Monday, May 09, 2005

Dirty, But Not Juvenile . . . Possible?

The challenge
: Make a sexually explicit game that is neither crude nor shallow, overly-simplistic or awkward, sexist or juvenile. In other words, make the ESRB Mature rating actually mean that the game is meant for mature individuals, not only that the content could offend.

Following a tangent for a second, I know I'm not the first person to see the irony in the Mature rating. Games that earn such a label tend toward infantile fantasies of power and control, delighting in destruction and mayhem, satisfying the instinctual lizard-brain ego-trip but little else.

Presenting sex in media, however, has been difficult for a long time, at least in America. Consider the movie Monster's Ball, which featured Halle Berry getting shtupped forcefully by Billy Bob Thornton. That's all I know of the movie - nobody I've talked to has ever mentioned if it was good or bad or artsy or boring. The sex scene overrode the movie.

Which is one of the challenges facing the game industry: What does a game about sex look like?

It can be seen that media about sex does not have to feature sex itself (Playboy). Or the sex act can be present but not the focus (Sex and the City, which centers more around the social ramifications of sex in the context of relationships).

Most games, however, that feature sexual situations range from passable to godawful.

Japan doesn't have a problem putting out sexually explicit games.

Hentai, though, essentially takes male pornographic power-fantasies and encourages overflow into the sexual realm, featuring rampant debasement and abuse of women. In other words, while they could be a healthy outlet for chauvinist aggression, they don't present any emotional alternatives. As I mentioned in an earlier post concerning Grand Theft Auto, the violence is necessary to complete the game but not to play the game, which I feel is an important distinction. Comparatively, hentai demands a linear play experience and offers no alternatives: You either fuck abusively or you lose.

American games have taken a tamer but just as emotionally weak course. They feature an adolescent's view of sexuality, which tends to consist of oversized mammaries and *snicker-snicker* double entendres that would only amuse a sixth grader. We are given sex which is hidden and dirty but also with absolutely no related emotions (Not surprisingly, the same view of sex which is taught in school - raw mechanics with no social reference whatsoever).

If we look at BMX XXX, we see that the whole goal of the game is no more complex than watching scrambled porn - ooh, titties! So we have a shitty game mixed with Girls Gone Wild-type titillation. And, like most people, I didn't see a point buying and putting up with a crappy game just to see something I could find on the internet for free.

Even the Leisure Suit Larry series, which is oft-praised (not sure why), presents sex as the overriding goal, not a mechanic to succeed or interact, but as a way of winning.

Which means that the best we can expect from sex & games so far is the depth of a pack of horny frat boys.

I don't really have any good ideas, either, for a compelling, sexually-explicit game. Most point to a sort of interactive pornography, which I suppose is compelling to some people (though, for me, I don't watch porn to interact with anything but myself . . . I'm not interested in clicking and jerking at the same time).

I'm sure that, over time, the industry will explore less-simplistic versions of sexuality as videogames grow ever more mainstream and complex. This isn't something that will just happen all on its own, though -- it is up to game players and creators to ask difficult questions and demand more sophisticated and mature content.

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