Games need MORE sex in order to end the controversy over sex in games


In this ~9-minute video, Daniel Floyd, a professor at Savannah College of Art and Design, convincingly advances the theory that the major problem with sex in video-games is that there isn't enough sex in video games -- that video-games' failure to come to grips with sex as part of the artistic message and aesthetic in games (in addition to the hypersexualized juvenile Lara Croft/Duke Nukem stuff), it can't convincingly argue that games are an actual artistic medium that deserves to be considered on the same terms as painting, literature, sculpture, film, and other media that often feature sexual material. Link (via Wonderland)

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  1. Very well done video in the Larry Lessig style with a nice twist of humor. It reminds me of something Peter Chung said about Aeon Flux:

    It’s a universal tendency in films to be more about sex and violence than the real world is, but I would pose the opposite question: Why are so many characters that you see on TV so desexualized? A lot of them seem to be completely asexual — especially animated characters — and it implies that those characters are normal. The characters in Aeon Flux are normal people who have normal sex lives and appetites.

  2. #3 – I think it’s the nanny factor. TV in particular has been kept sanitary for kids and it’s historically led to a very skewed view of reality. Seems to be changing now, though the pendulum could very well just swing to the other side (re:your movie example).

    I’d argue that America overall can’t even begin to come to grips with normal sexual expression in ~any~ form of media, much less videogames. I’m sure as more and more serious videogamers grow to maturity it’ll become a non-issue in that particular medium.

  3. I’m sure the Japanese have plenty sexual video games available there. If they were released here, I’d actually have to break down and buy a PS3.

  4. I really, really agree. I’ve read some stuff about Mass Effect that said about the same thing. The sex in that game was intrinsic to the plot, and was handled very, very well. It wasn’t pornographic; it was regular, movie-level, romance/sex.

    I think the problem has been the “Ooo! Boobies!” aspect of video game sex.

    Bah, I’ll just start repeating what he said, so I’ll just cut to the chase:

    Yes.

  5. Neurolux, most Japanese porn games (if that’s what you mean by sexual video games) are released only for PC.

  6. Neurolux, the suggestion isn’t more porn games. We already have enough porn games. The suggestion is more games where the hero or heroine has a romantic interlude – you know, like just about every action movie under the sun?

    Not going “OMG LOOK WE HAVE BOOBIES TEE HEE” but just matter of factly dealing with the fact that adults, as part of an adult relationship, often have sex. oenoez.

  7. I think it bears mentioning here that he ESRB (the group in the US that rates video games) is very quick to put an AO (Adults Only) rating on anything too sexually explicit.

    An AO rating is outright censorship as far as consoles are concerned. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all have rules absolutely forbidding the sale of AO rated games on their systems.

    What this means is that until US culture and the ESRB grow up and stop thinking of sex as an inherently unwholesome and horrible thing it will be difficult to sell games that deal with sex in the honest and unashamed way many R rated films do, on anything but niche PC markets.

    This wouldn’t be such a big deal if AO translated to the film rating of X, but unfortunately the very modest sex scene in Mass Effect is probably the boundary we currently have for console games.

  8. I think it bears mentioning here that he ESRB (the group in the US that rates video games) is very quick to put an AO (Adults Only) rating on anything too sexually explicit.

    Remember when video games didn’t have these bullshit ratings? It wasn’t that long ago. The ESRB only came about because of meddlers such as Joe Lieberman (the neo-con Democrat now campaigning for McCain) pushing for government regulation of video games, so they followed the MPAA’s lead with “voluntary” ratings to preempt government action.

    From Wikipedia:

    Lieberman has been critical of the entertainment media. On November 29, 2005, Lieberman co-sponsored the Family Entertainment Protection Act, which was introduced by Hillary Clinton, S.2126. The act is intended to protect children from what he says is inappropriate content found in video games. He has denounced the violence contained in video games and has attempted to regulate sales of violent video games to minors, arguing that games should have to be labeled based upon age-appropriateness. Regarding Grand Theft Auto, he said, “The player is rewarded for attacking a woman, pushing her to the ground, kicking her repeatedly and then ultimately killing her, shooting her over and over again. I call on the entertainment companies—they’ve got a right to do that, but they have a responsibility not to do it if we want to raise the next generation of our sons to treat women with respect.” He voted for the Communications Decency Act.

  9. Why do we refer to gratuitous sex as ‘adult content’ when it mostly appeals to adolescents? Wouldn’t adult content be subtle philosophy, profound honesty and complete personal responsibility?

