Sex in Games: Is it Time to Grow Up?

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BioShock developer Ken Levine recently described video game sex scenes as being closer to Team America than Black Swan. Is it time we grew up a bit?

The issue of sex in video games is one which hasn't yet been resolved with any degree of certainty. Although we're certainly seeing more sex scenes in games than we used to, they're still very prudish, even going so far as to have characters keep their underwear on in most cases. Much of this is likely due to the clumsiness of polygonal characters doing anything that involves touching each other, but there's a number of other issues to consider, too.

The main question which should be asked is: do we really need sex in videogames? The simple answer is "of course we don't need it" -- but writers who want to explore narratives with themes of romance, love and sexuality shouldn't feel like they are barred from the subject. On the contrary, video games are now experienced by such a wide range of people that there's no reason we shouldn't see more mainstream interactive entertainment with a more adult tone.

Irrational Games' Ken Levine has a theory, and shared it with VG247 in a recent interview.

"The fact that it's even controversial," he explained, "says that the perception of the industry is that we're making toys or something, as opposed to making creative expressions for a range of audiences -- including adults."

Developers and publishers got over their fear of graphic, bloody violence long ago, but sex is still a great taboo. Dragon Age II, for example, features a level of gore that would make Mortal Kombat blush, but heaven forbid you catch a glimpse of a bare nipple during an intimate scene. This is partly down to the overblown reaction of media outlets such as Fox News when news of sex scenes in games hit the mainstream, but it's also evidence of a certain level of prudishness on the part of triple-A developers and publishers in particular.

The independent scene, conversely, seems to have little problem exploring sexuality when appropriate. Many Japanese visual novels, for example, feature strong themes relating to romantic love, and the use of sex is often an important part of the exploration of those themes. Recent freeware title Don't Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story also explores sexuality, both homosexual and heterosexual, though does so more through implication than explicit scenes. Importantly, though, it doesn't treat the player like a delicate flower who thinks sex is dirty, filthy, nasty.

Sex is a fundamental and important life experience. Including sex in a game doesn't make that game pornographic -- but it also doesn't mean that developers have to hold back. At the moment, the mainstream of the industry as a whole is very much like a gang of giggling teenagers looking at a Victoria's Secret catalog and hoping their mom doesn't find them.

It's time we grew up, and got comfortable being naked.

This article originally appeared on as Sex in games

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