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Debatoid: Can sex have a positive role to play in video games?


Welcome to Debatoid! We take a controversial topic, form a proposition, and set two contenders the challenge of stating their case in favor of and in opposition to the proposition. After which, users may vote to decide which contender they support. Rules for voting are at the bottom of the blog, but it is recommended that you read the contenders' cases before you cast your vote.

CaptainBus frames the debate:

Sex. Three little letters that constitute the definition of our existence and proliferation, as with all of the animal kingdom. Yet, it remains a fundament to our humanity that our species have the capacity to control, diagnose and consider our animal urges.

We have the unenviable task of considering its portrayal in modern media. The way it is tackled is a constant fight. If the subject is not treated appropriately, with the care and delicacy of a surgeon, it can cause widespread condemnation with pitchforks aloft.

Much has been made of the terms in which video games have allied with sex; the women of video games have often had pornographic physiques and very few clothes in which to exhibit them. This has been an obstacle in video games’ mainstream legitimacy. After all, how are you to treat a hobby seriously if you are ashamed by its pandering to teenage fantasies?

There is far more to the subject than is said merely in arousing imagery, though. Sex is a subset of our relationships. The subtle and transitory ways in which we interact, couple, come together and fall apart. Sex also exposes some of the most evil aspect in human nature. Adultery, human trafficking and rape all constitute an aspect of this subject.

This week’s Debatoid asks where sex fits in with video games. Specifically, the role that sexual acts have had to play, and may yet have to play in future.

As a medium that is forging the brightest new path to entertainment since television, what role do video games have to play in how we consider sex? Do they have a role to play at all? Will we see a future in which sex forms a crucial role in a video game, and will this be seen as a positive watermark of legitimacy as cultural form, or its harrowing decline as masturbatory thrill?

The proposition: Sex has no positive role to play in video games

Handy states his case for the proposition:

I’m no prude, sex is great.

I understand that it’s a big part of life and an unavoidable storytelling device. The psychical act of two people expressing their love for one another is a beautiful thing. But that doesn’t mean we have to watch it, or play it, in our games. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying sex should never be addressed, alluded to or implied in a game. I’m just saying there’s nothing to be gained from showing it.

Again, I’m not saying sex shouldn’t happen, take Mass Effect 2 – a game widely praised for its portrayals of relationships – for example, after a lot of flirting and touching moments Shepherd can have sex with one of his/her team-mates.

But what actually happens? A bit of chatting, a bit of kissing, maybe some groping with some characters to get across the passion of the moment, and then...fade to black. Because that’s all you need. You don’t need to see uncanny valley faces in ecstasy. You don’t need to see two mo-capped bodies awkwardly rub against one another. You don’t need to see a bunch of writhing while some lady sings nonsense softly in the background.

Tell me one game, just one game, that has done a full on sex scene well. One game where it makes sense in context, added something meaningful and is handled tastefully. Did it make sense in Heavy Rain to have a sex scene while the main character’s son was in immediate danger? Or was it just shoehorned in because it was so desperate to be “grown up”? Did it add anything to The Ballad of Gay Tony when we saw Luis banging the shit out of some random girl on a public bathroom sink? Did you find it ridiculously stupid when Kratos broke character and took a breather from his rampage of murder to have some casual sex, which we then had to QTE our way through to get some red orbs? Red orbs!

Did Custer’s Revenge teach us that an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind?

Now, I imagine there’s some who’ll argue that games need sex if they ever want to be viewed as mature, and to that I have to say, grow up.

Games don’t need sex to be mature; if anything they need to be more tactful. In the world of gaming, where everything is already extremely over the top, two people having sex is just another drop in the ocean. There are plenty of better ways to show two characters care about one other rather than having them pounce on each other just for the sake of it.

Sitting on the couch and watching TV with your girlfriend in The Darkness was one of the more memorable experiences early in this generation. Watching John Marston come up from behind and kiss his wife on the cheek while she cooked dinner is what cemented their relationship for the player in Red Dead Redemption. If these were replaced with sex scenes we wouldn’t care nearly as much about what happened to these characters. Moments like this require subtlety.

There is one thing I will concede though. One of my most anticipated games of this year is Catherine, a game where sex looks to be a major theme.

Keep in mind however, the game is rated the equivalent of T or 15’s in Japan, and the sex seems to underline the horror aspects of the game. To me, that counts as using sex well as a narrative device, and I think if anyone can handle sex well it's Atlus. However, until more developers take their cues from them (assuming they handle it well at all that is), then they should just fade to black.

Because if you can’t do sex right, then don’t do it at all, at least that’s what my girlfriend keeps telling me.

LawofThermalDynamics states his case against the proposition:

There are many things I want to say in this debate.

