Sex, Violence & Video Games

Or, Why The Games Industry Needs To Grow Up.

Why is it that, when it comes to video games, sex is still a taboo topic yet violence is widely accepted?

I first noticed this phenomenon back in my days of working for GAME. Parent would bring Game A up to the counter, with the intention of buying it for Child. I would calmly explain that Game A is rated 18+, and not suitable for Child due to the violence. Parent would usually offer some kind of terribly excuse along the lines of “Oh, well, he’ll just end up playing it anyway” and buy Game A.

That is, of course, unless Game A is GTA or perhaps Saint’s Row and I happened to mention that prostitutes were involved. Parent would then be shocked and horrified, and refuse to buy Game A for Child.

Why is this?

It’s not just parents, either. Unless it’s of the No Russian variety, it seems that gamers rarely bat an eyelid in regards to violence in their favourite past time. But, the moment we get something sexual, all eyes are upon it and we kind of freak out a little bit.

Take the Tomb Raider ‘rape’ debacle, for instance.

The scene itself shows Lara being slightly caressed on her hip by a man who’s holding her captive. Then, she fights back and, if you complete the QTE correctly, she kills him. While presenting the scene, which is implied to show “close physical intimidation”, the developer said that Lara would be a victim of rape.

Now, to say that this caused a bit of a kerfuffle would be an understatement.

In my opinion, what should have happened is that the developer should have said “Sorry, I didn’t mean that!”, we should have all watched the scene and gone “Well, nothing wrong there” and then gone about our business.

Instead, it spawned weeks of discussion. The scene itself shows nothing more than a slight caress and, I think, is successful in portraying Lara’s predicament and motives without becoming crude or offensive.

And just look at some of the ways that sex is shown in video games.

In God Of War we have those cringe-worthy QTEs where the camera pans away and we get to look at some innuendo-filled scenery while some woman moans and groans in the background.

In Saint’s Row we get to beat our enemies to death with giant purple dildos.

In Star Wars: The Old Republic, homosexual characters are relegated to their own private planet.

Splatterhouse featured buttplug chairs which could be used as weapons.

And you all know exactly what I mean by Hot Coffee.


I think that the games industry’s biggest problem is that it needs to grow up. Sex is used in games as either a joke or as another form of violence and when a negative story about it makes the news, things are blown entirely out of proportion. We’re not used to seeing sex handled well or at all in games so, when it does appear, we sometimes don’t know how to react to it.

Gaming is still a young medium, and it is still trying to find its feet and discover how to tell its stories. Developers and writers are still figuring out how best to handle difficult issues in their games and this will understandably lead to the odd slip-up.

This bring me back to my original point and might explain why parents (or Fox News) react the way they do. When they hear that there is sexual content in a game, they’re likely to have heard of Hot Coffee or pornographic games from Japan instead of the games which are doing it correctly. Unfortunately, the violence is more prevalent and has been the focus of studies and debate so parents may feel far more informed.

As I said, there are developers out there who are handling sex in games correctly. Or, at least, to a greater degree than the rest. Despite the issues around Makeb, Bioware are applauded time and time again for creating touching scenes which focus on the relationships between characters, as well as their approach to gay and lesbian characters. Sure, sometimes these scenes may feel a little forced, but the approach and intent behind them is admirable.

Similarly, the scene in David Cage’s Heavy Rain (SPOILERS AHEAD!) between Ethan and Madison was slammed for being awkwardly written, directed and acted, but it was a bold attempt at portraying sex in a realistic and mature way.

So, what am I trying to say here?

Hopefully, the more that sex is featured in games, the better it will become, as well as become more accepted and open to debate and rational discussion. That said, we should continue to challenge the levels of violence in games and not stop that just because we’re used to seeing it. As I mentioned previously, video games are still young and I think that we need to allow them more time to mature, grow and develop.

Obviously, this is just my opinion, and I have made sweeping generalisations for brevity. I’ll be more than happy to jump into a discussion with you all!

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  1. Cory

    using barrels as censorship is hilarious.

  2. Sarah

    I thought so too!

  3. Ktest

    Issues like this have so many different facets to discuss, it’s hard to know where to begin. I think you’ve touched on most of them, but I will ramble on for the sake of conversing.

    One part of the issue is the Buyer of the product not doing research into the game (product) they’re buying. Especially in the case of a Parent buying a game for a Child.
    If a Parent buys a game for their child and is shocked by the content in it, then they’re perhaps misunderstanding what their role as a parent is. If they’re adverse to the content for what ever reason (be it religious, morally, or just being prude), then it is their responsibility to vet the product before disseminating it to their offspring.
    “Well, I bought this arsenic for my daughter’s lunch, but I didn’t know it was going to KILL her”
    You can’t, as a good parent or guardian, stumble into things blindly and then act ‘holier than thou’ when you complain about it after the fact.
    A question you could add to this is “What is the harm in exposing your children to sexual behaviour?”. Granted, there are ways of approaching subjects like sex to children at the right time and place, but what do you gain from shielding your children from it? Face it, it’s a fact of life that if your child grows up fine with a well rounded view of the word and isn’t mentally held back by the narrow social view you’ve given them of life, they’re probably going to have sex at some point. Isn’t it better they know how to do it safely and properly?

