Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.
Here’s a pretty interesting lecture about sex in videogames. Enjoy!
It’s sad that we have to deal with the gratuitously stupid brand of sexual immaturity that game developers just love to throw our way, but I don’t see it all disappearing, even with the supposed maturing of the medium. Think about it for a second, did you see, for example, Transformers? It’s never quite as blatant as Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, but remember that scene with Megan Fox where they’re working on Shia LaBeouf’s car? While you didn’t hear me complaining at all in the theater the night I saw that movie, I always know when I’m being pandered to and I find it mildly insulting.
The real problem with video game maturity levels is that video games have yet to be accepted as mainstream media. A good number of people I know consider them to be children’s toys and think that the day that I stop playing video games will be the day that I “grow up.” It’s no wonder then that a video game that is no more or less exploiting sex to sell copies (I’m not talking about DOA Xtreme here) than any episode of Grey’s Anatomy (how about that Super Bowl episode?) should be looked upon with greater scorn than the exact same thing, or worse, taking place on network television.
It’s just plain frustrating to me to have to deal with sexual immaturity when playing video games. Take a game like Dead or Alive 4. Dead or Alive pioneered breast physics, that’s no secret, so you can probably guess what is most highlighted about Dead or Alive 4. Hidden deep beneath the bouncing DD cups does live a fighting game that I actually enjoy playing for once. It’s not quite as technical as Tekken, doesn’t use weapons like Soulcalibur, and is faster paced than just about every other true fighter I’ve ever played. I love the fluid combos and the reversal system, and I’ll even go out and say that I do actually like the character designs too. So what’s the big deal? Well the immaturity is a bit on the embarrassing side. I think just about everyone I know who I’ve corralled into playing DoA 4 with me recalls the game the same way “The one with the big, bouncy boobs” and anyone who is just watching the game only sees the bouncing boobs and the panty shots and just doesn’t get how well the game controls and plays. It’s still fun, don’t get me wrong, it just (and maybe this is the American-raised Puritan in me) makes me feel stupid to own and play in front of people.
Daniel Floyd highlights the sexual maturity of Mass Effect and its relationship-based consensual sex being an example of the right way to go to bring sex to games. I mostly agree with that and a quick look at the game tells you that he’s mostly right. The female characters, aside from being “anatomically perfect,” are all dressed in no more a revealing fashion than anyone else is. Full-body armor is the norm. There’s no cleavage and no blatant sexuality (kind of…I mean, the armor’s cut to fit a woman, but the male armor is cut to fit a man…I’d put it in the “barely qualifies as blatant sexuality” category. I guess the “lesbian” sex with the asexual, but female in appearance, alien race does kind of qualify though…). Still though, the relationship system that everyone thinks is so amazing…it’s just not that hard to figure out. All you really have to do is be nice and flirt with whomever the game allows you to sleep with whenever the game allows you to further you dialog trees. That’s literally it. Complete goal A, get reward B. Heck, you even get achievement points for completing a romantic sidequest.
If you think about it, that’s how most non-scripted video game relationships work. In Final Fantasy VII, your date at the Golden Saucer was dependent on a point system generated through your responses to Tifa, Aeris, and Yuffie up to that point. Harvest Moon games have you “earn” your wife by giving her gifts and talking to her daily. Surely it must be that easy in real life, you just talk to someone and give them stuff and over the course of a year you’ll be able to give them a blue feather and marry them, right?
Yet while I complain about this, it becomes clear that relationships in movies and TV shows aren’t really that much more complicated than in Mass Effect, you just don’t get to choose your responses in a TV show. In Mass Effect, you either choose the “nice” options or the snappy/witty “flirting” options to go down the romance path. A TV show will typically have the characters do about the same thing. Exchange witty banter, maybe give or do something for the other person (a la Harvest Moon) or maybe even just save that person’s life (SPOILER ALERT: a la Mass Effect /SPOILER ALERT). So maybe video games are on the right path, it just feels cheaper, to me, when a relationship is boiled down to a counter variable and a conditional statement (if love >= cockblock) romanticsidequest = true;
In that sense, I think I can conceivably only be satisfied by the (well-)scripted love story rather than the life simulator. The ultimate life sim, The Sims, boils love down to just talking to a person and successful social interaction, culminating in WooHoo (cue Jason Lee: “You mean fucking?”) and, if you’re me, frustration afterwards as you try to maintain a high enough score to keep the “friendship” to get a promotion, but try to keep them away from your other conquests to increase your job performance.
It’s not the best example, but think of the tortured soul of Locke and his love of Rachel and Celes. It’s clear why he cares so much for Celes and why he tries so hard to protect her and once he’s able to let go of Rachel, we understand why him and Celes are together. It doesn’t feel cheap and it doesn’t feel like a cop-out to the story. It’s not like the movies where the main character gets the main girl at the end and then, all of a sudden, the supporting characters discover they too love each other and begin to kiss as well, having found love. It’s certainly eons beyond the James Bond brand of sexual immaturity, but I’d say most video games only aspire to that degree of maturity in their relationships (see Goldeneye (just kidding, I know that’s trivial, like saying x = x)).
So will Dan ever feel that any video game sexual relationship he was directly in charge of made any real degree of sense? I’d say that the game would have to do a damn good job of concealing the fact that I was filling up a counter variable. The problem is that if they concealed it too well and I randomly ended up with said reward at the end, it would feel cheap. Also not so fun: if you came on to a character and they totally burned you. Us nerds are fragile enough creatures who experience enough rejection on a day to day basis. To have a video game burn us…well it might shatter what’s left of our egos. In all seriousness, why wouldn’t that be a bad idea? It’d be a bit more realistic. If you threw in a couple of random number generators where some of your actions could have unintentional negative results, hell, you’d have just about the same degree of fickleness as a real woman…but I digress. In the end, we’ve still got a long ways to go for interactive relationships, but at least we’re fine on the pre-scripted variety.