One of the first video games to feature sex was the Leisure Suit Larry series, which debuted in the late eighties. In it, protagonist Larry Laffer would attempt to seduce attractive women, unsuccessfully most of the time. He would score at least once in every game though, and you would be treated to a pixelated sex scene that was as sad as Larry himself. And sadly, modern video games are no better at portraying sex.
An example of this is The Witcher 2. It is a superb game and has garnered accolades for dealing with mature themes, including sex. But the sex in the game is little more than ridiculous. Take the relationship between the protagonist Geralt and the sorceress Triss. At some point in the game, they find themselves in a baroque room with a pool. Geralt says to Triss in his monotonic voice “you could use a bath”. She uses magic to remove her clothes (!) and is joined by Geralt in the pool, where they share an intimate moment. It is a silly scene that feels awkward, comes out of the blue and appears to be there because the game creators thought it would be a good time to please those sex-starved RPG players.
Even Canadian developer Bioware, who are well-known for featuring romances and sex in their Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, have not handled sex any better. Regarding relationships in Dragon Age: Inquisition, Bioware’s Creative Director Mike Laidlaw told IGN “Let’s not have gifts that buy affection. Let’s not have sex be the end goal.”
But hasn’t that been the problem with relationships and sex in all Bioware games to date? In the original Dragon Age, after rewarding the witch Morrigan with the right gifts (she had a penchant for jewellery) and picking the right conversation choices, you would be rewarded with a sex scene. It looked ridiculous though, the animation was stilted and it was like watching two mannequins in underwear rubbing against each other.
Dragon Age 2 improved things in the relationships department, although it was a much inferior game in terms of story and characters. When it came to sex though, it always struck me as odd that the protagonist Hawke would be hit on by almost all members of his party, male and female. While Bioware have a right to include same sex relationships in games, surely this is not a clever way of showing that sexual diversity exists… Is every single character in a party going to be both into women and men, even in a fantasy world?
This awkward portrayal of sex in video games just helps perpetuate the idea that gamers are sad, solitary men who don’t get laid in real life and who seek satisfactions in fantasy. This is sad, because nowadays the average gamer certainly isn’t the typical antisocial geek who lives in a basement and shrugs off real-life relationships. The average gamer is more like the average person these days.
So these games feature sex for a different reason, and it is the same reason why you see sex in all other media: “sex sells”. Featuring sex in games is also good for stirring controversy. American TV channel Fox ran a story about sex in the first Mass Effect game, claiming it featured “full digital nudity and sex” and that players could take part in “graphic sex”. Of course, this was just uninformed, sensationalist reporting. But the game got a lot of exposure in the media thanks to it, and I bet it didn’t hurt its sales in the slightest.
In the end though, if video game sex is integrated in a natural way and adds to the experience of playing the game, then it would probably be welcome by most sensible adults. But if it looks anything like Larry Laffer’s antics in the Leisure Suit Larry series, then video game sex scenes would be better left on the cutting room floor.