�This day will never come again� So let me have this moment��
Theres this scene towards the end of Final Fantasy VII where, on the eve of the battle that will determine the fate of the planet, Cloud (the protagonist) dismisses his team and asks them to return if/when they know what they're fighting for. They've been through a lot together, blowing up power plants, losing loved ones, and ultimately coming to terms with their own inner demons. This is it, he thinks. Either we die here, or we die in several days when a meteor smacks into the planet, destroying everything we know and love. Either the team risks it here, or they go back to their friends and families to live out their final days.
As they all leave, Cloud, who has nowhere else to go, sees that his childhood friend, Tifa, the same woman who pushed him around in a wheelchair while he was catatonic, the same woman who showed him who he was when no one else could, the same woman who has been fighting alongside him the whole game, is right there next to him. She too has nowhere else to go. After making their way across the planet, exhausting themselves both physically and mentally, they are all each other has left. They embrace
The screen fades to black.
The screen cuts back to the two of them fully clothed, Tifa's head on Cloud's shoulder. If they had sex the player will never know. All that is implied is that these two characters you've spent the whole game controlling, guiding to this ultimate confrontation, have found some sort of comfort next to each other in their brief respite. Sex or no sex, it doesn't matter because its not about sex. The only thing that matters is that the two of them have something to hold on to before they face their final challenge.
I bring up this example because, while thinking about sex in video games, this is one of the most intimate memories I have ever shared with my avatar(s) (despite me not seeing anything sexual about the encounter, btw).
I tried thinking of another example, and this next scene is what came to mind:
Too long; didn't watch: Squall hugs Rinoa.
I have an intense love/hate relationship with Final Fantasy VIII, but with that one scene I went from hating Squall (and the plot of FFVIII) to tears. With that one hug (not some unnecessary sex scene) Squall shows that there is something in his character capable of caring for someone other than himself, without sabotaging the relationship being built up to that point.
These two moments show no nudity or penetration, nor are the vulgar in any way. They are intimate, and make the characters of their respective stories into more than just polygons hell bent on leveling up.
But if we can have intimacy in games without sex...
Question: What is the point of sex in games then?
I'm not sure. I can't think of any moment in a game where I felt sex, specifically depicting or heavily implying sex, helped it along. In contrast to these two heartfelt moments, I can look back to the past couple times when my digital avatar has gotten laid, starting with:
(spoilers from here on out)
As you may have read in one of the several editorials written about the game, the sex scene in Heavy Rain does little more than undermine the characters and the overall plot. Imagine you are on the clock trying to finish several trials in order to save your son, who is in a pit somewhere that is currently filling up with rain water. You've (spoilers) chopped off a finger, driven a car into traffic, been electrocuted AND killed a man, and now a mysterious insomniac you hardly know wants to do you. Not only is it surprising that the protagonist can even get it up in such an awful mental state, but why would he ever stop to and think getting his dick wet is a good idea with his son's LIFE in danger? Lol?
The sex in Heavy Rain has been argued to enhance the narrative and characterization, but actually hinders both. So then what is the point?
While playing Heavy Rain I was passing the controller between myself and two friends, with the directorial responsibility of this particular scene falling into my friend's hands. When I told him "don't do it!", his response was something along the lines of "eh, well, I'd rather see some tits". Which raises an even more interesting question...
Question: Are tits in games because the developers know we want to see them?
While I was playing Dragon Age: Origins my character Sariss (a human noble/warrior) started macking on this hot red-head who kept talking about all sorts of crazy stuff (like how God told her we were destined to be together). We traveled the world together, and eventually Sariss ended up in a position where he would have literally done anything for her. However, even at 100 adoration ("love"), and being entirely monogamous, Sariss was unable to get it on with his partner. This would have been fine if other characters weren't constantly throwing their bodies at him, or the trophy for romancing her was unlocked through a healthy relationship instead of through sex.
The game wanted me to want sex. It became a commodity. It was the level cap and I was short on experience. I could imagine all the other Grey Wardens sitting around, mocking me: "*chuckle* Oh...haha...so you're gonna give up your life to save the kingdom and she won't have sex with you? Even after you turned down that hot witch? Hahah, sucker."
Sariss died without making love to his life partner because a quest wouldnt trigger.
When I returned with another character, Bloodbrew my Dwarf Noble, the correct quest triggered and he proceeded to sex up Leliana and every other character that could be sexed up. Imagine that, the Leliana I knew and loved putting out for a sleazy dwarf but not for her one true love! Not only did that not make sense, but he was treated to (just imagine a hairy red-haired dwarf instead) this:
That was it? The sex was just a meaningless reward that showed what the game assumed I (not my character) wanted. Neither character grew from it, and her dialogue remained otherwise unchanged. The game rewarded me with tits for the right combination of perseverance and luck. The tits were irrelevant to everything other than the player's supposed desire to see them, and the plot, the MAIN ELEMENT OF THE GAME, took a back seat for them. Ditto with Heavy Rain.
Now I don't want to gripe too much on Dragon Age, because it also does something very right.
(seriously, craaaaazy spoiler!)
Towards the end of the game you are given the choice of sacrificing yourself or one of your companions to kill the last boss for good, or laying with a party member and creating a dark god-baby in order to avoid said sacrifice.
How awesome is that? By placing sex (something good) in the context of a dark ritual (something bad) the player is not just asked if they'd like to see tits, but asked if they'll take the tits at a terrible price. Its not longer tits as a reward, but tits in the context of a story. Games need to do more of this! Another example can be found in the Sims, where sex may not result in any malevolent beings, but it raises the question of if the player is willing to risk creating another mouth to feed, which maybe you don't want, or can't afford. Even just
having to worry about a kid affects the narrative in entirely new ways. Showing the sex isn't even necessary!
So where does that leave us? Are we only accidentally getting sex right? In any art form sex only works when it is trying to show us something more than just the sex itself. Be that characterization, the role of sex in society or whatever, so long as its not for the sake of sex its playing some interesting role. And if we can tell a compelling story and depict a compelling relationship (as seen in the first two and a half examples) without sex, why would we ever need to sabotage the plot (as seen in the last two examples) by featuring sex? The potential is there for sex to mean something to the medium but sadly we end up with more of these:
Which leads me to believe that, until we start finding more reasons to incorporate sex into narratives, that we should just avoid it altogether. If I can fall in love with Yorda simply by holding her hand, or tell Elena is worried about Drake by the sound of her voice, why would I need to see anyone run around naked or engage in glorified dry humping? Why don't games try to show us, and their characters, more respect instead?