Here’s the second part of our 2 part exclusive feature on Sexual and Explicit Content in Video Games.
Sexual exploration and interaction is also commonplace on the Internet, particularly in online virtual environments known as ‘Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs). While some people admit engaging in little to no fetishist activity, it is a decided mainstay of online sexual encounters. Some people do not use MMOGs strictly for online sexual encounters, but as a means of attention and spectatorship. Whether people subscribe to the in-game visual aides or not, their sexual gratification strongly relies on signs, symbols, words and connotations that evoke real-world emotions. Regardless of how realistic or fantastical the situation is, online sex is a voluntary activity. As a result, there is an inherent freedom in its practice. People are less restricted by cultural assumptions or real-life dangers such as injury or disease. As a result, sex in virtual worlds is a common practice, and though it cannot replace actual sexual intercourse, it is used by many participants to enhance their existing and potentially fruitful real-world sexual activity. While the entire practice relies on fantasy and semiotics, it is rarely a substitute for real-life interpersonal relationships. Virtual environments are perfect for a person who is experimenting with sexual experiences and identity, but are they justified?
On such a delicate matter, it’s wise to take the opinion of the experts. Brenda Brathwaite, (Savannah, GA) is the perfect choice in this case. Her contributions to the field include directing game design teams, designing and writing several top selling games such as Playboy: The Mansion, Dungeons & Dragons Heroes, and Wizardy 8, which has received many accolades including Computer Games Magazine, 2001 RPG Game of the Year. Brathwaite has been a regular contributor to Power Play Magazine, CGDC Today Newspaper, Computer Games Entertainment Magazine, and Strategy Plus Magazine. Recently she has come out with a book entitled ‘Sex in Video Games’ and is currently holding conferences in various American cities regarding the same. While the impression of the book in the first glance might be of the left wing, against the issue, in truth she is a supporter of the glam side of games. In the book she provides an insiders’ analysis of the sex in games and helps to formulate guidelines and answers questions like “where do we draw the line” and “is it worth the investment”. The book also explores past and present litigation with regard to censorship as well as the industry’s response to it. Plus it includes a wide range of interviews with industry leaders and case studies on specific platforms, including an interview with the “hot coffee” developer. The book is actually about the ways of developing games on the lines of sexuality while staying inside the boundary of censorships. The book actually has a chapter on reaching the Market – Distribution Channels for “M” And “AO” Games.
To quote Brenda from the book:
“Seeking to understand this emerging trend, developers, publishers, retailers, and consumers are asking themselves: When is sex appropriate in a game? How far is too far? What will it mean for the product? For its distribution? For my company? For me? Do sexual content games sell better?
Are they generally profitable? So far, there are no definitive answers to these questions.
Sex in Video Games provides insight into this issue and presents guidelines and answers by exhaustively studying the history of sexual content in games and the games industry as well as public and political reaction to it. In addition, the book considers ethical issues, parental and retailer responsibility, and explores the industry attempts at self-regulation and the growing issue of censorship.”
Moreover Brenda is also the founder and chair of the International Game Developers Association’s Sex Special Interest Group, which has as its goal the welcoming of “all developers actively creating or interested in the development of adult sexual content.” The SIG also aims to promote discussion about the adult content development community, and “the unique issues, challenges, possibilities it faces.” So while on one hand she is trying to define some alternate ways of publishing games within the boundaries of law, she also agrees with the ESRB ratings and considers the role of the censorship as a vital element in gaming industry.
Three fronts can be constructed to face the issue of sex in games. The first one is of those who dislike it, hate it, condemn it and actually raise their voice against such degradation of morals and social chaos. These are the very people who raise their voice against violence, vulgarity and gore driven content and they construct their front not only against games, but against almost every area where they discover such issues: let it be movies, music videos, magazines, songs, paintings, printed media etc. All in all they mean to purify the whole personal entertainment world. God bless them if they succeed in doing so, the Puritan World would return and the word Entertainment will go obsolete. This front largely depends upon the aesthetic and moral values of our system and especially in our Indian tradition; one can find examples of such stereotypes more than above average. But being an Indian we also gain a plus in the case of games. As the Occident has already woken to the moral issues as violated by games, our Indian parents are yet to find out the sexual content of games. For them the computer still stays a storehouse of porn movies and images and that’s the only infection their kids might get from it. As for games…. well they are harmless entertainment wasting their kids’ time. A little they know of that their good ol’ son is actually pimping hookers in his broadway. Whereas complaining about too much of an issue is considered a waste of energy, somehow all of us will agree that these people might have a point somewhere against the sexual content of games. What is the point of having Booth babes for that matter? What about Vince Desi’s spree of using postal babes for promoting his game ‘Postal’ under the Running with Scissors banner? Just as too much of complaining is bad, too much of sexualness is bad too. There is a need to choose the issue and define your priorities. You can’t just go and speak out against everything you see in lesser clothes and you can’t put every single hooker in a game either.
A classic case is the hot coffee mod in GTA SA. Now this was a mode created by an individual, independent of Rockstar. Whoever wanted to see what is was, downloaded the mode and installed it. Most of them simply tried it to see what it was. Then we heard a lot of protest against it. Now who are these people? How come they found it out? The mod was an extra function, not shipped with the game, so if they raised a voice against it, they must have installed it themselves. Doesn’t that make them guilty of the very issue they are condemning? Moreover games are rated according to their subject material. It’s your choice to buy it or not. It makes no sense protesting against something you secretly enjoyed earlier.
The second front is of those who simply love this assault of sexual commercialism in games. Their favorite job is to surf porn on the net and getting an extra dose in the games is an added plus for them. Hearing a complaint against the sex in games from these users is farther than a remote possibility, instead you might hear them complaining against the people who build the first front in first place. These are the people who live on gore and immoral doses of carnivorous material and Internet serves its purpose to them. Maybe these are the very people who are actually the bad fish in the pond… or ocean for that matter.
Then comes the third front which boasts of having the most of the gaming consumers. These are the people lying in the neutral area of not love but certainly not hate. They play games for the love of it, not because of the sexual images shipped with it. If they discover a sexual source, they might even enjoy it, but not having it won’t make their world shrink either. These are the people who enjoy the games at the most and these are the very people for whom games are developed. To these people topics like these might sound stupid and they might even wonder why is everyone so petrified?
So these three fronts define a different kind of psychology and work on their own discourses. You have got to find your place in the social schema tab and act accordingly. I think that just as choosing to play a game is based on sexual content is an individual choice so is the responsibility for doing so. The gamers are their own judges, they are going to play the game with questionable content, they are going to be the one to face its outcomes, they themselves are going to be the casualty, so its them only who can decide their own boundaries. If they choose to buy such a game, and play it they will hold the responsibility for the effects of the causes. There is a need to get mature, a need to open up our choices and to think clearly.
The developers will keep providing such material, after all they are not doing a social service, they are business minded companies who sell their products to consumers. It’s not their job to preach morality and aesthetics; it’s our own to tell ourselves to hold onto our choices. If you still feel like blaming companies, try it on EA.
– Bobby Sandhu