Objection! Sex In Videogames

Welcome to Objection! This is where we take the time to go on-depth on gaming issues, and let you guys continue the discussion in the comments section.

This week we're talking about sex in video games. A couple of days ago Kotaku ran an interesting story on how sex is presented as a goal in gaming, and we wondered how things might be done differently...

To help us out, we've brought in Lucy O' Brien, editor of PSM3, who spent at least five hours trying to get laid in Mass Effect.

MARK: So Lucy, you read Kotaku’s feature on sex as a video game goal, what did you think? It got me thinking on a number of levels, the first one being that I distinctly remember, as a guy in my late teens, that I actually did see sex as an end goal, in much the same way as video games do now. Sex to me was an achievement to be ‘unlocked’!

But looking back, that world view was undoubtedly a result of my own immaturity (and stupidity), and I wonder if the way sex is presented in games is indicative of gaming’s immaturity as a medium?

LUCY: Right. Well, off the bat I have to admit that I spent a lot of time trying to get laid in the original Mass Effect. A lot of time. In fact, right before I knew I was going to lose my pixilated virginity, I saved my game so I could replay the scene to my housemates and enjoy a nice hearty laugh at its awkwardness (or secretly, its eroticism?) So, I’m as guilty as the next gamer in my pursuit for the juvenile ‘end goal'. Can we just use the word climax, Mark? You know it was inevitable.

But I think our pursuit for this climax is inevitable considering gaming as a medium has traditionally been about risk and reward. If we want an item in a videogame, let’s say, a magical, um, flute, we’re tasked with a series of challenges to get it. When we complete these challenges, we get the flute, and we move onto the next challenge. It’s unsurprising that sex is treated in the same way – we jump through some hoops and get rewarded with five seconds of brief titillation. We enjoy the trophy or achievement and our new blue alien girlfriend and move onto the next thing. We have a goldfish-memory as gamers because of the way games are constantly urging us forward. I don’t see how videogame sex is any different from a power pellet in Pac Man.

MARK: I loved it when David Cage famously said that Uncharted was the equivalent of a porn movie: you watch for a bit... then action. Watch for a bit... then action. It’s an interesting point - the very nature of game mechanics really influence the way things are portrayed in games.

Gaming by its nature is goal driven, they’re compelling as a result of how they reward you and what you have do in order to gain that reward. But isn’t there a way in which we can evolve that? Can’t the end result just be something else entirely? The word 'climax' is an interesting one – it’s used to define a high point, but also to suggest the end of something. Is it the case that sex basically is the end game for us as human beings? Isn’t sex, as represented in games, just a primitive version of what goes on in real life?

LUCY: I think that’s a fitting observation from David Cage, the man who gave us the tasteful quicktime striptease.

There is a way games can evolve from the quick thrill of a brief encounter as reward, and I agree with Kotaku’s argument that videogames aren’t doing a particularly good job of portraying the nuance of real human relationships. But I don’t think the answer is to force the player into a long, ‘realistic’ relationship with an NPC. Let’s be honest, much of a real life relationship doesn’t translate in the medium. I found dragging the Bowerstone bartender from date to date in Fable 3 tedious. I didn’t care for the mundane domesticity Heavy Rain wanted us to be so invested in. To me, the Persona 4 ‘friendships’ felt depressingly insistent.

I think Uncharted got it right. Muddling porno comparisons aside, the relationship between Elena and Drake in Uncharted was told cleverly, in the peripherals. Their friendly banter never felt forced, nor were you forced to have any investment in its outcome. Their relationship wasn’t a reward for a skill-based challenge, and consequently I felt genuine warmth towards the pair. That’s a far greater achievement than pressing a few buttons to trigger broadly emotive cut-scenes building towards a climactic - and ultimately anticlimactic - goal.

And sure, sex is perhaps our end game, and will always play a part in all forms of popular entertainment. But I think developers must get smarter in the way they tell their stories. Only then will erotic encounters be gradually fleshed-out (sorry) into something more meaningful.

As an aside, I personally had no problems with Mass Effect’s ‘quickie’. Mass Effect was a space opera, and its narrative arcs were in keeping with its genre. Hell, they were facing the end of the world, wouldn’t you want to get in some quick stress-relief before your final mission?

MARK: You’re right, the Elena/Drake relationship is subtle and well told, as is the unspoken Martson/Bonnie/Marston’s Missus love triangle. But it’s told outside of the mechanics – isn’t there a way we can create a game based on relationships and have it not be Love Plus?

How about an Indie game that focuses on running the gamut of the first date using the mechanics from the upcoming LA Noire - a game that forces you to read subtle interaction cues and respond accordingly.

