Cultivating such an emotional attachment is a difficult task, but not an impossible one, as can be attested to by the legions of fans who have mourned the loss of their favorite characters over the years. If the ability to create both emotional attachments and sexually desirable characters exist, why are they rarely, if ever, combined into a single product? It may be because the power of emotional attachment ensnares not only the players of games, but the developers, as well.
Tomonobu Itagaki, the creator of the Dead or Alive series, once explained in an interview that Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball was "not really a sex game," and that he thought of its characters as "like daughters." "What kind of father," Itagaki asked, "would want to show his daughters naked?" When such feelings of pride are generated by what are essentially polygonal china dolls, imagine the feelings that might develop for a character with whom a player could begin to fall in love. What kind of lover would want to show his beloved naked?
But what kind of father chases suitors away just as his daughter is blossoming into womanhood? The idea of creating emotionally interesting characters is still fairly new, and developers are filled with the passion of youth and its concomitant jealousy. This jealousy, like many adolescent passions, is misdirected. Developers must realize that they're making lovers not for themselves, but for their audience. They're fathers, not suitors, and the most important lesson a father will ever learn is how to let go.
No matter how hard we try, gaming won't stay sequestered forever. Hot Coffee was only the mainstream gaming industry's first clumsy attempt at sex. It was awkward, embarrassing and everyone involved wishes it had never happened. But the awkwardness will pass, the embarrassment will fade, and this newfound interest certainly won't go away. Gaming is going to want to get better at sex, and the only way to get better is to practice.
Charles Wheeler is a game developer currently working at gamelab in New York City.