Sex in games: Where to draw the line

May 26, 2010, Author: Simon Weatherall

Sex in video games has always been taboo. It starts with a developer adding something to a game that people deem inappropriate, like a having sex with a prostitute in GTA, to being something more risqué like a topless character in Heavy Rain. Nine times out of ten these scenes or gameplay extras never usually make the final cut of the game due to the classification board not allowing them to be kept in.

Not so long ago, a major uproar occurred with a game called Rapelay, this game not only glorified sex, but glorified rape and incest, in what the majority of the world deemed socially unacceptable. Rape is something that has affected millions of women and men, and content like this can offend a lot of people. Jumping on the band wagon of hatred against the game news-desks around the world reported on the issue, only serving to further publicise the game. As the old saying goes, there is no such thing as bad press!

Before I go on, I do want to say that from my own moral principles, I find rape a horrible act committed against both men and women. I really do feel for the people that this affects across the world. I don’t in anyway condone the acts of rapists and the purpose of this article is not to offend anyone. – Simon

Each country has what it will allow as acceptable content and some are more relaxed than others. Japan is one place where sex fantasies are big business but it’s also not the only place. Anyone who has watched the TV series Sin Cities with Ashley Hames will be well aware of the shear volume of debauchery that happens around the world.

In Japanese culture some things are less taboo than others for example; in Japanese porn the lower private parts of a woman are slightly censored and generally so are penetrative sex scenes. The same can be said for some animé too. Prostitution, however, is a successful business for many, but technically illegal and has been since 1956. The only reason it exists is because there are loop holes to be exploited in the law. Image Clubs are places where your desires can be enacted in cosplay or roleplaying if that’s what you are in to.

Fantasy art at its best

The same attitude towards sex is transported to comics or manga and to video games. Practically every conceivable act of sex, fantasy and violence is publicised, it’s also not uncommon for some magazines to include incest as the subject of choice. You would think with it being so widely publicised across Japan that the acts would be quite high in comparison to other countries, surprisingly it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that rape or murder doesn’t happen in Japan, it’s just a less frequent occurrence than in places like America or Great Britain. I’m also not saying that sex magazines and sex in comics are just segregated to Japan either. Top Cow comics published the Wanted series, in the first couple of issues the main character rapes random women and he also partakes in ritual murders; these images may have been lass graphic but it was still glorifying the act to some degree.

Several American news stations publicised their outrage at Rapelay, a game released in 2006, yet America has the highest rape statistics in the world; it’s twenty times higher than Japan. What was strange about the whole situation was that Rapelay had been released and in circulation in Japan for three years. It wasn’t a new game on the market and it was only released in its country of origin, in accordance with the laws of Japan. When it comes to gaming classifications it’s dependent on the country that the product is being distributed in. Every game that is produced today is catered to a specific audience and when it comes to sex games they are catered to adults alone.

It’s not uncommon for two participating adults to roleplay rape, I have even heard of these fantasies being enacted all over the world, not just in brothels in Tokyo. I think the argument is towards consenting sex acts is “what happens behind closed doors is their business”, if that’s the case then what a person chooses to play is their business too. I do like to play a variety of games, some with graphic scenes violence and others with none at all. Sex is a normal part of life so when I see that a game has scenes of a sexual nature they don’t bother me so much, as its generally unrealistic and not really a sex scene. I believe that showing kids in school sex education paraphernalia is more damaging than an animated character seemingly embrace another character. My daughter when she was just seven told me about the birds and the bees from just what she had learned around the playground.

Honestly, do these look real?

Before writing this editorial I had never thought about playing a game entirely about sex or sexual simulation. I can understand the appeal of a sex simulation game, but a rape simulation game, I thought, was way past those boundaries of normality. Some people would say that it’s all about domination and therefore no different than playing a bondage game and it’s not like anybody is getting hurt in the process. Other people will take it as offensive and speak out against it but in doing so only create intrigue, curiosity and hysteria. People hearing about it want to know more about the game and want to find out why it’s so shocking. In America today you can freely buy rape-related porn movies, I know it’s not the same, but isn’t it giving the same message? It’s not just America that does these types of movies either; they are common in other parts of the world too. The other thing to consider is that games like this are very rare. Most sex based games are a lot tamer and are more like interactive stories than interactive porn in comparison to the likes of Rapelay. There are some sex simulation games out there, but they generally stick to having sex and not glorifying sexual abuse.

