Over the last few months, the world has had a lot of things to say on the topic of sex and games, some of it good and some of it bad. At first, there was the "Hot Coffee" incident, which arose after secret sexual content was discovered in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. That, of course, facilitated the further rise of lawyer and anti-gamer, Jack Thompson, whose starkly conservative views on sexual content earned him public attention well after the scandal had passed. Close behind came a wave of attempts at game-related legislation, which stressed the sex-related concerns of politicians and parents over in-game violence.
At the same time, the gamer home front has been fighting back by shining a constructive light on the issue of sex in games. The International Game Developers Association formed a Sex Special Interest Group under experienced industry-worker Brenda Brathwaite. And developers gave the topic serious thought during the Sex in Games panel at the Women's Game Conference this October in Austin.
All this newfound publicity has begun to change the way the video game community views sexual content. Now, more than ever, we're starting to recognize that sex isn't just an underbelly, a niche market or a footnote in the gaming universe. Sex, in one form or another, permeates all videogame genres. It's an important part of human relations, of life, of storytelling, and as such, it's an important part of games.
Even sexual content has undergone something of a revolution, sparked by technological innovation and the ever-growing availability of high-speed internet connections. Online sex games seem more plentiful now than ever. Plus, the overwhelming popularity of many massively multiplayer online games - from World of Warcraft to Second Life to Sociolotron - has encouraged sexual interaction between players in a whole new way, and on a whole new scale. MMOG sex itself can be broken down into numerous subcategories and subcultures. It has even spawned a unique type of pornography, generated and sold in game.
Twenty years ago, sex in videogames was simple. The options were minimal. You dodged arrows, and to celebrate, you had your way with a Native American girl tied up against a cactus. No one asked whether you'd prefer missionary or doggy style, whether you swung toward hardcore, vanilla or maybe even furry. Technology restricted sexual content, and we were left with a generic fantasy. But both technology and sexual content have come a long way since Custer's Revenge. And as the medium becomes more intricate and more varied, the implications of sex in games become more and more complex.
Whether you love or hate sexual content in games, the fact of the matter remains: It raises some interesting questions. The big one on everyone's minds, it seems, is the question of morality.
Anti-game activists claim videogames are a bad influence, that they inspire trouble. Pro-game thinkers, on the other hand, believe that games are actually a good influence, that they have meaningful, constructive value. A lot of heated debate has passed between the two camps, and a good deal of time and energy has been spent fighting against, and conversely justifying, the inclusion of sexual material in games. People on both sides are anxious. Whatever we'd like to believe about overcoming our animal instincts, sex still has power in our culture. The question is, who will use it, and to what end?
What if children are exposed to hardcore content? What if parents decide to take a backseat role in selecting appropriate games? We need a moral code. People shouldn't be allowed to conduct themselves willy-nilly. Right?
The problem is, at its heart, sex in games isn't a question of morals. Bogged down in the rhetoric of "good" and "bad," we often overlook the issue of artistic license. Videogames are a form of art, and sexual content is therefore a manner of expression, one that's neither good nor bad.
Having accepted this, we can begin to explore sex in games as a social puzzle, not a moral one. Even if we, as a gaming community, are still unwilling to consider sex games art, that shouldn't stop us from analyzing them. Consider pornography, an entertainment medium arguably as morally ambiguous as they come. But that doesn't stop us from trying to understand it, and from that understanding glean information about ourselves as viewers.