  10. Wouldn’t adult content be subtle philosophy, profound honesty and complete personal responsibility?

    …in bed. ;)

  11. Antinous @11, thank you, I’ve often wondered the exact same thing.

    Zuzu, are you being flippant? Naughty.

  12. @Antinous, hear hear. Good to be reminded that adulthood has a wider scope than what goes on in our pants.

    Reading the comments I pondered the “romantic interlude” as mentioned in #8… curiously I think GTI:SA for me fulfills that purpose as well as any game I’ve played.

    No, I’m not talking about the hot coffee (sic?) mod, I’m talking about the unlockable bonuses which required the regular taking out of one’s girlfriends on dates.

    Admittedly in ludic terms, the romance was a means not the end (from memory one could gain such benefits as not losing one’s weapons on being arrested), but all the same the dynamics were well played out – driving around gas stations trying to find a flower… being in a nightclub, trying to dance well enough to impress, getting steps wrong and feeling cheesed off but carrying on anyways to win the gal on the night… (no gay option unfortunately but oh well…)

    And what is true romance? Well I’ve been with my other half for ten years as of this month; I’m still learning.

    Perhaps the reasons why sexual content in gaming is so problematic – it’ll always be reductionist compared to exploring our real sexual selves.

  13. And what is true romance?

    True Romance is a 1993 American film directed by Tony Scott and written by Quentin Tarantino. It stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette with an ensemble cast; the film contains notable performances by some seasoned actors along with early appearances by later stars. It is billed as a “love story”, albeit an unconventional one, as the plot revolves around drugs and violence. Clarence Worley (Slater) and Alabama Whitman (Arquette) attempt to start a new life for themselves using cocaine stolen from Alabama’s former pimp and find themselves on the run from the Mafia, ending in a dramatic double-crossing when the police get involved.

  14. I have to say, I REALLY enyojed the presentation. Very nice format.

    On the subject, I pass. I’m not a gamer. I kinda agree with the guy. Lots of gamers are adults, why can’t they have in games what they have in cinema or books?

  15. 1. Why must people insist on using sped-up versions of their voices for Internet videos?
    2. What is that sweet rock version of that Mario 64 song at the beginning and where can I get it?

  16. hypersexualized.
    hyper-sexualized
    HYPER!!sexualized
    hyper, sexualized
    hypersexualized…. (*wink*)
    HyperSexualized
    hy-per-sex-u-a-li-zed

    What a great new word. Feel it now. Try it on. Taste it in your mouth!

  17. Yes, the whole point of having children is to somehow exact some form of revenge for how fucked up your own childhood was. Awesome. Though in all seriousness that is probably exactly what we will do to the next generation. On a side note, a few reasons a person would want to speed up their voice in Internet videos; to save time, to disguise the voice and also because the mind can generally comprehend just as well if not better with a faster data/word rate. Plus slowing it down would make you sound like an idiot.

  18. Bravo. Well thought out, written, documented, and spoken. I am against the whole ‘change your voice’ thing, but now I’m just nit picking.

    Oh, and I picked up on the ‘No Punctuation’ theme almost instantly. Kudos on that as well.

    You’re work is quite welcome here. More, please.

  19. Here’s something else to consider.

    A movie that is rated PG-13 may contain nudity. It may be mild or brief, but it can be there nonetheless. This is especially true when the nudity is not sexually related.

    So why is it that a single nipple in a video game warrants an AO rating?

    This kind of double standard is exactly the kind of thing that demonstrates that people have an unnecessarily skewed image of what purpose video games serve.

    I can’t agree more with the video: video games are just as much of an art form as cinema. In some ways, it’s even MORE involved, because video games are so much longer than movies, and allow us to form attachments to the characters that are much stronger than might be in a 2-hour film. This allows for an opportunity for more immersive and stronger reactions when things happen to the characters we’ve become attached to.

    So why are these characters all virginal?

    If art truly reflects life, then it needs to acknowledge the fact that we’re humans, with normal human sex drives. We are sexual creatures, but it’s not ALL that we are. Games should definitely be able to afford to explore that side as well.

  20. Takuan – basically, that’s it. It needs writers willing to write the kinds of stories we see in every other medium (including other “juvenile” media, like comic books).

    The problem is that the difference between writing for a comic book vs writing for a short story is smaller than the difference between writing for a video game and writing for a short story.

    Unless you’re putting the player on railroad tracks, on a one way journey to plot-town, the writer for a videogame needs to come up with more versions of his story than the writer for a novel – gamers these days tend to demand at least some options in dialog, if not whole alternate, branching sets of mid-points and endings depending on how you’ve performed at key points of the game.

