don Bluth animation in the game to be a masterwork, but let’s discuss the goal of the game. Everything comes down to saving Princess Daphne. Her squeaky Alberto Vargas inspired design was pretty much meant to convey one thing. If you rescued her there would be ‘sexy time’. See this video of the ending. Less overt than the above, but probably not going to win any awards for realism.
Video examples above contain no sex or nudity but serve to show the bizarreness that was Captain Blood. My memory is fuzzier than I would like with this game. What I do remember is that it was very odd, brilliant and different from anything I have ever played in my life. Details about the game can be found here.
A major character in the game was an alien that resembled a beautiful human nude female. It was the first time I had seen nudity in a video game and it rattled me a bit. Captain Blood is an interesting example because the nudity was used to prove a point instead of a cheap trick or played for laughs. If you treated this character well “she” appeared to you as beautiful, if you treated her with disrespect she became a horrible tentacled thing. This is the earliest example I can recall of this type of content presenting itself with an iota of maturity in a game.
Shooting forward a few years we have a game that seems to have shaken Joe Lieberman to the core. Night Trap had a cover that folks cried sexism over and a theme song that you can’t unhear.
Night Trap was a repackaging of an unpublished VHS game on Sega CD. By the time of publishing the footage was already five years old and it already had not aged well. It stars an overacting Dana Plato. It has nightgowns and women who take of their shirts to reveal their purple bras for no reason. The game is somehow less than the sum of its parts.
Why talk about this? The “sexuality” and violence in this game along with a few others helped create the ESRB. In question was a scene where a woman was killed in a bathroom while wearing a nightgown by ninjas that were apparently were directed to walk like gorillas and assassinate her with one of those devices that senior citizens get cans off of high shelves with. Link
Night Trap became one of the subjects of a congressional hearing on video game violence co-chaired by Joe Lieberman. It was asserted that you were the one that was trapping and murdering women with the aforementioned gripping device. In this particular case facts did not seem to get in the way of outrage and we end up with an interesting little milestone in video game history.
As an extra present for your eyes, here is the “party” scene from the game.
Duke Nukem 3D
Duke is a storied franchise with a tragic ending that we can discuss around a fire at a later time. I am including Nukem as an example not because it is unusual in its portrayal of sexual themes but because it is honest. The Duke is a lecherous cur. A cigar chomping, exploitative macho parody and he never strays from his cliché. The game may not have moved the subject forward any, but at the very least it knew who he was.
Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and the Damned
Jumping ahead again we finally get to GTA. GTA is no stranger to sexual controversy, but in L&D they pushed the boundaries rather hard. GTA: L&D contains full frontal nudity. Nudity of this type in a game is rare to begin with but they went ahead and included male full frontal nudity.
This is notable almost for the lack of controversy it created. There were some spikes in media attention but they quickly died down. Sexual themes in games are becoming part of the narrative and they are appropriately rated for 17+ year olds.
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when an uninformed parent who purchased this for their child walks in on a screenful of middle-aged nude senator.
Mass Effect & Dragon Age: Origins
Mass Effect lit up Fox News with a fictional tale of how much graphic sex there was in this game. People were outraged and game developers were burned in written effigies by the blogosphere. This is the scene that people were so troubled about…
The sex scene is played out whether you are male or female. A lot was said about this being a “lesbian” sex scene when you are a female character, but do human gender dynamics come in to play with fictional aliens? Can they even be female? The hubbub reminds me of a censored scene in Rocky and Bullwinkle where the main characters were about to be served for dinner and one of the executives demanded that they could not show cannibalism. One of the creators replied with “Is it really cannibalism to eat a moose and a squirrel?”
In response Dragon Age added more and varied opportunities for romance this time with multiple options and partners. It is not the focus of the game and does change the dynamic of your characters interactions. This time the reaction from outside sources was substantially quieter.
With the exception of the Bioware titles and the GTA expansion we see some pretty ham handed insertions of sex into the stories of games. I think the same can be said for any medium, books, television, movies etc. Video games have gone from swinging in trees and walking on all fours to an intelligent thinking bipedal treatment of the subject in only three decades. The other mediums took much longer to get to the same place. I do not claim to know why this is, maybe it is because video games are more of an extension to the other mediums than something completely new. There will always be locker room humor in games just like there is everywhere else, but thanks to good writing we are starting to respectful and even elegant treatments of the subject. Sex is such a huge part of human nature and removing it wholesale from an entire medium without explanation would take the humanity out the story.
I have missed many examples here from early video game pornography and text adventures, the “hot coffee” scandal from Grand Theft Auto and others such as Phantasmagoria, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and the sex mini games from God of War and even the odd Cho Aniki. Feel free to stir up some of your own controversies by talking about the above examples or things I have missed in the comments.