Quantcast

Full Version     |     Sign Up     |     Login



Browse   |   Reviews   |   Pop   Blogs   Forum
Community   |   Promoted   |   Followed   |   Staff


Sex: Sexy vs. Sex

by JoyfulSanity   //   8:58 PM on 01.29.2013

Sex.

It's been on many a gamer's mind as of late, which means we can consider ourselves among those who have discussed literary criticism since the beginning of time. That might seem to be a very weird and vague blanket statement, but let me explain. You see, we sometimes can think of the way sex is depicted in videogames as a new and recent problem that is unique to videogames. Nothing could be further from the truth. From Plato's Symposium dealing with elements of pedophilia, to Thomas Mann's Death in Venice dealing with the narrator stalking a young boy, to Narbokov's controversial Lolita detailing the graphic relationship between a man and his 12 year old step daughter... okay maybe I'm picking some bad examples.


The trailer for the 1962 film adaptation of Lolita, directed by Stanley Kubrick


MY POINT IS that sex is a broad and nuanced topic that will be constantly struggled with as long as there is media to be discussed by people. And I don't just mean sex as something we scoff at and brush under the rug because it's dirty and filthy. Hell, Lolita is something we study in universities and consider a literary classic, and let me reiterate that it's about the sexual relationship between a grown man and his 12 year old step daughter. Sex is something that, for better or for worse, society is fascinated with, and the sooner we acknowledge this when discussing sex in videogames, the clearer our arguments will be in the end.

As the title might indicate, I've tried to divide the subject of sex into two different talking points. While sex seems to imply sexy and sexy is thought to lead to sex, the two are actually quite different despite usually being lumped together. As an up front disclaimer, I am not exactly a gender studies major or something even a little qualified to talk so authoritatively on these subjects. What I am, however, is a guy who wishes to have a conversation about the subject, and I hope that what I bring to light in this blog will help conversations about sex in videogames to become clearer in what they are actually addressing.

The Sexy

The first definition that comes up when we search the word "sexy" is:

1. Arousing or tending to arouse sexual desire or interest.
2. Slang Highly appealing or interesting; attractive

In other words, whether we're talking about heaving breasts in Dead or Alive or heaving breasts in videogames that aren't Dead or Alive, we're talking about what is "sexy" and not exactly "sex." These are things that are meant to titilate us or otherwise get us excited in our no-no parts. When we hear the words "sex sells" in advertising, in truth the phrase actually means "sexy sells."


Not actually pictured: Sex


So what is there to talk about "sexy" in videogames?

On one hand, sexy images practically define marketing across all forms of media.The very fact that "sexy" goes hand in hand with "marketing" makes any sort of artistic or otherwise worthwhile value in "sexy" seem absurd. How is one meant to justify heavily armored men standing next to barbie doll proportioned women who are wearing barely enough armor to make them appropriate on a public beach, let alone a battlefield? In most cases, it's probably impossible.

Yet let's not forget that many classic pieces of art have depicted naked or sexually provocative men and women, which goes to show the importance of the context that sexiness is used. For example, during the play Equus - a play you may or may not know as the story of a guy who gets off to horses - there is one part that features both a male and female character practically naked (or actually naked, depending on what production you see). Yet, without spoiling the story, it's safe to say that the audience will likely know that this type of sexually provocative content exists for the sake of adding meaning to the story. If we saw these two characters on a billboard trying to sell us 2013 BBQ Cola Car Insurance Online, we would dismiss it as pointless fluff because of the change in context. And because Videogames are a form of media full of all kinds of potential, there's no reason to say that sexy can't be used meaningfully.



In fact, even though I haven't played the game myself, I feel fairly confident that Lollipop Chainsaw is a decent example of how games can use sexy. Now, obviously there is some marketing involved with the choice to paste a scantily clad cheerleader on the cover. Yet one could also argue that the marketing helps shape our expectations of the game, which might be subverted by how this same sexy character is developed through the story. The fact that smart discussion is happening about it is definitely indicative of a success in that respect, even if it is a small one. James Gunn or Suda 51 may very well not have intended anything beyond a hyper silly/quirky fanservice extravaganza. Maybe the game isn't going to change anyone's perspective on objectification or anything it entails. Like I said, I haven't even played it myself, but I am pointing it out as an example because people are talking about it. As many a pretentious English major will tell you, there actually isn't a definite way to differentiate between a bad story and a great one other than what either society or a bunch of old guys writing a Norton Anthology decides on. In the same way, if Lollipop Chainsaw's story has enough content to back up these essays that have been written about it, then it proves that not only can "sexy" be used in a way to add meaning to a story, but that there are at least some gamers willing to analyze and appreciate it when it happens.

Or, at the very least, now saying we played Lollipop Chainsaw for the striking social commentary can sound at least a little less laughable than saying we read Maxim for even a single actual reason.

Sex

Noun
(chiefly with reference to people) Sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse.

I know I don't need to explain what sex is, but for the sake of putting something on my resume for teaching a health class one day, sex is when two people come together in a very intimate way and and put the [DATA EXPUNGED] into the [DATA EXPUNGED] and sometimes a [DATA EXPUNGED] is born 9 months later.

I define this because, as I mentioned before, sexy is often called sex. In actuality, sexy and sex are two very different things. Sexy implies a sort of separation: strangers can be sexy and have nothing to do with each other. Sex implies intimacy. It implies two people making either a meaningful connection or a drunken mistake. Looking at a sexy person may not mean a whole lot. Having sex with a person has all sorts of implications, even in cases where it "doesn't mean anything."