For the purpose of this editorial I did take a look at RapeLay and I must say I really don’t see the point of the game. The game’s aim is for you the player to successfully rape a family of three women. Starting with one of the daughters; then moving on to the Mother and other daughter. The game, from a moral ground, is disturbing; you start off by groping each family member on a train then you move on to penetrative forced sex. Everything is animated and the female avatars are handcuffed and resist your efforts to fornicate with them. After you have successfully been through the story mode (the fact it has a story mode is equally as disturbing) the game turns more into a sex simulation game. The only real difference is that you can force things upon the female character even though technically they are not resisting. Once the game is completed there are actually has two endings and in both they are bad for the rapist. All in all, I don’t think that the game’s negative notoriety would be as widespread as it is today if it hadn’t been branded on news-feeds all over the world. It’s human nature to be curious, after all.

The main reason I played the game was to try to understand why someone would want to play the game, and to be honest I have no clue. I didn’t feel empowered and I gained no sexual gratification from the game at all. None of the character models looked like real people, they just looked like disproportioned animated dolls with private parts rubbing together. The entire experience was more laughable than anything else. The fact that you can make the female characters orgasm says it all. Rape is about power and dominance and the victim doesn’t usually get any gratification out of it. I have to say that clicking a button that says “slide knickers to one side” isn’t a powerful action, nor is “lift up top”, that’s generally something that happens in sex. If you were to take out the rape portion of the game (which isn’t expansive and practically nothing in the grand scheme of things) all you are left with is simulated sex acts that you can control. Nothing is in anyway, shape or form realistic or anatomically correct.

I can understand people getting offended by a game like this, after all if you have been a victim then this sort of thing shouldn’t be glorified, however the same could be said about rape porn movies too. If the game had focussed less on sex and more on the victim then I believe that it could have had a different outcome when being received by the world.

A big question that we should be asking is where to draw the line? Some people would say it’s based on your own moral compass. Sex is publicised in schools and all over the internet, porn is so easy to get to, only a click away and quite a lot of it is free. For a lot of games you have to prove you’re an adult before buying them so I ask myself which is the lesser evil? I myself believe that if it’s something that’s important to or furthers the storyline, it should be allowed, even if it offends some people. I don’t think we should shield people from atrocities, whether it’s taking over an airport and assassinating civilians as a terrorist or the main character in a story being abused either physically or sexually, after all; it does happen and is already portrayed in other media. One thing I’m glad I haven’t seen is sexual abuse of children, even though it has been the focus in some novels and films; this focus hasn’t been transported into a game. I think if these subjects are handled tastefully but used as canon in a storyline, then some games produced could send out a powerful message.

Games often portray the bright side of life, very few, the darker sides; I’m not saying they should be allowed but I am saying there are two sides to the spectrum. I think that’s the reason that more and more games are being produced with options to choose your morality. Maybe in some twisted way, these games can serve lessons to individuals as to what is morally wrong. I don’t know if it could apply to something like a rape simulator but I definitely think that it applies to games containing scenes of graphic violence. I think if a person is appalled by seeing a scene that they don’t agree with, then the message has been well received. I personally was shocked by events in the Rapelay game even though I found the whole look of the game amusing. The shock value of it wasn’t even in the scenes of rape, it was simply the premise behind the game and the audio that accompanied it. I also believe that it could have been far worse; introducing violence (something that is common to most rapes) could have given a far worse impression. Roleplaying fantasy games can be good but when you couple a controversial subject with something like sex you are asking for trouble, especially if the entire game is about making someone suffer.

Gaming gets its fair share of blame for violent acts, mainly from people who feel that we are so easily influenced by games. Their belief is that whatever we see in a game, we must go out and do immediately. Most of the time these people don’t have the balls to actually find out what it is they are slagging off; politicians are the worst offenders for that. We all know the average gamer is in their thirties, you would think by that age we are well aware of what is right and wrong. The biggest problem in the world is people trying to wrapping us up in cotton wool (not literally!) and not allowing people to decide for themselves. It’s socially acceptable to go to the cinema and watch a movie that has a sex scene but not okay to have a similarly detailed sex scene in games like Mass Effect series; which is more realistic?

In reality, a game is just a game; there is nothing real and if you can’t determine the difference between reality and fantasy, then you really shouldn’t be playing them in the first place. A game can’t harm anyone; only a person can do that!