The Ryan Lambie Column: what’s wrong with sex in videogames?

74 per cent of parents are worried about the content of videogames. But why shouldn't games be allowed to have a bit of sex in them?

Mr Ryan Lambie's amazing joypad.

Games are in trouble again. A snippet from last Friday’s issue of The Sun:

“Video games now feature more and more sex as well as violence and swearing, censors said yesterday. Games with sexual elements like the Grand Theft Auto series — in which players can buy virtual prostitutes — are on the rise. Sue Clark, of the British Board of Film Classification, said: ‘Sexual activity in games is becoming more common.’

Her comments came as a YouGov poll revealed 74 per cent of parents were worried about the content of some video games.

A proposal to give games similar ratings to films and DVDs is being considered.”

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There are two things that irritate me about this story. I’ll deal with the last one first, since it’s the most obvious: games do already have a rating system. To say they haven’t is downright misinformation. Pick up a copy of GTA IV, Halo 3 or any other Anne Diamond-baiting title, and you’ll see a gigantic ’18’ or ’15’ emblazoned on every face of the box. Reaching for the nearest game I have to hand, and I can immediately see there’s a fifteen certificate the size of a dinner plate on the front; on the back there’s another one, with the legend “contains strong violence” printed next to it in ten point Helvetica Bold. If that isn’t a clear message to the average parent that the game isn’t suitable for young children, I don’t know what is.

But all this is by-the-bye. The real cause of my ire is the insinuation that sexual activity in games is some sort of new low for the medium.

For one thing, the depiction of sex is something that’s been lurking on the periphery of gaming for decades; back in 1982, a company called Mystique released a brace of low-rent, puerile sub-porn games for the Atari 2600. The most infamous of these was Custer’s Revenge, a game which would have sunk without trace were it not for its morally reprehensible premise (the famous general forcing himself on a bound native American woman).

There are plenty of other examples of sex or nudity to be found throughout gaming’s history; the ‘adult’ software for the Spectrum and C64 sold in small ads at the back of Eighties computer magazines; the odd little strip Mahjong games that sprouted like mushrooms in Japanese bars in the late eighties/early nineties; Sierra’s long-running Leisure Suit Larry series that appeared to conclude with the coolly received Magna Cum Laude.

What really got the media into an anxious lather was the discovery of the Hot Coffee mini-game tucked away in GTA: San Andreas in 2005. This tiny scene – which showed the player enjoying an intimate moment with his girlfriend – sparked a wave of protest across the US, and cost Rockstar millions of dollars when they were forced to recall offending copies.

Hoping to ride the crest of a similar wave of public moralising, America’s Fox News were quick to condemn Mass Effect in January last year. So quick, in fact, they forgot to verify their facts before going to air; the screen emblazoned with ridiculous slogans such as ‘SEXBOX’ and ‘NEW VIDEO GAME SHOWS FULL DIGITAL NUDITY’, the show’s guests began pontificating at length about Mass Effect‘s damaging influence on children and teenagers. In reality, Mass Effect doesn’t contain ‘full nudity’ at all; the brief sexual encounters are, if anything, tastefully done – far more so than the average fifteen rated movie.

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But why shouldn’t Mass Effect – or any game aimed at a responsible, adult audience – depict full nudity or (whisper it) a consensual sex scene or two?

I’d even suggest that we need more sex in video games to balance out all the violence. Violence is getting old. We’ve had our genre equivalent of Arnie and Sly a thousand fold – we’ve had the guns, the explosions, the knives and the blood. Violence is only the byproduct of repressed sexual rage anyway – if you don’t believe me, just watch Rambo’s latest outing, where instead of bedding potential love interest Julie Benz, he fires a gigantic, highly phallic machine gun into the congregated ranks of the Burmese army. 236 souls could have been saved, if only poor old John could have got his freak on.

Gaming needs its own 9½ Weeks, Emmanuel, Caligula or Last Tango In Paris. It needs sexual obsession, passion, acres of rutting, sweaty flesh. For too long, games have been about visceral brutality; why not a bit of blissful carnality instead?

A pioneering team of developers to blaze a trail and create a whole new genre – why not Valve, who seem incapable of making a duff title? The First Person Shagger or something. It’s what the Quicktime Event was invented for.

And if making love not war doesn’t tickle the gaming public’s fancy, at least it’ll give moral bastions like the Daily Mail and Fox News a highly amusing case of the willies.

Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.

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