    There’s a lot of room for the railroad-tracks no-choices here’s-your-plot-go-shoot-things types of games, but those are likely to be less appropriate places to have any kind of meaningful sexual encounter, and more likely to have a superficial, drive-by-relationship kind of thing.

    The other kind of writing is hard, and a little weird, and it’s not attracting enough people to get a big pool of really good talent.

  21. #24: Exactly, you add a bunch of artsy melodrama into videogames and you begin to lose the demographic that will buy your product. I know gamers are getting older (I am an avid gamer at 31), but I would wager that the great majority of gamers don’t really have an interest in seeing sensitive love scenes added to a bunch of games. I would really think twice about playing BioShock if a third of it was a drama of that nature, and it was one of the best games of the year.

  22. Once, long ago, people said these same things about science fiction.

    Once the domain of low-brow magazines with pictures of scantily-clad women and ridiculous monsters, it was unashamedly an adolescent pastime. Now it’s a respected art form, which has influenced countless other important aesthetic movements.

  23. When I saw this video yesterday, I have to say that the thing which stood out to be was a complete failure to consider or address the attitude towards women in games and gaming. The lecturer introduced the stereotype of gamers as exclusively male teenage losers, but never rectified it, either from the male or loser perspective. There are, after all, many, many female gamers, although they are consistently ignored, here and elsewhere.

    In fact, there was no mention of women at all in the lecture – although there were a lot of images! Nearly every image provided as an example of ‘sex’ in games was actually an image of a naked woman. The assumption that sex = naked women is crude, insulting, and damaging to the concept of sex as handled with any level of sophistication. Exploring the idea of sexuality and senusalism no further than “boobies!” is inane and immature – exactly the sort of approach the lecturer suggests we should move beyond, while never stirring from himself. If he believes this is reductionist and puerile, some indication of an attitude that regards women, and also sex, as something more would have been convincing. The attitude of the public towards sex in games will never change until the attitude of the gaming world towards WOMEN, and therefore towards sex, changes.

    As a post-note – Within the bounds of good taste, I think that sex (or, more ideally, the suggestion and development of sexual relationships, situations, and plotwork, as more directly compared to film, which rarely shows us a real focus on the act itself) must be primarily narrative, not ludic. Is there really any decent way to have interactive sex scenes that aren’t faintly revolting, utterly ridiculous, and *sigh* pretty much entirely male-centered as well (Farenheit’s “thrusting” controls)?

  24. This was a great presentation; both well explored and well stated. I have been an avid gamer since I was young and now that I’m an adult, I see no reason why some games shouldn’t include adult themes and adult relationships.

    I agree entirely that sex is just a part of human life, but that it’s not just sex, it’s sexual relationships. Video games should go beyond gratuitous nudity (exclusively female, as Iscah pointed out) and focus on the development of relationships. I think this would be good for games, not only as a way to break the “sex in games is bad” stigma, but also to bring depth to the plots of video games. Could you imagine if movies never showed the lead male and female characters forming relationships? That’s constantly the way it is in video games and it definitely limits the story line, as well as giving an impression that real people don’t develop deep relationships, which isn’t the impression that I would want to leave child gamers.

    Where I don’t entirely agree with Daniel is on the belief that sexuality in film is accepted. I don’t agree with this because I don’t find sexuality in any part of Western society to be accepted, though it is certainly tolerated more on film and television than in video games. For whatever reason, the West is quite willing to accept violence — something that is socially unacceptable for people to emulate — and yet they crucify sexuality in all of its froms, despite it being a regular part of a healthy human life.

    I definitely agree that the reason video games are decried for sexual content is because it is an immature media that is not well understood. The vast majority of parents allow their children to see films that contain explicit sex and violence — even when those movies are given PG-13 and R ratings — and yet they are vocal about much less in video games. I believe this is due to ignorance and media attention. The vast majority of parents speaking out about these video games have never played them themselves; they are only going on what they have heard in the media. Since the media will jump on even the smallest hot-button, parents get a heavily-biased view of just how much sex is present in video games. Descriptions like “porn simulator” are sensationalist and certinaly don’t give an accurate representation of what is involved in those games.

