Video games have come a long way since the days of Wolfenstein 3D, pushing visual fidelity from two-dimensional sprites to the unparalleled graphical realism of Red Dead Redemption 2.
Even as video games become more visceral in their display of violence, little to no effort has been paid to the presentation of sexuality – a topic that remains taboo, at least in the mainstream. It would be as if cinema offered only movies like Saving Private Ryan and No Country for Old Men, but nothing to the likes of Risky Business or Fifty Shades of Grey.
Video games have come far, but there is farther still for them to go. And the only games to push the boundaries (in terms of sex) are independent titles on Steam and a handful of visual novels out of Japan.
So why is that? What is it about sexuality that makes mainstream developers avoid the topic entirely?
As an entertainment medium, video games are just that – they’re games. Like board games and sports, they’re rooted in winning and losing and the accumulation of some form of high score. You can’t ‘win’ or ‘lose’ at sex, and the idea of distilling sexuality down into game with points would make the whole exercise pornographic – and pornography just doesn’t sit well with publishers and mainstream platforms.
After all, you’re not going to find a Rocco Siffredi movie on Netflix, much less at a movie theater.
Beyond that, porn games have always existed, so that isn’t the issue. The issue is that games just don’t approach sexuality in the same way they do violence—for the very same reason that games often struggle with storytelling.
Video games are not a storytelling medium, but they can be, just as games like LA Noire and Detroit: Become Human have shown. But even with those titles, there just isn’t sex in there, and the reason for that is simple: sex scenes, especially interactive ones, are hard (pardon the pun) to properly depict.
Should they be interactive, or passive? You could make a quick time event out of it like Dance Dance Revolution, and have players mash the necessary buttons to coincide with what’s happening on screen, but players might as well be watching a cutscene. Plus, that’d be kind of weird.
But even if you have all of that figured out, it doesn’t even get into the creation of a video game sex scene.
First, you need to performance-capture the actors. A pair (or more) of people have to be willing to get down and simulate sex. Given that most actors have an unwillingness to even strip down for the camera, game developers are going to be hard pressed to find ones willing to simulate full sexual intercourse.
And second, the sex would have to fit the scope of the game’s story. This can, of course, be done. But in the times it’s been tried – in Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and most recently in The Last of Us 2, the results have been nothing short of cringe-inducing, even to the point where gamers have been taking scenes from the game out of context and turning it into Twitter memes. But for all the mockery The Last of Us 2 has been getting for its sex scenes, it still deserves credit for the attempt.
In summation, you won’t find a lot of sex in video games not simply because it’s taboo, but because – for the most part – they don’t fit into the scope of the game, and the effort to insert sex scenes into the narrative ends up detracting from it in some way.
But much like sex (and playing video games), the more you do it, the better you get at it – and game developers could stand to figure out how to make these interactive experiences just as good as they are at depicting violence and death, if only they’d stop being so damn shy about it.
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