Sex is here to stay in video games
But industry is trying to figure out how to deal with it.
By Renuka Rayasam
Thursday, October 27, 2005
With the commotion over illicit content in video games still simmering, about 150 members of the game industry talked sex Wednesday evening at the Women's Game Conference in Austin.
Sex is not new to video games, but it remains taboo when compared with other entertainment, said Brenda Brathwaite, lead designer of "Playboy: The Mansion" for Cyberlore Studios. The Women's Game Conference is part of the Austin Game Conference, which attracts about 2,000 people from the industry to Austin. The Austin Game Conference runs through Friday at the Austin Convention Center.
Earlier this year, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., called for an investigation into the gaming industry after an explicit but hidden sex scene was discovered in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" that developers said was not meant to be seen. Programmers posted software on the Internet to make the content widely available, resulting in the game's developer, Rockstar Games, pulling it from shelves and releasing a new version.
Brathwaite compared the controversy to similar panics in the 1930s in the film industry and with comic books in the 1950s.
As a relatively new industry, video games still are viewed with suspicion by regulators and parents, she said. And as sex in games become more pervasive, the industry will continue to attract attention.
Even if developers don't intend for a game to have sexual content, as an interactive medium, gamers can turn any game into a sex game, she said.
"As long as you have two (characters) on screen and a chat room, you will have sex in games," she said.
Brathwaite said studios should accurately disclose game content to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the industry's self-regulated group that decides game ratings. But retailers should not sell games labeled adult-only to minors, and parents should monitor children's behavior, she said.
"There's a huge, gaping hole where responsibility should be," Brathwaite said.
Sex has been a part of the industry since its early days. Suggestive messages were a common part of the 1981 text-only PC game called "Softporn Adventure" in which players attempted to seduce women.
With improved graphics and the player interaction during online games, sexual content saturated the industry.
After the release of "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" in 1996, the goal of developers became "How hot can you make the girl?" Brathwaite said.
Women in skimpy outfits also are a fixture at game industry trade shows often used to sell new games.
Today sexual content in video games ranges from educational, such as games that teach kids about sexually transmitted diseases, to the extremely lewd. But much of the content falls in between.
"The Sims" — in which players simulate real experiences, such as meeting mates, falling in love and having kids — is the No. 1-selling game among women. And there are several other online games in development that focus purely on relationships. The challenge for developers is to create games that emphasize relationships rather than visuals.
"We're not close to the front line of story telling," Brathwaite said. "We haven't told our version of 'The Graduate' or 'Sideways' yet."