A question on the mind of every gaming adult should be: where’s the good sex in my games?! I, for one, am excitedly waiting for it to happen. Some games try ….most games don’t. It seems games struggle to capture the awesome of sex when they include it. At best past games awkwardly mimic human physicality, but fail to deliver the heat,passion and sensuality of a sexual moment. It’s usually portrayed as either porn or as a joke in games with rare exception.
After wondering where all the sex was, I decided to do some digging into the video game past to see how it’s been done in games I never played. Leisure Suit Larry probably popped in mind for some of you even if you never played it, but video games don’t really have a history with sex. Games just generally don’t do it and mostly never have. I’ve never played Larry, but from what I’ve seen and read it’s the adventures of one bachelor as he tries to bed various women in the game. So this isn’t really an exploration of sex so much as a simulation of how the dating game is supposed to work in real life for men (granted, with humor and sarcasm).
Following various links from Wikipedia I discovered Cobra Mission (NSFW), a sexual adventure for DOS described on the wiki as a Hentai game. It featured lots of combat and the mechanics for having sex were the same as for knocking out bad guys …and let me tell you. I’ve had sex and I’ve punched bad guys, and I have to say …the former is nothing like the latter physically or otherwise. So this sounds like a bizarre game with terrible sex to me.
Some of us wonder if games can actually deliver something genuinely romantic and sexually arousing, but the answer is obviously yes. If novels can make us swoon and invest emotionally with mere ink on paper, surely games can do much more to our senses. But how? And why have games not done this yet?
To be fair, games in America appear to be the real prudes of the industry. Japan has an entire sex game industry by the looks of it, where games of sometimes dubious and downright harmful quality routinely publish sex and outright porn. I don’t have a lot of experience with these games so I can’t say that they haven’t created some good ones. But in America that’s different. We breakdown every piece of entertainment into two categories: porn or prude. There are some political factors making it difficult to develop games with mature sexual content, but mostly it’s just not something developers seem to care about. We get cheesy romance, porn, or nothing. Yet capturing sexual excitement with immersive play seems almost destined for an interactive medium like games.
I’d even argue that seduction is already a game that humans love to play. I won’t speak for others, but those moments, words, stolen glances, smiles and feelings that seduce us are 90% of what’s awesome about the sex that follows. It’s the game that gets many of us excited about the prospect of locking lips and hips. The act of sex is sometimes the endpoint, but not always. Seduction is great on it’s own.The question is whether video games can execute this sequence of seduction which doesn’t need to involve sex itself. This to me seems like a simpler task than trying to make a sex scene non-awkward and meaningful to the player. When we think about it, this is what makes romance options in games like Dragon Age fun. While the sex scenes that follow are funny at best, the act of pursuing romance is actually exciting for players.
I think we have to stop thinking of the buttons or the d-pad as the main input device for connecting the player with the act of sex. When that happens the game reduces the act to button presses and directional combos, which is an easy error to fall into. Instead, I think a focus on the kinaesthetics is the key to pleasurable and more realistic sexual encounters in games. If the game can just connect the player with the feel of sexual excitement, it’ll have done everything games have failed at in the past by moving sex away from a mechanical act and toward a more sensual act where it belongs.
I tried to browse through the dozens of erotic titles listed on Wikipedia and one thing I learned is that sex in games has been done a lot like how sex is handled in magazines and movies. It’s treated as the subject of porn almost exclusively and developers don’t seem to view sex as mature content existing outside of pornography. Of course, games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age do a great job of trying to portray sex as an act of romance and passion, but those scenes are super rare. They’re exceptions to the norm. That says something non-flattering about the way game designers view sex as an act. This could be because of their own awkwardness with the subject, though I’m sure the technical limitations to our understanding of sex in a virtual environment don’t make this a simple task. But what these types of games lack is that sensuality that’s integral to a sexual experience. Remember: wet dreams don’t have controllers either and often lead to orgasm without so much as self-touching. It’s all in the sensations produced in our imaginations. Games in the future could contain sexual adventures unlike we’ve ever experienced!
For now, we seem doomed to simplistic portrayals of awkward sex scenes but hopefully we’ll get better at those, and it’ll lead to baby steps toward that sensuality some of us want to experience in games. Still, how hard can it be to portray sex as a dignified act between consenting adults who desperately want to fuck each other? I’d wager it’s just a matter of developers and gamers viewing sex as mature, not pornographic content.