I want to tell you that sex exists in all forms of entertainment, be it literature, film, and music. I want to say that video games, like everything else, are subject to the inclusion of sex as not only bait, but in some cases as a selling point. I can make all these comparisons and bring up movies, books, all sorts of media that use nothing but sex and show it doesn’t hold back said medium as a whole.

I want to say all those things, but I can’t.

The reason I can’t is because we’re not talking about sex in other media. We’re talking about sex in video games and how, if at all, sex can be used to further videogames and while on nearly every site I hear the loud roar of “No,” I have one thing to say: “Sex in video games can not only create a more compelling video game, but has already been pivotal in one of the greatest video games of all time.”

Don’t believe me?

Silent Hill 2.

There was a something about Silent Hill 2’s complex portrayal of sex that opened your eyes to a world that was horrifying, disturbing and movingly real. It was a game that encompassed not just the single act of copulation, but the entirety of a subject that most other games forcibly chain to implications of bounce physics, gyration, and nipples.

Silent Hill 2 was unafraid to include rape, deformed buxom nurses and rooms portraying genitalia in a game that makes no effort to hide its sexual undertones, yet exhibits them in such a deft way that the full weight of its implications and consequences serves not to arouse the player, but horrify them.

Sex is more than just the sum of its parts. Some developers tease gamers with the idea that a gamer would be able to see virtual breasts or two individuals cuddle in a naked state and treat it as something controversial and amazing, as if they’re breaking taboo when in reality they do nothing but categorize and insist that what they are showing is sex when in reality it isn’t.

Sex has emotional implications, it has scary consequences, and wonderful possibilities in relationships. Sometimes it isn’t the goal, but the punishment. Sometimes it’s the consummation of something pure, and sometimes it’s the realities of tragedy. Sex holds undeniable power for storytelling, audience resonance, and visceral intensity.

Sadly, sex in videogames is not only underutilized, but misrepresented.

How is it that games like Dead or Alive or Mass Effect can be used in the argument of why sex is bad when really they show only a singular aspect of a very broad, very complex, and very emotional subject matter?

As both a theme and concept in games such as Silent Hill 2 and No More Heroes, sex is not a mere masturbatory thrill, but serves to torture, kill, save, create, and destroy.

Showing boobs that glisten in the water, saying “Hey baby let’s do it” and getting the reply “Yes.” And then cutting to black after a few teasing scenes. That isn’t sex. That isn’t sex at all.

We need more sex, and we need it good.

Many thanks to Handy and LawofThermalDynamics for their contributions.


The results are in on a Debatoid that had more than its fair share of frenetic debating! Without a doubt, this week's entry courted the most contention amongst the comments. Things were getting heated and it really didn't need to. Please bear in mind, folks, that if you are disrespectful to other people, you only serve to harm your cause. Let's keep things clean and remember that we shouldn't be flinging vitriol at each other; we're classier than that.

Almost unbelievably, the topic served to split the audience almost evenly yet again! Only 3 votes splitting the 43 votes counted almost makes it sound unfair to make an outright decision on the proposition. Nonetheless, Debatoid remains unyielding in serving its audience with a declaration on the proposition:

Congratulations to LawofThermalDynamics on his victory. Commiserations to Handy on his narrow defeat.

Another tight debate! A lot of the discussion in the comments came down to difficulty in pulling the arguments apart. I can sympathise but if the arguments were exactly the same I would not have printed them.

Both parties wanted a future in which video games were given deserved respect for what they can offer as a storytelling medium. However, there was a key distinction between Handy and Law's argument: Handy suggested that there has been no progress, so we should consider that sex has no role to play in video games as we know them. Law suggested that we press on.

Let me place one thing in this discussion that might be an interesting side note.

Will we have a future in which, 20 years from now, the populace partake in an interactive video entertainment medium, but we will no longer call them "video games"?

We still call the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S II "smartphones", and the derivation seems increasingly ridiculous; the telephone function serves as a less and less prominent feature on the vast inventory of features, appended to what are now essentially miniaturised tablet computers that also happen to allow you to phone your mom.

Similarly, video games are constantly striving for more expert narrative, more involving and deep experiences and a more impressive form of interaction with the player. When considering such deeper principles in which to become immersed, does the "game" element then become a fallacy, if enjoyment is no longer the only emotion we should feel, but rather a grander spectrum of emotions? Does the phrase "video game" do our ever more increasingly sophisticated hobby justice? Well, that may be a Debatoid for another time...

Here are some of the highlights from the comments:

“The day developers stop shoehorning sex into games just to pretend they are mature, and start using sex as a natural event in the game, is the day games will be grown up.”

“Sex is something everyone enjoys, talks about, and dreams of. I'm tired of these pseudo-intellectual gamers looking down on it[...] It's not about being mature, it's about exploring new concepts. Every piece of art has use sex to its advantage, why can't games? Why can't we show individuals who want to fuck? Why can't we stop being children and admit: we like it. Not everything has to have meaning. “

Ali D
“Right now, sex in games is an embarrassment, but games can't limit themselves. Sure the sex is awkward right now, but shit..... it was when I started out too.”

