Mar 082014

If there ever was a hot button topic, it’s sex in video games. Never mind the gargantuan amount of violence found in most video games dating back to the beginning of time, but anything even remotely sexual in a playable virtual environment has created massive amounts of public controversy. But just like anything controversial, there are major setbacks that initially put the fear into the distributor of said content, until no one cares any more. Then, anything goes.

Why has it been okay for so long to show nudity and simulated sex in movies with the appropriate rating but not okay for the same content to appear in a game? Would the Hot Coffee scandal be so scandalous today? It’s tough to say; the GTA series is so ubiquitous and began in controversy that it’s an easy target. Something about making it a minigame so the sex can be “played” on screen in a major game release must have been very threatening to certain politicians who never even saw the content. They were just perpetuating the notion that video games are harmful to children without any facts, and making the ignorant among society suddenly take issue about something they never even knew about. Don’t even get me started about The Sims.

I am speaking from an American perspective. We love violence on TV over here, yet freak out when a nipple pokes out of the screen. Obviously premium channels like Showtime and HBO make an exception, but regular cable, which is ALLOWED to show nudity after 10PM, never does for some reason, besides the fear of losing advertising.

But I digress. That’s American television, not R-Rated movies and shows on premium channels. Video games aren’t freely available by clicking the remote and selecting a channel. Yet they followed the same strict rules as television for decades. Lots of violence, no nudity, and certainly no sex.

But finally, at least in video games, this crackdown seems to be loosening. The Witcher 2 helped change the game with nudity and sex scenes no more pornographic than a scene from The Borgias, or True Detective, or any R Rated film since the 60s. Since then there have been a few bits of eroticism or at least nudity here and there, some of them not really getting the point of adding this side of life to video games. The ending to a recent Far Cry game couldn’t be comfortable with sexuality without being disturbingly violent at the same time.

So now the sex scenes in the game Thief took me by complete surprise when I reached a level centered around a brothel. If you haven’t played yet and want to avoid spoilers, you might want to stop reading, although it won’t spoil much other than the initial shock of what they show in the game. I played Thief: The Dark Project, Thief 2, and some of Deadly Shadows. When you delve into the shadowy world of the Thief series, sex is very far outside of your realm of thinking.

Bits of minor nudity on the first floor of the brothel didn’t prove to be overly titillating, but certainly seemed normal given the setting. Good on them, no big deal. Tits exist and sometimes you actually SEE them. Shortly thereafter the player character is presented voyeuristic views of very vocal scenes of erotica. In one whirlwind of content we are presented with fucking, comedy, BDSM, plot intrigue, and puzzle solving. And why not? We all experience sex in real life, certainly more so than violence. Shouldn’t we have the same excitement and eroticism, perhaps more so, in a video game?

If it’s done well. Both The Witcher 2 and Thief 2014 were developed outside of the US, and that owes a lot to the quality of the presentation of sexuality. American developers – so far – are too afraid to take that chance, and I don’t blame them. But sex is finding its way into games, and its really no big deal.

So why is this happening now? Digital distribution. Retail can no longer compete with armchair instant gratification downloads on Steam or GOG. And now Walmart can’t bitch and control the content of the games I want to play. I’m not going to get into parental control or adult rating debates. If I had kids, I would know how to control what they’re allowed to access, and I would be more concerned with violence. As an adult I’m glad I can play video games that have adult content, whether that be violence, sex, or otherwise thematic.

Of course there are plenty of user created mods that add pornographic sex to The Sims and Skyrim for example, and I wouldn’t expect developers to go down that road specifically. But as long as we as gamers have the freedom to enjoy whatever content we want in our games, whether user or developer added, without political or corporate interference, things are moving in the right direction.

 Posted by at 1:15 pm

  One Response to “Sex in Thief”

  1. A story I remember many years ago, still is oddly apt these days.

    I used to work at a game store, and the Sega Genesis, just released Sega CD.One of the initial titles was Night Trap, featuring the late Dana Plato. So when the game came in, we demo’d it, even had a kid come in with a walk-through. The game was corny as hell, and premise B-movie.

    The controversy was around the vampiric elements, and the where an actress is seen in a night dress. The vampiric elements were comical at best. They slap a collar around the neck of a victim, and an attached handle draws the blood. Which looks like really badly clear red water, that was dyed cherry.

    In Canada a writer for McCleans, a Canadian Newsweek-ish magazine. Wrote an article about the game, the controversy and how out raged she was at this game. A friend of mine was working that day that article came out. A lady came into our store, to express her outrage about the game. Made a demand that we take the game off our shells.

    He asked: So which part of the game, did you not like?
    She replied: Oh, I’ve never seen the game.

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