    The strangest part of the controversy is that the standards for decency are being applied to everyone equally. While I agree that some things are too much for a 12 year old, and many others just wouldn’t make sense to an 8 year old, there are plenty of teenagers and adults who would not only understand but be able to handle with maturity the type of content being surpressed. Yet both the lobbyists and industry are happy to restrict adults to only viewing G rated material. This doesn’t happen with film — there are a large number of R rated movies and an entire industry of X rated movies — nor does it happen with music (where a Parental Advisory label is present on nearly every album without effect), so why are video games treated differently?

    The only reason I can see for the differential treatment is that video games are still a young medium, and like film and music both experienced, people fear that the content in video games will both shape and drive players to emulate them. While there are still many who believe that film and music can also have this effect (perhaps not without some merit), it seems to be accepted now that explicit movies and music aren’t forming a generation of murders. However, video games aren’t out of the water yet because the critical mass of a majority of a generation playing video games hasn’t yet been reached. Like music and movies, it will just be a matter of time before we grow comfortable with and accept video games as just another art and entertainment media.

  25. As a post-note – Within the bounds of good taste, I think that sex (or, more ideally, the suggestion and development of sexual relationships, situations, and plotwork, as more directly compared to film, which rarely shows us a real focus on the act itself) must be primarily narrative, not ludic. Is there really any decent way to have interactive sex scenes that aren’t faintly revolting, utterly ridiculous, and *sigh* pretty much entirely male-centered as well (Farenheit’s “thrusting” controls)?

    Is this just an elaborate way of saying “Men look at Playboy, while women read romance novels”? …and that you’d simply prefer “more romance novel” and “less Playboy” in your gaming?

    (As for “designing a video game where characters get weird with each other for golden points”, Tracy Jordan is on top of it.)

    Frankly, I think the whole gamut of gender identity and sexuality could be much more sophisticated in video games, and film, and most other media.

    However, I would totally agree, having seen This Film Is Not Yet Rated, that there’s a repugnant slant among ratings boards against depictions of female sexual pleasure.

    In fact, there was no mention of women at all in the lecture – although there were a lot of images! Nearly every image provided as an example of ‘sex’ in games was actually an image of a naked woman. The assumption that sex = naked women is crude, insulting, and damaging to the concept of sex as handled with any level of sophistication.

    Was there an explicit mention of men, either? or gender identity at all? Equating pin-up art with sex seemed to be a description of current gaming, not an implicit recommendation, in the video.

  26. Is this just an elaborate way of saying “Men look at Playboy, while women read romance novels”? …and that you’d simply prefer “more romance novel” and “less Playboy” in your gaming?

    Ugh, no – not at all. I have no idea how you got that out of it. What I mean is, is there a game dynamic which would allow for actual ludic, interactive participation in a sex scene without it being, well, utterly absurd and distasteful? Mouse-point controlled caressing? Up-right-right for tongue kisses? Button mashing for oral sex? The afore-mentioned thrusting controls? I mean, sex in gaming seems more suited to be part of the narrative story being told (read, cut-scenes) rather than ludic, or play-oriented.

    And, yes, there was mention of gender identity – a whole section on the expected demographic of gamers – all male. All images of gamers were male. All sex images were male. To suggest that not mentioning men either would make it gender neutral, even had that been the case, would be disingenuous. The assumed masculine does not implicitly include the feminine. To discuss the attitude towards sexuality and sexual imagery without addressing the obvious gap in the type and gender of those images (which I think speaks clearly the attitude of the gaming audience toward women) is talking around the elephant.

  27. More periods, less commas.

    To not be TL;DR, until people grow up and stop diabolizing sexuality, it won’t ever stop being controversial.

  28. I agree with Iscah. I used to work in the game industry, and I was always puzzled by the need for every female game character to either be Lara Croft (i.e. basically a traditional male character with a female model) or the Princess Peach (NPC damsel in distress). It’s as if the game industry as a whole is stuck in a junior high locker room, and this is coming from a male who used to play D&D on the weekends. Bouncing breast physics and unlocking pixelated boobs might have been worth a few giggles at 14 (okay maybe 23), but isn’t there more than that? The only exception I can think of is Half-Life 2’s Alyx Vance, as an actual positive and realistic portrayal of a woman.

    One more thing: I think it’s a mistake to compare video games to movies too much. This is natural of course, just like when film and television were first created, they were compared to radio or theater because that’s what people were familiar with. However, the medium is different, and the same formulas will not work. Video games don’t need more writers; they need world-creators, biologists, architects, psychologists, economists, mathematicians, and professions that probably haven’t really been invented yet. Video games need their own vocabulary, their equivalent of the close-up and the long-pan.