“Sex is a very important aspect of life, and I feel that all crucial walks of life can and should be incorporated well into video games.

“I agree with Handy for the moment, but would willingly change my opinion as soon as the medium can thoughtfully and compellingly address sex instead of making it as shallowly mechanical as a button press during a quick-time event. Sex is much too sticky and dense of a thing to arbitrarily throw into a narrative; video game or otherwise. “

“I agree, sex scenes, by and large, are unnecessary, at least for the time being. However sex as a subject would be foolish to ignore.”

“I still don't even get why this is such an issue, if even cartoons like Regular Show geared for kids can get away with sexual undertones, but something like Mass Effect geared towards adults gets all this flak. And yes I understand the whole, "think of the children" spiel, and that's a parental issue. Let's do it right and maturely so this thing can end!”

Corduroy Turtle
“We aren't talking about meaningful relationships or love here, we're talking about things like penetration and orgasm - neither of which have any place in video games, in my opinion.”

“Most videogames use sex in an awkward and sometimes even forced manner. But that really doesn't mean we should shy away from it, even if it's only for entertainment value, after all aren't videogames a form of entertainment? “

“Video games, as well as being awesomely good fun, can serve to reflect human nature, be that in a positive or negative aspect. Sex is a very general word that merely denoted the act, not the meaning behind it and making love can be as important a story device as rape when used maturely and with care. Sex is a part of human nature and I think it has an important part to play in video games. “

“You can't relegate the dark psychological side of sexual repression (among other things), feelings of primal lust or the many other reasons people have sex for (like...fun!) to a simple kiss on the cheek or cuddling on the couch. Less uncanny valley would be nice though.”

Occams electric toothbrush
“I think there's a time and a place where sex can be an effective narrative tool in video games but we aren't there yet. Maybe its the way we tell a story in games or the technological limits, I don't know. But whatever it is, sex in video games is cheesy and scrutinized and doesn't contribute to the game.”

"I felt both arguments were decent, but Law's main point seemed to be that sex can have a positive effect on the narrative of a video game if the sex focuses on the non-physical aspects of it. These non-physical aspects can be just as easily conveyed without having to show penetration or uncanny valley faces of ecstasy.

Then there's also the fact that most developers probably won't be classy about it. The majority of sex will most likely be cheesy selling points. I think it will be just easier for big budget games to slap together some sweet video game porn, instead of making another game like Silent Hill 2, just like how it's easier to load a game with guns and army jargon instead of decent narrative. It's usually in the name of money. Designers gotta eat."

"I do not think it's a great idea to show the actual act of sex in video games. It would be unnecessary to include full nudity, penetration, orgasms, etc. because I don't see why those things would ever be necessary to the plot or theme of a game. I feel like including these things would just bring video games closer to pornography. I would be fine with sex being implied, or maybe even characters shown having sex in a way that's not entirely revealing. First I would have to see this done well, though, and before this happens I would prefer not to see very much sex in my video games."

"Someday, someone might be able to write a story in which sex is a useful narrative device that blends with the story and enhances it in a way that no other form of expression could. Outside of shock, horror, and disturbing imagery.. It might just be a limit of my imagination, but I can't forsee it. I look forward to being proven wrong."

"I just think "fade to black" or other ways of showing a relationship are a better fit with video games primarily because gamers tend to "be" the character and it's so difficult to create sex in video games that is comfortable given the vastly different sexual preferences of people in general."

"Like any aspect of a videogame, even though many may get sex wrong, the few that DO get it right give validity to its incorporation. Just because some games will throw it in to be "edgy" or "mature" shouldn't preclude its use in those titles that will use it as a focal story component. "

Thanks to everyone who contributed to last week's Debatoid. It sure was a spicy one!

This week, we go for something a somewhat different topic. As usual, you might be able to pocket some clues right here. Small wonder, any game boy (or girl) could no doubt put the lynx together and be all ready to gear up for the topic sometime in the near future!

I wonder(swan) what it will be about?

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About MassDebateone of us since 1:12 AM on 03.14.2011

New header kindly contributed by falsenipple

Brought about as a result of a CaptainBus/Sean Daisy fever dream, Debatoid offers one proposal with two sides; two users give the case for and against the proposal and you vote for the outcome.

Debatoid changed its name to MassDebate, but don't fret; the principle of controversial topics, smart candidate and avid discussion remains at the forefront! Vive la même chose et la difference!

If anyone wants to volunteer a topic or submit their interest in being a contender then please PM MassDebate, email captainbus AT gmail DOT com or message _SeanDaisy on Twitter.

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