Isn’t there a way we can make this sort of thing fun, by utilising the tiny unspoken rewards that come from being in a relationship: a smile, or someone pinching your arse cheekily. How about the subtle punishments? The silent treatment, the ‘friend zone’ rebuttal.

There are so many way we can reward gamers in terms of relationships – I think there are definitely game mechanics that can evolve from those dynamics.

LUCY: But do gamers want a game in which the pursuit of love and sex is the main objective? If gaming is all about escapism, do we want to subject ourselves to ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ in a virtual world? I’m also inclined to think sex-as-reward is the status quo due to consumer indifference. But if gaming is to move forward as a medium at all, we need to be asking these questions and pushing these boundaries. I think Quantic Dream and Rockstar are laying down a gauntlet of sorts by presenting us with big-budget titles focused principally around social interaction. The industry is taking baby steps towards narrative nuance, something that’s eluded it for a depressingly long time. And ultimately, I think these broader narrative conventions need to evolve quite significantly before love and sex can be approached with any degree of real maturity.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t be interested in playing your arse-pinching game, Mark.

MARK: [blushes]Achievement unlocked!


Comments

    An interesting discussion, and plenty of food for thought.
    I personally think ME as a series has the ability to provide a reward for turning something which was a moment of romance ahead of the final mission into something more.
    Will your avatar be rewarded for remaining faithful to a human partner in ME1 even if they reject you for working with cerberus?
    In ME2, even if your character is a serial flirt, you must commit to one character by the end.
    I don't know if romance is suited to be the core mechanism for a game, because ultimately, it isn't a game.
    However, as a rewardless element of rpgs, I think video games can be used to explore the interactions.

    I wasnt even trying and the blue one bedded me in Mass Effect

    In Dragon Age I had to go out of my way. In my first playthrough it just didnt happen at all!

    I think developers must get smarter in the way they tell their stories. Only then will erotic encounters be gradually fleshed-out (sorry) into something more meaningful.

    Interesting observation: the relationships in earlier Bioware games, specifically Baldur's Gate 2, were far far more substantial than Mass Effect's. There were consequences to the decisions you made in those. Sex happened along the way, but it wasn't the destination and the relationship plotlines didn't end there at all. Viconia stands out in my memory for example, since you basically went from casual sex early in the relationship to, depending on the player, convincing her to change her alignment.

    It's interesting that Bioware ended up moving away from that. And also interesting that they basically set up Mass Effect 2 so that the original game's romances didn't really continue, and the new ones offered probably won't practically be able to continue into ME3 either - given that it's possible to end the game with almost the entire ME2 crew dead, the sequel is going to have to offer a new crew again.

      I agree with the level of character interaction being shallow in comparison to BG 2 but the comparison is unfair.

      BG 2's dialogue had to be read. Emotion is much harder to convey when what you're reading is much like lines from a script.

      With a script however, the lines are then spoken and this speech is directed, that is, someone tells you the way it is MEANT to be interpreted.

      In you're head there is no director, you interpret the text in your own way. The experience is not the same for everyone reading it.

      In DA there was no work, the emotion was easy to read in the sound of the characters voices and responding accordingly was made quite straight forward.

      While a step back from the depth of conversation in BG2, it was undeniably a leap forward in character interaction because the player was required to listen.

      As far as plotlines go I agree with you 100%. The sexual encounter did become the completion of the story and given the personalities of some of the characters, finishing like that seemed rather boring. Lucy was spot on, anticlimactic indeed.

        I totally agree with you. My point wasn't that BG2 told its relationship stories better, it was that the story that it told was more substantial. Dragon Age was slightly better, but even there it had the same insubstantial underlying system. Talk to the character multiple times to expand their backstory, say you like them, sex happens and the subplot basically terminates there. It's like somewhere along the line Bioware replaced some of their writers with veterans of Japanese dating sims. :(

    i think that the reason sex is more apparent in games now is because the graphics are better, i mean, no one likes pixelated breasts right?

    I think sex in video games is, as long as it isn't some game / goal. A human sub conscious is affected without you realizing it in many ways. Other than that let naked flesh take the stand for all i care.

    To the conservatives out there: Don't like it? don't buy it. Simple as that, apart from some torrents, but your 15 y/o kid most likely won't know that much about em,.

    I made an educational video on the whole Mass Effect topic, and having to edit the footage (all 5 versions including the removed modded M/M scene) - 16 and a bit minutes - it's barely anything.
    (You'd see more in a soft core porno.)

    Here's the video for those interested:
    "The Controversy over Mass Effect"
    http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1691196277554&oid=110767468939052

    and the Facebook group I run that it's from:
    "R18 Games Australia"
    (All are welcome to come look around, maybe join too!)
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=110767468939052

    I don't know why it's really in contention at all. It's 2010, kids can find hardcore, free porn only a couple clicks away from the Google home page which is infinitely more explicit and realistic than anything provided in Mass Effect. It's not whether they're going to find nudity anymore, but when.