    As for the nay-sayers, it doesn’t really matter. Just like the old critics who claimed film/television/photography could never be an art form, the Roger Ebert’s of the world will soon either die and/or become irrelevant.

  29. I used to play through long Japanese RPGs with my girlfriend (Tales of Symphonia, Tales of the Abyss, and Skies of Arcadia), and they all had more romantic subtext than titillation. Part of it was the adolescence of the teams (lets get teenagers to save the world!), part of it was the more-cartoony presentation (manga teenagers, not US comic book adults), but a big part of it was little things, like phrases teammates would say in battle or the optional relationship path conversations. The genre is quite capable of emotional depth, but the trick is that even in three entire “saving the world” month-long campaigns, the characters end at about the point where they could begin dating, not where they’d leap madly into bed. Okay, so that isn’t really a problem, but games have the time available to take things slow, and they often do.

    My big concern about media reaction to sexual maturity in games is that even the ESRB doesn’t play games all the way through, and as Mass Effect shows, the crazy reaction can come from a 45 second part of a 30+ hour game. Films are easier to review fully, as at most they are just under 4 hours. Games are huge, and to be able to fully review games would require more time and staff than the ESRB wants/is willing to have.

    Last flaw in the film/game metaphor is that with film ratings, the parent has to be physically present with the child for the film in a much different way than a child playing a game at home. Game ratings guide the purchase of a game, which can be played any time, while tickets expire. It’s not exactly black and white, as parents can get the tickets and leave, but the nature of media consumption is very different. Of course, the solution is in better parenting, but that’s always been true.

    All said, fantastic video, and great take on the issue.

  30. normal sexual expression

    Quite a few commenters have mentioned this idea, and I’m completely fine with video games being full of sex, but…

    Take a few deep breaths and think about everyone you know. Now think about their sex lives. Here’s normal sexual expression: non-existent, drunk, boring, drunk, drugged, drunk, pity-sex, drunk, slump-buster sex, drunk, what the hell was I thinking please don’t let it wake up until I’m gone, drunk, herpes, drunk, fumbling, drunk…. I’m not saying that hot sex doesn’t exist, but is it the norm? I don’t think so.

  31. Gah – correcting a mistake that should be obvious to readers, but might confuse anyway. My post SHOULD read: All images of gamers were male. All sex images were FEmale.

    Also, Antinous – Wow. What an awful, bleak view of the world. Maybe you and your acquaintances need to drink less. I can’t say that if I stopped to think about the people I know, that’s what I’d come up with at all.

  32. It is bleak. I read a recent article about under 30s being more likely than not to be seriously drunk whenever they have sex. Also, if you’re already having really hot sex, you might not be that interested in the video game or care if it included sexual content.

  33. Getting together with someone for the first time sober is seriously scary. On the other hand, one’s much happier with one’s choice.

  34. Also, if you’re already having really hot sex, you might not be that interested in the video game or care if it included sexual content.

    People who have good sex probably won’t bother with video games? Is the corollary to that, only people having bad sex or no sex are playing video games? My brain, she ‘splodes.

    I want sexual content in games to be interesting, sophisticated and mature, not for the sexual titillation factor to make up for my crappy sex life, but because sex is an important and central aspect of the human condition, and it’s emotionally significant. It makes stories better because it makes them real and accessible. That is, if it’s more than huge naked boobies.

  35. > I want sexual content in games to be interesting, sophisticated and mature, not for the sexual titillation factor to make up for my crappy sex life, but because sex is an important and central aspect of the human condition, and it’s emotionally significant. It makes stories better because it makes them real and accessible. That is, if it’s more than huge naked boobies.

    A fair point. I think one of the problems with this is that when we’re talking about “important and central aspects of the human condition,” we’re pretty far from game country. Games being sold today: Call of Duty (shoot people), Grand Theft Auto (steal cars, shoot people), Mario Kart (race karts with a mushroom head), Mass Effect (shoot people, in space.)

    Games can have good stories, and they will be respected for it (see Half Life.) Still, primarily, they need to be interesting for a player. Usually, this means action (see: shooting people.) It would be very interesting to see games that aren’t violence based and with a real, deep story that warrants speaking of the human condition, that sells well.

    Games are like action movies. Lots of action, lots of violence, but not much story. In a movie drama, not much actually happens, so it’s hard to make a game out of.

    About the hot sex: it doesn’t just happen, people. You’ve got to do something for it. Perhaps playing video games with a decent sex scene in it will help. I believe it might.

  36. This video is no longer available due to user deletion!

    Curses. This is what I get for batching up my boing-boing enjoyment :(

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