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Bad Sex, Hope for the Future

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Adrian Hatwell
Adrian Hatwell

‘Should there be sex in videogames?’ To my mind that isn’t a question worth asking. The previous look at games dealing with sex throughout the digital ages is by no means a complete list, just the ones that interested me, but it clearly illustrates that whether or not sex ‘should’ be in games, it ends up there anyway. Just like television, film, music, literature, and art; no matter the environment, sex gets through.

Anything so pervasive simply must be important, how else could it become so powerful? If we accept that sex will make its way into videogames regardless of propriety or circumstance, then a more useful question is ‘what can we do with it?’

As the previous series of articles suggest, at this stage of development we can’t do much with it at all.  Even when handled with subtle maturity to the point of being positively sexless, game development finds nothing interesting to say with sexual content, and receives a public flogging for the trouble.

If sex is so important then why, time and again, do videogames so thoroughly fail at portraying it in a meaningful way? A lot of people like to refer to the videogames as a medium in its infancy, meaning that while there is real artistic potential in games we’re not entirely sure how to fully tap into it yet. This would certainly explain initial fumbles with sexuality, creative developers are drawn to sex as a source of inspiration, but without the tools to make it work we end up with indigenous rape jokes and hood rat booty calls.

This sort of immature handling of weightier themes isn’t an issue native to videogames; cinema went through its own very similar adolescent period in the 60s with exploitation cinema. These sex- and violence-infused grindhouse flicks weren’t an indictment of cinema’s immaturity, but rather examples of filmmakers who were willing to explore society’s taboos. This would eventually lead to the creation of a cinematic space in which sex could be discussed and explored openly and intelligently – both in a thriving independent market and more conventionally in the mainstream.

Are these sexually stumbling games the industry’s version of exploitation film? Both strain at boundaries with no ambition beyond shocking, titillating, and entertaining, but whether or not these games are the forerunners to something more artistically accomplished only time will tell. 
I don’t know what a game dealing with sex in a provocative, sophisticated, and nuanced way actually looks like, all I know is that I want to see it. And there are a lot of others that do, too. And the fact that there are developers out there who insist on putting sexual content in their games, even with such limited results, is cause for hope.

It’s an issue that goes wider than just sex, it’s about legitimizing the medium beyond the craven ‘games are toys for children’ truism. If developers continue to include the material they believe important in their games, despite risking being marginalised as offensive or inappropriate then acceptance can be broadened. If countries continue to accept diverse ideas rejected by others then independent markets can thrive. If creators continue to believe that gamers want to be challenged, stimulated, and engaged when industry forces dictate they merely want distraction then history tells us that sometime, somewhere, something meaningful will be born.

We will just have to be patient, because heaven knows you can’t rush good sex.

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