Forced To Strip: How Games Might Teach Us More About Sex

The upcoming Heavy Rain features a sequence in which its female protagonist is forced to strip for a disgusting mob boss. It's sex but it's not sexy, and it moves the needle for games teaching us to differentiate the two.

Writing for PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams picked up on an interview with Quantic Dream, the developer of Heavy Rain, in which the writer confessed he felt uncomfortable being forced to perform the striptease. "Fantastic," Quantic Dream's David Cage tells Game Informer. "You know what? That is exactly what we wanted. ... Yes, it's a strong moment for the character. But if we managed to make you feel uncomfortable it is because at some point we made you believe you were Madison."

This is a departure from other gameplay-based depictions of sex, Williams argues, where the object was either to reveal skin or engage in a mini-game that "reduces sex to the stabbing motions of button mashing." He says the breakthrough lies not necessarily in a mature depiction of sex, but in delivering a new perspective on how it is understood, even if it means forcing someone in an opposite gender role to see its more degrading side.

The Gleam of Electric Sex: What Video Games Might (or Might Not) Teach Us About Sex [PopMatters, Oct. 14.]

If I am interpreting Cage's thinking correctly, he seems to be suggesting that Heavy Rain is moving beyond the voyeuristic simulations of sexuality offered by countless other forms of more passive media and also beyond simply making a participatory simulation of sexuality into a mere simulation of the "‘ol in-out, in-out". Instead, what seems to be offered here is a potential simulation of some of the psychology of the sexual experience.

In this particular instance, the psychology is particularly fascinating as it is likely a rather novel experience for the largest demographic of video game players, males. If feminist theory concerning the tendency for women to become the object of the male gaze holds any credence, the experience of being made object to that gaze may be an entirely new experience for many players. Indeed, it may also be an uncomfortable one as traditional gender roles and perspectives may be tested and reversed as a result of being made to "believe you were Madison" because players will participate in this humiliating act rather than merely view it.

Certainly, Cage and Quantic Dream's efforts are not entirely new. Many video game players have toyed with gender bending experiments such as playing avatars that represent themselves as the opposite of their own gender. I have played female avatars in online games and have noted differences in the ways that I am treated when playing as a female character as opposed to a male character. Largely, my own experience had led me to observe that I seemed to receive a lot more gifts from other players when playing as a female (which may suggest something about cultural norms and expectations concerning male-female relationships).

However, this limited sort of experience was not placed in the context of a story or a character whose entire personality is coded as female (my avatar was always driven by my own personality as I am not one to play "in character" in games, not attempting then to specifically act like the character that I am playing in the context of the gaming world). Adding layers of storytelling and the more objective, dramatic qualities of scripted and directed behaviours into this mix may produce more focused statements on sexuality than we have seen in gaming thus far and may push this participatory art in directions that the passive arts are limited in exploring. Because we may have to reconsider who we are as we play out the experiences of someone else. Games have the potential to create empathy with characters rather than the sympathy that film or books might evoke in watching someone else suffer or experience pleasure.

- G. Christopher Williams

Weekend Reader is Kotaku's look at the critical thinking in, and of video games. It appears Saturdays at noon. Please take the time to read the full article cited before getting involved in the debate here.


    heres whats going to happen: now we have a women forced to strip for a sicko mad boss. ok, needle moves towards in game rape. wow, that sounds awesome. now i know lots of pervs who would find this crap WAY more arousing that the "normal" in game sex. what is this really doing? attempting to make "rape" scenarios normal and entertaining. this is disgusting. say what you want about me, im a 24 year old male canadian, and to be honest i find this repulsive. i will NOT buy this game.

      Depictions of rape =/= condoing rape.

      Just cause you know sick pervs who get off on rape doesn't mean rape shouldn't be explored in forms of story telling, you're an idiot.

        Ben, I think you are the idiot. sweatshopking is right, all this is is making rape normal and entertaining, which is sick, really sick. I am woman, and I feel this type of thing to be disgusting and degrading.

          Jessy, it's not making rape "Normal and entertaining" as Ben said, it's exploring rape through story telling. Think of Heavy Rain as a movie rather than a game, or a book, I mean, look at Wuthering Heights, one of the most famous books in literature and one of the most famous movies and history, and it's centered around a woman who is abused by her husband but she feel she can't be without him. His attitude isn't glorified, it is to be despised, and the book portrays that.

          Now to my biggest point, this scene isn't meant to make rap "normal and entertaining" you're supposed to be shocked, appalled, humiliated and feel hatred for the mob boss, not become aroused by his leers. If you find it entertaining you have missed the point entirely. I sympathise with you, I feel this scene is disgusting, but there are points in life that are disgusting, and just as you can't edit the bad points out of life, why should we edit the bad points out of the game?

          Wouldn't it be great if we could catch every killer, save every child, stop every rape, have the perfect lives? Well we can't, and neither can the characters in Heavy Rain, and hey, you don't always catch the killer.

      Heavy Rain definitely sounds like it's trying to push the boundaries of what video games are in ways that actually matter for the maturity of the medium.

      And what exactly is wrong if a game were to feature a rape? I'd suggest that tackling serious topics in mature ways is the only way games will ever receive more widespread recognition and respect than they do today.

      Of course, you can keep on playing adolescent power fantasies like Halo and Gears of War if you want. You can stop worrying, no-one's going to take that away from you.

      I don't own a PS3, but there's no question in my mind that I'll be buying one for Heavy Rain. It's looking to be one of the more evolutionary games of this generation so far.

      I agree with Ben. Just because a video game portrays the rape does not mean everyone should or will go out and do it. With the exception of a small percentage of the population, we all know rape is wrong and illegal. I am not convinced that it will make people change their minds just because a game shows it. Was there a rise in stripping back in the 90's when Duke Nukem 3D came out showing strippers? probably not.

      What Ben said.

      Also, "teaching us to differentiate the two."

      You'd have to be a complete idiot not to be able to differentiate the two, in which case this probably wouldn't teach you anything.

      Wow- sensitive much?
      Maybe now we should stop news reporting and current affairs. They make the world's ills seem normal. Oh wait- they are.

      I think you got the right idea--it IS supposed to be a revolting and repulsive experience. I think there will end up being some sicko who gets lots of enjoyment out of it, but I think it fits the game. You want media to reflect something--to be artistic--well, here's one.

      But yeah, I'll be steering clear of this game myself. Good art is not always appealing, and this one definitely extends quite a bit beyond my comfortable limit.

      I really don't believe this game is going to shine a single positive light on rape whatsoever. I would hope that someone who perhaps has the potential to commit sexual assault would see this game and realise the real impact it has and terribly evil nature of it. Being that the actual player themselves is taking part in the act will be quite powerful and I'm sure that should I ever play it I'll have difficulty watching it, but I'm not going to turn a blind eye to it's existence. It happens in the real world far too often and anything at all that can deter people from doing it gets a thumbs up from me.

      But being Australian we can all rest assured that our great friends on the Classifications Board will ensure this game gets slapped with a big RC.

      Saying this game is trying to make rape scenarios entertaining is like saying Law and Order SVU is trying to make rape scenarios entertaining. It requires a complete refusal to see things in any sort of context besides your own opinion.

    yay boobies

    Speaking as a sexual assault survivor I have to say that depictions of rape do distress me, but I don't think they 'cause' rape. Rape is caused by an abuse of power and deep misogyny. We shouldn't use games as a convenient scapegoat.

    Was going to get it until I found that out. Now, I'm not sure. I bet it gets RC'd in Australia because of this though.....

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