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A new Leisure Suit Larry game came out this year. That’s not necessarily unusual as this particular game series has existed for over 30 years. It is interesting in that it says a lot about video games and their relationship with sex. For every step that video games take towards representing sex in all its forms they seem to take a certain amount of steps back too.
Sex in video games is more prevalent in 2018 than it ever has been before mostly because video games are more prevalent than ever before. Video games are maturing and so too are their attitudes. Every original God of War game had some form of pornified sex scene. In the 2018 soft reboot Kratos has a son with a woman he loves. A far cry from gaining experience points for banging Aphrodite. Elsewhere the online store Steam took a winding path to finally allowing games with explicit sexual content onto its platform. Sony meanwhile took the opposite route basically banning certain games with any explicit sexual content. 2018 has been a weird year for sex, especially sex in video games.
Next to eating, breathing and sleeping sex is a vital part of keeping the human race alive. Without it we cease to exist and until cloning or digital consciousness becomes popular we’re going to keep having it. So it follows that video games depict it in all manner of ways. The schoolboy attitude towards it will always be there. Muttering the word “Nice” every time the number 69 appears in 2018’s Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry is exhausting but it has to be done. But sex isn’t just about the gorilla brain approach to reproduction and neither is sex in video games.
This year’s E3 had the most perfectly animated kiss yet rendered in a game. The Last of Us Part II (featured image) debuted a new kind of carefully, lovingly rendered affection. The squash of a nose against a cheek and the movements in a face we’re often ignorant of when we watch a live action kiss. It was more romantic than sexual but those two things often walk hand in hand and the fact that this was a kiss between two teenage lesbians made it all the more important.
LGBT+ games have had a hard time of it. Ellie’s queerness in The Last of Us was only acknowledged in the game’s too short but powerful DLC Left Behind. LGBT+ games are also often the receivers of the short end of the stick especially on Steam. Numerous games – often featuring gay men – are released as jokes. Others are more ambiguous.
Gay game (gayme?) designer Robert Yang has made multiple simulators such as Rinse and Repeat in which you and an Aviators-wearing-hunk shower together. Another, The Tearoom, is a historical simulation of closeted gay sex in mid-20th Century America. Radiator 2 offers three modes: a BDSM/intimacy themed spanking game, a musically interactive Popsicle game and one where you drive a gay car. All of these sound strange but that’s mainly because Yang has had to circumvent Steam’s often draconian attitudes to LGBT+ games which results in his games being suggestive rather than explicit. All are free or Pay What You Can via Yang’s store page on itch.io should anyone need their gay intimacy fix.
One area Steam has made a free-for-all in terms of sex in video games is that of Japanese or anime-inspired games. Most come either in the format of a Visual Novel – essentially a click through comic – or Role Playing Games. Visual Novels are incredibly popular in Japan and often come with adult scenes although others are appropriate for most ages. In the West however they are often the butt of a joke. Often short with awkward and sometimes insulting jokes about Japanese culture and a general uncomfortable vibe they pale in comparison to the games that are serious in their attitudes to sex and love.
Recently the games from Japanese company Alicesoft were made available on Steam. Combining Role-Playing Games, Visual Novels and detailed sex scenes only found if you put the dreaded word “hentai” into a search bar they offer different and varied ways of how to portray sex in games. With the advent of internet porn and studies revealing that a lot of people are having very little sex the commodification of sex has reached a nadir especially in developed countries. Men and women in America, the UK and Japan are having less sex than ever before and so they are turning to alternative methods to get their kicks. Games can be one of those methods.
Sex in early games was limited to Leisure Suit Larry and the rancid, racist rape fantasy Custer’s Revenge. From there came the Hot Coffee mod in GTA: San Andreas and the flash games found in the Adult section of Newgrounds. In 2018 those that want it are spoiled for choice for sex in video games and more recently the idea of sex as a reward in games has come to the fore. The notion of a game is that we must play to be rewarded and though we have yet to see an influx of games that reward us as players with meaningful relationships with other characters it’s only a matter of time.
Games like Huniepop, the Mass Effect series and The Witcher 3 offer sex as a kind of reward for treating potential partners in the game right (and for completing puzzles in Huniepop’s case). Admittedly sex is often the be all and end all of these systems in these games. Games can be powerful teaching tools and there is no reason that the progression of a relationship in a game should end after Commander Shepard and Liara go heels to Jesus.
Sex and video games have a strange relationship. The representation of sex in video games is at its most mature in years and yet gatekeepers often view it as a strange, possibly corrupting, force. Even the power brokers of the gaming world don’t seem to know how to handle it. Still as games mature so too do their attitudes. Sex will always be controversial but as with all art provocation can often be the best education.