IGDA Forms SIG to Examine Sexual Content in Games

The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) has created a special interest group (SIG) to address adult content in video games. This is a major step forward as IGDA usually tackles such issues as quality of life, women in games and other serious topics in its SIGs. One might think that this is a direct reaction to "Hot Coffee" but that's not the case, says Sex SIG chairperson Brenda Braithwaite, who discusses the role of this new SIG in our exclusive interview.
It's ironic that the IGDA'S formation of a Sex Special Interest Group (Sex SIG) should come in the wake of the largely overblown GTA: San Andreas "Hot Coffee" scandal. Although a few M-rated games released prior to San Andreas feature more nudity than GTA's hidden-away sexual content, "Hot Coffee" is what brought the issue to a head. Sex SIG's foundation was laid well before the recent scandal, at the Game Developer's conference in March.GameDAILY BIZ spoke with Sex SIG chairperson Brenda Brathwaite (who is also Lead Designer on Playboy: The Mansion from Cyberlore Studios) about the group's goals, the timing of its formation, and how they intend to get involved politically. Adult Games for Adult GamersThe newly-formed group exists primarily to "discuss the unique issues, challenges and possibilities the adult content development community faces while sharing information with others hoping to enter the field," according to their website. The site is presented in a largely informal, blog-style format that encourages interaction and discourse. The site singles out three primary points of interest:1. The right of developers to work together to create sexually themed games free of censorship and regulation.2. A parent's need to be informed and oversee/control their children's access to content.3. The responsibility we as developers have to make sure that the content that's in the game is reflected in its rating and its rating descriptors.
"People are pointing fingers instead of rolling up their sleeves, examining the issue and saying, 'What can [we] do here?'," Brenda Brathwaite, IGDA's Sex SIG chairperson
"The Sex SIG actually got its start, so to speak, at the 'Sexuality In Games: What's Appropriate' roundtable I hosted at the 2005 Game Developers Conference," Brathwaite told GameDAILY BIZ. "After three days of roundtables, I had a huge stack of business cards from people who were developing adult content or were interested in the topic. They wanted to stay connected and to discuss the issue further. That led to an IGDA mailing list a couple months later and, finally, the formation of the SIG. The necessary process was well underway by the time 'Hot Coffee' came out. The timing was pretty incredible." She continued, "If anything, the 'Hot Coffee' issue intensified the need for such a SIG. At the same time and equally important, as an industry, we are facing a tidal wave of legislation, which seeks to restrict our creative freedom. Imagine if you were making movies and someone told you that you couldn't have any love scenes, even in your R rated movie. No 'The Graduate,' no 'Sideways,' no 'Shakespeare in Love,' and those are a few Academy Award winners that go out the wind[ow]. As developers, it's our right to explore the full range of the human experience -- responsibly -- in our games." Potentially Politically OrientedWhile Brathwaite and council members Kelly Rued and Sheri Pocilujko agree that the SIG should exist to open up a dialogue among adult content developers, retailers, and other segments of the video game industry, another primary goal of the organization is political action."Our SIG hopes to work with parents, politicians and other interested parties. If fact, one of the first things we put on our blog was a resource for parents -- one click and they can see every game with sexual content in it sorted for their particular platform. Ultimately, we all want the same thing -- age appropriate content. However, we're all going about it in different, conflicting ways. People are pointing fingers instead of rolling up their sleeves, examining the issue and saying, 'What can [we] do here?'" Brathwaite said.Brathwaite pointed to existing legislation designed to facilitate parents in their efforts to keep inappropriate content out of their children's hands. She contends that these initiatives are more harmful than helpful, because they didn't come from within the industry, and that better communication between game makers and lawmakers will be necessary to take positive steps forward."I have seen the voluntary carding system working and working well in the IEMA (www.iema.org) member stores. Other stores have some work to do. Part of our effort as a SIG is to get these retailers to step up to the plate. Legislation or legal enforcement, however, is an extreme reaction and confuses the entire issue. Consider the Illinois 'fix': now, people need to label games 18+ if they contain, among other things, humans dying or humans hurting other humans. So, this means that The Sims series is now an 18+ violent video game and sports games that account for injures are pretty much wiped out, too," Brathwaite said"What's worse is that it's not clear to me who's making these decisions. I can go to two different stores and find video games labeled differently. That just confuses the hell out of parents. At the same time, I applaud the intent - but only the intent - of the Illinois legislator's efforts. Like me, they want to keep mature content out of kid's hands. However, this is not the way to do it. As an industry, we need to reach out to politicians and work together to achieve our common goal," she continued.

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