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Adult Themes

Sean Sands | 6 Sep 2009 13:00
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These are the growing pains that we have earned by acting like hormone-drunk kids who've just discovered their father's stash of old Playboys in the attic. If we want video games to be the domain of both adults at one end and children at the other, with the discrete barriers that other media seems to have little trouble mounting, then the answer has to be approaching these themes with a bit more sophistication. Unfortunately, we gamers have something to prove before society is going to accept that this entertainment is the rightful place of adults.

There's just no credibility earned to make the case for sexuality in games within the context of a controversy magnet like GTA, which seems to almost revel in its ethically gray image. We gamers have an image problem. It is well earned and difficult to shed, but not impossible.

The problem is that we are reasonably seen as a group of people incapable of separating sex and pornography. Gaming culture has traditionally been a landscape of creatively bankrupt fetishism, and the fact that some games have on very rare occasions tackled issues of sexuality in at least passably interesting ways is lost in the eclipse of Lara Croft's bosom.

I understand why developers might hesitate to venture into the realm of sex. Most of the time, I fully admit that making these themes fit in a meaningful or interesting way doesn't make much sense. Nor should sexuality be shoe-horned where it doesn't belong. But, having a game in which complex characters have to address sexual themes beyond bed-rocking minigames or dialogue trees that end with alien on alien action would be quite desirable.

I stress, I am not asking for some kind of sex simulator. I'm talking about a main character with a strong narrative facing the potential consequences of an adulterous affair. I'm talking about two characters who are clearly attracted to each other but for whatever reason choose to abstain - gaming needs more good sexual tension.

Sex defines people. It characterizes them. How we deal with, talk about or even engage in sex can speak volumes about a person. And how the video game industry and the culture surrounding that industry deals with sex does not say particularly nice things about us.

I realize sexual immaturity is something that can not be fully excised. Most of us have become so accustomed to it, that it may be difficult to imagine an online world any other way. I may be entirely naïve for even imagining that we can collectively do better, but when we talk about making gaming more mature, more interesting and more compelling, sex can play a strong role in that.

I hate to say it, but if we as gamers want to be treated like adults, more of us are going to have to start acting like adults.

Sean Sands is a writer, a regular columnist for several gaming websites, and almost never wears his baseball hat backwards anymore. Maybe when mowing, but that's about it.

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