They coo under the rhythmic thrusts of your fingers, deaf to the heaviness of their own breaths. The three of you are almost there. You tighten your grip, accelerating the movement of your moist fingertips. You slide your thumb over the circle. Then the triangle. Back to the circle. The X. Finally, you wrangle the analog stick like a madman, and their sighs of pleasure reach a fever pitch. Onscreen, a vase on the nightstand next to you tumbles to the ground, shattering. Congratulations; you’ve achieved orgasm.
All three God of War videogames released to date feature a simple, playable sex scene as a short interlude between bouts of filleting ancient warriors, mythical creatures and spawn from Hades. The first, released in 2005 for the PlayStation 2, allows the Spartan warrior Kratos to stumble upon two women in bed while exploring an enemy-infested ship. Convincing them to let you to join in the fun is as easy as pressing the L1 button. In the second installment, released in the spring of 2007, the action (again, a threesome) takes place in a bathtub, with a replica “Manneken Pis” statue suggesting what is not explicitly shown. (It’s a delightful anachronism, considering the God of War series takes place in ancient Greece and the first historical accounts of the statue date back to the medieval Southern Netherlands.) This year, in God of War: Chains of Olympus (a PlayStation Portable title), players can engage in a third threesome, this time with a statue holding a candle providing the innuendo.
“The sex minigame wasn’t anything we were going to go huge on,” Game Director Cory Barlog told Electronic Gaming Monthly after the release of God of War II. Yet these halfhearted, juvenile forays are the current apogee of playable sexual content in videogames: a simple rhythm game simulating squeezes, strokes and pelvic thrusts through a well-executed series of button presses.
That’s mainly because there are so few existing alternatives. According to Brenda Brathwaite, a professor of game design at Savannah College of Art and Design and an expert on the matter of applying sex to videogames, it’s by definition a rarity that sexual content finds its way into a mainstream titles such as God of War. That’s actually an advantage for some games: Because of the brevity of the sex scenes (they rarely last more than a minute) and the way the developers handled the material, God of War wasn’t confronted with the same moral outrage that another videogame – one with more or less the same sexual content – fell subject to only a few months earlier.
“The sex that was included in God of War didn’t feel sensationalized; it didn’t feel out of place,” Brathwaite said during a lecture at the Game Developers Conference two years ago. “The game was not marketed as an adult game, and the sexual content was not picked up by the mainstream media. It went largely unnoticed.”
Grand Theft Outrage
At the moment God of War was released in the summer of 2005, another game with sexual content stole the spotlight. A Dutch programmer by the name of Patrick Wildenborg found some unused code in the PC version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the fifth instalment of Rockstar Games’s infamous series of crime simulators. Tweaking the game to utilize the hidden code, he discovered an extra sex minigame we all know now as “Hot Coffee.”
The Hot Coffee mod played more or less the same as the minigames in the God of War series, with the key distinction that it actually showed the bodies of the two characters. By pushing the right sequences of buttons, the player increased the “pleasure meter” of his partner. There was even an extra button in place to change the position and camera angle. The mod became a scandal overnight: Retailers refused to keep the best-selling game in their racks, concerned citizense initiated class-action lawsuits and the U.S. government made inquiries into the studio. All told, the controvery cost Rockstar Games’ parent company, Take Two Interactive, millions of dollars.
Compared to even network television, the Hot Coffee sex scenes were actually pretty chaste – after all, both partners remain fully clothed for the duration of the act. Nonetheless, the Hot Coffee mod lacked the attention to detail of the minigames in the God of War series. The latter even received praise for its restraint, while the slightly more in-your-face minigame in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was aborted by its creators before it shipped.
“It’s clear that Rockstar Games was struggling itself with how to properly represent sex in a mainstream videogame,” says Jan Van Looy, a cultural researcher specializing in videogames, currently working at the university of Umea, Sweden. “I certainly wouldn’t mind if more videogames would handle sex the way the God of War games did, instead of the Hot Coffee approach. I like the way they used suggestion and symbolism. There’s too many games out there putting emphasis on graphic representation, while they ignore symbolism and other alternative ways of creating meaning.”
Wiggle that joystick
Both of these sex games, controversial or not, extend a tradition in videogame design nearly a quarter century old. The source of this tradition can be found in the days of the home computer, which used a decidedly more phallic videogame control device: the joystick. In 1985, German brothers Thomas and Markus Landgraf developed Sex Games for the Commodore 64, a title that revealed the 14- and 16-year-olds’ vividly raunchy imagination.
In Sex Games, the player controls a male avatar, presented in cartoonish 8-bit sprites, who, through the continuous movement of the joystick, humps a representation of a female. The player must max out his partner’s “lust” meter by frantically wiggling the joystick before his own “potency” meter (actually just a timer) reduces to zero. There are only five levels in the game, each portraying a different position, and by the time the player reaches the final stage, he commands a scene of group sex.
The two brothers claim they released the game as a parody of sports videogames of the era like Decathlon and Summer Games, which encouraged the same type of relentless joystick abuse to simulate running, swimming or rowing.”For a 16-year-old, it was only a short leap of thought from the obscene joystick wiggling of Summer Games to the idea of producing a rhythm-based sex/sports videogame,” says Markus Landgraf, now an engineer at the European Space Agency.
According to Landgraf, it’s feasible that Sex Games and other pornographic games of that era could have seeped into the collective consciousness of other adolescents, who would later become the game designers of today. After all, artists are often influenced – directly or indirectly – by the work of those who came before them. “I guess there were thousands of black-market copies of Sex Games out there for each copy we actually sold,” claims Landgraf. “The game went everywhere. There is a good chance that some of the now grown-up game designers have learned to love the joystick shaking in their younger years, and are now putting it in their games.”
You the man!
The sex minigames in God of War and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas may have inherited something else from Sex Games: their chauvinistic male undertone. Yes, the women’s sexual pleasure in all four sex scenes is a prominent factor (and consistent with the sexual culture of our day and age), but your bedmates’ submissive commentary does little more than enhance the machismo of the games’ lead characters. San Andreas rewards the player’s prowess in virtual sex through such exclamations as “Oh yeah baby, you the man!” and God of War‘s Kratos earns a “Thank you, milord” after he has thoroughly gratified his partners.
There’s still plenty of work to be done on the way sex minigames are implemented in future releases. “An important question is whether the public even wants to see playable sex in a mainstream videogame,” says Van Looy. “The fact that it’s playable makes it instrumental, and that is a huge obstacle: The instrumentality makes it slide way too easily into the realm of pornography. And that’s a dealbreaker: You rarely see full-on sexual intercourse in a mainstream film – the sex is more often suggested rather than shown. By that standard, I’m more convinced by the way the God of War games handled this material.”
Cory Barlog has mentioned that his team will likely expand the sexual content in the next installment of the God of War series. According to Brathwaite, that’s not a moment too soon: As subtle as the God of War sex minigames may be, they’re still just tacked onto the core gameplay. “In other forms of media, there’s a build-up,” she says. “The romantic tension, the development of intimacy … that sort of stuff is rarely done in games.”
Ronald Meeus is a freelance writer residing in Belgium. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.