    People in REAL LIFE jump through ridiculous hoops, go out of their way, get pussywhipped, etc all the goddamn time to get laid, I think an effort of several hours in a game is fairly tame in comparison.

    So the lesson of the day from this discussion: Sex in games has been done rather tastefully so far, let's continue it? Wish Kotaku posted more dialogue and discussion in this manner instead of creepy/pervy Japanese games and $500 anime figurines with panties...

    I think one of the most interesting aspects of using sex as a sub-plot was revealed to me recently when I was saving the universe for the 4th playthrough as Commander Shepard in ME 2. Spoiler alert btw !

    I decided that my badass Renegade Shepard should try and kick it with Subject Zero - our ruthless natures seemed perfectly attuned to each other. So, after helping her find closure at the facility she was brutally exploited at as a child, she finally responded to my advances.

    Being the cold Renegade, when the option for sex came up, I jumped on it, and I was rewarded with a steamy romp with Jack in the engine room.

    But my self serving actions caught up with me - after our fling, Jack , obviously lumping me with every other person that had taken advantage of her (and I must admit, rightly so,) refused to talk to me at all. I wad greeted with a "fuck off every time I tried to approach her.

    Oh BioWare, I like what you did there! This sub plot was a brilliant way to further flesh out the interesting characters in this game - it felt like a genuine and realistic consequence both from Jacks perspective as a tormented and exploited soul, and a testament to the ruthless and callous nature of my protagonist.

    I'm playing a paragon Shepard now, and this one has a soft spot for Miranda. . I've taken it to the stage where Jack has opened up to me, but she is questioning my motives because of my thing with Miranda. I'm at a crossroads, and I relate don't know which path to take - But a little part of me wants to break it off, and do right by Jack, to atone for my past behaviour.

    All this philsophical banter is definately quite intrigueing but there's a fundamently flaw in logic clinging to each of these arguments.

    Under the pretense that storyline and plot in modern story-driven games tend to be approached in a mature manner, with character development and choice being prime factors in this, it's being arbitrarily assumed that "sex" in video games should be approached in the same manner.

    Right here is where we should stop and realize we're getting too far ahead of ourselves. Video games, and any other outlet of entertainment is only as good as their capacity to entertain.

    When I pop in my good ole gta, do I do it thinking I'm approaching the real world in a socially acceptable manner? No, I'm doing it so I can pull out my virtual guns and create havoc in liberty city because watching things explode is fun.

    The argument simply can't be made that violence in video games or movies is mature. Why should sex in video games be approached any differently?

    If the game is overtop and ridiculous, any sex that happens to be in the game should match it.

    If the game is serious, and more plot driven, then sex should be approached based more on the characters and how they develop so as to maintain consistency with the style of the game.

    Now, I'm going to be blunt for just one second, and disclose a grossly overlooked revelation that's going to shatter the very fabric of your minds and overturn any sense of ethics or spiritually you've managed to develop thus far within the full span of your life time:

    The ONLY reason sex in video games is SUCH a controversy is because KIDS make up the vast majority, if not an unegligable percentage of the market that buys and plays these games. If gta 4 came with a hentai octupus rape sex minigame, parents would unanomously object, and with some amount of justifiable reason, and any consideration of this as a target market would be thrown out the window.

    Also fox news loves anything in video games that's bad. Makes them $ for informing uninformed semi-concerned parents.

    Personal sidenote: Sex as a "goal", whatever- is not indicative of immaturity within the video games industry. First off, the actions of any industry that sells a product to cunsomers that like the said product is thereby representative of the entire consumer market.

    So, by insulting the "stupidity" and "immaturity" of the gaming industry, (with no supporting argument as to why) what is really being done is insulting the stupidity, and immaturaty of the markets that support the gaming industry, aka us, the consumers, albeit indirectly, but effectively.

    The opposite train of thought could conclude the same about the movies industry. Is getting to see mr jake sully and his navi friend in avatar (or any other movie example) indicative of the immaturity of general audiences getting of to either character as they relate to the characters' growing relationship/love interest? Here I would agree since it is a movie and not a video game. A movie is supposed to tend to a more serious nature, unless it's a comedy then everything can be ridiculous. But a video game is not. Video games are an escapism from reality that entertains because it does just this, and shows us something we don't see or could expect to see from the mundanity of routine daily life.

    Hence the conclusion to my argument that sex in video games should have leeway to being as over-the-top and riduculous as can be concieved by the human animal mind, much like violence in video games and movies already is.

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