    As for people who aren’t parents who complain about sex and violence, I don’t think there’s much to save them. They’re somewhat akin to people who think that homosexuality is an abomination. Some people just have a warped conservative view of the world and, despite the thing in question not affecting their lives in ANY way, they feel they have some moral right to complain about it and bar what is natural from their world.
    We can only hope that these types of people either grow up and learn the life is a thing and it just happens, or with any luck they’ll get so frightened by their own shadow they’ll crawl back into their small myopic caves.

    As for people just finding sex in video games as something to laugh at, I think that’s just indicative of the audience. This is going to be a generalisation and I apologise for that, but you all know what I mean (hopefully). People who laugh or shy away from sex and intimacy being used as a method of story telling or character development, are often quite immature either in body or mind. This can only be dealt with by waiting for them to grow up or hoping that continued use and viewing of such scenes will make them get used to it (as you rightly said).

    The mainstream media and news outlets will always jump on topics like this. Whether it be ‘Catcher in the Rye’ causing people to shoot each other or ‘World of Warcraft’ causing terrorist rampages. People will always cling to a good tragedy story and pin it on whatever is the new and scary taboo subject of the times. That’s just how news entities work and that’s just how people (sheeple) work.

    We can only hope that people just get used to the fact the this sort of stuff happens in life. Heck, sex is kind of the whole reason we’re here, biologically. To pass on our genes, that is what life is all about. If you’d like to try and have a human race without sex, go right ahead. I’ll be happy to have you out of my gene pool.

    I suppose the only thing I can add to the subject that bothers me is the continued sexualisation of women. When women are often used as the objects of desire in scenes like this. As if they are some kind of empty shell to be used and thrown away. Where are the scenes of men being used as an emotionally void object only there for the main character to ‘shag’ and then move on? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, and yes a lot of good scenes show the characters as equals in the relationship. But in general, I feel it’s a bit one-sided. The more powerful women there are in this world, the happier I’ll be!
    (I’ve been watching a lot of ‘Mad Men’ lately, so this may have caused me to go on a bit of an anti-sexism rampage.)

    Sorry for the massive tangent and apologies again for any generalisations made, they are merely to serve as a point of conversation. I think it all made sense. Maybe.

  4. I think to a greater extent the issue is more one of hypocrisy and insecurity when it comes to the human body and expressing sexuality in North America. We are more than happy to use the suggestion of sex, via scantily clad women or ample side boob and butt shots, suggestive music what have you to sell media….but the minute an actual nipple is shown or undeniable intercourse is taking place people go ape shit.

    The one sided nature of women being overly sexualized while men for the most part are immune is a whole other can of worms. I’d have no problem watching or playing a piece of media where the good looking BF needs saving. The gender or sexuality on display only matters to me in so far as its serves a purpose with some though behind it.

    Having been around this globe of ours I can tell you that many places are far more open and secure with the human body and sexuality entering the public sphere and seem to be much better off for it. Nude beaches are only “tantalizingly deviant” for people who are repressed. The rest of the people are just enjoying a day at the beach.

    People are so insecure about their own bodies, an aspect our culture and media exacerbate, that the idea anyone else could be perfectly comfortable with theirs or is expressing sexuality openly and maturely is seen as dirty or the hallmark of a less than respectable individual. The ton of shit people drop on porn stars, strippers, models, risky film directors and everyone else who dares suggest that sexuality is something great and wonderful and not deserving of shame speaks to the sad state of affairs we live in.

    I started off life as a fat kid. I was a fat teenager. I had body issues. Then I got sick and was suddenly too thin. More body issues. Then I lived through invasive tests and humiliating procedures. I’ve stood naked before medical professionals than I care to admit. But somewhere along the way it stopped mattering to me.

    I can see past someones weight. I don’t really have any more preconceived notions of what beauty is and what is appropriate in terms of nudity and sexuality. I can applaud someone who takes a risk and going nude like The Sessions. That was a movie where sex was a major part, nudity was open and yet Helen Hunt was divine. Not as a sexual icon or punch line, but as someone secure in how that expression would affect and propel the story. That’s the kind of maturity we need to see more of. In games be it through the gang at Quanitic Dream, BioWare or wherever.

    I think the world would be a much better place if we were all open and happy about what we have and what we show and a little more concerned about the fact people get a rise out of watching people be dismembered or watching yet another murder.

  5. Ridcullys Hat

    I don’t think I can add anything else to this that hasn’t already been said apart from that when a colleague was talking about getting LA noire for their boy I mentioned its age rating and they said the usual ‘well they’ll probably play it anyway’ I then stated how I’d framed and arrested a child killer/rapist type to which their jaw promptly hit the floor. I then told them how mature themes run throughout the game, such as these. Parents still believe that even with these age ratings, games are for kids. I am not allowed to play certain (ok MOST) games when the little ones are about. Due to language and the like, I made the mistake of playing resi evil 6 thinking that my 1 year old was asleep, the next thing I know she’s staring at me, horrified by some giant grotesque and I’m feeling guilty thinking that this will be something for the therapist later in her life. I now don’t play when they’re around unless its suitable or they’re in bed. Being a gamer and a parent means that we know what to expect and are educated through our love of the medium but the media and the stigma that games have since time immemorial is something that will take a long time to get through

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