Cult of the Turtle

Joe Tortuga's musing on life,tech and gaming

Transgression: Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery

January 28, 2010

There is a lot to say about sexuality in video games, from character models to treating romantic partners like vending machines.  The transgression series is primarily interested in player action though, so this post is about sexual actions the player can take.   This is a much smaller subset of actions in games, and I share with Damon Brown (author of Porn and Pong) the concern that games haven’t quite figured out a good way of representing sexual actions.

It occasionally astounds me that we have so many games where killing and murder are rampant, but in which sex and relationships are an afterthought or a non-thought.  Then I turn on the television and watch it for a while; things aren’t that different there.  I get that the “games are for kids” meme is still very strong, but I”m happy to have M-rated games.  I’m not surprised that AO-ratings are death knell just like NC-17 is for movies, and I wish it were otherwise.

This series is largely about taking societally unacceptable actions and encapsulating them in game mechanics, to allow the player to experience something liminal, something they wouldn’t do in the real world.  Most people aren’t going to break into a house and rob it, or kill legions of enemies — or even murder a few people.  In some ways, though, almost any sex (even societally acceptable forms of it) falls into a transgression if it allows the player to perform it as an action.

Even the notorious sex scene in Mass Effect, which was a cut scene — even if it required player action to unlock — ruffled feathers in America.  And got the game some more publicity, of course.  Hot Coffee, was another thing entirely — even if it had to be hacked free of the game itself.

Of course, there are plenty of games out there (check out the Newgrounds Mature section if you doubt me) where you can play games that are essentially like Hot Coffee.  While Brenda Brathwaite was the chair of the IGDA Sex & Games SIG, she posted a different sex game every day for months.  Most of these fall into the “poke the doll” category, and some aren’t consensual at all.

Murder is not particularly consensual either, so I don’t think we can dismiss these games on that point, without revisiting other games.  Personally, I find most poke-the-doll, peek-a-boo, and doll dress up games to be pretty boring.  They fail by being uninteresting games, with nothing to support them but prurient interest.

Poke-the -Doll games usually have the player taking some action (usually sliding the mouse back and forth rhythmically), but most sex games don’t even do that. There are strip-poker style games whether the base mechanic is a gambling game, bejeweled, tetris (or one decent one I saw many years ago: breakout.)  There are interactive novels that involve progressive nudity and sex scenes, without much in the way of player interaction as well.  Then there’s Adult Interactive Fiction which works like other interactive fiction, but with a more mature subject matter, and a wider section of verbs available to the player.

This intersection of gaming and sexuality is interesting to me — and one of my primary motivations in playing Dragon Age: Origins, with the way it handles sex, relationships and sexuality.  The main game that I have been working on is an Adult Interactive Fiction, but even there, I’ve tried to establish a sexual relationship (and I’m interested in avoiding a commodity model of sexuality).  That game is very short — designed for a “micro” competition, and I don’t see changing that structure for this game (but I do see finishing it).

The other thing that makes games and sexuality compelling to me is that games are an entertainment where the player takes action.  We don’t passively experience them — and we can alter the outcomes, or path taken through the game.  As players we do things, and thus become complicit in what happens.  This experience is important, I think, both in giving games meaning, but also in letting us experience and do things we would never do on our own.  Things like theft, murder, and adultery.

I would never engage in any sort of non-consensual sexuality, yet I’ve done it in game. Just as people write about these things, so that we may think about them, or experience, or fantasize about them, we should have these sorts of games.  And just like I don’t thing you should push people off rooftops, or choke them with bats, I don’t think you should rape people either.

Yet those games, and those transgressions exist.  They represent a rejection of some social order, certainly.  Do they get you into a liminal space? Does that make it worthwhile? I’m not sure, but I think it’s worth thinking about.  Sexuality is part of the human experience, and fantasy is a broad playground of things that stimulate the human mind.

It’s certainly a hot button issue, though.  And that, too, makes it worthwhile to talk about.