If you’ve ever played the The Sims or watched someone else play - you’ll know the concept of a ‘woohoo’- when two sims (who have a romantic relationship) have sex. Oddly enough, this was my first ever introduction to sex and that fact still never fails to amuse me to this day. However, as I grew older I began to notice a particular pattern in the main forms of media I consume.
I mean, you look at sex in TV, movies and books and you have some relatable awkward first times or artistically seductive scenes to watch - content that doesn’t (always) feel weird to see, nor does it completely feel like it’s grinding the story to a halt. In video games though? You’re looking at some grade-A bullshit when it comes to sex.
Let’s be honest, video games are a relatively new medium compared to film and books, only starting to pick up steam around the 80s. The rise of arcade games and MUD’s (online text-based games) on the gaming scene allowed people to try exploring sexual themes. Funnily enough, MUD’s were actually where cyber-sex originated! In 1985, Nintendo released their first home console and they were so determined to maintain the integrity of their family-friendly image that they prohibited games with sexual content from being released on the NES. From that point onwards, consoles and mainstream games, in general, would remain mostly free of explicit sexual content. Until recently.
Games on consoles like Mass Effect and God of War 3 have attempted to include explicit content in gameplay. Mass Effect didn’t completely flop with this, but at the same time, sex in the game was weird to watch. This would be because of the ‘Uncanny Valley Effect’ - as something starts to look more human-like, there is a point at which people start to feel it looks wrong. Understandably, watching two high graphic humanoid beings having sex in a game can feel a little creepy to watch.
It’s the mechanised aspect of gameplay though, that makes it less than subpar, as to play a game you need input from the player to make the game work. Mainstream games such as The Witcher, and God of War have introduced sex as a game mechanic. Like in God of War, you skip out on the inevitable embarrassment of an awkward sex scene, but instead, you’ll be treated to a load of shaking bed frames, jumping candlesticks, and a particularly memorable scene that sees a fountain statue… well, spurt. All this courtesy of ill-chosen quick time events.
Not to say all sex in video games is bad. Assassins Creed: Origins and The Witcher 2 are standouts for how sex can be done right in a game without sacrificing immersion in gameplay or by sacrificing the pacing of the story. I think that such an interactive medium was always going to have trouble with this particular topic without it feeling gratuitous, but the stiff animations, cringe-worthy dialogue, the curious application of quick-time prompts and exploitive nature of some of the sex scenes definitely are not helping its cause. Sometimes sex can be important to the overall game, but I think developers need to consider that if they can’t find a way to incorporate it seamlessly - maybe the sex doesn’t need to be there.