In other words, barbie doll girls and muscle log men are not sex in videogames. The fact of the matter is, very few games actually deal with the concept of sex, because oftentimes what comes with sex might not be so sexy.

Catherine is a videogame about sex.



What's funny is that, while I may have been talking out of my ass about Lollipop Chainsaw's marketing, I am at least a little confident about making that claim about the marketing for Catherine. So many of the promotional images associated with the game have a wink wink nudge nudge vibe, right down to the cover needing to be censored by a few retailers. On the surface, Catherine doesn't seem that much different than Hatsune Moe Otaku Song of the Ancient Wind Girl, Rated M for partial nudity, suggestive themes, and simulated gambling. After all, that's just what we expect from anything named after an anime stylized girl wearing lingerie.

Then you actually play the game.

One might expect a videogame about sex to include some ridiculous button timing minigames that are eventually censored but accidentally left in the code to scar the nation some time later. Except Catherine doesn't even depict the act of sex. Instead, the game focuses on all that comes with sex in two different scenarios. On one hand, we have the main character's girlfriend, named Katherine. She represents the side of sex that comes with dedicated relationships. With this comes the question of how committed Vincent (the before mentioned main character) actually is to Katherine, and what exactly the nature of their relationship even is. With this also comes the "pregnancy scare" scenario, as Vincent struggles with the idea that he could very well be the father of a child when he himself is certainly not ready for that kind of responsibility.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Catherine, the mysterious girl that Vincent finds himself waking up to every morning during the course of the game. One would expect the girl representing no strings attached sex would constitute the "sexy" side of the game. In actuality, while Catherine is clearly playing the part of a sexy character, parts that might actually be considered titillating are few and far between. Yet all the while, the "no strings attached" nature of Vincent's sex with Catherine is really just a facade. In actuality, this "meaningless" sex follows him and haunts him in his waking hours. It quickly becomes apparent that Catherine wants Vincent to form his own kinds of commitments to her.

In both cases, players see the role that sex has in these relationships. One relationship faces the consequences of sex, and the other relationship is defined by it. All the while, Vincent's thoughts and fears are personified in the playable nightmare sequences, oftentimes to horrifying results. Obviously, we can see Vincent to "good" endings, so this isn't to say that sex is a vessel which makes terrible things happen to us. However, in a way, the marketing versus the actual product is somewhat of a metaphor for Vincent's predicament in Catherine. One may be drawn in by the sexy images, expecting a fun and sexy adventure, but what actually ensues is much larger than that first temptation would let on.

So that's it!?

Not even close.

There's still so many topics and so many examples to be used that I'm sure this could become a novella if I even attempted to go over all of it, but that is a wonderful thing in so many respects. There is so much to the idea of sex that to dismiss its use in videogames is to limit the medium. Does this mean that we need to stop and defend every male power fantasy as some profound commentary? Far from it. Yet the cheap usage of sexy that has been prevalent thus far is no evidence that it can't ever be used properly. Again, it's certainly testy waters to tread here, and I barely even touched on the gender struggles and implications that can come with the territory. But hey, if everything is a learning experience, then talking about the subject with an open mind will, at the very least, lead to some enlightening discussions.

And when all else fails and the industry feels doomed, just remember one thing: A bunch of smart, intelligent guys who have dictated what is brilliant literature in this day and age are raving about a book that is about sex with an underage girl, and let's thank God that videogames have never...

...

... oh Japanese visual novels, why did you have to go and ruin my trump card?

UPDATE/RECAP: After rereading what I wrote and taking feedback into consideration (thank you if you commented, by the way!), I thought I'd take a second to expand on some of my points to clarify my meaning. Consider this an abridged version of the blog.

1: Sexy and sex are tools and concepts. They can be used by developers. They can be used poorly, and they can be used well. Instances where they are used well does not necessarily justify instances they are used poorly/offensively. It's possible that most developers should just shy away from anything having to do with sex due to the risk of it going wrong, but if we want to believe in freedom of expression, everything is on the playing field. This is why I brought up Lolita, even if I spent most of my time making fun of it. The subject matter is gross, but reading it and recognizing its merits does not mean approving of all the content within it. Likewise, many argue that Paradise Lost is sexist, but that doesn't mean that it's wrong to enjoy Milton's writing. We can be free to express what we think works and what we think does not work, but all of it is worth talking about regardless.

2: I talk about Lollipop Chainsaw, Catherine, and their respective marketing strategies. This does not mean I endorse them. I do happen to think Catherine is a good game, but I intentionally tried not to argue about whether it's good or not. I argued it was about sex. On the same note, the effectiveness of the marketing and/or the negative implications it had is all valid, and that doesn't conflict with my claim that it frames how we enter into these games. Metal Gear Solid 2 is infamous for it's marketing by only featuring Snake in promotional trailers and leaving Raiden - who you control for the majority of the game - left as a surprise, so deceptive marketing definitely has precedent. The fact that these preconceptions due to marketing exist is neither inherently good nor bad, nor do they justify their negative consequences. I wanted to talk about what's there and create discussion.

3: Whether you agree or disagree with what I write is up to you, but I only hope that I put forth my claims earnestly and that I backed up the reasons why I made my arguments. Sex is a broad topic that doesn't get discussed often enough. I, myself, am not used to discussing it (as you could probably tell). Much like sitting down with the drunk philosophy major at the bar, what matters isn't that you found the absolute truth, but that you talked about some deep stuff and maybe had a good time doing it. And additionally, getting that guy into a cab and back to his house matters even more, because he's my best friend and he's been missing for days now.









Previous   |   Home



Home   |   Browse   |   Reviews   |   Popular

Full Version     |     Sign Up     |     Login